During the last blog in this series we introduced leptin. Leptin is a major player in the hormone family; it is kind of like the President of hormones. Leptin-related problems start happening when communication breaks down between the President Leptin and the cabinet Hypothalamus brain and the congress made up of the rest of the hormones plus the body’s hormone receptor sites. A great majority of overweight people have too much leptin. The hypothalamus in our brain is the main target for leptin messages. Too much leptin causes imbalances like insulin and adrenaline resistance. Our liver, pancreas, adrenals and thyroid start blasting out mega-doses of hormones in an attempt to break through the communications block. Consequently we burn out these organs and fall prey to fatigue, disease and more.
Reed Davis, founder of Functional Diagnostic Nutrition uses the acronym HIDDEN to teach us how we got out of balance in the first place. HIDDEN stands for Hormones, Immune system, Digestion disorders, Detoxification systems, Elimination, and Neurotransmitter systems. Julia Ross covers very similar topics in her book The Diet Cure. Ms Ross’ list includes depleted brain chemistry, malnutrition, unstable blood sugar, unrecognized low thyroid function, food addictions and allergies, hormonal issues, yeast overgrowth, and fatty acid deficiencies.
Neurotransmitter depletion – meaning you are missing key neurotransmitters – happens due to prolonged stress; consuming refined sugars, white flours or alcohol; or eating insufficient protein. Neurotransmitters are substances such as tyrosine, glutamine, serotonin, epinephrine, glucagon and endorphins. Without ample neurotransmitters you get insomnia, depression, tendency toward drug addiction and more.
Malnutrition can happen even when we have plenty to eat. For dieters, however, malnutrition often comes as a result of extreme low calorie dieting. The subject of calories deserves a blog post all on its own. For now you just need to realize that low-calorie dieting is the same thing as creating our own personal famine. Yes FAMINE! Your body, your brain and hypothalamus, sees no difference between voluntarily eating Jenny Craig meals and being involuntarily held in a concentration camp. 900 calories/day = famine whether you pay someone for the privilege of starving yourself or you are held prisoner against your will.
Refined and processed carbohydrates (white flour, white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, white rice) lack vitamins, protein, fat and fiber. Soon you get stuck in a carbs-body fat-insulin cycle that can lead to diabetes; or you might burn out your adrenals. Symptoms of hypoglycemia are similar to symptoms of adrenal exhaustion. Both are dangerous.
Thyroid problems also deserve their own blog post. Some causes of thyroid malfunction are genetics, low calorie dieting (there it is again!), vegetarian diets, anorexia, soy (yes, soy!), a physical injury to the gland, a severe illness, unidentified gluten intolerance, certain prescription drugs such as the pill/antibiotics/estrogen/lithium, iodized salt, chemicals in your dental fillings, or change-of-life events such as puberty or menopause.
Food allergies can be obvious, they can also be sneaky. Casein and gluten are especially tricky as they behave like opiates by triggering exorphins which flood opiate receptors in our brain with comfort and pleasure. When this happens you get food addictions. Some symptoms of food allergies seem unrelated to food: joint pain, headaches, earache, postnasal drip, ADHD to name a few. Sometimes it is necessary to go on an elimination diet to discover exactly what foods are causing your problem.
American women are frequent targets for hormonal issues. We have more trouble with PMS, infertility and menopause than most women in less developed countries. According to Julia Ross Women in third world countries don’t have hot flashes and don’t dread menopause. Low-fat dieting, sugar, soy, tobacco, artificial hormones in our meat and dairy, birth control pills, skipping meals and adrenal stress all contribute to hormonal issues in American women. Men get it too, male menopause, from poor diet and stress.
Yeast overgrowth in the gut (imbalanced gut flora – see my blog on digestive disorders and gut flora here http://blog.wellfedfamily.net/2010/06/04/digestive-disorders-part-two.aspx) can take over the body-to-brain connection. Yeast needs sugar to grow so you get cravings for sugar and carbs. Side effects of yeast overgrowth are depression, bloating, PMS, painful joints, eczema, sore throat, impaired digestion, urinary problems, shortness of breath, chest pains, sinus infection and ear infections. Yeast can overgrow your digestive system and spill into your bloodstream!
Lastly we get to fatty acid deficiency. We must eat the right kinds of fats in order to have hormone production, cell protection, healthy skin and hair, mental stability and concentration, regularity and to prevent abnormal cravings. Safe, nourishing fats are those highly valued and eaten regularly by the traditional people Weston Price studied who possessed the true definition of health. Those fats are butter, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, animal fats from free range and wild caught animals and fish, extra virgin olive oil, and nut/seed/avocado oil from cold-pressed sources never heated. Healthy fats contain vitamins like A, D, & E, CLA, MCT, cholesterol, precursors for hormone production and most importantly omega-3 fatty acids. Balanced omega-3:omega-6 ratios will help bring balance back to the entire body. Certain people have genetically greater needs for omega-3 fats. If you are descended from Scandinavian, Native American, Native Celtic, Irish, Scottish or Welsh you might not be able to metabolize omega-3 from plants (like flaxseed or chia) and you must get omega-3 from cold water fish, grassfed beef and wild game or fish oil supplements. Depression and alcohol cravings are often signs of omega-3 deficiency.
And there you have it – a lengthy list of how we lose our balance, how we get out of homeostasis, how we run into leptin resistance and become overweight in the first place. Now that you know how imbalance happens you can begin to take steps to correct it. Coming up next are some strategies for restoring balance and regaining a healthy metabolism. Read Part Six here.
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