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I have everyone that trains at USI take the General Health Questionnaire that Dr. James LaValle created and is in his book Cracking The Metabolic Code. Exercise alone will not get you as fit as you’d probably like. In order to get fit you have to get healthy.


There are 12 categories within the questionnaire and one of the worst scores that practically everyone gets is with adrenal function. I myself have dealt with adrenal issues off and on for years.


Is it possible you have an adrenal issue? Ask yourself these questions.


  • Do you have disrupted sleep?
  • Do you think your sleep is poor quality?
  • Do you frequently feel “tired but wired”?
  • Are you frequently anxious or stressed out?
  • Are you easily irritated? 
  • Are you getting sick more frequently? 
  • Do you have unexplained aches and pains?
  • Do you have digestive issues?
  • Do you have food cravings?
  • Are you gaining too much weight?

When our adrenal glands are functioning optimally, they produce adequate amounts of the stress hormones cortisol and DHEA that help us cope with stress and power us through the day. Your cortisol fluctuation pattern and your DHEA levels determine whether you have a healthy stress response profile. Depending on your results, you may experience some of the following symptoms:


Common effects of stress on your body include:

  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Change in sex drive
  • Upset stomach
  • Sleep problems


Common effects of stress on your mood include:

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness or depression


Common effects of stress on your behavior include:

  • Overeating or undereating
  • Angry outbursts
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Tobacco use
  • Social withdrawal
  • Exercising less often



Source: Mayo Clinic

Cortisol and DHEA

 When our adrenal glands are in balance, they produce adequate amounts of two stress hormones ‐ cortisol and DHEA ‐ to power us through the day and to help us cope with stress. Cortisol has wide-ranging effects in the body: it interacts with the reproductive, immune, and endocrine systems. Cortisol, as part of the stress response, prepares the body for its “fight-or-flight” response by suppressing the production and release of other hormones, such as DHEA and thyroid hormones. Cortisol levels fluctuate naturally through the day—it is highest in the morning and lowest at night. 

Thorne, one of the supplement companies we use here, just came out with 5 at home tests and one of them is for stress and the adrenals. I took it the test and here were my results and some info on lifestyle management to better deal with stress and potentially improve my result.


(Here’s a pic of my cortisol ranges above).

My cortisol wasn’t high enough in the morning or midday but slightly too high in the evening. And my DHEA was low. Metabolically in the body, cortisol and DHEA are antagonistic to each other, partially because they originate from a common precursor, the hormone pregnenolone. When stress elevates your cortisol level, pregnenolone is diverted from producing DHEA and is used to produce more cortisol. Thus, cortisol and DHEA exist in a dynamic “tug-of-war” with each other and when one is found to be elevated, the other is commonly found at lower levels. Each hormone can also directly antagonize the physiological effect of the other one in the body. My adrenals have probably been fatigued for so long that I’m not adequately able to produce enough cortisol or DHEA.

Based off of my results from the test, here’s some info Thorne provided to help me fix this problem.


Follow the Mediterranean diet


Chronic inflammation might be contributing to your pattern of cortisol imbalance. Diet plays an important role in regulating inflammation. The Mediterranean diet is a popular, anti-inflammatory diet that has been shown to help normalize cortisol levels throughout the day. The diet consists of consuming large amounts of vegetables and moderate amounts of fruit, fish, and poultry.

The Mediterranean diet consists of consuming large amounts of vegetables and moderate amounts of fruit, in addition to whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. Fish and poultry are eaten in moderation. Fresh fruit is the typical daily dessert and olive oil is the primary source of fat.


Although the Mediterranean diet is essentially an anti-inflammatory diet, the Thorne Modified Mediterranean Diet goes a step further to assure you are not including common allergens in your diet that can contribute to inflammation and exaggerated responses to stress. The most common allergenic foods are dairy, gluten (wheat, barley, rye), soy, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, and corn.



How to Fill Your Plate 


Each meal should have:

1 serving of protein ‐ Equal to one palmful

1 serving of vegetables ‐ Equal to three handfuls

Each day you should have:

1 serving of fruit ‐ Equal to one handful

1 serving of healthy fats ‐ Equal to three fingers or 1-2 Tbsp


Recommended Food Sources

Protein VegetablesHealthy Oils/ Fats
EggsAvocadoOlive oil
Cottage cheeseCarrotsMacadamia oil
BeansCassavaSesame oil
LentilsCornWalnut oil
TofuParsnipCoconut oil
ChickenPeasNut butter
Lean beefSweet potato
Wild gameWinter squash

Eat grains sparingly if at all. Limit to a small serving (one handful or less of cooked grain). Choose from this list: brown rice, barley, corn tortilla (one small), millet, oats, quinoa, whole grain or rye crackers (eat nut crackers if you are gluten free).


Healthy Fats

Healthy fats are part of the Mediterranean diet. As part of the diet, we recommend placing emphasis on using olive oil, hazelnut oil, or pistachio oil over other vegetable oils and consuming a balanced intake of cold-water fish (or fish oil). Studies have shown that eating healthy fats, such as monounsaturated fats from olive oil, has a positive effect on cortisol levels. On the other hand, eating large amounts of trans fats or high-fat diets in the absence of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids can result in abnormal cortisol fluctuations. In one study of 41 women in the Mediterranean region, high monounsaturated fat (such as the fat found in olive oil) intake was associated with normal cortisol fluctuations.



Omega-3-rich foods have a storied scientific history of favorably influencing inflammation. Although this was originally thought to be a passive process, now we know that omega-3 fatty acids facilitate the active resolution of inflammation. Foods that decrease the inflammatory burden on your body support normal cortisol levels.

Fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids help quell inflammation include:

Herring, Wild (Atlantic and Pacific)>1,500 milligrams per 3-ounce serving
Salmon, Farmed (Atlantic)
Salmon, Wild (King)
Mackerel, Wild (Pacific and Jack)
  1. Romagnolo D, Selmin O. Mediterranean diet and prevention of chronic diseases. Nutr Today 2017;52(5):208-222.
  2. García-Prieto M, Tébar F, Nicolás F, et al. Cortisol secretary pattern and glucocorticoid feedback sensitivity in women from a Mediterranean area: relationship with anthropometric characteristics, dietary intake and plasma fatty acid profile. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf) 2007;66(2):185-191.
  3. [Accessed 12.4.17]


Eat pre- and probiotic foods

Your test results indicate cortisol levels out of the optimal range. Healthy gut microbes have been shown to help normalize cortisol levels. Simply eating foods high in pre and probiotics can help maintain your gut health and promote a healthy response to stress. The first step is to learn what foods are classified as prebiotic foods and probiotic foods.

Prebiotic foods are high-fiber foods that help “feed” the beneficial bacteria in your gut. These foods contain types of fiber that are not fully digested in the small intestine. So, these prebiotic food fibers travel to the large intestine where they provide nutrients for beneficial bacteria to thrive.


Some examples of prebiotic foods include:

  • Chicory
  • Jicama
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • Dandelion greens
  • Raw garlic
  • Raw onion
  • Scallions
  • Leeks
  • Under-ripe bananas
  • Fiber supplements

Unlike prebiotic foods which feed good bacteria, probiotic foods introduce good bacteria into the gut. Probiotic foods are fermented foods that contain beneficial bacteria.


Some examples of probiotic foods include:

  • Yogurt; Kefir (fermented milk)
  • Miso (fermented soy beans)
  • Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage)
  • Kombucha {fermented black or green tea)
  • Kimchi (salted, fermented radishes, and Napa cabbage)
  • Probiotic nutritional supplements.


What’s the evidence?

In a study of 48 medical students, half consumed a probiotic in the form of fermented milk with Lactobacillus casei and half were given an unfermented milk devoid of probiotic activity daily for eight weeks prior to taking exams. The study showed that the group who consumed the probiotic had lower cortisol levels, less anxious feelings, and experienced fewer cold and intestinal symptoms. In other words, consuming a probiotic before exams had a positive effect on stress levels and immune function.


Other studies have found a connection between the make-up of the gut’s bacteria, probiotic intake, and cortisol levels. Reasons that beneficial bacteria in the colon might benefit stress include decreased colon inflammation, decreased pathogenic bacteria in the colon associated with anxiety and stress, and decreased cortisol levels.

Clinical Evidence
  1. Kato-Kataoka A, Nishida K, Takada M, et al. Fermented milk containing Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota prevents the onset of physical symptoms in medical students under academic examination stress. Benef Microbes 2016;7(2):153-156.
  2. Andersson H, Tullberg C, Ahrné S, et al. Oral Administration of Lactobacillus plantarum 299v reduces cortisol levels in human saliva during examination induced stress: a randomized, double-blind controlled trial. Int J Microbiol 2016;2016:8469018. doi: 10.1155/2016/8469018.
  3. Messaoudi M, Lalonde R, Violle, N, et al. Assessment of psychotropic-like properties of a probiotic formulation (Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175) in rats and human subjects. Br J Nutr 2011;105(5):755-764.


Focus on resistance training

To increase your DHEA levels, put more of your exercise focus on resistance training sessions. One study showed that there was a significant increase in DHEA levels following a resistance exercise session compared to an endurance exercise session.

Exercising with Low DHEA

Low DHEA levels are often associated with low energy levels and fatigue; therefore, it’s imperative not to over train. With resistance training it is also important to allow your body time to recover and your muscles to rebuild. Also, emphasizing mobility/flexibility (yoga) in the evenings before bed can help reduce overall stress levels.


Resistance Training: 

Resistance training is when you engage in an activity where you work against some force that resists your movement. Examples of resistance training activities include: weight lifting, bodyweight exercises, dragging sleds, and movement in water.

Clinical Evidence
  1. Heaney J, Carroll D, and Phillips A. DHEA, DHEA-S, and cortisol responses to acute exercise in older adults in relation to exercise training status and sex. Age (Dordr) 2013; 35(2):395-405. [accessed 12.27.2017]
30 minutes2 to 3 times per weekWeight lifting

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