Heal Your Adrenals in 5 Steps: Yoga, NYC, No Sugar, Forgive + Dump Caffeine

Via Sara Gottfried, MD
on May 20, 2011
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Your adrenals, under normal circumstances, release cortisol and DHEA (the main stress hormones), and epinephrine and norepinephrine (neurotransmitters). You’re designed to make a lot in the morning, and very little at bedtime.

Problem is this: often the pattern – peak cortisol and DHEA in the morning, low at night – is not what I find in my patients who struggle with fatigue, low libido and a thickening waist. Instead, most folks with symptoms of wonky adrenal glands have a low cortisol in the morning and high cortisol at night. Some are resistant to cortisol and produce higher and higher amounts of cortisol in response to stress.

How does it feel? You wake up and don’t feel restored, even if you got your full 8 hours, and at night, you get a second wind. That second wind propels you to get your stuff done – which often leads to staying up way late such as midnight, 1am. Unfortunately, this depletes your adrenals even further, because your adrenals get healed at night. Night time is when the repair occurs.

Dysregulated cortisol has other effects too on the rest of your hormones – it blocks thyroid hormone production, and blocks the progesterone receptor, so that your normal soothing mechanisms just don’t work.

If you’re not sure – measure those hormones! You can ask your doctor to measure your cortisol and DHEAS or do it at home at Canary Club.

Here are some of the interventions proven to make a difference in your stress hormone levels – things you can do to get your adrenals to make just the right amount of hormone, not too much and not too little.

  1. Yoga. We know that cortisol gets modulated by practicing yoga. If you have high cortisol, yoga will lower it. Yoga also releases GABA, which is nature’s valium. You make a ton of it in pregnancy, but all of us can get the radiant, buoyant feeling simply by practicing yoga regularly.
  2. NYC. I just returned from a trip to New York City, and yet again had the experience of feeling more enlivened and inspired than I have in years, all against the background of a busy life of a working mom. While it’s not the highest quality data, which in my book are randomized trials, I collected my cortisol before and after my trip. Before the trip, my blood cortisol  in the morning was 19.6. Sky high. Tired but wired. After the trip, morning 12.5 micrograms/dL. I’m not alone in this experience. In an informal and unscientific survey of 25 friends, 96% report a boost in joy from a trip to New York. Of course, I’m not saying this only happens in New York. Point Reyes works equally well for my body as a Rejuvenation Station. Maybe Bermuda works for you.
  3. No Sugar. High cortisol floods the blood with glucose. Over time your body becomes resistant to insulin. Result? You gain weight. You develop hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia. You crave more sugar. One way to get this vicious cycle under control is to stop eating sugar. Choose low-glycemic foods, and sufficient protein (3/4 to 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass).
  4. Forgive. I’ve recently become a scholar of the Stanford Forgiveness Project and Fred Luskin, PhD. He has proven that deep forgiveness lowers anxiety, blood pressure and anger. Both anxiety and anger correlate with cortisol levels, so I hypothesized there is a direct link. Lo and behold! Forgiveness does lower cortisol! This has been demonstrated in several populations. Forgiveness, using the paradigm that Fred describes on his website, significantly lowers stress and (!) increases sales in the corporate environment.
  5. Dump Caffeine. Most of my patient self medicate their low morning cortisol with a big ‘ol cuppa joe. Not just any cup of coffee, but here in the Bay Area, it’s Blue Bottle or Peets. Not a little euro cup but a gigantic supersized bowl. Caffeine raises your cortisol. I’m not saying caffeine is universally bad, but if you already have a problem with cortisol, I’d rather we find you more honest ways of raising your cortisol, your energy (such as items 1-4), as opposed to relying on fake energy (coffee, Red Bull, chocolate, etc). You might sleep better too, and that is delicious for your adrenal glands.

I’m not saying this is easy – in fact, I offer an entire cleansing program of which getting off caffeine and sugar is the main feature. Group support is sometimes helpful at turning around disordered adrenal function. Or take a yoga class. Or meditate, the ultimate goal of yoga.

Wishing you a normal cortisol for you – not too much, not too little. Namaste!


About Sara Gottfried, MD

I believe in evidence-based ancient wisdom. I believe in eating your leafy greens rather than popping synthetic pills. I believe in Ayurveda and integrative medicine. I believe in botanical therapies over synthetic hormones. I believe you deserve to feel sexy, ripe and delicious. I believe in tending your flame. I believe that proactively managing and optimizing your health is your divine responsibility and a path to personal power. I’m a mother suspicious of processed sugar and a yogini hotly pursuing lithe, lean lusciousness. I’m committed to deep green, organic living. I’m a scholar and a seeker of truth, vitality, hormonal balance, sacred balance, spirituality and divine self-actualization. I’m Sara Gottfried, MD and you can find me at my website or love my Facebook page.


28 Responses to “Heal Your Adrenals in 5 Steps: Yoga, NYC, No Sugar, Forgive + Dump Caffeine”

  1. fdsfg says:

    I hate NYC

  2. Good article, Sara.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W. Yoga Editor
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  3. Pamela says:

    That's another reminder to dump sugar, thanks.

  4. luke says:

    http://www.canaryclub.org/ mentioned in the article offers at-home hormone testing kits.
    MLK Jr says, “when we forgive, we forget in the sense that the evil deed is no longer a mental block impeding a new relationship. … Forgiveness means reconciliation, a coming together again. Without this, no man can love his enemies. The degree to which we are able to forgive determines the degree to which we are able to love our enemies.”
    But forget nyc, just start planking. It needn’t be fancy or dangerous, and it’s basically the same as living in nyc, as dirty but without the classism, drugs and violence, and way cheaper, and as fun as an island vacation, http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/05/planking-phenomenon-in-australia-not-to-be-mistaken-for-plank-pose—julia-george/

  5. Maureen Miller says:

    Love love love your pics…. cool handstand with the city as your background.

  6. […] An MD You Can Love May 21, 2011 // 0 Heal Your Adrenals in 5 Steps: Yoga, NYC, No Sugar, Forgive + Dump Caffeine | elephant journal. […]

  7. Eric says:

    Sanibel Island is my place. Thanks for the article. I am a beginner and appreciate hearing how changing what I do will change how I feel.

  8. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  9. The recommended daily amount of protein is about 0.80 grams per kilogram of body weight, not per pound.

  10. Albert says:

    no one who knows NYC could possibly hate it.

  11. Confused says:

    I'm sorry, but I am a bit confused. You start the article by saying that your body wants to produce more cortisol in the morning and less at night. Then you say that the trip to NYC made you produce less cortisol. But my impression is that you thought the trip to NYC was beneficial.

    In the spirit of #4, I forgive you for not taking the time to write your article in a logically consistent manner, or to at least clear at least be clear.

  12. Thanks for the yogic love! Glad you stopped by! Peace!

  13. KarenVaughan says:

    I wonder about equating caffeine and coffee. No one I know takes the crystalline caffeine, although there may be some among the Red Bull devotees. Coffee is a complete herbal beverage with relaxing compounds such as flavanoids, magnesium and chlorogenic acid. In Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Oct;84(4):888-93. researchers found coffee consumption negatively correlated with inflammation in diabetics, two cups of coffee daily having the anti-inflammatory equivalent to a statin pill without the side effects. It is beneficial in many diseases that are normally worsened by cortisol. Now while I believe that some individuals simply can't tolerate coffee and others may abuse it, it appears to be good for many who might have adrenal stress. http://www.acupuncturebrooklyn.com/articles-by-ka

  14. Hmmm. Last time I checked a yoga home practice, dumping sugar and caffeine, and forgiveness were FREE. But thanks for the reminder of Step 6: Lose your martyr/victim complex because it's hurting your adrenals. Sending you love and compassion. Most respectfully, SG

  15. Thanks, Hilary! Sending all manner of love and joy right back atchya!

  16. Portia says:

    calling someone a martyr/victim isn't respectful.

  17. Tahia says:

    sorry, but any city will stress the adrenals even more, too much noise and activity! Nature would be better!

  18. Yogini5 says:

    It's expensive to live year round (maintaining my only residence) here in NYC.

    All that vibrancy comes at a price.

    Still nice!

  19. It definitely comes at a price! Glad you are part of the magic! SG

  20. […] Heal Your Adrenals in 5 Steps: Yoga, NYC, No Sugar, Forgive + Dump Caffeine […]

  21. Thanks for the informative article. Now if only I could get my husband to read it! Last blood test, he had borderline high triglicerides, which is another issue … but I can't help but think there's a correlation?

  22. PS. He's from NY 🙂

  23. DrLisaRiolo says:

    No, I do not advocate for super-low protein diets. However, most Americans eat much more protein than they should be eating through diets high in animal-protein. I use the ADA recommendation, calling for 0.8 grams of protein/ kg of body weight. Since there are 2.2 pounds in a kilogram, your calulation is twice the recommended protein intake. The ADA recommendations do not specify lean body mass. I just think that you have used the correct factor with the incorrect unit of measure.
    Dr. Lisa RIolo

  24. Ashley says:

    I have a question. When you say no sugar, does that mean no sugar from fruit? I've a vegetarian, and my diet is mostly comprised of salads and fruits, with some oatmeal and quinao thrown in there too. So should I lay off the fruit? I've been gaining weight recently and I seriously can't figure out why. I eat healthy 90% of the time, do yoga 3-4 times a week, and walk everywhere( I live in the city). However my anxiety is pretty out of control, and I'm thinking that might have something to do with it. Also, should the caffeine in black tea also be eliminated. I don't drink coffee but drink tea like a fiend!! I would appreciate any advice. Thanks!!

  25. […] with a good book is delicious and enjoyable at first, you feel as if your hands and feet should be doing something more than just picking up a cup of tea. Photo: […]

  26. […] it’s the best anti-aging and body repair tool we have. When we don’t get enough sleep, we exhaust our adrenals. When we add caffeine to combat the fatigue, we exhaust them even further and end up in a constant […]

  27. […] touch can soothe anxiety and depression. Massage reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, resulting in a deep, settling calm. Lowering cortisol can also lower blood pressure and assist […]

  28. @MaxZografos says:

    Great information as always Sara. Thanks!