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How To Overcome Anxiety and Stress, And Increase Your Energy with Christa Orecchio

how to overcome anxiety and stress, and increase your energy with Christa Orecchio
Got stress, anxiety, and fatigue? Then you will be interested to hear Christa Orecchio’s approach to re-wiring your nervous system with her 6 pillars to overcome stress, anxiety, and get more energy.

In this episode, I have with me, Christa Orecchio, who is a clinical and holistic nutritionist and founder of the Whole Journey. She helps people heal from the root cause, using food as their medicine and a mind body spirit approach to health.

In this podcast, Christa will cover

  • What it means to live off stress hormones
  • Christa’s 6 pillars of health
  • Why do most people stay in stress?
  • Why breathing is essential to overcome stress
  • Why Christa doesn’t like the low-carb approach and believes that adequate amounts of carbs are essential for your health
  • How your childhood can affect your health (and how to heal from emotional trauma)
  • What foods can I eat to overcome stress, and anxiety, and fatigue?
  • Why Christa recommends frequent meals
  • Why nutrient ratios matter (and how to track it)
  • Christa’s new “Adrenal ReCode” Program (You can find more information about that HERE)

 

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How To Overcome Anxiety and Stress, And Increase Your Energy with Christa Orecchio – Transcript

Ari Whitten: Everyone. Welcome back to the Energy Blueprint Podcast. I’m your host, Ari Whitten, and today I have with me Christa Orecchio, who is a clinical and holistic nutritionist and founder of the Whole Journey. She helps people heal from the root cause, using food as their medicine and a mind body spirit approach to health.

Christa is a bestselling author, TV show host and is super passionate about helping you heal your adrenals, thyroid and nervous system in the most holistic way possible. So welcome to the show, Christa.

Christa Orecchio: Thank you for having me, Ari. I am super excited to be here.

Ari Whitten: Yeah, likewise. And on a personal note, I will say that it was such a pleasure, getting together with you for lunch, I believe it was last week or the week before and getting to talk so much geeky stuff with you around nutrition and health and it was just an absolute pleasure.

Christa Orecchio: The pleasure was mine. I mean, really, it’s funny. We’ve lived so close to each other for so long. Just got to know each other.

Ari Whitten: Yeah, totally.

Christa Orecchio: So that will be the first of many lunches we have.

 

What it means to live off stress hormone

Ari Whitten: I hope so. So, I know that, you know, one of the things we talked about is you have a new program that you’ve been developing called “Adrenal Recode” and it really revolves around kind of the nervous system’s role in an illness and symptoms and stress hormones. And that one of the things that you say is that the majority of us are living off of stress hormones and we’re not aware of it.

So first of all, how do we know if that applies to us as individuals? And what exactly do you mean by living off of stress hormones?

Christa Orecchio: So, well you know that if that applies to you as an individual, if you’ve had longstanding problems with anxiety, that’s really your telltale sign. If you’ve had longstanding problems with anxiety or insomnia. If you wake up like consistently between one and 4:00 AM, almost like not able to go back to sleep, ready to start the day.

Or when you do wake up in the morning, it’s earlier, like before the alarm you wake up with your heart pounding. These are all signs, but you know, really kind of living in a state of fear, living in a state of overwhelm, that inability to relax and sometimes it’s that alternating anxiety and depression or it’s like at the same time, you know, you’re tired and wired at the same time, but you just, you can’t let go even though you’re just completely exhausted. You have no energy whatsoever, but yet you kind of feel that fried feeling.

Ari Whitten: Gotcha. So, so, so that’s how we know if it applies to us, what does it mean to be living off of stress hormones? Like what hormones are you talking about in particular and why are we in your, in your words, living off of them?

Christa Orecchio: Yeah, so we’re living in a state of stress, so it really comes down to within our central nervous system, within the autonomic nervous system, when we have the sympathetic nervous system and we have the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system, is that fight, flight or freeze. You don’t hear freeze a lot. But that’s what a lot of us do under stress. And when we’re in that state, we need that nervous system. We need a balance, a really healthy balance of both in order to thrive, but what happens is we’re constantly clicking on this sympathetic nervous system unnecessarily so we’re completely overreacting to things as if we’re in danger and we get stuck in this way of responding and reacting and we don’t live in our parasympathetic nervous systems anymore. I know that’s where rest, digest and heal. That’s where we do all of our digesting. That’s when the body can recover and that’s when the body can heal and we should spend the majority of our time, when we’re not in danger in the parasympathetic nervous system.

So, it could be, you know, life can be a lot sometimes. Right, Ari? It’s like modern life and so it could be the stresses we’re under, but a lot of times it’s things that happened to us that forced us into the sympathetic nervous system for a long period of time. So that could be something like childhood trauma. That could be. You could have gone through a divorce or major breakups or having recently had a baby, you know, having a child.

Just the act of going through pregnancy and especially if it’s a traumatic birth and becoming a new mother, sometimes if then you start to add multiple kids to that and just there’s so much to balance, so it doesn’t necessarily have to mean you’ve gone through a trauma. Or like we were talking at lunch, entrepreneurship can do this too, right?

It’s like you’re in the middle of a launch and it’s just too much to do and not enough time to do it. That type of thing, and so what happens is we lose our ability to toggle between these two nervous systems in a healthy way and we get locked in the sympathetic nervous system.

So now we’re constantly releasing adrenaline and then we move into releasing cortisol and what happens is our cells lose their ability to be sensitized to insulin. So now energy can’t get delivered. Glucose can’t get delivered into the cell. And now your thyroid can’t make her burn energy. So, you can’t have an adrenal problem without having a thyroid problem and a nervous system problem and a brain problem because really, they just know all four of them work so intimately together and it’s about healing these systems.

And so, we’re stuck in this habit. We’re stuck in this pattern and you know, I spent a decade in private practice, and I have this one client story that was like a life defining moment for me where I really got this.

And I used to run a ton of neurotransmitter panels where I’m looking at the metabolites of the neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers in the brain. And I’m looking at those in urine to see, okay, what’s going on with this person system with their inhibitory neurotransmitters are the ones that make us feel calm and help us manage stress and help us sleep.

Versus the excitatory ones that, you know, we get anxiety, we get inflammation, we start to get brain trouble. And I looked at this woman’s panel and it looked like she was in like utter crisis. And I had known her for four months at that point and we weren’t getting progress.

But her life was fine, she was happy in her life and I just say, what happened, you know, what, what’s going on? Is there something you didn’t share with me?

And she had a lot of childhood trauma and sexual abuse that she had never shared with anyone. And it was like, that’s an extreme example, but it was, to me it was like, wow, people are getting locked into this state and they’re not getting out of it.

So, you have to get out of that state in a physical way. And then also in a, in an emotional way.

Ari Whitten: I want to talk about the concept of “Adrenal Fatigue” briefly. This is something you and I chatted a bit about at lunch. You know, that I’m not a proponent of the “Adrenal Fatigue” theory and sort of the traditional model of like the three phases of Adrenal, like chronic stress wears out, uh, the adrenals and, and that, you know, sort of results in low cortisol which results in these symptoms of fatigue and insomnia and depression and anxiety and a variety of others.

I don’t think the evidence supports that, but I know that your take on this on adrenal health and how it ties into neurotransmitter health, central nervous system, health, thyroid health, all these other layers to the story that you’re talking about quite a bit more complex than just saying chronic stress wears out the adrenals. Then you get low cortisol that causes your problems.

And also, it seems to me, and please correct me if I’m wrong, it seems to me that you are not really saying that most people have low cortisol necessarily, but in some cases, people have high cortisol. Is that correct?

Christa Orecchio: Yeah. And I agree with you that the term “Adrenal Fatigue” is like a gross over simplification of what’s happening. And the adrenals role in this is, it’s just a, it’s a circadian rhythm problem, right?

Like we secrete certain amount of cortisol to get us up and got us going for the day and lower cortisol so that we can sleep. And so adrenal problems were being stressed too much. You start to go wild fluctuations because. Right? I mean, if you have high cortisol, then your blood sugar, you can’t regulate your blood sugar and so the two of these are working in tandem and so yeah, it’s a circadian rhythm issue and it’s just a regulation. You just. You can’t secrete the right amount of cortisol at the right time basically.

 

Why most people stay in stress mode

Ari Whitten: Got It. So, we’re living off stress hormones. Many of us have these wild fluctuations of stress hormones. We have an inability to toggle between, stressed out, stress response, sympathetic nervous system, getting back into rest, digest, heal, parasympathetic mode.

How did we get this way? What’s going on in the modern world that made this situation so common?

Christa Orecchio: Yeah. Well, outside of life being a lot like we just talked about from parenting to single parenting to overwork, to just general stress. I mean I definitely want to throw technology into the mix and that deserves a little bit of the blame, right? They say that we light up dopamine in our brain every time. Oh, I’ve got five text or 20[flag] messages or emails, right? You, you actually light up dopamine in the brain which is part and parcel, like constantly activating that reward center and dopamine can get us in there like we’re all really overstimulated. And we become addicted to that feeling of being overstimulated.

Just ask the teenager when you take away their phone for a day, right? So, so that happens. But also, a lot of us, especially if we’re busy, we what do we do? Like we go for quick fixes, so we over rely on coffee and we want to feel… we want to calm down at night, so we over rely on wine or sugar and those types of things and we let exercise fall to the wayside. So there’s things that keep us in balance and can normally moderate these hormones like we don’t anymore because we are convenience oriented and we let our diets slip and then all of a sudden now you have this compromised body because whenever you’re in that parasympathetic nervous system, your body’s job is just to keep you alive and keep you out of danger.

Like you are not going to be digesting your food. Your blood is going to be shunted away from the digestive system to the limbs, right? You have to be on high alert, so whatever it is that you’re eating is gonna. Sit like a rock in your stomach. You’re not going to digest it, even if it’s healthy food and nine times out of 10 when you’re in this stressful state, it’s probably not going to be healthy food.

And so, there’s this just like a culmination of the perfect storm that gets us this way and then it’s like a whirlpool and then we’re stuck in it and we’re living in it and now people say, oh yeah, they think that’s who they are. That’s their new normal. I get hangry, you know, like if I, if I don’t have enough food, you know, so they carry food with them or I’m a night owl now, right? Or I’m a, I have a short fuse, don’t piss me off.

And people think that’s who they are and that’s going to be. They’re normal and they’re just going to live forever. But that was so transformative in my life when I write, because you ended up liking yourself better. You have a completely different experience of life, you have different relationships, you do different things with your time and so I really want to drive home the point that this is in a distress, adaptive state of your biochemistry, but it’s not who you are.

And physiologically, you know, when we’re stuck in this state for too long, we can’t convert our food into fuel, and we have no resilience to stress. So, there’s so many people out there that feel like not one more thing. One more thing and I’m going to snap, and its same thing is happening inside of the body because you know we have in our liver, in our muscles, we store reserves. We store glycogen. So, when we don’t have food or the meal is not there or we’re in a state of stress, the body can then release energy from the liver, from the muscles that stored energy and it can lock out that excess of cortisol response. And so, what we, when you’re in this state, you don’t have any reserves in the liver can store something like 400 grams and the muscles 12 to 1400 grams and that’s burned out and it’s not replaced, it’s burned out.

So, you really physiologically have no reserves and then you emotionally have no reserves and that just makes for a life where you’re living in fear and constantly on edge.

 

The connection between the brain and the central nervous system

Ari Whitten: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So there’s several other layers to this story that you, you mentioned in passing before with the thyroid, with the central nervous system, the brain, the neurotransmitters kind of take me through your sort of model of, of how this plays out and, and what, what’s actually happening in the brain and the nervous system because that, that seems to be kind of a focus of the paradigm is the brain and the nervous system in the central nervous system needs to be rewired in a different state.

So, kind of take me through what this process of, you know, kind of this, this whole process of cellular dysfunction and nervous system dysfunction looks like, well, how does it start and what does the process look like?

Christa Orecchio: So, let’s say if we start with hormonal balance happening in the brain and we’d go back to these neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers in the brain, we have our primary inhibitory neurotransmitter called GABA.

I’m sure you know all about it and you’ve talked to about it, but its primary job is to neutralize adrenaline and so like else if we continue to overwork it, it will get depleted and then many people in this state, they’re GABA is really low and their lab work. You know, I know you’re not a huge fan of these neurotransmitter test, but they’re loud work can show that that’s happening and then there’s this domino effect and then serotonin starts to become low.

Another feels good inhibitory neurotransmitter, and then we start driving up the inflammatory process. See, because what’s happening is if you are producing too much cortisol, you are in a state of inflammation. The body produces cortisol in order to buffer inflammation.

So we can start to see this when we look at glutamate and excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain when that’s getting too high and that gets higher and higher with start to get cell death and we’re all right, now we’re having cognitive issues ran, all of a sudden our memory and we’re our brain’s foggy and those types of things are happening and it’s like we come down this cascade. So hormonal balance begins in the brain and your pituitary gland is responsible for the control over your thyroid.

So, it’s this cascade that starts to come down, which is why I’m not a fan and we’re right on the same page here with bioidentical hormone therapy. You’re treating something all the way at the end, so downstream, oh, you’re low in this, take this, you know here, low testosterone, testosterone high this, take that and it’s a band aid approach that can drive up other pathways and the way you don’t want them to.

So really all of hormonal balance begins in the brain. But when you are lit up like this for such a long period of time, you’re supposed to only be in a stress adaptive state, so the longer you’re in this state, the more you’re getting damaged to basically the electrical insulator of your nerve cells, which is called your Myelin Sheath.

This leaves you susceptible for neurological issues and disease and for pathogens and things like that to come in and to invade. And so, what we have to do is you have to address all four, so you have to basically stop the adrenals from overproducing cortisol when it’s not time for Cortisol, right? So, we can regulate rhythms.

And then you have to be able to get energy into the cell. You have to get oxygen, glucose, and thyroid hormone that has to be present in yourselves in order to make energy. And you know, all this because your nickname is the mitochondria, man.

And so, we’ve got to be able to have those in ourselves, but it’s not enough to just have them. We have to then kind of stoke the fire, right? So that we can then, once again make energy and start to in… The more your body’s making energy, the more it feels safe, the more you can shut off the sympathetic nervous system, live in the parasympathetic nervous system, but then you also have to repair the collateral damage that’s been done to the Myelin Sheath. If you want to make this your new normal, like you think about a damaged Myelin Sheath is like electrical tape and you’ve taken sandpaper to that electrical tape and it’s all frayed and fried.

Hey, you’re not experiencing trauma or stress anymore, but the damage is there, so we have to go in and soothe that and heal it and calm it. To kind of paving potholes right on a road that’s been over, traveled on, so to speak. So, you’re really. You’re working all four and that’s the only way to really move into a new, let’s say whirlpool and that’s the thing. It’s hard in the beginning because of whirlpools got a mind of its own and it’s flying on its own.

So, you have to constantly interrupt the pattern. I want to talk next about our six pillar strategy. That’s going to interrupt this pattern and get you where you want to go, but it’s going to require vigilance, but then ultimately the healing happens and the whirlpool reverses on its own, in the right direction and it’s normal and natural for you to live in your parasympathetic nervous system, to convert your food into fuel, to make energy, and to really live a completely different life. I mean, we’re talking about the trajectory of two completely different existences here.

Ari Whitten:   Okay, so we are disrupting neurotransmitters in the brain. We’re disrupting hormones and we have a deficit in our ability to drive nutrients and oxygen into the cell where it can be made into energy.

Christa Orecchio: Yes. As well as the deficit in key micro nutrients and key vitamins, minerals and trace minerals. That being in this state for too long just starts to deplete them from the body.

Ari Whitten: Okay so, and so. That paradigm is, is basically the fundamental sort of driver of most chronic disease from your perspective. Correct? Or is it more like a specific kind of symptoms and syndrome?

Christa Orecchio: It’s more for the symptoms that I’ve mentioned? You know, I’ve been in a microbiome rejuvenation for a really long time, so you can’t discount having heavy, heavy pathogenic exposure. So, it’s more kind of talking about different paths at the same mountain.

Ari Whitten: Got ya.

Christa Orecchio: Not going to say it’s the be all end all because if you’re coming and you have outrageous SIBO and you’ve, you know, you’ve, you’ve taken 30 rounds of antibiotics, you know, then then this is going to be the next step after you rejuvenate your microbiome and reeducate your immune system.

 

The 6 pillars of health

Ari Whitten: Excellent. Okay. So, from here, understanding these sorts of layers of dysfunction, result in those symptoms that you’ve mentioned, what is, what does the path look like from your model as far as fixing this and, and interrupting that whirlpool, so to speak and rewiring somebody central nervous system into a different, a different mode.

Christa Orecchio:  Yeah. So, we have six pillars if you will, that go through and be able to do this. And the first is to use synergistic foods that support all four systems that replace the nutrient deficiencies in micronutrients, but they were also metabolic foods. Which means simply they’re just easy to digest.

So you were giving the body easy to digest foods and the right combinations so that the body, once again can get the food into the cell without it having to work for it, like you really aren’t going to be giving your body foods that it has to be able to convert into other forms of energy to be able to use. So that’s going to be really important. And so, we’re going to be looking at increasing, you know, just in terms of micronutrients, you’ve got to increase a lot of your trace minerals that are just zapped.

And so, you know, increasing the amount of salt. So many people are in this situation are really going to be craving salt anyway. So, using Himalayan pink salt, Celtic Sea salt is going to be really helpful. Getting your trace minerals. Magnesium is crucial for the liver and the thyroid and the body can’t produce glutathione, which is the master antioxidant in the liver, if it doesn’t have enough magnesium, vitamin B, one, the thyroid needs more of that. It’s so involved in cellular energy and in the Krebs Cycle.

And so, we’re, you really want to make sure you’re focusing on foods that are metabolic, easy to digest and you know, we just want to constantly interrupt that pattern. And then food frequency is going to be really important because again, you don’t have enough glycogen reserves, so you have to do for the body what right now in this state, it’s unable to do for itself, which is you need to regulate blood sugar and just give it food it can use.

And so, having food frequency and eating more often, you’ll be able to constantly interrupt the stress pattern.

 

Foods that are synergistic with overcoming stress, anxiety, and fatigue

Ari Whitten: Okay. So that’s number one end to correct. Yeah. Okay. So, I have a couple of questions digging into this a bit more. Let’s go back to number one, which is synergistic foods, sort of metabolic healing foods. Can you give a couple specific examples of foods that fit that category?

Christa Orecchio: Yeah, so it’s, it’s foods, but it’s also the combination of foods. And so, a lot of people probably aren’t going to like this, but organ meats are really a very metabolic food, more so than muscle meats. I’m not a fan of them. I take the pills, instead of eating them, but you know, you can get fancy and starts and mixed them in with other meats and so for those who are eating muscle meat, like they could mix in organ meat with that or you know, we’re having them have metabolic proteins and so egg yolks and not the whites because of sensitivities.

Shellfish is more of metabolic, low fat white fish. If you’re going to have any time you’re going to have meat like beef or bison, like you’re always gonna have it with a little bit of broth or college and because the combination of those two proteins and adding in the collagen in the broth is going to allow your body to use those wonderful nutrients that are going to be in the grass fed beef.

It’s going to allow your body to actually use it instead of trying to work to be able to use it. So that’s like in terms of meats and then we’re using vegetables that are. And can I will, you and I talked about this at lunch, like we’re getting rid of that fear of carbs. Like in a lot of ways, this is the ketogenic recovery program because the body, you’re going to force your body to overproduce stress hormones. If 70 percent of your calories coming from fat or even sometimes it’s 50 percent of your calories are coming from fat, you’re going to force what you don’t want is for your body to not run off of glucose, but to run right. You don’t necessarily want your body to be running off of fat.

And so, we really want people to be able to use fruit and root vegetables strategically for energy in these early healing foods.

When you combine them with protein, and you combine them with fats that are going to be able to get our reaction to then get glucose into the cell to then that’s the antidote to stress is sugar. And we all know that because you’ve got a crazy sugar addiction problem in the US. I mean, I used to eat sour patch kids for lunch way back in the day, so I know that.

And so, it’s like, no, let’s solve that body’s need for sugar by giving it healthy, supportive micro, nutrient dense fruit that fruit and root vegetables and so combining them in the right way and all of my other programs don’t include dairy because so much with them or for the immune system in the gut, but using really high quality dairy and things like raw milk. It’s the perfect blend of proteins, carbs and fats to shut off the nervous system response to feed the thyroid, without the thyroid having to work for it at all, loaded with the amino acids that you need. And so, yeah, I’m a fan of it for this, for this purpose.

Ari Whitten: Gotcha. Okay. So I have a barrage of questions for you to go into here, but let’s start with, I think probably the most controversial element in what you said, which is that we were now living in a, in a, in a dietary sort of trend where everybody’s saying the opposite of what you said in the sense that everybody’s saying, hey, you don’t want to be a carb burner or a sugar burner to a fat burner. And so, you need to get rid of, get the carbs out of your diet, eat a low carb high fat diet, or a keto, or even there are even people saying a zero-carb diet.

So, we want to be running on, on only fat. And there are even people who kind of invoke a similar sort of logic and they say, well, that eliminates the sort of blood sugar surges that you would get if you consume a carb-based diet.

And to be clear, I’m acting as an impartial. I’m questioner here to try to try to just, you know, devil’s advocate, so to speak. I’m not saying I agree with the keto people were the carnivore diet people by any means. But I do want to pose that question to you so that you can sort of take on what, why are you not one of these people saying get the carbs out of your diet and you want to be a fat burner instead of a sugar burner. You’re saying you want to be a carber. Why is that?

Christa Orecchio: Yeah. I like the idea of slowing the release of glucose throughout your system through using, through using fat, you know, strategically in that way and there are some people where they can go on a ketogenic diet and they can heal, and they can lose weight for three weeks to maybe a couple of months. But if you keep your body and that’s where it can be helpful, but if you keep your body in that state for too long, well first of all you’re challenging your gallbladder because it’s a lot of fat and gallbladders probably going to start having trouble producing bile.

And we’ve had about a lot of people with gallbladder problems from eating this way for an extended period of time. So, I think that there’s no one right dietary theory. It’s like what are you using now and what are you using to heal? And if you’re going to be running off of fat, which you can, but that is not the body’s preferred source of fuel.

And if you’re going to be doing that extended period of time, it’s going to stress the body’s going to put you in a in it. It’s going to put you in a catabolic state where you have to break down tissue to continue that and you can see it with people who have, who know it had this one guy who had been in Ketosis for three years. I mean they start to lose the in their teeth, and they start to have chronic halitosis and it puts us in this state of breakdown that we don’t need to be in. And then we have to recover from that.

So, I think that if you’re under the care of a practitioner using the Ketogenic Diet therapeutically to heal and you’re working specifically, that’s fine, but I don’t think it’s a way of life.

Ari Whitten: Yeah. Okay. So, sticking with nutrition a little bit more before we go on. Regarding the glycogen stores thing and kind of that most people are, are not, that, don’t have, don’t have significant enough reserves. What about the people who are extremely overweight and who are generally speaking chronically overeating relative to how much they’re burning each day and um, are, are essentially in a caloric surplus, and I think most would argue are chronically full in terms of their glycogen reserves.

So, is that, how do you sort of differentiate that kind of person that you’re talking about? Is it…?

Christa Orecchio: I wouldn’t say necessarily their glycogen reserves are full because they’re probably eating the kinds of foods that they can’t create storage from. And so, so just to be clear, our program, if you’re not eating more so, so you’re not necessarily eating more calories, reading the right types of calories, the right macronutrients, the right combination of proteins, carbs and fats to shut off the stress response.

And so, someone coming in who’s overweight and having too many calories is there’ll be scaling back their calories, the probably lose weight fairly quickly and especially from regulating your blood sugar because we know that the body stores fat when you have too much cortisol on for too long. And then there’s the opposite to the opposite point that you said is we’ve got a lot of people that they say, I don’t get it. I am stressed all the time, don’t. I don’t really eat that much. And I exercise.

And so, it’s, it’s kind of goes back to the beginning of do we believe in adrenal fatigue, but this really just comes back to balance. It’s like give the body what it needs to convert food into fuel and to burn it efficiently. And then that will create an efficient metabolism, right? The thyroid, the furnace and the thermostat of the human body. We create the sufficient metabolism and then wait, works itself out on its own and then efficient glycogen stores are, are reserved again.

 

Why Christa recommends frequent meals throughout the day

Ari Whitten: Gotcha. Okay. So, one more question here before we go on. Went with regards to food frequency. It sounds like you’re an advocate of eating a little bit more on the frequent side because people have blood sugar, have trouble regulating blood sugar levels in between meals may go hypoglycemic and have their energy levels drop and brain function drop and that sort of thing and then kind of have to have a stress hormone surge and that sort of thing.

With that in mind, you know, coming, coming from that paradigm, what is your perception of the very popular trend of intermittent fasting now with people having one meal a day or you know, doing prolonged fasting of various kinds?

Christa Orecchio: It really depends on the state of their nervous system, you know, if you, if you have anxiety and that you’re the type of person who struggles with anxiety and insomnia, like that’s not going to be great for you. -but if you already resourced and your nervous system’s fine and you can, you can intermittent fast and you can sleep at night and still have energy and you’re not locked in that state of fear and overwhelm.

Then, kind of go back to the same thing as ketogenic. I don’t think I would do it as a lifestyle because that could start to cause its own issue, but it’s like we’re living breathing organism. Right?

And like life happens and all these different events happen that shift our hormones and shift our perception and our story and so I think we have to be open to changing as we go. Intermittent fasting is not going to work for the person that we’re trying to help with the adrenal recode.

Ari Whitten: Got It. So well before. So, number two is food frequency to regulate blood sugar. Is there. Before we go on to number three, is there anything else you’d want to mention on, on that point?

Christa Orecchio: You know, I think I do, Ari, because somebody coming into this that is coming off of intermittent fasting or they’re coming off of the ketogenic diet or if you’ve, you know, you, you have to work with your own body. And so that’s where we’re working with a team of five clinicians to help people. You can’t go from eating once or twice a day to eating six times a day. You will gain a lot of weight quickly.

You can’t go from eating no fruit or root vegetables, you know, which that’s pretty much, you know, our next pillar, which we talked about, but you can’t go from not eating any to then having them with every meal and not gain weight.

So, it’s meeting people where they are, you know, it’s like whatever, wherever you’re eating now, one or two meals a day, just increase it by one and I’m not talking about increasing the amount of food you’re eating, it’s just spacing it out like so smaller meals more frequently. And then the same thing, you know, if you’ve come from not eating any fruits and you know you’ve got that, then you’re going to start off with an eighth of a cup with breakfast and see how that works for you and because again, you have to work and we’ve got to sensitize yourselves once again to these foods so that they can use them instead of just converting right to fat.

Ari Whitten: Yeah. Gotcha. So, fruit and fruit sugar, fruit in roots. So, we’re in this at this point, we’re talking carbohydrate dominant foods and why fruit and root vegetables as opposed to legumes or whole grains and that sort of thing.

Christa Orecchio: What gives because they’re easier to digest. So, someone who’s been in this state for a while, the more you secrete cortisol, the more you can send the lining of your gut in the last. You’ve really digesting and so I like Legos and I like gluten free grains. I’m kind of on the fringe with that, but they have…

Ari Whitten: I’m with you on that by the way.

Christa Orecchio: I remember it and I appreciate that. It’s like it’s. It’s making healthier foods and they’ll be able to in the “Adrenal Recode” they’ll be able to add some of those foods in once they get a certain level of healing, but they have some anti nutrients called lectins or phytic acid or it’s just that it goes back to just let’s make this as easy as possible here. You don’t have to do any work. Just take the food and use it and then when you get a little strength and we’d get a little resilience.

It’s like, here you have to do a little converting. You have to, you know, do a little work to get the nutrients out of this food, but you’re stronger now in your body can do it, no problem. And so that’s when you can start to add those foods back in. And for us it takes. People come into our program and they take a questionnaire and they’ll be put in one of two tiers based upon the severity of what’s going on in their nervous system and the second tier they’re going to have to wait awhile before they can add those foods in because they have to ascertain a certain level of healing. But then the first tier is going to be able to handle those foods in moderation. So, it’s all just depends on, on your current state of health.

Ari Whitten: Excellent. So, within the category of fruit and roots, do you have any, um, particular recommendations on specific types of fruits and or root vegetables that you find extremely beneficial?

Christa Orecchio: Yeah, we’re always given love sweet potatoes and for this I like, I like white potatoes. We put the resistant starches like cassava where those are going to be, you’re going to have them in a little bit later. In terms of, of fruit, a lot of the tropical fruits are really going to do the trick and that is because they do have a little bit of a higher sugar content. And so, we’re talking things like pineapple and mango and Papaya, full of enzymes, also really easy for the body to digest. Grapes, peeled pears and apples because you’re going to take off the skin just for easier digestibility and have them cooked. And so those are kind of the fruits that you’re going to focus on and grapes and melon. And then we have some, some structure for food combining there, we don’t combine fruit and roots together so you can choose what your carbohydrate it’s going to be at that particular meal.

 

Why fat (in the right amounts) is important

Ari Whitten: Got It. What is next pillar number four,

Christa Orecchio: what pillar number four? We had a brief chat about this is the targeted use of saturated fat to protect the nervous system. So, we know that we need vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin D and vitamin K to protect and support our nervous system. But you know, these vitamins do a whole host of things for the rest of the body as well. And so when we’re in this, we can call it an unstable state because when we’re talking about fats, when you’re healing something like this, you’re going to want 50 percent of your fats to come from a saturated source and so it’s not that you’re eating more fat, but you’re just working and then 45 percent are going to come from a monounsaturated like avocado and olive oil and only five percent from the polyunsaturated because those can be the ones that can drive up, see inflammation process the most because they’re the most unstable of the fat.

So, it’s not that they’re bad when I’m saying a poly unsaturated fat like almonds, right? When you’re talking about nuts and seeds, it’s not that they’re bad and say, we were talking, and you said what? There’re endless studies about the health benefits of nuts and seeds and there are inherent, they’re healthy foods, but just the nature of the long chain molecule, not having hydrogen attached to it on all sides leaves it unstable. Right?

This is why we want to put nuts and seeds in the refrigerator in an airtight container because they’re sensitive to light, heat, and air, and so the saturated fats are not the healthy, high quality saturated fats like the good animal fats and butter and ghee and coconut oil. Those are going to help create more stability within the body as you’re going through your healing process and so the right amount and structure fat is really important to healing. And so, it’s like the right macro ratio of fat and then also the right combination of the fat that you’re eating.

Ari Whitten: Gotcha. So, you’re in an interesting territory here with regards to your views on some food groups and macronutrients and it like it’s, you’re a little bit in no man’s land to some extent.

Christa Orecchio: That’s how my career has gone.

 

The difference between Christa Orecchio’s and Ray Peat’s work

Ari Whitten: So, what I, what I mean by that is in general, the people who are advocates of lots of saturated fat consumption are generally low carb, Ketoadvocates that sort of crowd and they’re promoting, you know, the idea that consuming lots of saturated fats is really good for you. and then those people are generally, they would not agree with you that people should be carbburners and people are not getting enough carbs and that people should be prioritizing fruits and root vegetables and you know, you are consuming carbs frequently to avoid stress responses.

They would not agree with you on any of those things. And then you have the sort of, you know, some, some other crowds that might agree with you on the carb burner thing, like let’s say a lot of the Vegan diet or Vegan Diet Gurus, but who would vehemently disagree with you about consuming lots of saturated fat. So, you’re, again, your kind of in a little bit of no man’s land but, but the, the person that is closest to you of all the different diet gurus is his Ray Peat.

And it sounds like you’ve been, to me, it sounds like you’ve been, maybe influenced a little bit by his mode of thinking and this certainly there are lots of layers of good stuff there. But I’m curious, you know, and first of all, am I correct that you have been influences?

Christa Orecchio: Yes, about five years ago I really got into, into re Pete’s work and um, I took a lot of powerful influence and started using that in my practice, started using it for myself. But I just want to touch back with you for a second. The saturated fat, like, so to be clear, we’re not, you know, it’s all within reason, so it’s, it’s, it’s within balance.

So, a lot of people, they might not even end up eating more saturated fat than they were eating before this just manipulating the ratio.

Ari Whitten: Gotcha.

Christa Orecchio: We don’t realize it. Like if you’re going to eat something, like if you’re going to make a steak right, and you’re going to add more fat to that, that’s going to be too much saturated fat if you’re going to cook that steak in butter. So, I’m not advocating an overabundance of saturated fat. If that makes sense.

Ari Whitten: Gotcha. So on, this is just my own curiosity on this point. At this point on with regards to Ray Peat. Ray Peat, I think from my perspective, this is my judgment on, you know, being very familiar with what he teaches myself. Yeah, I definitely think there are layers of good stuff there. There’re also some layers that to me just appear wildly out of connection with the existing body of evidence.

And I’ll give you a couple examples just to see. I’m curious whether you agree or don’t agree with his take on things. One thing he’s an advocate of is sterilizing the gut, so like having a sterile microbiome like he, he will cite  research for example, in in rats where they showed that sterilizing the microbiome through use of antibiotics to essentially kill everything in the microbiome was associated with this or that benefit and so he’ll use that as an example to say sterile microbiomes are better than having a microbiome full of lots of diversity of organisms. Like I think pretty much every microbiome scientist would agree with at this point.

Christa Orecchio: That has been wholly disproven. Like time again. Yeah. So, I’m just kind of like what we talked about, you know, when we talked about the institute for Integrative Nutrition, I [inaudible]. It’s just like what I love is how they can put together just a myriad of dietary theories and there’s so many. There’s no one right one out there, but there’s pearls of wisdom from each one and that’s why I left private practice. It’s like, oh, I can take this from that directory, this one, that one, this one, and put this together in such a unique way that helps this individual person. Right. And so, I’ve, I’ve taken 15,000 people through microbiome rejuvenation and I will tell you that is wholly wrong.

Ari Whitten: That’s exactly why I brought that up is because I know I know your background and specializing in the microbiome. So, I figured there must be no chance that you could possibly agree with that, which I’m glad to hear as the case. But a couple of other examples.

One is Peat opposes consumption of Greens, so like green leafy vegetables, he does not advocate and in general advisor advises avoiding fibers. So, like he’ll advise consuming orange juice but no pulp, no, like only the juice of the orange without any pulp.

Christa Orecchio: That depends. And so first of all, I’m not a fan of not eating Greens and so they are loaded with micronutrients in his whole take on that. I don’t agree with, I don’t actually know if there’s any tangible research on it where he says that they have their own inherent pesticide factory that they grow with and to keep invaders from, from eating them. So, then we eat that, but we, we feel better. We know the micronutrients, we know the studies are there, but it’s within moderation for me fo r Oxalis, right? I don’t want you drinking 32 ounces of green juice every day and so even healthy food within the right balance and moderation. And I’m sorry, what was right after greens? What? What was it?

Ari Whitten:  What was that?

Christa Orecchio: The orange juice instead. So, so my take on that is not a Ray Pete’s take. It’s just what amount of fiber can a person handle because now I’m going back to putting on my microbiome rejuvenation hat and the people that were coming to me with SIBO and parasitic infections, multiple autoimmune disorders know they actually, they’re buying doesn’t know what to with that fiber. In the end, if you have a microbiome that you have too much, too many different pathogens driving, which most people with microbiome imbalance do.

Let’s say they’re flipped like 80 percent bad pathogens, 20 percent good, and then you start feeding it with fiber and prebiotics like you are not sure what you’re feeding in there. So, we suspend most of most additional fibers. We suspend most additional fibers until we understand that we have now re-seeded, we understand the diversity in there, we know what we’re feeding instead of just throwing lighter fluid on like something hap hazard. Right? So, it’s not that I agree or disagree with Ray Peat in that sense. It really comes  down to what are you digesting and how.

Ari Whitten: Yeah, and to be clear, I actually agree with your point, but that isn’t his take on it. He doesn’t present a nuanced version of that where it’s like don’t do fiber, if your microbiome is dissed, if you have dysbiosis and want to assess that and then you know up your fiber. If you have a good microbiome, his take is like more of a blanket sort of in general and it’s maybe, you know, hardcore Ray Peat advocates would maybe accuse me of slightly misrepresenting this, but I’d say overall, most people who study Ray Peat come away with the conclusion that Greens are bad essentially like period.

And that gen one should avoid fiber and avoid orange juice, orange fruit, fiber and greens, you know, fiber from greens and fiber from legumes and things like that. And I think, you know, to me this is just wildly out of, um, out of congruent with the overall body of evidence.

But I do agree with certainly your exception to the rule that if somebody has dysbiosis, certainly feeding it with lots of, even the stuff that has good evidence for it, some of the prebiotic fibers can create problems in those people. 100%.

Christa Orecchio: Yeah. Not to get too far into digestive health, fitness, like, yeah, but if for whenever you’re healing the gut, you have to flash the inflammatory process. You’ve got to suspend it, and then you have to interrupt pathogen production, right? You have to interrupt the way these pathogens communicate so that they can no longer communicate, they can no longer replicate, they can’t share their genetic code anymore. And so that’s, you interfere with that step if you were haphazardly using fiber and prebiotics. Right.

And then once you know, once you’ve got that under control, that’s when you would receive with really specific strains of probiotics. Right. Because you can mess up putting probiotics into early as well and so that’s when you know what you’re working with and you can reseed with probiotics and then you get to. Then you can start to add in prebiotics, probiotics, optimize hydrochloric acid and you know, really kind of get the body working again on its own and not tend to the garden, so to speak.

Ari Whitten:  Yeah. I’m with you. Final Ray Peat question.

Christa Orecchio: Yeah. More about Ray Peat than I do to be honest. I didn’t study it.

Ari Whitten: Yeah. I, I, many years ago I went through a Ray Peat phase. You know, I’ve, I’ve been through a lot of phases. I was, you know, it’s funny to me that Keto is popular now. I was doing keto when I was 17 years old and you’re nearly 20 years ago before anybody knew what Keto was and so raised.

Christa Orecchio: You’re raising holistic household though, right?

Ari Whitten: I was also, you know, I started when I was 14 years old. My older brother was a personal trainer and a bodybuilder. And so, I… And then I had a very obsessive personality, so whenever I got interested in something and sort of all I wanted to do and you know, well let’s just say I’ve been interested in nutrition and health for 20 some years now. It’s been a, it’s been a long, long time and it, and I have a bit of an extreme personality too, so I’ve been on lots of very extreme diets of chugging, you know, cream and, and red meat diets and everything to that from raw veganism and sort of everything in between. But Yeah, Ray Peat was certainly one of my phases.

Christa Orecchio: I think it’s good because it makes you relatable, right? Like I’m maybe not to that extreme, but definitely use… I’ve been my own lab rat. I’m trying. Okay. Before I can recommend something, I want to see what my experience of it is, you know, within my own body and my own state.

Ari Whitten: Totally. So, one other aspect to Ray Peat is sugar. He is a, and I think he’s probably literally the only nutrition guru who has this stance regardless of side, of all the different sort of diet cults. I’m pretty sure he’s alone on this one, which has refined sugar consumption. He is actually an advocate of it and advises people to even like add refined sugar into orange juice or into milk and consume extra sugar with the idea in mind that it’s combating stress hormones. So, what, what is, what is your take on that?

Christa Orecchio: Yeah. I’m like, uh, I vehemently opposed to that. Especially when I say, you know, I say I was raised on pizza, pasta, and antibiotics. You know I was such a sugar junkie and have helped so many people heal from sugar addiction. And it is real. I mean, it lights up dopamine in the brain, but at the same way, right. The study showed same way heroin does, so we can’t use the white stuff that kills the good gut bacteria. It leeches your b vitamins at Leeches, your minerals so that that would be a trying to rob Peter to pay Paul type of the situation.

But using fruit and root where you’re giving something that has the natural easy to digest fiber that slows the release of glucose to deliver it in a steady way. That’s the type of sugar that we’re talking about and it’s loaded with these micro nutrients that you’re deficient in any way.

It’s like, yeah, that’s the type of sugar that I’m a fan of and have been since the beginning of my career 15 years ago.

 

Ari’s secret snack favorite

Ari Whitten:   Yeah, I’m with you on that. And I eat a ton of fruit and I will also say that purple sweet potatoes are, are my weakness. I love purple sweet potatoes and especially, I mean there’s so many good ways to eat them, but especially when you, you bake them, like you make them into wedges and then you bake. I’m sort like thick cut fries but baked instead of fried.

Christa Orecchio: Yeah.

Ari Whitten: And I get a little, you know, I’ll get, I’ll get this. This is one of my secrets I’m releasing now to the world for the first time, but a little bit of honey with some cinnamon as a little bit of dipping sauce for those purple sweet potatoes. Try it. If it sounds, it might sound weird to some of you listening, but…

Christa Orecchio: I’ll try that. We use raw honey, I love raw honey. Interesting. Maybe can you put a little mustard in there too?

Ari Whitten: Now you’re weirding me out. I’m more of a sweet guy and then a savory guy

Christa Orecchio: I lean towards the mustard, [inaudible].

 

The importance of customized nutrient ratios

Ari Whitten: So anyway. Well thank you for indulging me in that Ray Peat digression, but back to your six pillars. Number five, what is number five?

Christa Orecchio: Okay. So, going back to, to his work about finding the be customized nutrient ratio. That is something I’m interested in and a fan of because you find the right amount of protein, carbs, and fats for your unique body that you need. Like I said, you can shut off the stress response and so using real time feedback, using temperature and using pulse as that marker instead of running like five labs, I would run in private practice.

It’s using temperature and pulse to see if you’re an inflammatory state where you’re not and if that meal worked for you or if it didn’t. And you know, we know that blood sugar and temperature, there’s a correlation and you can regulate your blood sugar. and there are things like ovulation and temperature and things like that, you know, of outside hot drinks that will influence temperature. So, using pulse is, is it kind of a good backup measure to see, okay, how does this, how is this meal working for or against you? Do you need more fat? Do you need more protein? Do you need more carbs? So, so helping you find that exact ratio and that has been pretty life changing for several clients that I’ve worked with, you know, for when I first started getting, you know five years ago and to this work and mine was from an entrepreneur is a mess.

How I got myself into this state and that really helped pull me out of it and subsequently so many other people with thyroid dysfunction. Really. So, um…

Ari Whitten: By the way, is it entrepreneurism or entrepreneurism?

Christa Orecchio: I think it’s both. It just depends how bad it is.

Ari Whitten: So, how does that actually work as far as measuring temperature and pulse? Do you have any sort of practical recommendations on, on how that plays out? Hang on, I’m just going to plug in

Christa Orecchio: For a second. How does that play out for measuring your temperature and pulse?

Ari Whitten: Like what, how do you recommend people go about that or, or use temperature and pulse to get any sort of useful feedback on what they consumed in whether it was good or bad for them.

Christa Orecchio:So, they should check their temperature and their pulse. I would say maybe three or four times throughout the day, like in the morning and before bed and then 20 minutes after a meal. Because if your meal work for you then your food is thermogenic, it’s going to create energy and if it didn’t work for you, you’re going to be low. And so, you want to be able to check, so you want to be within a range of 97 point six to 98 point six, you want to be roughly within that range of 36,5  Celsius to 37 Celsius if you are, if you’re working on, if you’re in the metric system.

So, and then you want to use your pulse, take your pulse should really be somewhere between 75 and 80. And so a lot of people, and you know this, this is just a testament to exercise, right? It’s like when our circulation is better and what the amazing power of exercise can do. The right exercise is we are able to, we get this thermogenic effect, and everything flows and circulation’s better. And so, it’s, when you’re in this depleted state, circulation isn’t so great and you’re, you tend to have a low pulse.

Ari Whitten: Gotcha. Excellent. So, um, as far as the measurement, 20 minutes after a meal, what they’re, what we’re looking for is that pulse shouldn’t drop too much and, and that a body temperature shouldn’t be too low. Correct?

Christa Orecchio: Correct. Yeah. And you know, I recommend you do that for three days in a row and come write down and see where you are because that’s going to give you just from whatever you’re eating changed nothing. Right? And, and do that for three days in. See, okay, am I running chronically low? Yeah. My body’s having a hard time getting out of this state. My body’s about hard time regulating blood sugar and so I probably need to make some changes to make it a little bit easier.

And you start noticing it. Like, of course,  you get cold hands and feet, right? And wait, when you have thyroid problems tend towards constipation and so you start to have those problems and that will be reflected also in temperature and pulse.

Ari Whitten: Yeah. I’m curious, have you looked, do you know who Matt Stone is? Have you looked into his work at all? Okay. He, he’s actually a friend of mine. I don’t agree with pretty much anything he says from a diet perspective and, and, and I’m sure he would say the same about me

He’s, I forget what the movement is called, but it’s something like within the sort of obesity related research community and, and sort of there’s a, there’s a particular movement and there’s one researcher in particular that has led this movement that’s sort of… it’s sort of like a body acceptance movement that the basic jest of it without. I’ll sum this up, try and I’ll try and send this up relatively quickly. But the basic gist of it is like people can’t lose weight. Like diets fail.

It’s impossible to lose weight. Anybody who does lose weight is going to gain it back so you might as well not even attempt to lose weight because it’s a total waste of time and it will eventually, not only, not only is it a waste of time, but it will actually harm you in the long run.

And there’s an element of truth in that which is that like if somebody adopts stupid, unsustainable diets in a short term basis and they’re not really making sustainable lifestyle changes, they’re just want to go on so and so extreme diet for 30 days or 60 days, try and lose the weight and then they think they’re going to be good after that and they can go back to their old habits. I agree that that’s going to be harmful in the long run if you have many cycles of that, but their view is that sort of any attempt to lose weight is a bad idea and it’s inevitable that it’s going to be counterproductive and ultimately harm your metabolic health and you’ll be fatter in the long run and unhealthier, um, and you’re torturing yourself in the process.

So, Matt Stone is part of that movement and that’s part of his general message, but he’s also part of the, he’s been heavily influenced by Ray Peat’s thinking and he’s also created a sort of his own methodology of eating that revolves specifically around temperature and pulse to some extent, but really body temperature as sort of a key guide to metabolic health. And he actually has written a book called eat for heat that is specifically about how to eat in order to keep your body temperature very high.

And, but, but it’s, it’s too, and this is the part that I really don’t agree with. He’s advocating a style of eating that is diametrically opposed to pretty much all of the nutritional evidence in the sense that he’s advocating for people to consume lots, lots of food, enough food that most people will gain lots of body fat eating the way he’s advocating and lots of processed food. And even, you know, fast food and all kinds of like junk process food he has really no problem with.

And lie I said, he’s, he, I haven’t, I have absolutely nothing against the guy. He’s a personal friend of mine. I actually love him. He’s got a great sense of humor. He’s a super nice guy.

But as far as I’m concerned, like his dietary methodologies are I think counterproductive. Uh, and so anyway, I think you can, I mean certainly you can take anything to an extreme where it’s harmful, but this is an example of I think just someone who has taken the kind of idea of temperature as an indicator of metabolic health too. Like he’s like, you know, eat tons, tons and tons of refined carbs and salt then that’s going to elevate your body temperature. And I think it just gets really…

Christa Orecchio: And it does. Salt, and sugar does elevate your, by the way, to get yourself really sick really fast. Okay. So, to that end, I have to say, first of all, my whole approach to health throughout my private practice and everything, people come, they want to gain weight or lose weight. They want this, they want that. It’s just what’s going on in their body and how do we create balance. They can have whatever goals they want. If we can create balance, the body will heal itself. That’s just fundamental health.

Right, and so without going on too much of a tangent, like a month or so ago, I went to a woman in science event at the Salk Institute in La Jolla and they were they. It was an art exhibit and so it. It was all these organisms done in art and it was so cool because they talked about how art and science meet each other, right? How, how science is.

Science is the subject is the objective assessment. Art is the art is going to be. Your art is going to be. I’m sorry, so science is going to be objective and then the art is subjective. Right? And so, it was about what the field of microscopy would not exist. The scientific field of microscopy that is changed human biology since we had it so we could understand these organs would not exist without art because of the artist’s interpretation from the scientists telling them about it. They could then draw these organisms naked and create something that they didn’t.

They couldn’t build that bridge, so you can’t just rely on lab work or you can’t just rely on any objective assessments, so, so temperature and pulse, their objective assessments and just lab work could be, but it ultimately means nothing without the overlay of the individual. Right? So, we’re having them tuning into themselves often for the first time.

And to your point has. You’re saying, what about following this person and that person in this side and not touch? It’s about shutting out the rest of the world. It’s about shutting out dogma and it’s about tuning into yourself. It’s about creating parasympathetic moments about knowing does this work for me or not? How’s my digestion? How did I sleep? What are my moods? Where’s my anxiety, what’s triggering me, how did I breathe, which is our sixth pillar, and so that by taking that subjective assessment, it will bring. Then there was going to bring the objective assessment to life and actually make it mean something. So that’s where I would differ from your friend Matt in, in one, of 100 ways. Probably.

 

The sixth pillar – breathing

Ari Whitten: Excellent. Love it. So, pillar number six. Breath.

Christa Orecchio: Yeah. So, the breath is the, it’s the remote control of the brain and the nervous system and it’s so underutilized. So, it’s really its breath and its movement because a lot of, a lot of those of us who are in this state, we can’t be doing any major detoxes and he any major cleansings we’re already depleted. And so, if you’re going to go do some crazy cleanse, you’re probably going to end up getting sicker and then generating more of these stress hormones. But oxygen is the safest and the gentlest detoxifier that we have. And so, we’re using it to be able to do that. But also, obviously, you need oxygen. You need thyroid. You need glucose inside the cell to be able to make and burn energy. And so using that combined with using specific movement through yoga, foam rolling and really just getting out again, you know, walking and moving that that’s going to help so much to be transformative and we have to be able to use the yoga and the foam rolling because when the hip flexors and[inaudible] tight, you know, they call that the junk drawers of emotional storage and that forces us to just breathe through our chest and it perpetuates the problem and forces us to stay in our sympathetic nervous system.

So again, it’s just a holistic approach to opening up the body in a way and being conscious of breathing in your, we call them parasympathetic moments. So, throughout your day, being conscious of breathing your exhalations, extending them longer than your inhalation. And then

also doing, you know, targeted five-minute, five-minute exercises twice a day to your breathing.

Ari Whitten: Excellent. Five-minute breath related exercises.

Christa Orecchio: Yeah.

Ari Whitten: Gotcha. Cool. So, the last part of this, these are the six pillars, but these are really sort of addressing the physical side of health. I know one of the things we talked about in person is you are a big believer in the idea that, and certainly there’s lots of science to back you up on this, that emotional health, psychological health, and you could also use the word spiritual aspects of things are, are also a big factor in our health.

So, talk to me about what you think is going on there.

Christa Orecchio: Yeah. So, so the second part of this is because this is called the adrenal recode, and what we really want to do is help people recode in a way that’s permanent, no way that they can live healthy, completely different life going forward. So, you can do the physical healing, but then what happens the next time a major life stressor comes down the pike, which it probably will because we’re all having a human experience is what are your normal ways of reacting? You know, what is that? Because you have a thought and that thought leads to an emotion and that emotion drives your physiological process. is going to drive the release of cortisol. It’s going to drive up, you know, it’s going to force the release of adrenaline first and then cortisol.

And so how can we start to respond to life instead of reacting to life and so this entire second part of this is we really start with is emotional mastery, so to speak is recoding, creating new mental-emotional  patterns and ways of responding. I don’t know how much time we have or how much you want me to get into it.

Ari Whitten: We have like five or 10 minutes more where we’re a little over time, but this is good stuff. I’m happy to go a little overtime as long as you have time.

Christa Orecchio: This is a really long podcast. Yeah, so. So, I’ll give you the example and I’m my own what this to me is my most personal work that I’ve done in my career in, in the last since I started the whole journey 13 years ago. And so yes, I’ve done this work. Yes, I know how to balance my neurotransmitters and thyroid and adrenals and I pulled myself out from entrepreneurism using this whole physical approach, but there was still that constant. It’s a constant the way you respond to stress.

And so, I had a major stressful situation happened, which I filed for divorce when I was two months pregnant to escape an abusive situation. That’s a pretty intense thing to go through, but you are growing this child and you have all these fears, right? Like how I am going to keep him safe and me safe from, from you know, the abuse.

How am I going to be the sole provider? How am I going to go through this stuff alone? You could really go down a rabbit hole and a lot of people have a lot of things going on that can really take you down a rabbit hole into fear and you’ve got to find a way to get in your elevator and press the button and rise above the energy of fear and intimidation so that you don’t feel it. And I had more motivation than I’ve ever had in my life because it wasn’t just about me anymore. What that stress would do to my body is I am a holistic person. I wrote a book on fertility and prenatal health. I was not going to let my son incubator in a body that was filled with stress hormones and so that’s when I started diving in and developing part two of the adrenal recode.

Well, I wasn’t developing it for the Adrenal recode is developing for myself. I want to pay it forward and be able to share it and so that’s where that came from and so we focus on dismantling limiting beliefs. That’s the beginning. That’s just one of four modules. That’s within the Adrenal recode program is these are beliefs that we all. I don’t know how much you’ve dove into this because they know her so well researched. It’s been a long-time studying psychology, but you know, we do create a set of layers of limiting beliefs from age zero to seven.

Like we’re, we’re egocentric. We have no other way to be as children and so you develop limiting beliefs and for me mine was, I have to do everything by myself. It’s not true, but when thought and belief and life experience combined, you’re locked into a way of being and so that ended up.

I kind of attracted this whole situation. I was able to be able to take accountability for bringing that forth and then to dismantle it and have now more support, more love, more everything that I’ve always wanted in my life as a result of going through what I went through and being able to recode and that there’s more to that story, but unless you can do this work and then you really learn to take that accountability to do the forgiveness work, that’s when you can have genuine gratitude for the endless things there are that every one of us has to be grateful for in life, and that’s when you can start to really live in your essence and claim your power as a human being. That’s always been there. It’s just kind of removing the layers and so the record is about healing physically and learning how to create this emotional mastery, so you don’t react out of past fear or triggers. You’re responding as your present self to a present situation so you don’t end up back there physically again and life will happen. So, we’ll teach you how to integrate and kind of do the dance as life goes on.

Ari Whitten: Excellent. What, what is your preferred sort of methodologies around how to accomplish that sort of recoding of, of limiting beliefs and that sort of thing. Do you have any particular techniques that you favor or anything like that?

Christa Orecchio: Yes, but if we only have a few minutes, I don’t know how, how…

Ari Whitten: You can name it if you want or give like a very brief overview of it. Yeah. I don’t expect you to guide us through the technique practically or.

Christa Orecchio: Yes, so and we’re were working on a, a to two women who were life coaches for Tony Robbins for about a decade and we teamed up with this process of helping people, first of all, understand where like what are sample beliefs and understanding that you have. You have a memorized self and you have a present self. And the memorized self this just is like, we need that because we don’t need. We don’t want to be president every time we’re driving, or we want to be able to walk into gum at the same time. You need to memorize self for those things. But what happens is we, we, we lock in this way of behaving from what we observed, and we lock that in as our memorized selves and that’s our way of responding and reacting to things.

And you know, unlike you, I was raised in a very reactive household, not a holistic household, not a holistic, you know, and it was, it was that whole Italian, New Jersey.

Everything’s a big deal, that type of thing, which there’s a lot of love there too. but you learned that overreaction is just the… that’s just reacting, right? And so everybody has to be able to understand, okay, and then we will work to have them understand what their memorized self is and what are these beliefs and when we just work on the limiting beliefs, one or two, because there are layers that are going to be the big rocks that are going to put them back into this nervous system dysfunction.

And we work and we start to examine the beliefs. And I really liked the work of Byron Katie. I like the work of Joe Dispenza. I like the work of Bruce Lipton and we’re really starting to examine the beliefs and we’re starting to then dismantle them. Starting to question them, start to dismantle them and kind of poke holes in the story so, so the light can get in, you know. so, then we can start to get the truth in there and then we can start to then revolve the belief, and I’m really grossly oversimplifying it for the sake of time.

But you, you have to also release trapped negative emotions from the body. And that’s one big thing that really helped me as I worked privately with a sematic therapist because emotions are stored in our body and we just like, we have to eliminate toxins. These negative emotions, they are toxins. They need to be released. just like we have to change your diet. We release them, we replace them with positive emotions and it’s a new way of operating going forward. But just like we have to constantly interrupt that pattern of living off stress hormones through the physiological approach. You have to constantly interrupt the pattern. The tape that’s been running in your head for 20, 30 or 40 years, so that’s another biochemical shift, but not until you get the physical healing to where you feel calmer, quieter. Are you going to be open to doing the next level of work that’s going to really make sure you don’t end up back there?

 

The Adrenal Recode

Ari Whitten: Excellent. I love it. Well, Christa, this has been an absolute pleasure. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation and I love the nuance and sophistication and critical thinking that you’re bringing to a lot of these other ideas that are floating around on the diet sort of interwebs. And uh, I really appreciate the perspective that you’re sharing and this paradigm I think is extremely useful and beneficial for people.

So, you’re launching the Adrenal Recode. when are you launching that?

Christa Orecchio: Yeah, so you’ll be able to enroll in tearing on recode from December 18th through January sixth and then it goes away because we all go live together and we implement this on January eighth, but I have a free mini course for everyone with action items, so things you can start eating and doing right away, going out on the 11th and all of that is at the adrenalrecode.com.  Yep.

Ari Whitten: Well we’ll put a link to that on the podcast page for this episode as well, the energy blueprint.com/Christa, and maybe we’ll talk after this podcast episode if you can arrange any sort of discount code for, for my audience or anything like that that we can have sort of a special link there. And we’ll put that link on theenergyblueprint.com/Christa. And so, you’ll have a series of videos, like a free masterclass or masterclass videos that you’ll release.

Christa Orecchio: Yeah. And, and so everything that we talked about today, it’s like, okay, here, do these three action items today and then build off of those action items for the rest of the course.

Ari Whitten: Excellent, so I will release this podcast during that time so that since there’s a very tight window and obviously it wouldn’t make sense to release this podcast two weeks after this window and have a lot of angry emails from people, uh, so I’ll make sure to release it either just before those dates or during that window and people can get access to the free masterclass and, excellent.

Well, Christa, thank you so much. It’s been an absolute pleasure and I hope to do this again with you sometime soon.

Christa Orecchio: Yes, likewise. Thanks for having me, Ari.

Ari Whitten: Yeah, my pleasure.

How To Overcome Anxiety and Stress, And Increase Your Energy with Christa Orecchio – Show Notes

What it means to live off stress hormones (1:30)
Why most people stay in stress mode (8:59)
The connection between the brain and the central nervous system (13:21)
The 6 pillars of health (19:30)
Foods that are synergistic with overcoming stress, anxiety, and fatigue (21:42)
Why Christa recommends frequent meals throughout the day (29:47)
Why fat (in the right amounts) is important (35:48)
The difference between Christa Orecchio’s and Ray Peat’s work (38:07)
Ari’s favorite snack (49:57)
The importance of customized nutrient ratios (51:00)
The sixth pillar – breathing (1:01:15)
The Adrenal Recode (1:12:24)

Links

Get Christa’s Adrenal ReCode here

 

 

If you want to learn more about how to heal your gut, listen to the podcast with Summer Bock from guts and glory

The Top 22 Science-Backed Benefits of Saunas (And How Saunas Help You Beat Fatigue and Increase Your Energy)

The Top 22 Science Backed Benefits Of Saunas, theenergyblueprint.comWhat if you could pop a pill every morning that that was scientifically increase your energy, improve your mood (combat depression), help rid your body of chronic inflammation and pain, improve brain health, make your mitochondria (your cellular energy generators) bigger and stronger, improve your physical endurance and stamina, and proven to reduce your risk of the major killers in our world (like heart disease and brain diseases) by 40-60%? Oh, and one more thing: Let’s say you could do all that with virtually no negative side effects and only positive side effects? Sounds pretty incredible, right? You’re darn right! If such a pill existed, it would be prescribed to basically everyone (hundreds of millions of people)and you would be considered literally insane or a total fool if you weren’t taking it. It turns out that something like this exists — it’s just not a pill, it’s a sauna. All of these benefits I just listed off are actually proven benefits of sauna use.

If you ask an average group of people about the benefits of saunas and you might hear things like “weight loss” and “detoxification.” And indeed there is solid evidence that saunas do impact these things. However, the benefits of the sauna go far beyond that…

Regular sauna use has been shown to do everything from improving sports performance to increasing the number of mitochondria in your cells, to improving immune function, to reducing the incidence of Alzheimer’s, and much more.

(NOTE: Do you prefer to read, watch or listen to information to learn? Below you can continue reading this article or you can listen to all of this information in podcast form or watch the video below. If you can, I highly recommend watching the video, because you’ll get visuals and my explanations of how things work. Also note that at the end of this article/video/podcast, I give specific practical tips on how to use a sauna safely and effectively as well as my personal recommendations for the top saunas to get for various kinds of purposes).

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Hormesis – The Good Stress

How sauna exposure is able to have such amazingly powerful effects on our bodies is largely the result of something called “hyperthermic conditioning,” the changes your body undergoes when it is regularly exposed to “heat stress.”

“Stress? But isn’t stress bad for us?” you might ask…

That leads us to an important point. Before we get into how saunas work to improve our health (from our mitochondria, to our heart, to our brain, and so much more), we need to understand the concept of hormesis (“good stress”). As much as the word “stress” has become associated with all kinds of negative effects, it turns out that – counterintuitively – some types of stress are actually profoundly beneficial to human health. It’s not too far to say that certain types of stress may even be the crux of human health, energy, resilience, resistance to disease, and even longevity. This is called “hormesis,” and it is the principle that certain types of transient stress of our bodies stimulate our biology to make cellular adaptations that make us stronger and healthier.

Hormesis - The Good Stress - Benefits of SaunasThe most common example of this principle is physical exercise. There is a mountain of thousands of studies showing that exercise prevents all kinds of diseases and that it increases our physical energy levels, improves our mood, and extends longevity. This isn’t because exercise is intrinsically healthy for us – to the contrary, it is because exercise temporarily stresses our cells, and thereby stimulates them to adapt to that stress, which ultimately results in healthier, stronger, more resilient cells.

The great thing about this is that by becoming resistant to one type of stress (say, for example, weight lifting, or jogging five miles regularly), the body doesn’t only become resistant to that type of physical stress – it becomes resistant to a broad spectrum of types of stressors, from processed foods with trans-fats, to psychological stress, to exposure to toxins. This is why we have research showing that it doesn’t just strengthen our muscles and our heart, but that it prevents a huge array of diseases in multiple systems of the body from neurological diseases, to heart disease, to diabetes, to many types of cancer. In short, developing resistance to one type of stress can make your cells resistant to many other types of stress.

Heat stress (i.e. sauna use) is also a type of hormetic stress — like physical exercise stress. And as you’re about to see, much as is the case with exercise, there is a veritable mountain of research showing absolutely incredible benefits of sauna to our health.

I like to say that if there were a pharmaceutical drug that had the same benefits of using a sauna, it would be the best-selling drug of all-time – an absolute blockbuster drug that would be prescribed to basically EVERYONE, and would be hailed as a miracle drug, and one of the biggest medical breakthroughs of all time.

Here’s the cool part: That drug exists. It’s just not a pill made by a pharmaceutical company – it’s a sauna!

With that in mind, let’s explore the amazing health benefits of sauna use…

 

The Top 22 Science-Backed Health Benefits of Saunas

 

1. Combats Aging and May Increase Longevity

Slowed Aging and increased Lifespan - benefits of saunasWe can start by looking at the benefit of sauna use on longevity since this is the big picture. If a therapy reduces death from all causes, you can be sure that there are multiple mechanisms at work that are enabling this to happen (many of which we will get into in more detail below).

How Slowed Aging and Increased Longevity Is One Of The Main Health Benefits of Saunas

So does using a sauna actually impact on how long we live?

A study out of Finland followed 2,315 men (aged 42-60) for 20 years (studies this long are very rare) and found that those using the sauna 2-3 times per week (as opposed to just one time per week) were a whopping 24% less likely to die from all causes. But there’s even more – the effects continued to increase the more one used the sauna. Those using the sauna 4-7 times per week were an amazing 40% less likely to die from all causes.[2]

(As I said above, if there were a prescription drug that showed effects like this, it would be considered the most incredible pharmaceutical breakthrough of all time.)

One of the mechanisms for this may be the activation of heat shock proteins (HSPs). Aging is associated with a progressive accumulation of molecular damage and reduced cellular defense mechanisms.[3] HSPs can repair damaged cells, promote autophagy (the recycling of damaged cell parts) and also prevent future damage by scavenging free radicals and increasing antioxidant capacity through the maintenance of glutathione, a master antioxidant.[4][5]

Higher levels of HSPs have been linked to longevity, as women with a gene polymorphism that leads to increased expression of HSPs live longer.[6]

This is supported by data that we have in other organisms. Worms exposed to heat stress experienced both greater longevity and protection from frailty in a dose-dependent relationship.[7] As little as one exposure to heat stress in flies and worms can result in up to a 15% increase in lifespan. This has been linked to the effect of HSPs.[8][9][10] While this direct increase in longevity has only been shown in animal studies and hasn’t yet been studied directly in humans, as you’ll see in this article, the human research does indeed link sauna use with disease prevention and longevity benefits — so the human research does line up with these animal studies.

Heat stress also activates FOXO3, which has been called the longevity gene since polymorphisms in this gene are associated with the ability to attain exceptional old age.[11][12]

FOXO3 affects the expression of a number of other genes, such as those involved in DNA repair and cell death, immune function, stress resistance, autophagy, tumor suppression, and the activation of stem cells.[13], [14], [15], [16]  These are all critical functions that decline as we age, so a robust activation of FOXO3 via sauna use is a powerful anti-aging strategy!

(Side note: While increased lifespan is one of the many benefits of saunas, there are of course numerous other factors that play a role in longevity. Check out the podcast I did with researcher Jason Prall on the key factors that play a role in longevity. )

 

2. Improves Mitochondrial Health and Energy Production

Increase Mitochondrial Health - Benefits Of SaunasHeat stress is a powerful type of hormesis, and heat shock proteins (that special type of proteins that are strongly elevated in response to heat exposure) play a big role in improving mitochondrial health and function.

Why is that important?

Simple: Mitochondria are the energy generators in our cells, and our energy/vitality depend directly on their size, power, number, and function.

If your mitochondria are damaged, weak, small, fragile, and unhealthy, then you will be too.

Moreover, a huge body of emerging research is now pointing to mitochondrial health/function as a major root cause of dozens of chronic diseases and even aging itself.[17],[18]

While there are only a few studies testing this directly, heat stress has been shown to induce profound changes in mitochondrial health.[19]

How Improved Mitochondrial Health and Energy Is One Of The Health Benefits of Saunas

Heat stress (e.g. using a sauna) likely improves mitochondrial health in a number of ways:

  • Mitochondrial biogenesis – stimulates the body to make more mitochondria, which means greater capacity to produce energy
  • Mitochondrial growth – makes bigger, stronger mitochondria that produce more energy
  • Improvements in the Antioxidant Response Element (A.R.E.), the internal anti-oxidant and detoxification system.
  • Autophagy and mitophagy – stimulates the cells to recycle and repair damaged mitochondria (think of it like housekeeping and taking the garbage out)

(Side note: If you want to learn more about how to optimize your Mitochondria, I recommend watching/listening to some of our previous podcast episodes: How To Optimize Your Mitochondria To Beat Fatigue and Live to 100 (with Ted Achacoso, MD)  and Why Mitochondria Are The Key To How To Overcome Fatigue (And How To Increase Mitochondria) with Dr. Lee Know. And Mitochondria And Fatigue: The Real Cause of Fatigue with Dr. Sarah Myhill.)

 

3. Enhances Detoxification

Improved detoxification process - benefits of saunasSaunas may also be the single most powerful tool we have for detoxification from environmental chemicals and heavy metals. Sauna use shows real promise for detoxification from heavy metals, PCBs, PBBs, BPA, drugs, and organochlorine pesticides such as DDT (which has been banned for decades but is still ubiquitous).

Many toxicants have long half-lives and bioaccumulate up the food chain, so even if you are avoiding new exposures to the extent possible by cleaning up your immediate environment and being careful about household and personal care products, no one can avoid all exposures and most people likely already have significant stores of toxicants. In our current world, even newborn babies have already been exposed, as a total of 287 toxic chemicals were identified in umbilical cords in a recent study.[20]

In short, even if you’re a health-conscious person who goes out of your way to avoid environmental toxicants, it’s still a safe bet that your body has accumulated some significant burden of nasty chemicals and heavy metals. (And if you haven’t been a health-conscious person who is aware of how to avoid such chemicals, then it’s a safe bet that you have a fairly high body load of accumulated toxicants.) Thus ongoing detoxification is very important.

How Enhanced Detoxification Is One Of The Health Benefits of Saunas

The ability to sweat seems to be critical for detoxification,[21] and some toxicants, such as certain heavy metals, appear to come out in higher concentrations in sweat than via other excretion pathways such as urine or feces.[22], [23]  Think about that – when you sweat, you are literally pumping metals like mercury, cadmium, arsenic, and lead out of your body!

Studies have found that we sweat out everything from mercury, to BPA (a hormone-disrupting chemical from plastics), to PCBs, to DDT, to prescription drug residues, to fluoride, to countless other harmful chemicals. Sweating appears to be a major detoxification pathway in humans. And this is extremely problematic because many humans in the modern world don’t live the outdoor, physically active lifestyles of our ancestors (where ample daily sweating was the norm), and thus many modern humans rarely or almost never sweat to a significant degree. So we live in a far more toxic world than our ancestors, and we simultaneously stimulate our sweating detoxification pathway far less than they did – a bad combination indeed.

People with high levels of toxicants often have autonomic dysfunction that affects thermoregulatory mechanisms.  Sauna improves autonomic function[24] and consequently thermoregulatory mechanisms, increasing the ability to sweat. People who are heat-acclimated through sauna use can produce up to 2 liters per hour of sweat.[25] The point is that accumulating toxins in your body can literally make it harder for your body to get rid of toxins – creating a vicious cycle. Sauna use helps break that cycle and helps your body re-learn how to detoxify.

Toxicants can be either hydrophilic (water-soluble) or lipophilic (fat-soluble). Sauna can help excrete both, since sweating triggers release from both sweat and sebaceous glands.

Though sweat is an important excretory pathway, it is likely that mechanisms for detoxification go far beyond sweating. These may include the entire array of beneficial adaptations to heat stress, including the repair or removal of damaged cells via HSPs and activation of FOXO3.infus

One study showed a reduction in chemical sensitivity with sauna treatment in addition to graded exercise, daily massage, and nutritional supplementation. At the end of treatment, 86% of participants cleared or markedly reduced their symptom scores. Participants also had overall improvements in mental and physical energy and a reduction in odor sensitivity to toxic substances. After treatment had ended, those who continued to use the sauna three times per week continued to have health improvements and to see their chemical sensitivity diminish. Importantly, however, the authors of this study noted that symptoms could worsen during treatment for those with compromised detoxification pathways. It is critical to take this slowly and make sure the body is able to eliminate the toxins that are being mobilized from tissues.[26]

Sweating has also been demonstrated to increase excretion of toxicants such as organochlorinated pesticides (OCPs),[27] which have been shown to cause mitochondrial damage, oxidative stress, cell death, endocrine disruption, and epigenetic modification.s

In 69 police officers that developed chronic illness as the result of methamphetamine exposure, a sauna-based detoxification protocol led to a significant reduction in symptom and neurotoxicity scores.[28]

Sauna-based treatment of individuals exposed to hexachlorobenzene (HCB) and polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) led to a remission of symptoms and an average reduction of HCB body burden of 30% at post-treatment and 28% 3 months post-treatment. Mean reduction of polychlorinated biphenyl was 16% at post-treatment and 14% 3 months post-treatment.[29]

Many of the rescue workers following the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center have developed symptoms from exposure to toxins such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs), and polychlorinated dioxins (PCDDs) that have not improved with time. Study subjects reported symptoms including respiratory impairment, mental and emotional distress, chronic muscle and joint pain, gastrointestinal disorders, and skin rashes. Remarkably, after treatment with a sauna-based detoxification protocol, health symptoms either completely resolved or satisfactorily improved, as did neurophysiological test results.[30]

Sauna use may very well be the single most powerful tool for detoxification available.

(Side note: If you want to know more about the importance of saunas (and the best binders for toxins) when detoxing, listen in to the podcasts I have done with heavy metal detox expert Wendy Myers and Dr. Bryan Walsh.)

 

4. Reduces Rates of Heart and Cardiovascular Disease

More than 600,000 people die of heart and blood vessel diseases in the U.S. every year, which is about 1 in 4 deaths.[31] Cardiovascular disease is also the leading cause of death worldwide.[32]

How Reduced Rates of Heart and Cardiovascular Disease Is One Of The Many Health Benefits of Saunas

Sauna bathing is inversely associated with the risk of sudden cardiac death, coronary heart disease (CHD), and cardiovascular disease (CVD) independent of conventional risk factors. A Finnish study (mentioned above) following 2,315 men for 20 years found that the risk of fatal CHD events was 23% lower for 2-3 sauna sessions per week and 48% lower for 4-7 times per week. Risk of dying from cardiovascular disease was 27% in the group using the sauna 2-3 times per week, and a whopping 50% lower for those using the sauna 4-7 times per week.[33]

Another study following 2,227 men for 26 years found that sauna use was associated with lower risk of cardiovascular mortality independent of cardiorespiratory fitness. That means the sauna was conferring benefits above and beyond exercise alone. The authors concluded that the combination of the two may confer additional survival benefits since those who had high cardiorespiratory fitness and high sauna use (3-7 times per week) had the lowest CVD and all-cause mortality. After adjusting for age, BMI, smoking status, Type II diabetes, cholesterol, current CHD, alcohol consumption, socioeconomic status, and C-reactive protein levels, those with high cardiorespiratory fitness and high sauna use had a 58% lower risk of CVD mortality and a 40% lower risk of all-cause mortality. Adjusted for age alone, the reduction in risk was 73% and 55%, respectively.[34]

Waon therapy, a type of sauna therapy, developed in Japan, has been studied for its effects on heart disease for over 20 years. During Waon, patients are placed in a 60°C infrared sauna for 15 minutes and then kept under warm blankets for 30 minutes thereafter. This is usually done five days per week for a number of weeks or months. A recent review of the literature found that Waon has been shown to improve blood flow, cardiac function, ventricular arrhythmias, vascular endothelial function, neurohormonal factors, sympathetic nervous system function, and symptoms in patients with chronic heart failure (CHF).[35]

Waon has also been found effective for patients with severe peripheral arterial disease (PAD), which often causes severe pain and inability to exercise due to leg claudication.[36], [37]

After Waon therapy 5 days per week for 10 weeks, participants with PAD experienced reduced pain and increased exercise performance. Leg ulcers caused by PAD either healed completely or greatly improved, and one patient was even spared from a leg amputation. Results continued in patients engaged in Waon therapy at least twice per week thereafter.[38]

Sauna use improves vascular flow and endothelial function by increasing the expression of endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS).[39] This is important for other lifestyle diseases, too, since people with Type 2 diabetes and obesity also show impaired endothelial function.[40]

Again, the biggest study on the subject ever done showed a 50% decreased risk of dying from cardiovascular vascular disease in those who use a sauna 4-7 times a week. There are few other therapies in existence that show this kind of effect.

 

5. Lowers Blood Pressure

Lowered blood pressure - benefits of saunasResearch has shown that sauna use in combination with exercise is more effective at lowering blood pressure than exercise alone.[41]

How Lowered Blood Pressure Is One Of The Many Health Benefits of Saunas

For high blood pressure, even sauna bathing as little as every other week had benefit. A group of hypertensive men using the sauna every two weeks for three months experienced a drop in blood pressure equivalent to that caused by hypertensive medications.[42]

Researchers in Finland studied more than 1,600 middle-aged men and found that those who took sauna baths four to seven times a week lowered their risk of high blood pressure by nearly 50% (compared to those using the sauna only once per week).[43]

 

6. Increases Weight Loss

Speeds weight loss - benefits of saunasIn one study, people participated in either 15 minutes of exercise followed by 30 minutes of infrared sauna, or 15 minutes of exercise only (the control group). Participants in the sauna group lost 1.8 times as much weight and 4.6 times as much body fat as controls.[44]

Adding to this, we also have other lines of evidence suggesting a link between HSPs and fat loss. Mice with high expression of HSPs have lower body fat mass, better insulin tolerance and glucose clearance, less intramuscular lipid accumulation, more oxidative enzymes and higher number of mitochondria.[45]

How Increased Weight Loss Is One Of The Many Health Benefits of Saunas

Sauna use can also modulate appetite. In one study, normal-weight patients with appetite loss increased ghrelin (a hormone associated with hunger ) concentrations, leading to normal daily caloric intake and feeding behavior. Obese patients, on the other hand, did not have an increase in ghrelin and instead, using the sauna reduced “abnormal feeding behavior” such as overeating and snacking between meals. Their body weight and body fat significantly decreased after two weeks of sauna therapy.[46]

Sauna uses increases metabolic rate and oxygen consumption similar to moderate exercise.[47] This may help with weight maintenance for those unable to exercise due to illness or injury.

Thus, there are likely multiple mechanisms at play in why saunas promote fat loss.

 

7. Increases Physical Performance, Endurance, and Energy

Sauna use can increase endurance. In one study, male distance runners using the sauna for 30 minutes post-workout for just three weeks increased their run time to exhaustion by a whopping 32%![48]

How Increased Physical Performance, Endurance, and Energy Is One Of The Many Health Benefits of Saunas

Cardiovascular improvements gained via hyperthermic conditioning – like increased plasma volume, increased red blood cells and blood flow to the heart – improve athletic endurance and performance.[49], [50] These benefits apply to athletes at all levels: highly trained, moderately trained, and untrained.[51], [52]

Hyperthermic conditioning improves thermoregulatory mechanisms, which means your body stays cooler and performs better at higher temperatures, like those induced during exercise.[53]

Increased blood flow to skeletal muscles improves nutrient delivery, reducing reliance on glycogen stores during exercise. One study noted that heat acclimation reduced glycogen depletion during exercise by 40-50%.[54], [55]  In other words, sauna use seems to help the body perform exercise more efficiently and with greater ease.

The effects on performance have led some to call sauna use a “performance enhancing drug.”[56]

 

8. Increases Muscle Growth

Increased muscle growth - Benefits of saunasSauna use increases muscle growth (hypertrophy) and reduces muscle breakdown.

HSPs repair damaged cells and help prevent future damage by reducing oxidative stress, which is a major cause of muscle degradation. This results in reduced muscle breakdown.[57], [58]

How Increased Muscle Growth Is One Of The Many Health Benefits of Saunas

Sauna use causes a major increase in growth hormone levels. Depending on the temperature, duration, and frequency of sauna exposure, these increases are generally between 2- and 5-fold,[59] but one study showed that after two one-hour sessions per day at 80°C (176°F) for seven days, growth hormone levels increased 16-fold on the third day![60]

Growth hormone increases levels of insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-1), which increases protein synthesis and decreases protein breakdown, resulting in muscle hypertrophy.[61] (Note: If you’re a longevity science geek like myself, and you are concerned about a link between GH or IGF-1 and longevity, remember that sauna use profoundly decreases all-cause mortality. So these spikes in these hormones appear to be only beneficial to health and longevity.)

Sauna use also increases insulin sensitivity.[62], [63] This results in improved uptake of amino acids into skeletal muscle, enhancing muscle growth. (And results in fewer nutrients ending up in fat cells.)

Studies in rats have shown that heat treatment reduces oxidative stress and protects muscle mass (reduces atrophy) during immobilization,[64], [65] and enhances muscle regrowth and reduces oxidative stress during regrowth. In one study this resulted in a 30% increase in muscle regrowth compared to mice not exposed to heat.[66]

 

9. Faster Post-Workout Recovery

Speeds up recovery time - Benefits of SaunasLactic acid build-up in the muscles after exercise is reduced as the result of hyperthermic conditioning.[67]

Sauna use reduces exercise-induced muscle damage and delayed-onset muscle soreness.[68], [69]

Researchers have found that infrared heat improves recovery of the neuromuscular system after maximal endurance performance.[70]

How Faster Post-Workout Recovery Is One Of The Many Health Benefits of Saunas

As mentioned above, sauna use enhances muscle regrowth and reduces oxidative stress after a period of immobilization.[71] So don’t forget to make the sauna part of any injury recovery!

HSPs may protect against rhabdomyolysis, a serious condition caused by excessive muscle breakdown due to overuse which can cause kidney failure.[72] Hyperthermic conditioning leads to higher expression of HSPs under both normal conditions and subsequent exposure to heat, so pre-conditioning is key here.

Sauna use is a potent tool for accelerates recovery in between exercise sessions.

 

10. Promotes Brain Performance, Neuron Repair, and Growth of New Brain Cells

Promotes brain health and performance - Benefits of saunasSauna use also increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), since heat stress in conjunction with exercise has been shown to increase expression more than exercise alone.[73] BDNF increases the growth of new brain cells and improves the survival of existing ones. It increases neuroplasticity, which is important for learning and long-term memory. [74]

Importantly, low BDNF has been linked with both depression and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).[75] [76]

BDNF increases from exercise, and this is thought to be a major reason why exercise is linked to improved brain health and protection from neurodegenerative disease. Everyone knows that exercise helps prevent muscle atrophy with aging, but few realize that it also prevents brain degeneration as much as it helps prevent muscle atrophy. Sauna also increases BDNF and sauna use has also been linked with hugely decreased rates of certain neurodegenerative diseases.

Other research has shown that sauna use has a huge impact on other hormones like norepinephrine and prolactin, which play roles in focus and attention, as well as promotes nerve myelin growth and nerve repair.[77], [78]

How Brain Performance, Neuron Repair, and Growth of New Brain Cells Is One Of The Many Health Benefits of Saunas

Sauna use significantly increases norepinephrine and prolactin levels, which has benefits for mental performance. During sauna, norepinephrine increases 2- to 4-fold, while prolactin increases from 2- to 10-fold.[79], [80], [81]

Norepinephrine improves focus and attention. Heat stress also increases the capacity of norepinephrine to be stored for later use.[82]

Prolactin promotes myelin growth. Myelin insulates nerve fibers and increases the speed at which nerve impulses are conducted, which makes your brain work faster. It is also important for repairing nerve cell damage.[83]

In addition, “runner’s high” – the sense of euphoria that accompanies prolonged exercise – is thought to be related to heat stress, and research has shown that sauna use affects these same endorphin pathways.[84]

 

11. Improves Skin Health

Improved skin health - Benefits of saunasPassive heat therapy improves skin microvascular function, which means better nutrient delivery to skin cells. [85], [86]

How Improved Skin Health Is One Of The Many Health Benefits of Saunas

Mild heat stress has anti-aging hormetic effects on the growth of human skin fibroblasts (cells in connective tissue that produce collagen and other fibers).[87] In other words, it temporarily stresses your skin cells and induces them to build up their anti-oxidant defense systems and stimulating cell repair processes, which protect them from future stresses (like sun exposure or toxins).

Regular sauna use has a beneficial effect on skin health, improving hydration, maintaining surface pH, and resulting in less oil on the forehead of participants measured.[88]

Sauna may benefit people with psoriasis because it aids the removal of scales.[89]

In short, sauna use is a powerful tool for improving your skin health.

 

12. Increases Red Blood Cell Count (Increased Oxygen Delivery to Cells)

Increased blood cells - benefits of saunasSauna use also increases red blood cell count, which means greater oxygen delivery to muscles.[90] Greater capacity to deliver oxygen to your cells means better energy, as well as better brain performance and physical performance.

You may remember back to the Tour de France scandals involving competitors injecting their own stored blood (that had been removed weeks prior) to increase red blood cells, and injecting erythropoietin (EPO) to stimulate their body to produce more red blood cells. (Note: Athletes often train at altitude to stimulate some of these benefits as well).

How Increased Red Blood Cell Count (Increased Oxygen Delivery to Cells) Is One Of The Many Health Benefits of Saunas

Well, it turns out that sauna use mimics many of these effects and can also boost EPO and red blood cell count. This is likely because the body increases plasma volume (the overall amount of fluid in your blood vessels) – likely as a way to adapt to sweating so much – and then the body increases red blood cells to keep the concentration of red blood cells to plasma optimal.

The end effect of increased red blood cells is that saunas don’t make you better at tolerating heat – they actually help your stamina, endurance, performance (physical and brain performance), perceived exertion during exercise, and overall energy levels.

 

13. Decreases Pain and Fibromyalgia Symptoms

Decreased Pain and fibromyalgia - benefits of saunaSauna use has also proven to be exceptionally beneficial for people in pain.

Fibromyalgia patients receiving thermal therapy combining sauna and underwater exercise reported 31-77% reductions in pain and symptoms after the 12-week program. These improvements continued throughout the 6-month follow-up period, which also noted also an improved quality of life.[91]

How Decreased Pain and Fibromyalgia Symptoms Is One Of The Many Health Benefits of Saunas

Regular sauna use has also been found to reduce headache pain intensity in those suffering from chronic tension-type headaches (CTTH).[92]

In a group of patients with chronic pain, a combination of multidisciplinary treatment (including rehabilitation, exercise therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy) and sauna use resulted in decreased pain, anger, and depression scores. After treatment, 77% of patients that received the multidisciplinary treatment and sauna were able to return to work as opposed to 50% of those who received the multidisciplinary approach without sauna.[93] This suggests that the sauna was a key aspect to recovery from chronic pain.

In people with leg pain from peripheral artery disease (PAD) – a common form of cardiovascular disease where plaque builds up in the arteries and hinders blood flow, causing pain while walking – researchers found that 6 weeks of daily 15-minute sauna sessions caused a nearly 70% reduction in pain (compared to no change in pain in the control group that didn’t use a sauna)![94] In addition, the group that used the sauna was able to walk twice as far without pain, compared to the control group which had no change in walking distance.

Another study looking at people with fibromyalgia showed huge reductions in pain. Researchers in Japan studied the effects of infrared (Waon) sauna sessions in 13 women with fibromyalgia.[95] They were given infrared sauna therapy (at 140°F) for 15 minutes either two or five days per week. Following the sauna, they laid down in a warm room and were covered with a blanket for another 30 minutes.

Pain was reduced by nearly half following just the first session (but this pain-killing effect only lasted for a few days initially). However, the effect became persistent and lasting following about ten treatments, at which point, the women reported pain reductions between 20%-78%! Again, that is after just ten 15-minute sauna sessions, which was completed in just 2-5 weeks of sauna use.

Moreover, 5 of 8 of these women who had to leave work due to pain and disability returned to work following just a few weeks of these sauna sessions!

 

14. Lowers Inflammation

Lowered Inflammation - benefits of saunasInflammation has been implicated in almost every major disease. Although inflammation results from the attempt of the body to heal itself, chronic systemic inflammation can form a negative feedback loop that can prevent or delay healing. Reducing inflammation is critical for health. Chronic inflammation is also a major cause of chronic fatigue.

HSPs play a role as an anti-inflammatory protein, suggesting that sauna use may have benefits for chronic inflammation.[96], [97]

Indeed research confirms that it does have benefits.

How Lowered Inflammation Is One Of The Many Health Benefits of Saunas

Participants engaged in daily infrared sauna therapy for two weeks had lower markers of oxidative stress, which can lead to inflammation.[98]

Using the sauna is associated with lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), an important marker of systemic inflammation. Men in a study who used the sauna 2-3 times per week had 17% lower levels of CRP and those using the sauna 4-7 times per week had 32% lower levels of CRP compared to those only using it once per week. (And we don’t know how much higher the levels were for those not using the sauna at all!)[99]

 

15. Bolsters Immune System

Fights infection - benefits of saunasHeat stress bolsters the immune system. Part of the mechanism for this is that HSPs stimulate both innate and adaptive immunity.[100] [101] There appear to be numerous effects and pathways of immune function that are altered by heat exposure.[102]

How a Bolstered Immune System That Fights Infection Is One Of The Many Health Benefits of Saunas

Regular exposure to sauna can reduce the incidence of the common cold. In one study, half of the participants engaged in sauna use once or twice per week while the other half did not. The incidence of the common cold was similar for the first three months of the study, but in the second three months, the sauna group had less than half the number of colds.[103]

High sauna temperatures easily kill infectious microbes on the skin,[104] which can be beneficial for skin infections of many kinds.

Many practitioners swear by the effectiveness of sauna use for hard-to-treat chronic infections.

 

16.  May Potentially Combat Certain Types of Cancer

Combats certain types of cancer - benefits of saunasEvidence suggests that hyperthermia can cause apoptosis, or cell death, in both normal and tumor cells, but the damage caused by hyperthermia is not evident in normal cells.[105] This might be due to what has been called (in the context of fasting) “differential stress resistance,”[106] in which our own cells can adapt to stress but cancer cells cannot.

How One Of The Benefits Of Saunas May Potentially Be Combating Certain Types of Cancer

The FOX family proteins (such as FOXO3) play a critical role in tumor suppression.[107] Since we know that sauna use affects FOXO3, it is reasonable to suspect there may be a link here.

Cells with high acidity and low pH such as cancer tumor tissues are more susceptible to heat due to insufficient blood flow.  Meanwhile, the effectiveness of radiation and some types of chemotherapy are enhanced by heat. Therefore, in many cancer treatments, the addition of hyperthermia results in an additive effect.[108], [109]

Hyperthermia alone (local, regional, or whole-body) has shown complete response rates of 13% in several cancers, and clinical trials adding hyperthermia to radiation and/or chemotherapy have resulted in as much as a 50% improvement in response rates, tumor control, and overall survival.[110]

The addition of hyperthermia to other treatments has shown significantly improved outcome in cancers of the head and neck, breast, brain, bladder, cervix, rectum, lung, esophagus, vulva and vagina, and also for melanoma.[111]

Hyperthermia induces cell death in melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer cells.[112]

(DISCLAIMER: This article is not intended as medical advice or a substitute for seeing a physician. Please follow your physician’s recommendations, and please check with your physician before trying anything to treat any particular medical condition. Trying to self-treat may have consequences, so always check with your doctor before doing anything to treat any condition you may have. Check with your doctor about sauna use or hyperthermia to see if it’s right for you.)

 

17. May Help Prevent Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Fights Alzheimers and dementia - benefits of saunasThe accumulation of misfolded proteins (like beta amyloid) in the brain is thought to play a critical role in the development of many neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s. Research suggests that elevating HSPs and FOXO3 (e.g. via sauna use) may activate the repair of misfolded proteins, restoring their proper structure.[113],[114],[115] This can prevent them from clumping together and forming plaques, which have been implicated in both Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease.

How Prevention of Alzheimer’s and Dementia Is One Of The Many Health Benefits of Saunas

A Finnish study that followed 2,315 men for 20 years found that those who used the sauna 2-3 times per week (compared to only once per week) had a 22% and 20% risk reduction of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, respectively. Importantly, this was after adjusting for age, alcohol consumption, BMI, blood pressure, smoking status, exercise habits, Type 2 diabetes, previous heart attack, resting heart rate, and cholesterol levels.[116] This is important in this type of long-term observational study so that we know that these results are not confounded by a person’s other lifestyle habits or health history.

But here’s the even more impressive part: Those who used the sauna 4-7 times per week had a 66% reduced risk of dementia and a 65% reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease compared to those who only used the sauna once per week!

 

18. Decreases Risk of Lung & Respiratory Disease (and Improves Lung Function)

A large observational study found that those who used the sauna 4 or more times per week had a 41% lower risk of respiratory diseases over a 26-year follow-up period than those who used the sauna less than once per week. Those who used the sauna 2-3 times per week had a 27% lower risk.[117]

How Decreased Risk of Lung & Respiratory Disease Is One Of The Many Health Benefits of Saunas

Sauna use decreases lung congestion, and increases the vital capacity, tidal volume, minute ventilation, and forced an expiratory volume of the lungs.[118], [119]

Patients with asthma or chronic bronchitis report that sauna improves their breathing.[120]

Patients with obstructive lung disease experienced improved lung function with sauna use.[121]

It is possible that the hot air of the sauna may initiate a hormetic response in the lung tissues and help stimulate cell repair and build up the internal antioxidant defense systems of the lung cells, thus protecting them from damage from a broad range of stressors.

 

19. Massively Improves Mood – Acts as an Anti-Depressant (Fights Depression)

Sauna use has been shown to combat depression in numerous ways. Depression has been linked in numerous studies to elevated core body temperature. As Dr. Charles Raison has explained in this interview on hyperthermia and depression, the research shows that, counterintuitively, giving people with depression a brief hit of even higher body temperature (e.g. via sauna use or other body heating devices) can lead to remarkable improvement in depression.

How Sauna Use Act As An Anti-Depressant and Fights Depression

There are several mechanisms by which sauna use can combat depression:

  1. Temporarily increasing body temperature and spiking inflammation (and increasing heat-shock proteins) actually lowers baseline body temperature and inflammation (normalizes body temperature regulation and inflammatory/immune pathways), through hormesis.
  2. Heat hormesis also may promote autophagy in the brain, which makes brain cells more resilient and resistant to a range of stressors.
  3. Sauna use has been shown to cause a massive release of beta-endorphins in the brain, leading to better mood and fewer negative effects of stress.[122], [123]
  4. Heat acclimation also has the longer-term effect of making you more sensitive to endorphins.  When the body is under heat stress, a substance called dynorphin is released. Dynorphin has a role in thermal regulation but it also produces dysphoria or discomfort. To counter this, the body responds by not only producing more endorphins but more endorphin receptors and increasing the sensitivity of those receptors.[124] This means you need less to feel good even when you are not heat-stressed, so you can get more pleasure from everyday activities, like watching a sunset.

Participants in “group sweat therapy” using the sauna obtained significantly more benefit from the therapy than the control group with no sauna use. They also experienced better interpersonal interactions, more relaxation, and greater stress relief.[125]

Another study found that after whole-body hyperthermia, cancer patients experienced a significant improvement in depression that lasted up to 72 hours.[126]

In a new 2016 double-blind, randomized control trial performed with people with a major depressive disorder, one single treatment of whole body hyperthermia using an infrared sauna resulted in a large reduction in depression scores. These improvements persisted over a 6-week period.[127] Researchers noted that this effect exceeds that of SSRI antidepressant drugs![128]

The researchers concluded: “Whole-body hyperthermia holds promise as a safe, rapid-acting, antidepressant modality with a prolonged therapeutic benefit.” [129]

Few treatments in existence have shown this sort of powerful effect on people with depression.

 

20. Improves Symptoms in Some Autoimmune Conditions

Sauna use might help the treatment of autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.[130], [131] This is because certain HSPs can regulate the immune system, suppressing overactive responses in autoimmune diseases.[132], [133]

How Improved Symptoms in Some Autoimmune Conditions Is One Of The Many Health Benefits of Saunas

In a case report, a woman with Sjogren’s syndrome underwent 20 sessions of infrared sauna treatment over the course of 4 weeks. She experienced “dramatic” improvements in dry mouth and arthritis and her antigen levels dropped into the normal range.[134]

Studies based on interviews of approximately 200 patients with rheumatoid arthritis have found that 40% to 70% experience alleviated pain and improved joint mobility with sauna use. However, approximately half of the patients temporarily experience worse pain the following day before seeing the improvements in symptoms. Many reported that this could be prevented by a cool shower after the sauna.[135], [136]

 

21. Combats Diabetes and Insulin Resistance

Decreases Diabetes - Benefits of SaunasReduction in HSPs has been shown in individuals with Type 2 diabetes and correlates with insulin resistance and glucose control.[137], [138]

How Insulin Sensitivity Is One Of The Many Health Benefits of Saunas

Researchers have suggested that therapies utilizing HSPs might serve as a treatment tool for Type 2 diabetes and metabolic diseases.[139], [140]

FOXO increases insulin sensitivity by inducing expression of the insulin receptor.[141]

Diabetic mice exposed to whole-body hyperthermia 3 times per week for 12 weeks had a 31% reduction in insulin levels and significantly decreased fasting blood glucose levels. The ability of hyperthermia to increase insulin sensitivity was further established in glucose tolerance tests and insulin tolerance tests.[142]

Increasing physical activity has a beneficial effect on metabolic health, but sometimes people who would benefit most are unable to do it due to medical conditions or disability. Sauna use cannot replace all the benefits of exercise, but it may replicate some of the benefits and alleviate some of the symptoms associated with Type 2 diabetes.[143]

 

22. Combats Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/ME)

Improved recovery from CFS ME - Benefits Of SaunasIn a case report, two CFS patients received infrared sauna therapy (Waon therapy) once a day for 35 days, and then once or twice per week thereafter for one year. They experienced improvements in physical and mental complaints, fatigue, depression, confusion, and sleep. Energy levels and hours of non-sedentary activity increased. Both patients were able to return to work 6 months after beginning therapy.[144]

How Fighting Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/ME) Is One Of The Many Health Benefits of Saunas

A pilot study found that sauna use (Waon therapy) improved cerebral blood flow and brain function in all 11 participants with CFS. This correlated with self-rated improvements in CFS symptoms.[145]

Another study found that perceived fatigue, anxiety, depression, and performance status improved in patients with CFS following 4 weeks of Waon therapy.[146]

(While research on this topic is currently limited, I’ve found that among Energy Blueprint program members, many people say that sauna use has been the single biggest needle mover in helping them overcome chronic fatigue and recover their energy.)

 

Common Questions About Saunas

In the following section, I will answer some of the most common questions about the risks and benefits of saunas.

 

Are Saunas Bad For You? I.e. Who Should Avoid Sauna Use

Extensive systematic reviews have found that sauna use is generally well tolerated and safe.[147], [148] However, there are times when sauna should not be used. It should be avoided by:

  • People with unstable angina-type chest pain, recent heart attack, or severe aortic stenosis (narrowing of the major artery of the heart)
  • People with severe orthostatic hypotension (low blood pressure when standing)
  • People with infectious diseases with fever or fever for any reason.[149] (Please consult your doctor if you wish to use a sauna to help treat an infection.)

Some other points worth mentioning here:

  • It has been found to be safe during normal pregnancy for women already acclimated to sauna use but is not recommended during high-risk pregnancy.[150] And in general, most advice you’ll read online will generally advise to stay out the sauna if you’re pregnant and not already accustomed to sauna use. So my suggestion is that if you are not already accustomed to sauna use, best to be on the safe side and avoid the sauna while pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
  • People trying to get pregnant are best advised to avoid using a sauna, as sauna use may temporarily lower sperm count for men from the heat.
  • Very importantly, alcohol and sauna don’t mix. Alcohol increases the risk of low blood pressure and fainting, arrhythmia, and sudden death. In one review, alcohol was found to be a factor in 84% of hyperthermia deaths in Finland.[151] Chronic alcohol use, not just acute, might also make sauna bathing dangerous because of its long-term effect on thermoregulatory mechanisms.[152] This may be because of disrupted activation of opioids such as endorphins, whose levels do not rise during hyperthermia in drug and alcohol addicts.[153]
  • Overweight people have a greater risk of dehydration from heat stress.[154] A good way to measure how much water loss has occurred it to weigh yourself before and after the sauna and replenish at least the same amount. If you’ve sweated profusely, also be careful to replenish electrolytes. If you want a pre-formulated drink, skip the Gatorade – coconut water has been shown to rehydrate as well as commercial sports drinks.[155] But it’s not necessary to do coconut water. Drinking water with a trace mineral supplement (I like the Concentrace brand) is also great. Or just go for plain water (make sure you’re using extremely pure water from a top-notch filter) and then making sure to eat lots of mineral-rich foods like leafy greens is a great way to replenish sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, and so forth. Smoothies with ample greens (using things like spinach, kale, chard, celery, etc.) is a great way to do this – plus the fiber content has added benefits in binding and helping you to excrete toxins released during the sauna session.
  • Also, it’s always a good idea to sauna with a buddy – especially if you have a history of fainting or hypoglycemia. (Note: Most modern saunas have a timer and automatically shut off after 30-60 minutes – you can set the time – so there is little risk of passing out and being stuck in an extremely hot sauna.)
  • Finally, always listen to your body when in the sauna. Your body will almost always let you know when it’s time to stop before fainting, just as with physical exercise. If you feel very uncomfortable or light-headed, listen to that feeling simply get out.

 

Facts About Saunas

How hot do saunas get?

How hot do saunas get - benefits of saunasThere are two basic types of saunas. Traditional saunas (also known as Finnish saunas) use radiant heat to achieve temperatures between 70 and 100°C (158-212°F) with a face-level temperature of 80-90°C (176-194°F). Sometimes water is intermittently poured over rocks to temporarily increase the humidity, but not all saunas have this feature.[156], [157] Infrared saunas, in contrast, generally have temperatures from 40-60°C (104-140°F). Because infrared heat penetrates more deeply into tissue (approximately 3–4 cm) than warmed air, users start sweating at lower ambient temperatures than in the traditional sauna.[158]

Infrared vs. Traditional Sauna

Most of the studies done on sauna use over the last several decades have used traditional saunas, but infrared has been gaining popularity. Some have claimed that infrared saunas are superior, but we simply don’t have the science to support that claim yet.

Traditional saunas might prove to be a stronger form of heat hormesis since they activate overt physiological effects of heat stress more than infrared (for example, raising the heart rate higher).[159] Infrared, since it is done at lower temperatures, may place less stress on the body and thus might be a better choice for those with certain health conditions.

On the other hand, in the context of people who are not very healthy and who are fragile (i.e. are easily overwhelmed by small stressors), infrared saunas are generally better tolerated. So in my experience, infrared saunas are better for those with low heat tolerance or low tolerance to stressors in general. It’s also a way to sweat a lot (and detoxify your body) without needing to be exposed to extremely hot temperatures.

Based on this, I generally recommend sauna type based on the individual and their needs:

  1. If you’re a young, healthy, and physically fit person with good heat tolerance, traditional saunas may have the edge in terms of stimulating the benefits of heat hormesis (where you really do want to heat your body up as much as tolerable).
  2. If you’re not very healthy or suffering from chronic fatigue (or otherwise have a low heat tolerance or low tolerance to stressors of all kinds), I suggest infrared saunas. This will give the best mix of sauna benefits while being very gentle on the body.

Sauna vs steam room

I do NOT recommend steam rooms in most cases unless you are using highly purified water in your home. Tap water has small amounts of numerous contaminants, and these contaminants become even more toxic when inhaled as vapors. So steam rooms are a bad idea unless you are using highly purified water from an excellent home filtration system.

 

How to Use a Sauna – Practical Tips

Using a sauna is a very individual thing, as some young healthy and very physically fit may have a very high heat tolerance and can handle being in a very hot sauna for over 30 minutes right from the start.

Other people whose health is compromised may only be able to tolerate relatively low temperatures, and for maybe only a few minutes at first. So please adjust accordingly and listen to your body. (I.e. If you feel light-headed or uncomfortable, get out of the sauna.)

How to use a sauna – Starting out

If you’re unsure about your health status and it’s your first time using a sauna, I suggest no more than 3 or 4 minutes for your first session. Then build up slowly from there, adding 30-60 seconds to each session as feels comfortable for you (until you get into the durations suggested below.)

How often to use a sauna

My general recommendation (based on the evidence) is the use a sauna between 2-7 times per week. (Remember, health benefits have been shown all the way up to using a sauna 7 times per week, or daily.)

How to use a sauna – Temperature and duration

Here are some general guidelines as far as temperature and duration:

  • Infrared sauna: 130-150 degrees Fahrenheit, for 15-45 minutes
  • Regular (Finnish, or moist) sauna: 175-200 degrees Fahrenheit, for 10-40 minutes

Again, these are recommendations to work up to – NOT to start with on your initial session. Think of this like exercise – just as you wouldn’t want to go from being sedentary for months to running a marathon or trying to squat 400 pounds, you also don’t want to jump into extreme heat or sauna duration before you’ve developed your body’s heat tolerance system. You want to slowly allow your body to get heat-adapted.

 

My Top Recommended Saunas

Remember, I generally recommend sauna type based on the individual and their needs:

  • If you’re a young person who is very physically fit and used to exercising intensely while outdoors, traditional saunas may have the edge and give you the heat intensity you need.
  • But for most people – especially people dealing with chronic fatigue – I have found from working with thousands of people with chronic fatigue and other conditions that traditional saunas can be hard for many people to tolerate and can cause fatigue if they overdo it.

So for most regular people (i.e. not young athletes), I have found that infrared saunas tend to be better – they allow people to get the benefits of saunas in a much gentler way. The experience is more relaxing, they can stay in longer (and thus sweat and detoxify more), and they come out feeling great (instead of feeling drained).

One other important consideration to be aware of here is that there are huge differences in the quality of construction and materials used in infrared saunas. Not all infrared saunas are created equal!

In fact, they are very far from equal. There are plenty of seriously cheap infrared saunas one can get that look nice (when you look at images online), and then once you get it, you discover that the wood is near paper-thin and breaks easily, it uses plywood (which off-gasses harmful chemicals into the air while you’re in it), and uses low quality infrared emitters which don’t emit energy at the right therapeutic wavelengths.

So I must issue a caution here: There are HUGE differences in the quality of infrared saunas! Be wary of cheap infrared saunas. You get what you pay for. And that saying is especially true when it comes to infrared saunas. If you’re going to spend a chunk of money on a sauna, do not get one with junk wood, with glues that off-gas (and toxify your body instead of ­de-toxify your body), and with low-quality infrared emitters).

This is one of the most powerful strategies to detoxify your body and improve your health. So if you’re going to get a sauna, spend the money to do it right and get a quality sauna that will be with you for decades. (Not a low-quality one you’re going to have to replace in a year because it breaks.)

The best and safest saunas-benefits of saunas

With that in mind, I have had experience with most of the top brands of saunas and have spoken to several sauna experts and here are my recommended brands:

  • Sunlighten
  • Therasauna
  • Saunacore
  • Sun Stream
  • Therasauna Classic
  • Heavenly Heat
  • Physiotherm
  • Clearlight

But all of the above brands are top quality saunas.

SaunaSpace also makes something called the PocketSauna, which is a non-traditional sauna that is canvas tent instead of a wooden room, and has 4 incandescent heat lamps instead of carbon fiber infrared emitters. It’s $3,000 and is a viable option that will have similar benefits to the infrared saunas listed above. You can get that here (use the discount code energyblueprint for 5% off)

Sunlighten is my top recommended brand, for several reasons (see below).

Therasauna and Clearlight saunas and the other brands listed above are also very high quality wooden infrared saunas. But I do recommend Sunlighten as the top choice, for several reasons:

  • They use absolutely top quality wood (and have non-allergenic options)
  • They use the highest quality emitters (which emit the highest percentage of infrared in the therapeutic wavelengths)
  • They do not use plywood or glues which can off-gas in the sauna
  • They have been a top recommended brand by countless physicians for nearly two decades
  • They have a 7-year warranty
  • They have done actual clinical studies showing that their products work to provide powerful results
  • They have third-party testing to prove that their saunas are low EMF
  • If you don’t have room for a full sauna in your home, they have a “Solo” system that takes up almost no space, and you can use it lying down in the ground (and it can be stored) in a closet or under your bed. Plus, I’ve had dozens of members get it and rave about it.
  • They have high-end saunas with both far-infrared AND the highly therapeutic near-infrared, which creates even more benefits

Why Sunlighten Saunas Are My Recommended Sauna-Benefits Of Saunas

SPECIFIC SAUNA RECOMMENDATIONS

For Those People With Fatigue Or Other Health Issues Or Who Have a Low Heat Tolerance (or who are just not in great health): An infrared sauna from one of the top brands I listed above. E.g. Sunlighten, Therasauna, Clearlight, SaunaSpace, Sun Stream, etc.

 

 

For Those People Who Are Young Athletes In Great Health With High Fitness and Very High Heat Tolerance: Traditional Sauna or Sunlighten Solo. For all you super-fit heat junkies wanting a traditional sauna, I highly recommend Almost Heaven, SDI saunas, and Aleko brands. They have both indoor traditional saunas and outdoor barrel saunas (that you can keep out of your house in your backyard). You can find options for these saunas on Amazon HEREAlmost heaven barrel sauna, SDI barrel sauna, Aleko barrel sauna

Traditional outdoor barrel sauna (non infrared)
Me in my Sunlighten Solo sauna

For Those People Who Want The Absolute Best Sauna In Existence (and have no budget) and/or Want Near-Infrared Therapy Built Into Their Sauna: Sunlighten mPulse

My top recommended sauna for people with no budget limitations looking for the absolute most top-of-the-line sauna

For Those People Who Want The An Amazing Infrared Sauna At A Cheap Price (and/or who don’t have room for a huge sauna): Sunlighten Solo

 

Best Overall Option For Bang For The Buck (in my personal opinion): Sunlighten Solo

It’s hard to beat the Sunlighten Solo, in my opinion. It’s a super high quality sauna, you can use it laying down (as opposed to being stuck sitting), very low EMFs, portable and takes up very little space and can be stored in a closet or under the bed, plugs into a standard outlet (no expensive electrician needed), ultra high quality emitters from one of the absolute best sauna companies in existence, and cheaper than basically all the wooden box style infrared saunas from any other top company.

I’ve done a podcast with Sunlighten, and have developed a relationship with the CEO of the company. As a result, they have agreed to give my community a special discount on the Sunlighten Solo. It’s the biggest discount they’ve EVER offered. You can get it for $300 off the normal price of $2,400! Plus, you get free shipping. (Only valid until 11/16)

You can get $200 off any of their Signature series saunas, or $200 off their high-tech mPulse series saunas.

Having your two-year old son give you kisses while you’re in the sauna amplifies the health benefits! 🙂

Again, generally speaking, infrared saunas are going to be best for most. Traditional saunas can be good for very fit, younger super healthy people with a high heat tolerance. But for people dealing with fatigue or other symptoms/conditions who are not already extremely healthy, I strongly recommend infrared saunas. Then within that category of infrared saunas, you have a wide range of options from $2,400 (or $2,100 after discount) all the way up to $7,000 and beyond. An infrared sauna from any of the top companies I listed above is a great buy. If you want to go all out and get the best sauna available with near-infrared therapy built into it (along with far-infrared), you have the Sunlighten mPulse line. And if you’re on a tight budget and can’t break the bank to get a sauna (or you don’t have room for a big wooden sauna in your home), you simply can’t beat the Solo for bang for the buck. In between those two high and low price options, you have a range of high quality 1-6 person infrared saunas from the companies listed above.

 

 

Conclusion

The research on saunas is still in its infancy, but based on the current evidence, sauna use appears to be an amazing way to benefit immediate and long-term health, physical performance, and mental performance.

I believe this is one of the top three most powerful strategies to enhance your health, increase your energy, prevent disease, and extend longevity in existence – on par with nutrition and exercise. (And yet, it is vastly under-rated and few people are aware of how powerful it is.)

As I said above, based on feedback from thousands of Energy Blueprint program members, a huge portion of them have reported that sauna use has been the single biggest needle mover in helping them overcoming fatigue and increasing their energy.

I also believe that it is the single most powerful tool for detoxification that we have available to us. (Weekly detoxification routines are vital in our world, which is now, unfortunately, filled with countless types of toxins that we’re exposed to daily.)

In short, saunas are one of the most powerful strategies in existence for improving your health, energy and longevity.

Like I said before, if there were a pharmaceutical drug that research showed had even half the benefits that sauna use does, it would be regarded as the most incredible “miracle drug” ever discovered and would be prescribed to basically everyone. And doctors would look at you like you were insane if you weren’t taking it. That drug exists – it just comes in the form of a sauna you sit in rather than a pill you pop.

 

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[123] Kukkonen-Harjula K, Kauppinen K. How the sauna affects the endocrine system. Ann Clin Res. 1988;20(4):262-266.

[124] Narita M, Khotib J, Suzuki M, Ozaki S, Yajima Y, Suzuki T. Heterologous mu-opioid receptor adaptation by repeated stimulation of kappa-opioid receptor: Up-regulation of G-protein activation and antinociception. J Neurochem. 2003;85(5):1171-1179.

[125] Colmant SA, Eason EA, Winterowd CL, Jacobs SC, Cashel C. Investigating the Effects of Sweat Therapy on Group Dynamics and Effect. The Journal for Specialists in Group Work. 2005;30(4):329-341. doi:10.1080/01933920500184931.

[126] Koltyn KF, Robins HI, Schmitt CL, Cohen JD, Morgan WP. Changes in mood state following whole-body hyperthermia. Int J Hyperthermia. 1992;8(3):305-307.

[127] Janssen CW, Lowry CA, Mehl MR, et al. Whole-Body Hyperthermia for the Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016;73(8):789-795..

[128] Psych Congress 2015 – New Data Support Whole Body Hyperthermia for Rapid Treatment of Major Depression

[129] Psych Congress 2015 – New Data Support Whole Body Hyperthermia for Rapid Treatment of Major Depression

[130] Torigoe T, Tamura Y, Sato N. Heat shock proteins and immunity: Application of hyperthermia for immunomodulation. Int J Hyperthermia. 2009;25(8):610-616. doi:10.3109/02656730903315831.

[131] van Eden W, van der Zee R, Prakken B. Heat-shock proteins induce T-cell regulation of chronic inflammation. Nat Rev Immunol. 2005;5(4):318-330. doi:10.1038/nri1593.

[132] van Eden W, van der Zee R, Prakken B. Heat-shock proteins induce T-cell regulation of chronic inflammation. Nat Rev Immunol. 2005;5(4):318-330. doi:10.1038/nri1593.

[133] Keijzer C, Wieten L, van Herwijnen M, van der Zee R, van Eden W, Broere F. Heat shock proteins are therapeutic targets in autoimmune diseases and other chronic inflammatory conditions. Expert Opin Ther Targets. 2012;16(9):849-857. doi:10.1517/14728222.2012.706605.

[134] Tei C, Orihara FK, Fukudome T. Remarkable efficacy of thermal therapy for Sjögren syndrome. J Cardiol. 2007;49(5):217-219.

[135] Isomäki H. The sauna and rheumatic diseases. Ann Clin Res. 1988;20(4):271-275.

[136] Nurmikko T, Hietaharju A. Effect of exposure to sauna heat on neuropathic and rheumatoid pain. Pain. 1992;49(1):43-51.

[137] Bruce CR, Carey AL, Hawley JA, Febbraio MA. Intramuscular heat shock protein 72 and heme oxygenase-1 mRNA are reduced in patients with type 2 diabetes: Evidence that insulin resistance is associated with a disturbed antioxidant defense mechanism. Diabetes. 2003;52(9):2338-2345.

[138] Kurucz I, Morva A, Vaag A, et al. Decreased expression of heat shock protein 72 in skeletal muscle of patients with type 2 diabetes correlates with insulin resistance. Diabetes. 2002;51(4):1102-1109.

[139] Faulkner SH, Jackson S, Fatania G, Leicht CA. The effect of passive heating on heat shock protein 70 and interleukin-6: A possible treatment tool for metabolic diseases? Temperature (Austin). 2017;4(3):292-304. doi:10.1080/23328940.2017.1288688.

[140] Henstridge DC, Whitham M, Febbraio MA. Chaperoning to the metabolic party: The emerging therapeutic role of heat-shock proteins in obesity and type 2 diabetes. Mol Metab. 2014;3(8):781-793. doi:10.1016/j.molmet.2014.08.003.

[141] van der Horst A, Burgering BMT. Stressing the role of FoxO proteins in lifespan and disease. Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol. 2007;8(6):440-450. doi:10.1038/nrm2190.

[142] Kokura S, Adachi S, Manabe E, et al. Whole body hyperthermia improves obesity-induced insulin resistance in diabetic mice. Int J Hyperthermia. 2007;23(3):259-265. doi:10.1080/02656730601176824.

[143] Faulkner SH, Jackson S, Fatania G, Leicht CA. The effect of passive heating on heat shock protein 70 and interleukin-6: A possible treatment tool for metabolic diseases? Temperature (Austin). 2017;4(3):292-304. doi:10.1080/23328940.2017.1288688.

[144] Masuda A, Kihara T, Fukudome T, Shinsato T, Minagoe S, Tei C. The effects of repeated thermal therapy for two patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. J Psychosom Res. 2005;58(4):383-387. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychores.2004.11.005.

[145] Munemoto T, Soejima Y, Masuda A, Nakabeppu Y, Tei C. Increase in the Regional Cerebral Blood Flow following Waon Therapy in Patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Pilot Study. Intern Med. 2017;56(14):1817-1824. doi:10.2169/internalmedicine.56.8001.

[146] Soejima Y, Munemoto T, Masuda A, Uwatoko Y, Miyata M, Tei C. Effects of Waon therapy on chronic fatigue syndrome: A pilot study. Intern Med. 2015;54(3):333-338. doi:10.2169/internalmedicine.54.3042.

[147] Hannuksela ML, Ellahham S. Benefits and risks of sauna bathing. The American Journal of Medicine. 2001;110(2):118-126. doi:10.1016/S0002-9343(00)00671-9.

[148] Kukkonen-Harjula K, Kauppinen K. Health effects and risks of sauna bathing. International Journal of Circumpolar Health. 2006;65(3):195-205. doi:10.3402/ijch.v65i3.18102.

[149] Kukkonen-Harjula K, Kauppinen K. Health effects and risks of sauna bathing. International Journal of Circumpolar Health. 2006;65(3):195-205. doi:10.3402/ijch.v65i3.18102.

[150] Hannuksela ML, Ellahham S. Benefits and risks of sauna bathing. The American Journal of Medicine. 2001;110(2):118-126. doi:10.1016/S0002-9343(00)00671-9.

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The Ultimate Guide To Red Light Therapy And Near-Infrared Light Therapy (Updated 2018)

The Ultimate Guide to Red Light Therapy Cover Image, www.theenergyblueprint.com

What if the missing key to achieving your fat loss, anti-aging, and health goals was … light?

Of course, everyone knows about the importance of vitamin D from sunlight (from UV light). But few are aware that there is another type of light that may be just as vital to our health – red and near-infrared light (also referred to as photobiomodulation.)

Think it’s all just hype? Think again! Believe it or not, there are now over 3,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies showing incredible health and anti-aging benefits of red light therapy and near-infrared light therapy, proving that they can help you:

  • Fight skin aging, wrinkles, and cellulite and look 10 years younger
  • Lose fat (nearly twice as with diet and exercise alone)
  • Rid your body of chronic inflammation
  • Fight the oxidative damage that drives aging
  • Increase strength, endurance, and muscle mass
  • Decrease pain
  • Combat hair loss
  • Build resilience to stress at the cellular level
  • Speed up wound/injury healing
  • Combat some autoimmune conditions and improve hormonal health
  • Optimize your brain function and mood
  • Overcome fatigue and improve energy levels

If there was a pill that was proven to have all these effects, it would be hailed as a “miracle drug.” Hundreds of millions of people would be told to start taking it by their doctors every day. And people would tell you that you’re crazy if you weren’t taking it.

 

, theenergyblueprint.com

What Is Red Light Therapy And Near-Infrared Light Therapy/Photobiomodulation?

Red and near-infrared light are part of the electromagnetic spectrum, and more specifically, part of the spectrum of light emitted by the sun (and also fire light). These wavelengths of light are “bioactive” in humans. That means that these types of light literally affect the function of our cells.

So what’s all this talk of “electromagnetic spectrum” and “spectrum of light”? Let’s take a look at the electromagnetic spectrum so I can show you more clearly what I’m talking about…

visible light spectrum - red light therapy, theenergyblueprint.com

Electromagnetic waves range from 0.0001 nanometer (gamma rays and x-rays are very small waves) all the way to over centimeters and meters (radar and radio waves).

White light through a prism - red light therapy, theenergyblueprint.comIf you pass white light (like sunlight) through a prism, it will separate out the different colors based on their wavelengths. This is how we get rainbows as well, and you might remember this from school with the acronym ROY. G. BIV, which stands for red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.

A tiny part of this spectrum – from roughly 400nm to 700nm – is visible to the human eye.

At the highest end of the visible light spectrum is red light, which goes from a little over 600nm to approximately 700nm. Above the visible light spectrum is near-infrared, from about 700nm to a little over 1,100nm.

It is the red and near-infrared wavelengths specifically that have these amazing effects on our bodies. (Interestingly, even within that range, not all the red and near-infrared wavelengths seem to be created equal. Specifically, most research showing benefits of red light and near-infrared light have used wavelengths in the narrow ranges of 630-680nm and 800-880nm.)

While most other wavelengths of light (such as UV, blue, green, and yellow light, etc.) are mostly unable to penetrate into the body and stay in the layers of the skin, near-infrared light and red light are able to reach deep into the human body (several centimeters, and close to 2 inches, in some cases) and are able to directly penetrate into the cells, tissues, blood, nerves, the brain, and into the bones.

penetration range of different wavelengths │ red light therapy, theenergyblueprint.com

Once in those deeper tissues, red light and near-infrared (NIR) light have incredible healing effects on the cells where they can increase energy production, modulate inflammation, relieve pain, help cells regenerate faster, and much more.

 

Why Doesn’t Everyone Already Know About  Near-Infrared and Red Light Therapy? (And Do You Need Lasers To Get The Benefits?)

Two big barriers specifically have hindered the widespread adoption of this technology by the general public:

  1. Until recently, it was thought that you needed an expensive laser device to obtain these benefits. This technology has been in use in doctor’s offices for many years now and goes by the name of either “low-level laser therapy” (LLLT) or “cold laser.” These red/NIR light laser devices often cost $5,000-$30,000. This is precisely why this technology hasn’t gone mainstream and why most people still haven’t heard of it – because most people are under the impression that you can only get near-infrared and red light therapy from these incredibly expensive laser devices.
  2. Red and near-infrared therapy LED panels are also being used in anti-aging clinics, where people are being charged $75-$300 per single session to use these lights. This is one of the other barriers – most people believe not only that these lights cost many thousands of dollars, but also that they can only use them by paying hundreds of dollars for a single treatment in a fancy clinic.

Shockingly, new research has shown that it is not necessary to use these expensive laser devices, and most experts now agree that it’s possible to get the same benefits from near-infrared and red light therapy LED panels at a fraction of the cost.

Here’s what Harvard researcher Michael Hamblin, PhD (widely regarded as the world’s top authority on photobiomodulation) has to say on this subject:

“Most of the early work in this field was carried out with various kinds of lasers, and it was thought that laser light had some special characteristics not possessed by light from other light sources such as sunlight, fluorescent or incandescent lamps and now LEDs. However all the studies that have been done comparing lasers to equivalent light sources with similar wavelength and power density of their emission, have found essentially no difference between them.[1]

So you don’t need a $5,000-$30,000 medical laser device to get these amazing health benefits. You can get these effects with a device that costs just a few hundred dollars.

You don’t have to go to a clinic and pay $75-$300 per treatment. Once you buy one of these devices, you can do unlimited treatments at home for free (or for just the cost of a few minutes of electricity)! You can do light sessions at home with your own light and get all the same benefits while saving yourself the thousands of dollars you would spend at an anti-aging or medical clinic.

As people come to realize that you can get all the amazing benefits of near-infrared and red light therapy without spending $5,000-$30,000 on a laser device or $75-$300 for a single treatment session in an anti-aging clinic, I believe this therapy will go mainstream and nearly everyone will have a red/NIR light therapy device in their home. After all, who wouldn’t want to have a simple-to-use device in their home that can dramatically speed healing, improve hormonal health, accelerate fat loss, increase energy, and combat skin aging?

 

The Five “Bioactive” Types of Light: Why Humans Need Sunlight to Be Healthy

Just as human cells need nutrients from food, light is also a necessary nutrient for our cells to function well. Certain wavelengths of light can help power up our cells, affect hormones and neurotransmitters, balance our mood, enhance physical performance, hasten recovery from stress, increase alertness, improve sleep, and positively affect the expression of our genes.

The human body needs light to be healthy. Both the right types and the right doses.

This may seem like a strange idea at first, as we’re generally not used to thinking of light as playing an important role in our health. We’re used to thinking of light as what we turn on in our house so we can see, or the headlights of our car that allow us to drive at night. Most of us are deeply unaware of the fact that many different types of light are “bioactive” in humans (which means they affect the functioning of human cells), and that our health is largely influenced by the dosage of these different types of light that we get each day.

These are the five types of bioactive light in humans:

The Five “Bioactive” Types of Light - red light therapy

Most modern humans are deficient in the benefits of all of these five wavelengths of light. And just as there are health consequences of not getting enough of the right nutrients in our diet (malnutrition), there are health consequences when we don’t get enough of the right light “nutrients” (mal-illumination).

What kind of health consequences?

Here are two well-known examples of how light deficiencies and imbalances impact human health in profound ways…

Sunlight deficiency and vitamin D deficiency have been linked with numerous diseases, such as:

There is even research that suggests that low levels of sun exposure are a risk factor for human health equivalent to that of being a cigarette smoker![16] A Swedish study looked at nearly 30,000 women for 20 years (note: studies with this many people that are this long-term are exceedingly rare) and found that women with the lowest sun exposure had a twofold higher rate of death compared to the women with the most sun exposure![17]

As another example of mal-illumination, artificial light exposure at night (from electronic devices like phones, TVs, computers, indoor lighting, etc.) have been linked with numerous diseases, like:

  • Numerous types of cancer[18],[19]
  • Depression[20]
  • Fat gain, obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome[21],[22],[23]
  • Insomnia and poor sleep[24]
  • Mood disorders[25]

And this is just a few of the dozens of health problems linked to mal-illumination.

But what if I told you that there is another kind of light deficiency that most people are totally unaware of, and that is likely even more problematic?

Near-infrared (NIR) and red light deficiency.

Red and near-infrared light have profound effects on our cellular and hormonal health. And we’re designed to need ample amounts of those types of light to have optimal health.

Just as the modern world of processed food leads to chronic malnutrition, our modern light environment (of too much of the wrong kinds of light and too little of the right kinds, and with poor timing) is called mal-illumination. The vast majority of people living in the modern world are suffering from chronic mal-illumination and don’t even realize it. And it has widespread effects on our brain and organ function, immune system , energy levels, mood, neurotransmitter balance, and hormone levels.

 

How Does Near-Infrared (NIR) and Red Light Therapy Work?

The next important question to answer is “how the heck does red and near-infrared light actually cause these effects?”

We know how UV light affects us, for example – it works primarily by interacting with our skin and stimulating the production of vitamin D. We also know how blue light enters our eyes and feeds back into the circadian clock in our brain (in the suprachiasmatic nucleus) to regulate our 24-hour biological rhythm, including the complex array of hormones and neurotransmitters that are regulated by this circadian clock in our brain.

These mechanisms are well understood by science. But what about red/NIR light?

There are numerous different physiological and biochemical mechanisms that researchers have identified as being affected by red and near-infrared light, but for our purposes here (since this is not an article meant for academics, but for regular people wanting to benefit from red and near-infrared light), I don’t want to get too bogged down in the details of dozens of different molecular signaling pathways at the cellular level. Instead, I want to keep things as simple and easily understandable as possible.

To give you an idea of what I mean when I say that things can be complex, here is a short list of biochemical pathways that have been proven to be altered by red/near-infrared light:

  • Cytochrome c oxidase
  • Retrograde mitochondrial signaling
  • Light-sensitive ion channels
  • Adenosine triphosphate (ATP)
  • Cyclic AMP
  • Reactive oxygen species (ROS)
  • Calcium
  • Nitric oxide (NO)
  • Nuclear factor kappa B
  • RANKL
  • Hypoxia-inducible factor
  • Akt/GSK3b/b-catenin pathway
  • Akt/mTOR/CyclinD1 pathway
  • ERK/FOXM1
  • PPARy
  • RUNX2
  • Transforming growth factor
  • Pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines
  • Vascular endothelial growth factor
  • Hepatocyte growth factor
  • Basic fibroblast growth factor and keratinocyte growth factor
  • Heat-shock proteins
  • Melatonin
  • Brain-derived neurotrophic factor

Rather than talk about the details of dozens of different biochemical pathways, let me simplify the major mechanisms of red/near-infrared light on our body…

 

Two Key Mechanisms of NIR And Red Light Therapy

I generally think of photobiomodulation as having two central mechanisms in how it benefits cellular function and overall health:

  1. Stimulating ATP production in the mitochondria through interacting with a photoreceptor called cytochrome c oxidase.
  2. Creating a temporary, low-dose metabolic stress that ultimately builds up the anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and cell defense systems of the cell (known as hormesis, which is also a primary mechanism of why exercise works).

Two key mechanisms of near infrared and red light therapy, theenergyblueprint.com

Let’s talk about each of these mechanisms in more detail:

 

Mechanism #1: Stimulating Mitochondrial Energy Production

Researchers have found that one specific mechanism of near-infrared and red light therapy is that these wavelengths of light are able to penetrate into cells and activate the mitochondria, directly leading to increased cellular energy production. Many lines of research indicate that the mitochondria are the key player when it comes to the mechanism of how red and near-infrared light affect our cells. [26]

This point deserves special attention, because a huge amount of research in the last decade points to the mitochondria as being critical to health, disease prevention, energy levels, and longevity. The mitochondria are the batteries that fuel all the processes of our organs; thus, things which enhance the mitochondria translate into more cellular energy inside the cell, which allows the cell or organ (e.g. brain, heart, liver, skin, muscles, etc.) to work optimally.

When it comes to red/NIR, the photoacceptor cytochrome c oxidase in our mitochondria is of particular importance.

Red light therapy - impact on ATP production, theenergyblueprint.com

Cytochrome c oxidase is part of the respiratory chain in our mitochondria that is responsible for producing ATP (cellular energy). When red and near-infrared light photons hit the photoacceptor cytochrome c oxidase, it helps the mitochondria use oxygen more efficiently to produce ATP.

While the exact mechanisms are still debated, most researchers believe that nitric oxide (NO) plays a central role.[27],[28]

NO of course plays many vital roles in the body, but when we have too much of it, too much in the wrong place, or when our cells don’t have the antioxidant capacity to quell the buildup of NO, it can hinder ATP from being manufactured in the mitochondria. [29]  

How?

Well, nitric oxide begins to compete with oxygen in the mitochondria.

In fact, NO binds with cytochrome c — preventing it from binding with oxygen. It basically blocks the oxygen from being used by the mitochondria. Because of this, the NO inhibits efficient ATP production.

Therefore, in unhealthy cells, nitric oxide prevents cytochrome c from getting enough oxygen molecules. This hinders ATP production, which is a recipe for poor mitochondrial function, and thus, poor cellular function.

As shown by several research groups around the world, red and near-infrared light essentially prevents this pairing of NO with cytochrome c oxidase. It knocks the NO out and lets the oxygen in!

In essence, photobiomodulation allows oxygen into the mitochondria (and prevents NO from halting energy production).[30]

This boosts mitochondrial function and helps improve the health of every organ and system in our body.

 

Mechanism #2: Hormesis

Another key mechanism for how near-infrared and red light therapy work is through hormesis. Hormesis is the process by which a transient metabolic stressor stimulates adaptations that actually improve health. This may sound like an odd concept at first, but you’re more familiar with it than you realize – exercise is a type of hormesis. Exercise works by transiently creating metabolic stress – stressing out the body (workouts are hard work!) and temporarily increasing reactive oxygen species, a.k.a. free radicals – and then in response to that stress, the body adapts to it with things like improved cardiovascular efficiency, improved blood delivery to the muscles, and by strengthening and growing the mitochondria. It also involves downregulating the genes involved in chronic inflammation and oxidative stress (two keys drivers of aging and disease), and upregulating the genes involved in energy production and the internal cellular antioxidant defense system.

The mitochondria get temporarily stressed in a way that causes them to send signals back to the nucleus of the cell (which contains your DNA), and these signals are literally used by the nucleus to determine what genes should be expressed. This is called “retrograde signaling.” It’s a remarkable phenomenon, because most people think that our genes do all the dictating of what happens in our cells. In fact, mitochondria generate signals (based on the environment) that signal back to the nucleus which genes to switch on and off!

In particular, the transient increases in ROS (free radicals) from red/NIR light activates many of the same cell defense systems that exercise does. The transcription factor NF-kB is activated through exposure to free radicals generated by red and near-infrared light, which promotes a very low level inflammatory response. This then engages a mechanism called the NRF2 pathway and the Antioxidant Response Element (A.R.E.) – our internal cellular antioxidant defense system – which helps put out the fire by eliminating the inflammation and free radicals. In short, in much the same way that exercise builds your muscles stronger by temporarily stressing them, light does the same thing to our internal anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory defense system. It helps make your cells more tolerant to stress, combats inflammation, helps prevent the buildup of free radicals, and ultimately makes your cells healthier, more energetic, and more resilient.

It turns out that humans actually need some of these low-level stressors in their life. The absence of these stressors actually sabotages our health.

Light serves a transient low-level stress to your cells. The end result of these cellular adaptations to the temporary stress is healthier cells that produce more energy, have a stronger anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory defense system, and are more resilient to overall stress.

How stress affect the body - red light therapy, theenergyblueprint.com

So near-infrared and red light therapy also are a form of hormesis, and benefit the mitochondria by creating a low dose stressor that the body then adapts to by becoming even stronger – the body increases production of internal antioxidant and anti-inflammatory systems, and builds up the size and strength of mitochondria.

In this way, red/NIR light become a powerful tool that doesn’t just temporarily alleviate symptoms (like say, an anti-inflammatory or painkiller drug), but it stimulates your body making lasting adaptations at the cellular level that lead to more resilience against stressors and a greater capacity to produce energy.

 

Mechanisms Summary

As mentioned above in the list of factors known to be affected by red/NIR light, there are also many other mechanisms of action of photobiomodulation which researchers are still elucidating. It is likely that other effects on specific compounds (e.g. BDNF, cAMP, nitric oxide, etc.), on stem cells,[36] on hormones,[37],[38] DNA repair,[39] or some other specific effects on gene expression[40],[41],[42] also play a role in mediating many of the positive effects of red/NIR light therapy.

The truth is that it’s possible to get endlessly complex and nuanced about all the different molecular and biochemical pathways involved. But again, to simplify all this…

In essence, what this all boils down to is that near-infrared and red light therapy help mitochondria produce more energy, decrease inflammation, and help build the cell defense systems to increase resiliency.

Thus, the reason it can benefit so many radically different health issues is actually quite simple: The health of every organ and every cell in the body depends on the energy being produced by the mitochondria in those cells. Thus, because red/NIR light therapy work to enhance mitochondrial energy production in essentially every type of cell in the body, it can enhance the cellular processes and cellular health of potentially almost every type of cell in the body.

 

Benefits of Red Light Therapy

the benefits of red and NIR light - red light therapy, theenergyblueprint.com

Here are the major benefits that have been proven by scientific research for near-infrared and red light therapy:

 

Near-Infrared and Red Light Therapy For Skin

Bouncy-Plump-Youthful-Skin-With-Red-Light-TherapyBecause red light stimulates both collagen and elastin production, dramatically reduces lines and wrinkles, as well as the appearance of scars, surface varicose veins, acne, and cellulite, photobiomodulation is fast becoming recognized as a safe and welcome alternative to injections and surgeries for anti-aging and skin rejuvenation.

Repairing damage from UV rays requires that skin be able to repair cellular and DNA damage, much as it does when healing from wounds. Red light does this extremely well through stimulating collagen synthesis and fibroblast formation, anti-inflammatory action, stimulation of energy production in mitochondria, and even stimulating DNA repair.[44]

A wealth of human studies is proving photobiomodulation can reverse the signs of aging, repair damage from UV rays, and reduce the appearance of lines, wrinkles, and even hard to remove scars. A 2013 issue of Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery featured a review of the research that highlighted dozens of studies proving photobiomodulation can reduce the signs of aging.[45]

Another review of the research by Harvard professor Michael Hamblin, PhD has found that red and near-infrared light therapy can:

  • reduce the signs of damage, DNA damage, [46] and aging from UV rays[47]
  • reduce wrinkles[48]
  • reduce color patches, hyperpigmentation, and skin discoloration[49]
  • enhance collagen synthesis and collagen density (research has shown it can enhance production of collagen by 31%)[50],[51]
  • accelerate repair in the epithelial layer of skin[52]
  • combat other skin conditions like acne, keloids, vitiligo, burns, herpes virus sores, and psoriasis[53]
  • speed wound healing by enhancing skin tissue repair and growth of skin cells[54]

In short, photobiomodulation is offering a new, extremely safe and non-invasive alternative to various anti-aging skin surgeries, Botox injections, and more abrasive chemical peels. For combating skin aging, red and near-infrared light is an extraordinarily powerful tool.

 

Near-Infrared and Red Light Therapy For Hair Loss and Growth

Slow Hair Loss and Re-Grow Hair with Near-Infrared and Red Light TherapyRed light has also been shown to help with certain types of hair loss. Red light has proven to help both women and men with various conditions to regrow hair and even thicken the diameter of individual hair strands. Near-infrared and red light therapy has proven to help women with alopecia to significantly regrow and thicken hair.[55]

 

Near-Infrared And Red Light Therapy For Cellulite

 

One study found that when photobiomodulation is combined with massage, it led to an astounding 71% reduction in cellulite![61]

Another study that assessed the use of near-infrared and red light therapy on skin health found that “91% of subjects reported improved skin tone, and 82% reported enhanced smoothness of skin in the treatment area.”[62]

 

Photobiomodulation For Wound Healing

Speed-Up-Wound-Healing-With-Red-Light-TherapyNear-infrared and red light therapy are fantastic for wound healing. Red/infrared light accomplishes this in several ways:

  • cleaning up dead and damaged cells in skin (phagocytosis)
  • increasing ATP in skin cells, giving cells more energy to heal themselves
  • increasing the production of fibroblasts[64],[65]
  • increasing blood flow, supplying the wound more oxygen and nutrients needed for repair
  • stimulating the production of collagen and the health of the extracellular matrix[66]
  • stimulating lymph activity
  • stimulating the formation of new connective tissue and blood capillaries on the surface of the wound. [67],[68],[69],[70],[71],[72],[73]

 

Near-Infrared And Red Light Therapy For Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue, and More Energy

Studies show that red light therapy is also effective at restoring energy and vitality in persons suffering with fibromyalgia. Multiple studies have found that photobiomodulation offers:

  • Enhanced quality of life for fibromyalgia patients
  • Decreased pain
  • Decreased muscle spasm
  • Decreased morning stiffness
  • Decreased total tender point number in fibromyalgia cases

Research – including a very recent 2017 study – suggests that this therapy method is a safe and effective treatment for fibromyalgia.[76],[77],[78]

 

Near-Infrared and Red Light Therapy For Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism

Fight Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism with Near-Infrared and Red Light TherapySeveral studies have shown profound benefits of photobiomodulation for autoimmune hypothyroidism.

  • A recent 2013 randomized, placebo-controlled study in hypothyroid patients demonstrated that in people who got near-infrared light therapy, thyroid function dramatically improved, and remarkably, that thyroid antibody (TPOAb) levels were massively reduced. Amazingly, 47% of patients were able to stop medication completely! Moreover, the researchers also followed up 9 months after treatment and found that the effects were still evident![85] They even published a 6-year follow-up, which basically said that even at 6 years, some of the benefits still remained, but periodic sessions were recommended to maintain all benefits.[86] (To be honest, I don’t suggest red/NIR light as a one-time treatment that is expected to last long-term. For optimal benefits, most research indicates that sessions be done with red/NIR therapy at least once a week consistently.)
  • A 2010 study found that photobiomodulation helped 38 %of study participants reduce their hypothyroid medication dose, with a whopping 17% being able to stop taking the medication altogether![87]
  • A 1997 study done in Russia included some data on people with autoimmune hypothyroidism who underwent a thyroid surgery. They found that red/NIR light therapy improved thyroid hormone levels enough that they required, on average, roughly half as much thyroid hormone medication.[88]
  • A 2003 study done in the Ukraine showed that red light therapy can decrease thyroid medication needs by 50-75% in people with postsurgical hypothyroidism.[89]
  • A 2010 Russian dissertation study gave red light therapy on the thyroid gland to a group of people with hypothyroidism and found that 17% of people could completely get off thyroid medication and 38% could decrease the dose by 25-50µg.[90]
  • A 2014 study used the light therapy for 10 sessions with 347 women with subclinical hypothyroidism. At baseline, the average TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) was 9.1 mIU/L. (Note: Higher TSH is a sign of hypothyroidism). After ten sessions of light therapy, the TSH was normalized in 337 (97%) of these women. Their TSH averaged at 2.2 mIU/L after just 10 light treatments.[91]

 

Increase Bone Healing with Near-Infrared and Red Light Therapy

Improve Cognitive Performance with Near-Infrared and Red Light Therapy Studies on animals and humans have found that red and near-infrared light therapy greatly aids in healing breaks, fractures, and bone defects.[103] ATP production is interrupted in broken bones, and cells begin to die from lack of energy. Red and near-infrared light have been shown to:

  • Stimulate energy production in the bone cells[104]
  • Increase bone growth factors[105]
  • Enhance blood vessel formation and blood flow to the affected area[106]
  • Modulate inflammation[107]
  • Enhance the attachment and production of collagen and procollagen and stimulates growth of bone cells – all of which accelerate the bone repair process[108],[109]

Overall, bone irradiated with near-infrared wavelengths shows increased bone formation and collagen deposition.[110] Pphotobiomodulation is becoming very popular in all sports where breaks, sprains, and fractures are frequent — from horse racing to football.

 

Near-Infrared and Red Light Therapy For Inflammation (and Potentially Inflammation-Related Diseases)

Lower Inflammation (and Potentially Inflammation-Related Diseases) with Near-Infrared and Red Light Therapy (1)Red and near-infrared light therapy is highly effective in treating chronic inflammation.

Since chronic inflammation is now being recognized as a major contributor to most chronic diseases from heart disease, depression, and cancer, to Alzheimer’s and chronic fatigue syndrome, this effect of red light therapy on inflammation is a very big deal.

Many aging scientists now speak of “inflamm-aging”[111] — the concept that the genes and pathways that control inflammation may very well be the key drivers of aging and disease.

Studies have even shown that red/NIR light therapy can have anti-inflammatory effects on par with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs),[115] which are the anti-inflammatory drugs routinely prescribed and typically, the over-the-counter drugs people buy when in pain.

 

Improve Eye Health with Near-Infrared and Red Light Therapy

Improve Eye Health with Near-Infrared Improve Eye Health with Near-Infrared and Red Light Therapyand Red Light TherapyResearch into the benefits of near-infrared and red light therapy for eye health is very promising. Studies on animals show that photobiomodulation can heal damage to eyes from excessive bright light in the retina. This kind of damage is similar to the damage that occurs in age-related macular degeneration (AMD).[116]

One human study in patients with AMD showed that red light therapy improved vision and that improvements were maintained for 3-36 months after treatment. It also appeared to improve edema, bleeding, metamorphosia, scotoma and dyschromatopsia in some patients.[117]

Note: The eyes are sensitive tissues, and as such, for any self-use of light therapy, I suggest shorter sessions at an increased distance away from the light. And as always, for any medical conditions, consult your physician rather than attempting to self-treat.

 

Near-Infrared And Red Light Therapy For Anxiety And Depression

A 2009 study took 10 patients with a history of major depression and anxiety (including PTSD and drug abuse) and gave them four weeks of treatments to the forehead with red/NIR light. Remarkably, by the end of the four-week study, 6 out of 10 patients experienced a remission of their depression, and 7 out of 10 patients experienced a remission of their anxiety.”[122]

Though further research is needed, there have been 10 studies so far on the use of photobiomodulation to treat depression and anxiety related disorders with 9 of 10 studies yielding very positive results.[123],[124],[125],[126],[127],[128],[129],[130]

 

Improve Cognitive Performance with Photobiomodulation

Improve Cognitive Performance with Near-Infrared and Red Light TherapyIn studies, researchers have found that transcranial near-infrared and red light therapy profoundly benefits the brain and cognitive performance.[132] Research has also shown that transcranial near-infrared stimulation has been found to increase neurocognitive function in young healthy adults,[133] finding that it improved sustained attention and short-term memory retrieval in young adults, and improved memory in older adults with significant memory impairment at risk for cognitive decline.[134]

Another study found photobiomodulation also increased executive cognitive function in young healthy adults, providing hope that further studies find that near-infrared and red light therapy may provide a hopeful treatment in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease, as well as prevention.[135]

 

Near-Infrared and Red Light Therapy for Tendonitis

One of the most common uses for red and near-infrared therapy in clinics is for injuries and tendonitis. Because red light stimulates collagen production, speeds wound healing, and is highly anti-inflammatory, it has been shown to bring great relief to people suffering from tendinopathy and tendonitis. [136],[137]

A systematic review of the research concludes that photobiomodulation has proven highly effective in treating tendon disorders in all 12 studies conducted.[138]

 

Increase Fertility with Near-Infrared and Red Light Therapy

Increase Fertility with Near-Infrared and Red Light TherapySome research suggests that red light therapy may be useful for fertility, which is making quite an impact upon couples trying to conceive.

It also improves follicular health, which are highly vulnerable to oxidative stress. Two recent studies, one in Japan and one in Denmark, found that photobiomodulation improved pregnancy rates where IVF had previously failed, in Denmark, by 68%.[140]

In Japan, near-infrared and red light therapy resulted in pregnancy for 22.3% of severely infertile women with 50.1% successful live births.[141]
As mentioned previously, the testicles also have photoreceptors that respond to red light, and research shows that photobiomodulation can greatly enhance sperm motility and therefore, fertility.[142],[143]

In studies on human sperm, near-infrared light therapy at 830 nm produced significant improvements in sperm motility.[144]

Note: Some people have made some claims around the capacity ofphotobiomodulation to increase testosterone levels. While I was initially excited about this, upon exploring the research that was cited in support of this, I have concluded that the evidence is simply not strong enough to support these claims. The claims are based mostly on one study in rats, which wasn’t an impressive study – it only showed elevations in testosterone briefly on one day, before returning to normal.[145] It also didn’t show testosterone elevation for the group using near-infrared (only in the group using red light). The study did use very high doses (far too high, in my opinion) and it’s possible that a more reasonable dose could lead to benefits for testosterone levels. However, other studies have failed to show similar benefits. [146],[147]  I remain open to the possibility that red/NIR light may increase testosterone levels when used on the testes, but the evidence for it as of this writing (2018) is not sufficient. That said, there is some intriguing research on the ability of sun exposure and vitamin D to boost testosterone levels, and that seems a safer bet for now.[148],[149]

While the research on boosting testosterone is not strong, there is an abundance of solid evidence for the ability of red/NIR light therapy to improve fertility.

 

Near-Infrared and Red Light Therapy For Arthritis and Joint Health

Studies have also shown that near-infrared and red light therapy can help people with osteoarthritis (often called just “arthritis”).[150],[151],[152]

 

29 Health Benefits of Red light therapy A4-01

 

Decrease Diabetes Symptoms with Photobiomodulation

Decrease Diabetes Symptoms with Near-Infrared and Red Light TherapyFor diabetics, the most positive results gleaned from studies on the effects of near-infrared and red light therapy for healing is healing foot ulcers. Historically, these are harder to heal due to poor circulation and high glucose levels, especially in the lower limbs. Studies in animals and humans reveal that photobiomodulation restores diabetic patients’ normal healing ability by exerting a stimulatory effect on the mitochondria with a resulting increase in adenosine triphosphate (ATP).[158],[159],[160],[161]

Red light therapy also has had profound success in helping patients with painful diabetic neuropathy. Studies have found that photobiomodulation also helps to relieve pain and improve nerve function and foot skin microcirculation in diabetic patients.[162],[163],[164],[165]

(Another way to reduce foot ulcers is to do Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) Listen in, as Dr. Scott Sherr shares his expertise on HBOT and how it relates to diabetics with foot ulcers.)

 

Near-Infrared and Red Light Therapy For Oral Health

Improve Oral health with Near-Infrared and Red Light TherapyRed light therapy and near-infrared light therapy have proven to have numerous benefits for oral health and research in this area is booming right now. So far, studies indicate promising results for photobiomodulation, which has been shown to:

  • Combat viral and bacterial infections of the mouth (tonsillitis, herpes, cold sores)[166],[167],[168]
  • Reduce mouth pain[169]
  • Facilitate tooth growth/tooth movement and reduce pain for individuals with corrective braces[170],[171],[172]
  • Help diabetics with gum problems and periodontal disease[173],[174],[175]
  • Reduce thrush (yeast in the mouth/candidiasis)[176],[177]
  • Improve tooth sensitivity[178],[179]
  • Fight gum disease and gingivitis[180],[181],[182]

 

Improve Respiratory Health with Near-Infrared and Red Light Therapy

Improve Respiratory Health with Near-Infrared and Red Light TherapyIn studies, photobiomodulation has been shown to improve the health of those who suffer from chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma, COPD, bronchiectasis, and ILD,[184],[185],[186],[187] as well as patients suffering from chronic obstructive bronchitis.[188]

 

 

Red And Near-Infrared Light Therapy For Pain Relief

Decrease Pain with Near-Infrared and Red Light TherapyNear-infrared and red light therapy has been remarkably effective at reducing joint pain in virtually all areas of the body.

Here are several conditions where red/NIR light has proven effective:

 

Use Photobiomodulation To Improve Immune System Function 

Improve Immunity with Near-Infrared and Red Light TherapyIn numerous studies, red/NIR light therapy has proven to benefit the immune system.

  • In animal studies, near-infrared and red light therapy has a boosting effect on the immune system of immune-deficient cancer-inoculated animals, resulting in an increased lifespan.[216]
  • In human studies, photobiomodulation also boosted the immune systems and T cells of preoperative cancer patients without increasing tumor size. [217]
  • In the context of wound healing, it has also been shown to have beneficial effects, in part by modulating immune function.[218]
  • Another study found that red/NIR light therapy to the bone marrow could increase the platelet count and help resolve low blood platelets caused by chemotherapy or by an autoimmune disease.[219],[220]
  • It also appears to selectively modulate cell function in some types of infected cells while not affecting healthy uninfected cells in the same way.[221]
  • In vitro studies on human leukocytes have shown that near-infrared light can increase activity of these immune cells. Given that we know red/NIR light penetrates our blood vessels and irradiates our bloodstream, it is reasonable to think may also happen internally.[222],[223]
  • A fascinating study in mice looked at shining red light on the thymus gland (an important gland in the immune system) and on an area of a back leg. They found that the mice who received the treatment on the thymus gland area (in the center of the chest) had more profound changes in immune cell function.[224]
  • Another remarkable and more recent study from December 2017 suggests that red/NIR light may be able to slow or even reverse this “thymic involution” – thus keeping our thymus gland function and immune function in tact as we age.[225]
  • As discussed in the section on thyroid health, in people with Hashimoto’s – a common autoimmune condition responsible for most hypothyroidism – red/NIR light has proven to have remarkably beneficial effects on immune function.[228] Another animal model of multiple sclerosis (another autoimmune condition that degenerates the fatty sheath around nerves that helps nerve conduction) showed that just two treatments done over a span of 14 days led to significant improvement with less brain cell death and slowed the progression of the disease.[229] Other animal studies have found similar effects.[230]

Overall, red/NIR light seems to be an “immune nutrient” that supports optimal immune function in a wide variety of different scenarios and health conditions. It seems to be able to positively affect immune function in the right direction, potentially, regardless of whether someone has low immune function during an infection or has an overly active and imbalanced immune system due to autoimmune disease.

 

Red Light Therapy For Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Spinal Cord Injury

Help Heal Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Spinal Cord Injury with Near-Infrared and Red Light TherapyRed light therapy is bringing recovery and enhanced cognition to those suffering from traumatic brain injury. Patients who have suffered TBI report improved cognition, better sleep, and enhanced recovery from the traumatic experience of their accident.[231],[232]

In animal research, photobiomodulation has impressive outcomes in recovery of animals after stroke. Scientists believe the therapeutic effects stem largely from increased mitochondrial function (i.e. increased ATP production) in brain cells irradiated with near-infrared and red light therapy.[233],[234],[235]

Spinal cord injuries cause severe damage to the central nervous system with no effective known restorative therapies. However, near-infrared and red light therapy has been found to accelerate regeneration of the injured peripheral nerve and increase the axonal number and distance of nerve axon regrowth, while significantly improving aspects of function toward normal levels. Numerous studies indicate that near-infrared and red light therapy is a promising treatment for spinal cord injury that warrants full investigation.[236],[237],[238],[239]

 

Near-Infrared and Red Light Therapy For Sleep (Improve Your Sleep Quality)

Fall Asleep Faster and Improve Sleep QualitySeveral studies in China have found that red/NIR light exposure, and studies have also found dramatic benefit to sleep in people with insomnia.[260],[261],[262]

  • The first documented use of a similar intranasal light therapy device to directly observe melatonin level was conducted by Xu C et al in 2001. They treated 38 subjects that had insomnia with intranasal low level laser therapy once a day over 10 days. They found that serum melatonin had increased.
  • The same group of researchers further treated another group of 128 patients with insomnia and found that the polysomnogram (sleep study that includes data on brain waves as electrical activity) data had improved.
  • In 2006, Wang F et al reported that they had treated 50 patients with insomnia with intranasal low level laser therapy that is of similar specifications to Vielight’s laser device for 60 minutes per session. Each session was conducted once a day over between 10 to 14 days. They found that the condition had improved significantly in 41 (82%) of the cases, mild for 4 (8%) of the cases, and none for 5 (10%) of the cases.
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners often prescribe herbs as remedy for insomnia. This seems to help somewhat. Chen YM et al tested 90 patients and found that that the condition improved significantly for 40% of the cases, mild for 37.5% and none for 22.5% of the cases. In the group that added the extra element of the intranasal low level laser therapy, the improvement in the number of positive results were significantly more impressive. 78% of the patients experienced significant improvement, 20% mild and 2% none.[263],[264],[265],[266]

 

Near-Infrared And Red Light Therapy For Brain Health (Slow Progression of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease)

Recent studies have now found that photobiomodulation may significantly slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.[280],[281]

Red and near-infrared light have been shown to:[275],[276],[277],[278],[279]

  • Benefit cognitive performance and memory
  • Improved mitochondrial function of brain cells
  • Have a protective effect on neurons
  • Improve cellular repair of neurons
  • Increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and nerve growth factor (NGF)
  • Decrease brain inflammation (decreased pro-inflammatory cytokines and increased anti-inflammatory cytokines)

 

Use Photobiomodulation To Enhance Muscle Gain, Strength, Endurance, and Recovery 

“In the near future, sport agencies must deal with ‘laser doping’ by at least openly discussing it because the aforementioned beneficial effects and the pre-conditioning achieved by laser and LED irradiation will highly improve athletic performance.” [286]

– Michael Hamblin, PhD

Red/NIR light with exercise makes a potent combination. Not only does red/NIR light help you recover faster, it seems to amplify everything that happens with exercise – increased muscle gain, fat loss, performance, strength, and endurance.

Muscle tissue has more mitochondria than almost any other tissue or organ in the human body. So muscle tissue is particularly responsive to photobiomodulation. The muscles are packed with mitochondria, because ATP is needed for every muscle twitch and movement, no matter how insignificant.

Through their effect on ATP production and cellular healing mechanisms, red/NIR light help individuals to recover more quickly from strenuous and resistance exercise, and even helps to prevent muscle fatigue during exercise.[292]

Studies provide evidence that near-infrared and red light therapy powerfully help prevent muscle fatigue, enhance muscle strength and endurance, increase fat loss responses from exercise, increase muscle growth responses from exercise, and promote faster recovery.[293],[294],[295],[296],[297],[298],[299],[300],[301]

To get into just a few of the dozens of studies on this topic:

  • One study by Vieira et al. examined levels of fatigue in leg muscles after endurance exercise and found that using light therapy immediately following significantly reduced fatigue scores relative to the control group. The researchers concluded “The results suggest that an endurance training program combined with LLLT leads to a greater reduction in fatigue than an endurance training program without LLLT. This is relevant to everyone involved in sport and rehabilitation.”[310]
  • Leal-Junior et al. performed a review of the relevant research in 2015 to examine the effects of phototherapy on exercise performance and recovery. They compiled data from thirteen randomized control trials and examined the number of repetitions and time until exhaustion for muscle performance, as well as markers of exercise-induced muscle damage. The researchers concluded that pre-conditioning the muscles with red/NIR light (i.e. using the light prior to exercise) significantly improves muscular performance and accelerates recovery.[311]
  • Another study looked at use of LED red/NIR therapy lights in male athletes who performed 3 intense bouts of exercise on a stationary bike. The athletes who were given the LED light therapy prior to the exercise had significantly lower levels of creatine kinase (a marker for muscle damage) compared to the sham light therapy (placebo) group.[312]
  • A recent 2016 review of 16 studies by Nampo et al.[313] looked at research using both laser and LED therapy on exercise capacity and muscle performance of people undergoing exercise compared to placebo/sham treatments. They found an average improvement of 3.51 reps, a 4 second delay in time to exhaustion (i.e. people were able to exercise longer before exhaustion), increased peak strength, and a significant reduction in lactic acid production.
  • A review of research by Borsa et al. found that studies consistently show that red/NIR light done prior to weight training improved performance and decreased muscle damage.[314]
  • Another study compared red/NIR light therapy with LEDs to cold water immersion (e.g. ice baths) as a recovery method after exercise and found that red/NIR light improved recovery more than ice baths.[316] 
  • A 2015 study by Baroni et al. [317] looked at 30 healthy males who were randomized into 3 groups:
  1. Control group – remained sedentary
  2. Training group (TG) – did an 8-week exercise program
  3. Training + light therapy (TLG) – did the same 8-week exercise program plus also did a light treatment using a near-infrared light (810nm wavelength) before each training session.

What happened?

  • The training group improved strength by about an average of 14% while the group that included light therapy improved by nearly 25%.[318]
  • The training group improved muscle size of the quadriceps muscles by about 10% while the group that included light therapy nearly doubled that improvement! [319]
Muscle size preak torque red light therapy
(Image Source: Suppversity)

As you can see, red and near-infrared light also have the ability to increase your strength and endurance adaptations to exercise, decrease muscle damage from your workouts, help you recover faster, and even increase muscle gains.

 

Red Light Therapy For Weight Loss (And Help Burn Off Stubborn Fat) 

Research has shown that photobiomodulation has a profound impact on reducing fat mass and fat tissue, and at eliminating cellulite. Red light therapy devices have even been approved by the FDA for fat reduction.

In studies, near-infrared and red light therapy have helped shave an entire 3.5 to 5.17 inches off waist and hip circumference by reducing the fat mass layer in just four weeks of use. [321],[322]

In another study of 86 individuals using red light therapy at 635 nm for 20 minutes every other day for two weeks, study participants lost 2.99 inches across all body parts — yes, 3 inches — in just 14 days of photobiomodulation.[324]

That said, I am not a strong advocate of trying to use red/NIR light therapy alone to cause fat loss. Where I believe red/NIR light therapy really shine (forgive the pun) is when combined with exercise and a good diet.

Some research shows that photobiomodulation can dramatically enhance — nearly double — fat loss from exercise, as compared to people doing just the exercise routine without the NIR light therapy.[325] In addition, the group using the NIR light therapy in tandem with exercise saw nearly double the improvements in insulin resistance![326]

Red light therapy on body mass, theenergyblueprint.com
(Image source: Suppversity). The above graph shows the differences in reductions in body weight, body fat, insulin levels, and insulin resistance (IR) from either NIR light therapy (ET-PHOTO) vs. sham/placebo light therapy (ET-SHAM). As you can see, exercising with NIR light nearly doubled the loss of body fat and nearly doubled the improvement in insulin resistance.

Again, please note that red/NIR light therapy doesn’t actually burn off the fat by itself. The mechanism appears to be that it causes the fat cells to release their stored fat into the bloodstream where it can (potentially) be burned for energy. One still must be in a calorie deficit to have actual fat loss. Your overall diet and lifestyle must be conducive to overall net fat loss, otherwise you will just put back the fat right back into the fat cells it was released from. If you’re not actively doing nutrition and lifestyle interventions to lose fat, please don’t think that the light therapy alone will cause fat loss. Think of it more as a tool to amplify the fat loss effects from diet and exercise, rather than a tool that generates fat loss by itself. Nevertheless, this technology can be used to greatly accelerate loss of overall body fat, and even “stubborn fat” from fat areas that normally are resistant to being burned off – for men, this is the lower abdomen and love handles, and for women, the hips and thighs most typically, or belly fat.

Overall, the research is clear that red/NIR light can be a powerful tool to support your fat loss efforts.

 

Photobiomodulation Dosing Guide 

If you want an effective light therapy session, you must have an effective dose. That requires:

  • A light that is relatively powerful (i.e. has an ideal “power density”)
  • Ideally, a light that can treat a large area of the body at once
  • An understanding of the optimal duration of time using the light to get the right total dose

Too little of a dose and you get minimal to no effects. Too strong of a dose and you get minimal to no effects.

Let’s talk about power density of the light first.

Most studies showing benefits of red/NIR light therapy used light outputs of 20-200mW/cm2.

This is basically a measurement of power density – how much power the light is emitting (in watts) over how big of an area.

To put that in different terms, if you shine the light on your torso (let’s say, for the sake of ease of calculation, that it’s an area of 50cm x 40cm, which equals 2,000cm2)…

And the light you’re using is 200 watts (which is 200,000mW), then you have 200,000mW/2,000cm2 = 100mW/cm2

That’s a great power density.

(Note: This is presented in an excessively simple way for the sake of clarity. In reality, there are factors that make this calculation much more complex, like the fact that actual wattage differs from claimed wattage for most lights, and the distance away from the light dramatically changes the power density, among other factors.)

Overall, the device needs to emit light above a certain power density (light intensity), needs to be at the right wavelengths, be at the proper distance away from your body, and ideally, needs to be physically large enough to emit light over a large portion of your body.

But for simplicity, let’s leave all these nuances of the calculations out of it.

The next part of the equation is how long should you apply the light. The dose (duration of exposure) is calculated by:

200,000mW/2,000cm2 = 100mW/cm2 │ The Ultimate Guide To Red Light Therapy, theenergyblueprint.com

Dose = Power Density x Time

So all we are doing is taking that number we already have (mW/cm2) and then the “dose” can be calculated once you know how long you should apply that light for. (If this sounds complex, don’t worry, because it’s actually VERY simple if you get the lights I recommend). Here’s the equation you need to calculate the dose:

mW/cm2 x time (in seconds) x 0.001 = J/cm2

Here’s the critical piece of information you need to know: The dose you want to shoot for is between 3J/cm2 – 50J/cm2.

(Note: Depending on whether you’re treating superficial areas like the skin or surface wounds or deeper tissues like muscles/organs, etc., you want different doses. We’ll talk more about the specifics of those treatment goals in a later section.)

Here are some sample calculations to show you how this works:

  • 25mW/cm² applied for 40 seconds gives 1J/cm²
  • 50mW/cm² applied for 20 seconds gives 1J/cm²
  • 75mW/cm² applied for 15 seconds gives 1J/cm²
  • 100mW/cm² applied for 10 seconds gives 1J/cm²

What that means is that if you have a device with a power output of 100mW/cm2 (at the distance you are using it), then you want your treatment time to be between 30 seconds-7 minutes on a given area of your body (that will equate to roughly 3-50J/cm2).

If you have a device that has 50mW/cm2 (at the distance you are using it), your treatment time would be 1-14 minutes on each area.

That’s a pretty wide range of times, so let me simplify this.

If you get either of the two top lights I recommend, here are the irradiance numbers (light ouput) at various distances:

Red light therapy - potency - Distance, theeenergyblueprint.com

Now you might be wondering, “Okay, so how do I know whether to use it for 1 minute or 10 minutes? And how do I know whether to use it from 6” away or 24” away?”

Good questions!

For skin issues (e.g. anti-aging benefits) and other more superficial (near to the surface) body issues, there are a few things to note. We want a relatively low overall dose on each area of skin, of roughly 3-15J. Also, there is some indication that lower power densities (below 50mW/cm2) may actually be more optimal for treating the skin than very higher power densities.

In contrast, for treating deep tissues, you want bigger doses and higher power density (light intensity) for optimal effects. You want doses of 10-60J. So in general, you’d want to have the light much closer to your body with a much higher light intensity. That’s what’s needed to deliver optimal doses of light deep into your tissues.

To sum up: With skin/surface treatments, you want to be further away from the light (which lowers the light intensity and covers a broader area of your body) for an overall lower dose. With deeper tissues, you want to be closer to the light (which increases the light intensity) for an overall higher dose.

To make this very specific and practical, here are some simple guidelines:

IMPORTANT: The above recommendations are based on the lights I recommend. All these calculations change when you use lights that are less powerful than the ones I recommend. If you purchase a different light, you will need to measure the power density of that light at different distances and calculate doses for that specific light according to the guidelines in this book.

 

Can You Overdose on Photobiomodulation? (The Biphasic Dose Response)

As I mentioned, there is something called the biphasic dose response. But what does that mean?

That means that too little red/NIR light therapy won’t provide much, if any, benefit, and too much will also negate the benefit.

In other words, it’s important to get the dose right and to be in the range I’m recommending. You aren’t doing yourself any favors by dosing higher than my guidelines suggest.

Below are two illustrations meant to give you an idea of the optimal dosing surface tissues and deep tissues. (Note: These images are not exact, because actual responses differ somewhat depending on the exact tissues treated and the type of device and other parameters used – these images are intended to illustrate the general concept of the biphasic dose response and give an idea of the general range of optimal doses.)

Here is an illustration of the general optimal dose range for skin treatments (or tissues near to the surface of the body):

Biphasic dose response │ Red Light Therapy, theenergyblueprint.com

Here is an illustration of the general optimal dose range for deeper tissues beneath the skin:

Biphasic dose response │ Red Light Therapy, theenergyblueprint.comI know there is a tendency in human psychology to want to do more and think that higher amounts of something will be better – i.e. “if a little is good, a lot must be better.” So let me repeat one more time for emphasis: With red/NIR light treatment, more DOES NOT equal better. 

Stick with the recommended dose range, start with the lowest end of the range, and don’t be in a rush to do a lot more. The benefits may be most optimal in the lower to mid-range of the recommended dosage.

 

How To Get Red Light Therapy At Home (The Ultimate Guide To Red Light Therapy Devices)

When choosing the right near-infrared and red light therapy light device, you want to select a device that’s long-lasting, has a great warranty, is well-manufactured, and most importantly, one that offers the correct wavelengths at the right power density over a large area.

Here are the most important things to look for specifically include the near-infrared and red light therapy devices:

  1. Wavelength: What wavelengths does the device offer? Do these have health benefits? Are they in the proven ranges of 600-700nm and 780-1070nm, or better, the most researched ranges of 630-680nm and 800-880nm?
  2. Power Density: How much irradiance/power does the device deliver — what is the power density in mW/cm2? (To calculate this, you need to know the total wattage and the treatment area of the light.) To get optimal effects, the light needs to emit high enough power output in the therapeutic range. (Note: Most lights on the market DON’T!)
  3. Size of the light and treatment area: This is critically important – how big of an area will it treat? Is it a small light of less than 12” or a big light that can treat half of your body or your whole body all at once? Think about it: Do you want to hold one of these small devices by hand for 30-60 minutes to do a treatment? Probably not. You’ll get tired of using it really fast. So it has to be convenient, and ideally, has to be something that is not only fast, but something that you do while doing other things (if you wish), so you’re not sitting there holding a device in different positions for 30-60 minutes.
  4. Warranty: How long does the warranty last? Will you have time to find out if it works? (Hint: look for at least one year or longer.)
  5. What do you want it for? Depending on your specific purpose, there are a few different devices you may want to consider. (If you have specialty needs like brain health, or skin health, it will affect the wavelengths you want, the power of the device, and even the type of device.)

I cannot emphasize this enough: When choosing a red light or near-infrared light device, you want to be extremely careful to choose wisely, based on the wavelength and power density levels of the device. Most devices on the market are way underpowered and largely a waste of money.

Wavelength and intensity makes all the difference between incredible benefits and no benefits.

 

You Want Therapeutic Wavelengths that Achieve Real Results

Again, not all wavelengths are equal — nor all devices. Look for wavelengths in the proven therapeutic ranges.

Based on the bulk of the research, you want:

  • 630-680nm (the optimal healing spectrum of red light)
  • 800 to 880nm (the optimal healing spectrum of near-infrared)
  • or a combination of both

 

Why Power Density of The Light Matters

Power density is also important because your cells need to receive a certain intensity of red light to benefit.

Remember, to know power density, you simply need to know the wattage of the light and the treatment area (as described in the guide to dosing section).

We want a sizable light that has a power density of at least 30mW/cm2, and around 100mW/cm2 from close range (e.g. 6” away). That’s what will allow us to get up to the therapeutic levels that are used in the studies – especially for the deeper tissues.

 

How Big is the Light and How Much of Your Body Can It Treat at Once

Most photobiomodulation devices have a very small treatment area capability.

Most handheld devices and red lights sold online as skin improving/anti-aging devices offer about 10mW/cm2 (and many of them offer far less than even that!) and only treat about a 5-10 square inch area, meaning you’d have to use the device for 30-60 minutes to cover a significant area of your body.

But if you get a device with a high power output that also treats a large area at once, that’s where the magic is.

Higher powered devices, like the lights I recommend, deliver close to 100mW/cm2 at about 6″ from the device and still have effective doses (roughly 20-30mW/cm2) even a full 24” away! This is a huge benefit, because now even a smaller light (say 15-20” long) can basically function as though it is a full human body-sized light! In other words, a powerful light that’s 15” long can be positioned 24” or even 36” away from your body, and since light spreads out the more you move away from the source, that light can now give an effective dose to nearly your entire front or back of your body at once! (Note: This way of using it is not ideal for deep tissues – it is ideal specifically for anti-aging and skin health purposes.)

So again, it can basically function the same as a light that is 3 times the physical size (i.e. a light that is the size of your entire body).

Having a high-power light that is also large enough in size allows you to treat large areas of your body at once in just a few minutes. You can treat an area like the face, the whole torso or legs, or even do multiple parts of the body and effectively, the entire body, in just a few minutes!  

High-power lights are going to give you far more benefits in far less time, are more effective (especially for deep tissues), and have more flexibility in how you can use them. I strongly recommend getting a large panel light over a hand-held device. Most people who purchase the small devices end up never using them because it’s just too time consuming.

What is the Warranty and How Long Will the Device Last?

This one is very straightforward – buy from a company with a strong warranty who stand by their lights. Otherwise, you’ll likely be throwing money away and having to buy a replacement in 6 months to a year. With a high-quality red/NIR light therapy device from a reputable company, you will have it for many years without any problems whatsoever. And if there is a problem, they’ll replace it. If you’re going to spend hundreds of dollars on something, quality is key.

 

What is Your Goal With Using Red Light Therapy?

My general recommendation is that if you want to treat deeper tissues, prioritize near-infrared over red light. The more you want to treat skin issues, prioritize red light. That’s a general principle you can use to tailor your choice of a light to your unique needs keeping in mind that both types of light will work for most purposes.

For most purposes, a large mixed LED panel with a mix of 660nm and 850nm is the best choice.

But for specific issues, you may want to consider other options:

  • For skin issues and hair loss, it is possible that red light at 660nm may be the most optimal. (Though near-infrared at 850nm will still have most of the same benefits. It’s just a question of what is most optimal.
  • If you only want to treat deeper organ, gland, joint, or muscle/tendon issues (and NOT skin issues), then you may want to go with a pure 850nm light device.
  • If you only want to treat your brain (e.g. for depression, anxiety, cognitive performance, or neurological disease), then near-infrared is best. (The VieLight Neuro is likely the best option for this specific purpose. See the information on this device in the “Recommended Devices” section later in this book.)
  • But for most purposes and for most people, the best choice is a combination of the 660nm and 850nm LEDs in a large LED panel that will treat a large area of the body at once. This option is best because it works for basically any and all purposes you could possibly want it for. A combined near-infrared and red light therapy device offering both 660nm and 850nm will allow you to do anything you want on any given day – whether anti-aging treatments on your skin, or healing an injury or lower back pain, or muscle recovery and fat reduction.

My Recommended Lights (How To Choose The Best Red and Near-Infrared Light Therapy Device For Your Needs)  

I know all this information can feel overwhelming and confusing. So let me break it down for you very simply, by giving you my top choices for devices in each category from small to large.

You want to get a light device that gives spa-worthy treatment in your own home. While treatments from health professionals and doctors using red/NIR light therapy can cost hundreds of dollars, a wise one-time investment in a high-quality light will allow you to do treatments at home that would cost tens of thousands of dollars if you were to go to an anti-aging clinic or doctor’s office for treatment.

By the way, I happen to know of some anti-aging clinics that use the exact lights I’m recommending, but charge people $75-$150 for a single session with the light. Now you know how to accomplish this in the privacy of your own home, at your own convenience, while – after the initial purchase of the light – only costing cents to use each day.

 

Best Small Red Light Therapy Device

best small red light therapy deviceI do not recommend the small devices, as they are extremely underpowered and only irradiate a small portion of your body. So in general, I think it is much wiser to spend a little more and get a much bigger and higher power device.

But if you must get a small device (or you only want to treat a very small part of your body), the only small light that I recommend is this one from Red Light Man. It’s a 100 watt light with LEDs split between 610nm, 630nm, 660nm, and 680nm. Or you can get it as solely a 670nm light. I recommend doing the latter, because 670nm will active cytochrome c oxidase in the mitochondria more effectively than lower wavelengths like 610nm. This light will have a good power density at about 4-5” away from the light, but remember, it’s a small light, so light will only hit a small part of your body. (Note: The effective power density of therapeutic light is considerably lowered by the fact that some of the wavelengths – especially 610nm – used in this light are outside the optimal therapeutic wavelengths, so be aware of that if you get this device with the mixed wavelengths.)

To treat larger areas of your body at once – which I strongly recommend doing for time-efficiency and to get greater benefits, especially for general skin anti-aging uses – you’ll definitely want to get a larger light.

In general, it’s best to spend your money (even if you have to save up) on a larger more powerful light rather than rushing to get a small one.

 

Best Medium Sized Near-Infrared and Red Light Devices

These lights get into the optimal range for power output and size, so they can treat a large portion of your body at once with a sufficient dose.

These devices generally cost upwards of $450 and deliver upwards of 120-300 watts of power to large portion of your body (like large muscle groups and a large portion of the torso at once). This is a huge time-saver when compared with treating the same areas with a small device and will lead to better results. Also, since some of the effects of the light are from irradiating the blood and lowering inflammation, the larger lights will treat more of the blood at once and will have better body-wide effects.

My top choices in medium size devices are as follows:

  • The Joovv Mini
    • It has 60 LED and is listed as 120 watts.
    • It’s available in 660nm, all in 850nm, or a 50-50 split of 660nm and 850nm.
    • Has FDA clearance (which means that it meets standards for safety and quality of the parts and the manufacturing process).
    • The price is $695
  • The BIO-300 by Platinum Therapy Lights
    • It’s listed at 300 watts.
    • It’s 19” tall by about 9” wide.
    • It has 100 LEDs.
    • It’s available in 660nm, all in 850nm, or a 50-50 split of 660nm and 850nm.
    • It’s $449

These are all great options.

Now, if you want a large light to treat the whole front or whole back of your body at once with high power density, I would strongly recommend considering the larger and more powerful half-body units.

 

Best Large Near-Infrared and Red Light Therapy Devices

Bio-300 and bio-600 best red light therapy deviceThese units generally cost upwards of $700 to $2,500, with a couple great options of large, high power effective lights for under $1,000.

There are much more expensive options available and full body devices like tanning beds that can treat basically every inch of your body at once, but these are far more expensive and unnecessary for most people. There are a lot more expensive “luxury” red light options for those that want them, but in my opinion, there is really no need to go beyond the lights in this category. This is the category that provides all you need to get great results at a very reasonable price. In my opinion, these half body devices are a fraction of the price, and essentially offer the same benefits.

Several of the devices in this category are much higher power (relative to the medium-sized lights), from about 300 watts on the low end to 600 watts.

This is a great thing, especially when combined with being able to shine light on a much larger area of your body at once, because this will dramatically increase the overall number of photons hitting your body and the dose you receive. Thus, the effects are stronger, and the benefits are greater – especially if you want to treat deeper tissues in larger areas of your body, for organ health, muscle gain, and fat loss, etc. And you can do less treatment time per session.

Plus, if you want to treat deep tissues in large areas of your body at once, it’s very time-efficient with sessions of just a few minutes, whereas with smaller devices, it can be more time consuming by having to treat multiple areas.

So if you’re looking for a large high power device to do full body treatments, this is ideal.

Here are the large high power devices I recommend:

  • Red Rush720 by RedTherapy.co.
  • Joovv Solo:
    • It’s 12″ x 40″.
    • It comes with either in 660nm, all in 850nm, or a 50-50 split of 660nm and 850nm.
    • Has FDA clearance (a status that ensures they use safe and quality parts in their device)
    • The price is $1,195
  • The BIO-600 by Platinum Therapy Lights:
    • It’s 36” tall by about 8” wide.
    • You can also get this in  either in 660nm, all in 850nm, or a 50-50 split of 660nm and 850nm.
    • The price is $749
  • The Full Stack by Red Light Rising:
    • It’s a great option for people in the UK and Europe to get a high quality light at a good price with low shipping costs
    • It’s $772 (Use the discount code “energy blueprint” for $40 off)

Full Body Near-Infrared and Red Light Therapy Device

There is also the option of doing a light setup that will shine on the full front or back of your body from head to toe.

  • Joovv has a selection of high quality LEDs in very large sizes that cover the whole length of the body — the DUO and QUAD. Prices range from $2,195-$3,995. They come with the same options of either pure 660nm, pure 850nm, or a 50-50 mix of the two.

 

Ultra High End Near-Infrared and Red Light Therapy Options

Joovv has an extremely large, high quality LED panel. It looks like it is big enough to even treat two people at once. It’s priced at $5,995.

There are also a couple options for super high-end tanning bed-style red light therapy units. These are generally priced in excess of $15,000 with one well-known brand selling their unit for upwards of $100,000!

I put these full body tanning bed style devices here in case you’re interested in very high-end devices (and you’re doing well enough financially to entertain such purchases), but to be honest, I really do not think such devices are necessary. I do not believe that the benefits of these devices will be vastly superior to the other far cheaper lights I recommend.

Here are the two tanning-bed style whole body options:

  • Mitogen Red Light Bed. This consists of 10,000 LEDs that are a mix of 660nm and 850nm light (the same wavelengths as the RedRush and Platinum light. The power density is 15mW/cm2. Treatment times will generally be about 10-25 minutes.
  • NovoThor (a well-known manufacturer of laser devices) also offers a full-body tanning bed-style LED device. This one is a mix of 630nm, 660nm, and 850nm. It has a power density of 17mW/cm2. And it costs over $100k. This is most likely an option either for extremely wealthy people or a professional gym/spa/medical setting

To be clear, I am in NO WAY implying or suggesting that you need to purchase these ultra-expensive tanning bed style devices.

I mention these purely for the sake of presenting all the options on the market, but again, this is not to be interpreted as me implying that you should purchase these luxury red/NIR devices. I believe that you can get all the benefits of red/NIR light therapy with the far less expensive LED panels recommended above.

 

Sauna + Red/NIR Light Therapy Options

There are a few sauna brands make far-infrared saunas that also add near-infrared light into their sauna. This allows you to get all the benefits of near-infrared light discussed in this book while also getting the benefits of the sauna heat (sweating, detoxification, mitochondrial benefits, etc.).

These are a great option, provided you have the money for it, as they are considerably more expensive than the pure red/NIR devices.

If you want something in this category, Sunlighten saunas, ClearLight saunas, Sun Stream Saunas all make ultra high quality wooden full-spectrum saunas. With this type of premium sauna, you can get far-infrared + near-infrared saunas and enjoy all the benefits of both near-infrared therapy and a traditional far-infrared sauna.

SaunaSpace manufactures heat lamp saunas that use 4 incandescent heat lamp bulbs. These will have both far-infrared and near-infrared and red light. They come with a canvas tent (as opposed to a wooden room), and thus are considerably less expensive than the wooden saunas made by the brands listed above. You can get their “Pocket Sauna” here.

For those who can afford it, these are excellent options. It’s also convenient as it allows you to get your near-infrared treatment while doing a sauna session. I highly recommend the Sunlighten mPulse line and the SaunaSpace saunas.

 

 

Top Light for Use on the Brain

If you’re using light on the brain specifically – for either a brain health issue or to improve mood or cognitive function – it’s important to get a light with near-infrared, not just red light. Research has shown that near-infrared is more effective in penetrating the skull than red light (which has minimal to no penetration of the skull), so this is ideal for the brain.

The LED panel lights I recommend like the Red Rush360 and Platinum Lights have near-infrared (either pure near-infrared or mixed near-infrared with red), and are powerful enough to be used on the forehead and will likely be effective in penetrating the skull with some light.

Nevertheless, if your main goal is to treat the brain, the best option is the VieLight Neuro, which has multiple contact points on the head (that can be worked into contact the scalp to allow light to penetrate through the hair) and will likely have the best results for brain-specific issues. (Note: This device is designed specifically to be worn on the head  and thus, won’t work well at all to treat other areas of the body.)

Please note that they also sell intranasal devices that claim to target the brain, but Michael Hamblin, PhD does not believe these devices actually do reach the brain directly[329], therefore, I do not advocate those devices. Yet they do have some positive research. Hamblin believes that they don’t work by directly irradiating the brain, but that they work through irradiating the blood through the capillaries, which indirectly affects the brain (and other systems of the body). Assuming he is correct, it really does not make sense to use these low-power intranasal devices to treat the blood – it would be much better to use a high power (and much larger) LED device for that purpose.

Having said that, the VieLight Neuro has the head unit which likely does effectively target the brain. And the VieLight Neuro may very well be the best product for treating the brain specifically. We don’t know for sure, as there are no studies comparing it directly to LED lights, but there is research supporting the use of this product in treating dementia.[330]

 

Other options:

  • Photopuncture Kit from The Photonic Therapy Institute.
  • REDjuvenator – (Note: Much lower light output than the devices recommended below.)
  • GembaRed – (A small, relatively low-power 45W panel. Much lower light output than the devices recommended below.)

 

Animal treatment devices:

 

 

My Top Overall Best All-Purpose Red Light Devices 

Taking into account all of the previously mentioned factors, here are my personal recommendations for the lights that are the most powerful, cost-effective, and provide amazing bang for the buck (presented in no particular order). All of these devices get my highest recommendations.

 

You can get this light HERE.

Discount Code: They will give a $25 discount to readers of this book bringing total cost down to $424. Just enter the discount code “energy blueprint” when checking out.

Discount Code: They will give a $25 discount to readers of this book bringing total cost down to $424. Just enter the discount code “energy blueprint” when checking out.

You can get these lights HERE.

 

You can get this light HERE.

Discount Code: They will give a $25 discount to readers of this book bringing total cost down to $424. Just enter the discount code “energy blueprint” when checking out.

 

You can get this light device HERE.

Discount Code: They will give a $40 discount to readers of this book bringing total cost down to $749. Just enter the discount code “energy blueprint” when checking out.

(Use the discount code “energy blueprint” for $40 off)

(DISCLOSURE: As you can see, I have arranged discounts for you with some of these manufacturers offering high-quality devices. I was not able to arrange discounts with all of the manufacturers listed here, but I tried to do it with every manufacturer that was open to offering a discount to readers of this guide. Please be aware that I do get a small commission on any of these devices that you purchase if you use my discount code. If you appreciate the work I’ve done in writing this guide, I appreciate you using my discount code. That is how I get rewarded for this work. Please know that this is at no expense to you. In fact, I have negotiated directly with these manufacturers to get you discounts off the normal prices by letting them know that you were referred by this book. In short, everyone wins. But if you have any objection to this, feel free to order the lights without using the discount code. Please know that my rankings of these devices are in no way influenced by this. I have no ownership in any of these companies or vested financial interest in promoting any one of them over another. My recommendations for which light devices you should get are exactly the same whether you choose to use the discount codes or not. Moreover, there are in fact many other devices I could promote that offer much more generous commissions, which I am actually not promoting because they do not offer high quality devices. I give you my word that all my rankings here are best on a purely objective analysis of the power output, quality, and bang-for-the-buck of all these devices. My #1 priority is making sure that you get the best device for your needs. I have done my best to negotiate the biggest discounts for you as possible with all of the manufacturers who were open to giving discounts.)

 

Best Brain Device

Best red light therapy device for the brainVieLight Neuro Alpha or Neuro Gamma – $1,749 You can purchase through their website here.

Discount code is “energy blueprint” which gets you 10% off, which equates to $175 off the regular price. Note: I recommend the Neuro Alpha over the Gamma.

 

The clear winners for general LED panels that can be used for basically any purpose are the Red Rush360, Joovv Solo and DUO, and Platinum Therapy Lights LED panels, which powerful lights and offer amazing bang-for-the-buck.

With these setups, you can get all the benefits of red and near-infrared light therapy (that a clinic might charge over $100 per session for!) in the comfort of your own home with unlimited sessions for less than $1,000 or even less than $500.

 

Wrapping Up

If all of the complexity and science talk has you feeling overwhelmed, I want to end with some simplicity. I’ve tried to cover the nuances of the science on this topic in this book, but I don’t want you to get so caught up in all the details that you feel overwhelmed and confused on how to get started and actually do a red/NIR light therapy session. So let me summarize the practical aspects of all this in a very simple way:

  1. Go get yourself one of the recommended light devices (e.g. RedRush360 or Joovv Solo or Duo).
  2. Switch the light on.
  3. Put your chosen body area in front of it for a few minutes (following the dosing guidelines for different body areas and treatment goals).

That’s it. It’s really that simple.

Once you are comfortable with those basic three steps, then go through the details of my recommended dosing guidelines to make sure you’re doing optimal treatments for the specific body area (e.g. skin issues vs. deep tissues). Then make sure to go through the specific strategies, tips, and protocols I offer in the section titled “Practical Tips and Strategies for Specific Goals” to get more specific detailed guidance on using the light for specific goals you may have like brain enhancement, muscle/strength gain, overcoming fatigue, improving mood, fat loss, sleep, or anti-aging.

It’s that simple.

After you get one of these lights, you can immediately start using it to:

  • Increase your energy
  • Make your skin healthier and get rid of cellulite
  • Speed up fat loss
  • Improve muscle recovery and athletic performance
  • Improve mood and cognitive function
  • Increase muscle size and strength
  • Speed healing from injury
  • Improve metabolic and hormonal healthBenefits Of Red Light Therapy Infographic │ The Ultimate Guide To Red Light Therapy │ The Ultimate Guide To Red Light Therapy, www.theenergyblueprint.com

You now know everything you need to know to start using this powerful technology. Now go start using it and taking your health, body and energy to new heights!

 

Summarizing the Benefits of Near-Infrared and Red Light Therapy

In summary, near-infrared and red light therapy are incredibly powerful tools you can use to dramatically enhance your health. As I said at the beginning of this book, if there were a drug that had scientific research showing all these benefits, it would be an absolute blockbuster drug for pharmaceutical companies – it would be hailed as a “miracle drug” and prescribed to basically everyone.

Here’s the best part: That “drug” exists. It’s just not in the form of a pill. It’s in the form of near-infrared and red light therapy!

 

 

References

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[2] Hamblin, M, et al. (2018). Low-level light therapy: Photobiomodulation. Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE).

[3] Câmara AB, et al. (2018). Sunlight Incidence, Vitamin D Deficiency, and Alzheimer’s Disease. J Med Food. 2018 Mar 22. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2017.0130.

[4] Sorenson, M, (2016). New Research Sheds More Light on Parkinson’s Disease Sunlight Institute

[5] Wang, J, et al. (2016). Vitamin D and Sunlight Exposure in Newly-Diagnosed Parkinson’s Disease Nutrients. 2016 Mar; 8(3): 142.

[6] Tremlett, H, et al. (2018) Sun exposure over the life course and associations with multiple sclerosis American Academy of Neurology

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[8] Holick MF, (2013). Vitamin D, sunlight, and cancer connection. Anticancer Agents Med Chem. 2013 Jan;13(1):70-82.

[9] Holick, MF, (2014) Cancer, sunlight, and Vitamin D. Journal of Clinical & Translational Endocrinology Volume 1, Issue 4, December 2014, Pages 179-186

[10] van der Rhee, H.J, et al. (2006).  Does sunlight prevent cancer? A systematic review EJC September 2006 Volume 42, Issue 14, Pages 2222–2232

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[12] Gorman, S, et al. (2017). Ultraviolet radiation, vitamin D and the development of obesity, metabolic syndrome and type-2 diabetes. Photochem Photobiol Sci. 2017 Mar 16;16(3):362-373. doi: 10.1039/c6pp00274a.

[13] Fleury, N, et al. (2016). Sun Exposure and Its Effects on Human Health: Mechanisms through Which Sun Exposure Could Reduce the Risk of Developing Obesity and Cardiometabolic Dysfunction Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2016 Oct; 13(10): 999.

[14] Gorman, S, et al. (2017). Ultraviolet radiation, vitamin D and the development of obesity, metabolic syndrome and type-2 diabetes. Photochem Photobiol Sci. 2017 Mar 16;16(3):362-373. doi: 10.1039/c6pp00274a.

[15] Fleury, N, et al. (2016). Sun Exposure and Its Effects on Human Health: Mechanisms through Which Sun Exposure Could Reduce the Risk of Developing Obesity and Cardiometabolic Dysfunction Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2016 Oct; 13(10): 999.

[16] Frellick, M, (2016) Avoiding Sun as Dangerous as Smoking, Medscape

[17] Lindqvist, PG, et al. (2014). Avoidance of sun exposure is a risk factor for all-cause mortality: results from the Melanoma in Southern Sweden cohort. J Intern Med. 2014 Jul;276(1):77-86. doi: 10.1111/joim.12251. Epub 2014 Apr 23

[18] Keshet-Sitton, A, et al. (2017). Illuminating a Risk for Breast Cancer: A Preliminary Ecological Study on the Association Between Streetlight and Breast Cancer Integr Cancer Ther. 2017 Dec; 16(4): 451–463.

[19] Al-Naggar, RA, et al. (2016). Artificial Light At Night and Cancer: Global Study Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2016; 17(10): 4661–4664. doi:  10.22034/APJCP.2016.17.10.4661

[20] De Nike, L, et al. (2012). Study links exposure to light at night to depression, learning issues

[21] Rybnikova, NA, et al. (2016).  Does artificial light-at-night exposure contribute to the worldwide obesity pandemic? International Journal of Obesity volume 40, pages 815–823 (2016) doi:10.1038/ijo.2015.255

[22] McFadden, E, et al. (2014). The Relationship Between Obesity and Exposure to Light at Night: Cross-Sectional Analyses of Over 100,000 Women in the Breakthrough Generations Study American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 180, Issue 3, 1 August 2014, Pages 245–250,

[23] Fonken, LK, et al. (2014) The Effects of Light at Night on Circadian Clocks and Metabolism Endocrine Reviews, Volume 35, Issue 4, 1 August 2014, Pages 648–670

[24] Science Daily, (2017). Artificial light from digital devices lessens sleep quality Endocrine Reviews, Volume 35, Issue 4, 1 August 2014, Pages 648–670

[25] De Nike, L, et al. (2012). Study links exposure to light at night to depression, learning issues

[26] Huang, Y-Y, et al. (2009) Biphasic Dose Response in Low Level Light Therapy  Dose Response. 2009; 7(4): 358–383.

[27] Hamblin, M. (2008). The role of nitric oxide in low level light therapy. Proceedings of SPIE – The International Society for Optical Engineering 6846 · February 2008 with 2,541 Reads DOI: 10.1117/12.764918

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[30]Farivar, S. et al. (2014). Biological Effects of Low Level Laser Therapy. Journal of Lasers in Medical Science.

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[34] Qu, J. (2013). Dietary chlorophyll metabolites catalyze the photoreduction of plasma ubiquinone. Photochemistry and Photobiology.

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[40]Myakishev-Rempel, M. (2015). Red Light Modulates Ultraviolet-Induced Gene Expression in the Epidermis of Hairless Mice.

[41] Cohen, J. 8 Amazing Health Benefits of Red Light Therapy – with Mechanisms

[42][42]Guo, J. (2015). Visible red and infrared light alters gene expression in human marrow stromal fibroblast cells. Orthodonics and Craniofascial Research, 18(01): 50–61.

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Can Bad Teeth Make You Sick And Tired?, www.theenergyblueprint.com
Oral health is important. Red light therapy does prevent dental issues. Listen in to my podcast with Nicole Vane and learn why it is important to have optimal oral health.

 

How to live 100 years without growing old │ The Ultimate Guide To Red Light therapy.
Learn more about how red and near-infrared light or sun exposure helps your body live longer in my interview with Jason Prall.

Is Adrenal Fatigue Real? (Is Fatigue Caused By Poor Adrenal Function or Cortisol Issues?)

Is Adrenal Fatigue Real
“Adrenal Fatigue”… “Adrenal Burnout”… “Adrenal Exhaustion.” That’s the story we’ve all been told about what causes chronic fatigue. It’s that chronic stress wears out our adrenal glands and causes them to be unable to produce enough cortisol, and then we get fatigue and all sorts of other symptoms. But is Adrenal Fatigue real?

Since the term “adrenal fatigue” was coined in 1998, the theory of adrenal fatigue has gained enormous popularity and is now believed by millions of people all over the world.

Yet, at the same time, “adrenal fatigue” is actually not accepted as a legitimate medical condition by conventional medicine. So how can it be that a theory which is so popular among natural health practitioners and millions of people in the general public not even be accepted as a real medical condition by conventional MDs?

Is adrenal fatigue real? Given how controversial this condition is, we need to take a closer look at the science to find out whether the research supports the idea that adrenal fatigue/cortisol abnormalities really are the major player in chronic fatigue.

This article is the most comprehensive analysis of the scientific research from the last 20 years that has examined the link between cortisol levels and chronic fatigue.

My hope is that this information will start to shift the paradigm among the natural health community, and to help individuals like yourself find the best, evidence-based path to fixing your fatigue.

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 What is Adrenal Fatigue? And What Are The Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue?

For those that are unfamiliar with it, let’s do a quick overview of the theory of “adrenal fatigue.”

It is largely based on a researcher Hans Selye’s work from the 1930s-1950s, where he did testing on lab animals put under extreme stress. He found that they go through different phases of in their response when exposed to chronic stress, and then ultimately sort of shut down and are unable to maintain normal health – i.e. symptoms emerge. He proposed that these changes seemed to coincide with certain changes in hormones like adrenaline and cortisol along 3 specific phases, that ultimately ends in system-wide failure.

Adrenal fatigue proponents took Selye’s research and applied it to chronic stress in humans. Selye’s work was then used as support for the adrenal fatigue theory, and the idea that low cortisol (i.e. burned out adrenals) specifically is the fundamental cause of chronic fatigue and other symptoms that can emerge with chronic stress.

It generally is explained like this:

The adrenal glands produce stress hormones (like cortisol) to respond to periods of stress. Normally the system works just fine, but when the stress becomes chronic, the adrenal glands get worn out and “fatigued” so they can’t produce enough cortisol to keep up with the demands. Then you get fatigue and other symptoms.

The idea is that we go through a series of phases in response to chronic stress that looks like this:

The Theory Of Adrenal Fatigue│Is Adrenal Fatigue Real? (Why the Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue are Not Actually Caused By Adrenal Problems), theenergyblueprint.com

  1. Alarm reaction– This stage is the body’s initial response to stress, which involves the adrenal glands producing lots of cortisol.
  2. Resistance– This stage happens as stress is prolonged and the adrenal glands are struggling to keep up with the demands on them to produce cortisol. Cortisol levels may be normal or high during this phase.
  3. Exhaustion– This is final stage and is typically characterized by low cortisol levels, which are a sign that the adrenal glands are “fatigued” and can’t produce enough cortisol to keep up with the demands on them.

The third stage of “exhaustion” became known as “burnout” and then as “adrenal fatigue.”

The idea was that when your adrenal glands are “fatigued,” you get all sorts of symptoms like:

  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Brain fog
  • Low blood sugar
  • Low libido
  • Waking up tired even after sleeping 7 or 8 hours
  • Cravings for sugary and salty foods
  • Trouble sleeping through the night (especially waking up between 2-4am)

Common symptoms of adrenal fatigue │ Is Adrenal Fatigue Real?

That is the basic theory of adrenal fatigue. It seems like a logical concept, and perhaps that is why it has become such a popular idea.

While this theory of adrenal fatigue has many people who believe in it and preach it, there are numerous problems with it.

As you’re about to see, based on research that has been conducted over the last 25 years, the evidence simply does not support the idea that adrenal function and cortisol levels are key players in chronic fatigue.

 

The Two Schools of Thought on the Question “Is Adrenal Fatigue Real?” – The Conventional Doctors and the Holistic/Functional Health Practitioners

The concept of adrenal fatigue is commonly taught among naturalistic and holistic health practitioners, and is commonly believed by virtually all health seekers in the general public.

There are literally thousands of articles online and dozens of books written about “adrenal fatigue.” So of course, it must be a real thing, right?

Yet, if you are under that impression, it might interest you to know that adrenal fatigue is actually not even accepted as a legitimate medical condition by conventional medicine.

In fact, the Endocrine Society, representing 14,000 endocrinologists (doctors who specialize in hormonal health), has publicly stated:

“’Adrenal fatigue’ is not a real medical condition. There are no scientific facts to support the theory that long-term mental, emotional, or physical stress drains the adrenal glands and causes many common symptoms.” [1]

So there are basically two camps here:

  • Adrenal fatigue proponents (most of the natural health community). These are the people writing articles and books about adrenal fatigue, and claiming to treat it. When asked “is adrenal fatigue real?”, they’ll likely chuckle at the thought that anyone could not believe it’s real, because they believe they see it in their clinics all the time.
  • Conventional MDs. These people flat-out reject the notion that adrenal fatigue is legitimate medical condition. When asked “is adrenal fatigue real?”, they’ll most likely chuckle at the idea that anyone believes in it. They believe that the symptoms are not actually caused by poor adrenal function or cortisol issues, and that the science does not actually support the idea that the adrenals/cortisol is a significant cause of those symptoms.

Each group of people believes the other group is wrong and simply doesn’t understand what is really going on. Ask a conventional MD what they think of people who believe that adrenal fatigue is real and they’ll typically say that they’re quacks. Ask an adrenal fatigue proponent what they think of the conventional medical views on adrenal fatigue, and they’ll typically claim that it’s because the conventional medical world isn’t yet as scientifically advanced as they are, and hasn’t yet figured out that the adrenals and cortisol are behind the epidemic of chronic fatigue.  

So what’s the truth here – is adrenal fatigue real?

Is “adrenal burnout” or “adrenal fatigue” or cortisol issues the real cause of your chronic fatigue?

That’s what this article will answer, by using the most comprehensive analysis of the science on this topic that has ever been done.

Get ready to be shocked, because the science in this area tells an amazing story of what is really going on in chronic fatigue.

 

The Story Behind Why I Developed The Ultimate Scientific Guide to Evaluate The Question “Is Adrenal Fatigue Real?”

Within the natural health community, we’ve all been told a narrative of how our adrenal glands and cortisol control our energy levels and are the cause of our fatigue. I myself was brought up with this concept in my education in holistic health. I read many books about adrenal fatigue, was taught about it from my mentors, and even taught the concept to my clients for many years.

So when I saw how so many conventional MDs were brushing off “adrenal fatigue” as nonsense, I had an idea to use the scientific evidence to prove that adrenal fatigue is real.

I originally started with a simple idea to compile the research in support of adrenal fatigue. I set out to write a book giving an overview of the last 20 years of research into the link between cortisol and fatigue.

My goal was simple: To prove scientifically that “adrenal fatigue” is real, is a legitimate medical condition, and that adrenal fatigue is indeed the primary cause of fatigue. If someone wanted to know “is adrenal fatigue real?”, I wanted to create the ultimate science-backed resource for them to know that it is real and backed by research.

So I dug into the research and read every study I could find that relates to the link between cortisol levels (i.e. adrenal function) and fatigue. It was a process that took over 6 months of digging through the full texts of hundreds of studies.

And while my original intention was to prove the adrenal fatigue theory, something peculiar happened along the way…

I discovered that the evidence is wildly contradictory, and simply put, doesn’t actually support the notion that cortisol issues (or adrenal function) is a primary cause of chronic fatigue.

I discovered that my assumptions about what I would find were simply… wrong.

Now, in this scenario, what most people typically do is they ignore the evidence that conflicts with their views and then they pay attention to and cherry-pick only the evidence that supports their preconceived notions.

But instead of doing that, I decided to do something much more difficult: I decided to admit that my preconceived notions were incorrect, and to rethink the causes of fatigue. Then, I decided to do a comprehensive review of every study ever done on this subject and then I would let the science itself tell me what to believe.

  • If the science pointed to the notion that adrenal dysfunction/cortisol abnormalities are found in a large majority of people with chronic fatigue, I would have to conclude that cortisol issues are the primary cause (or at least major player) in fatigue.
  • And if the science showed that adrenal dysfunction/cortisol abnormalities are not found in a majority of people with chronic fatigue, then we have to admit that the science doesn’t support the idea that adrenal fatigue is the primary reason for chronic fatigue.

In this article, I will share with you literally all of the studies that have examined the link between cortisol and chronic fatigue so you can decide for yourself what the science shows about the question “is adrenal fatigue real?”

It’s over 20 years of studies. And here’s the most important part: You can verify for yourself that I have not cherry-picked the data – what you’ll find here is literally every relevant study done on this topic during the last 20 years. Please feel free to search for relevant studies that haven’t been included here, if you doubt that I’ve included all the research.

This is a scientific review unlike anything that has ever been done before. I have looked extensively in all books on adrenal fatigue and all prominent articles written online, and I have not found a review of the scientific literature related to the concept of “adrenal fatigue” that is even 1/10th as comprehensive as what you’re about to read. This is the most comprehensive analysis of the science on the relationship between fatigue and cortisol that has ever been done.

 

No Science on “Adrenal Fatigue,” So We Must Look at Research on the 3 Accepted Fatigue Syndromes

There is one big problem with trying to review the science on the question “is adrenal fatigue real?”

There isn’t any actual research on adrenal fatigue.

Let me explain what I mean…

Think of a medical condition. Diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer’s, obesity, hypothyroidism, celiac disease, lung cancer, depression, schizophrenia, psoriasis, dementia, or even obscure ones like Sjogren’s syndrome.

Now go to Pubmed.com (it’s a database of virtually all studies in existence – like Google for scientific studies) and do a search for that condition. (Or feel free to try it with any condition you can think up!)

You’ll notice that between hundreds to thousands of studies will quickly appear for each and every one of those conditions.

Now, guess how many you’ll find if you look up “adrenal fatigue”?

Virtually none. (Feel free to check for yourself).

In fact, it’s actually worse than a mere case of there being no scientific research. Why? Because if you do that search, you’ll actually find negative scientific data. That is, you’ll find research examining adrenal fatigue that has concluded that adrenal fatigue is a myth that has no basis in science.

The Negative Research on “Adrenal Fatigue,” Suggesting That It is a Myth (Click to read more) +
That systematic review of the scientific literature (all relevant studies on the topic) is even titled “Adrenal Fatigue Does Not Exist!”

I’m sure you can guess what the researchers found, but here’s their conclusion so you can read it for yourself:

“We found an almost systematic finding of conflicting results derived from most of the studies methods utilized, regardless of the validation and the quality of performed tests. Some limitations of the review include: (1) heterogeneity of the study design; (2) the descriptive nature of most studies; (3) the poor quality assessment of fatigue; (4) the use of an unsubstantiated methodology in terms of cortisol assessment (not endorsed by endocrinologists); (5) false premises leading to an incorrect sequence of research direction; and, (6) inappropriate/invalid conclusions regarding causality and association between different information.

  … This systematic review proves that there is no substantiation that "adrenal fatigue" is an actual medical condition. Therefore, adrenal fatigue is still a myth.”[2]

In short, there is no body of scientific evidence on “adrenal fatigue.”

So here’s the big problem: How can one review the scientific research on a condition that has virtually no scientific research?

Here was the key breakthrough: Since we cannot examine research on “adrenal fatigue” per se, we have to search elsewhere for studies that have examined the link between cortisol levels and chronic fatigue.

Fortunately for us, it turns out that there are actually 3 related fatigue conditions that are legitimate, recognized medical conditions that have thousands of studies on them:

  1. Burnout Syndrome
  2. Vital exhaustion (or Exhaustion Disorder)
  3. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/fibromyalgia

It’s worth noting that the symptoms of these conditions have tremendous overlap with symptoms that are said to be associated with “adrenal fatigue.”

 

1. Burnout Syndrome

Symptoms Of Burnout Syndrome │Is Adrenal Fatigue Real? (Why the Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue are Not Actually Caused By Adrenal Problems),theenergyblueprint.com

Here’s a description of the symptoms of Burnout Syndrome:

  1. Chronic fatigue
  2. Insomnia
  3. Forgetfulness/impaired concentration and attention
  4. Physical symptoms
  5. Increased illness
  6. Loss of appetite
  7. Anxiety
  8. Depression
  9. Anger

Note that these symptoms overlap with the supposed symptoms of “adrenal fatigue.”

 

2. Vital Exhaustion (or Exhaustion Disorder)

Here’s a description of symptoms of vital exhaustion:

Sumptoms Of Vital Exhaustion │ Is adrenal Fatigue Real?, THeenergyblueprint.com“Vital Exhaustion (VE) has three defining characteristics:

  1.  feelings of excessive fatigue and lack of energy,
  2.  increasing irritability, and
  3. feelings of demoralization.”[3]

 

3. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Fibromyalgia

First, it’s important to recognize that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia are recognized medical conditions by conventional medical doctors and there is a large body of scientific evidence on the subject. (That’s in stark contrast to the virtually nonexistent research on “adrenal fatigue.”)

Here are the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome:

Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue │Ia Adrenal Fatigue Real? Theenergyblueprint.com

The symptoms of “adrenal fatigue” and “chronic fatigue syndrome” are nearly identical.

Now, consider some peculiar coincidences:

Now, the author at www.adrenaladvice.com did a very interesting experiment. He got data from WebMD where they did a survey of people with CFS to see how many of them had a particular symptom. (E.g. 65% of people with CFS reported difficulty sleeping). Then he decided to conduct the same study with people who were either diagnosed with “adrenal fatigue” or suspected they might have it. What he found was remarkable, as you’re about to see in the charts below. The amount of people with adrenal fatigue and CFS reporting symptoms was almost identical! [4]

Primary CFS Symptoms │ Is adrenal fatigue Real, theenergyblueprint.com

Other CFS Symptoms │ Is adrenal fatigue Real, theenergyblueprint.com(Source for these data)

In other words, people diagnosed with adrenal fatigue (or those who self-diagnosed themselves with it) report the same symptoms as those with CFS! The percentages of each symptom are virtually the same!

Take a close look at the charts above. Do those really look like two different conditions? I think not.

More problems in differentiating CFS from “adrenal fatigue.” (Click to read more) +
Now, consider the fact there are no clear diagnostic tests specifically for either CFS or “adrenal fatigue.” Meaning, there isn’t any test in existence that one can get that would clearly get them diagnosed with CFS vs. Adrenal Fatigue. Diagnosis for both conditions tends to be done based on a process of elimination.  In other words, the diagnosis is not by a diagnostic test – it’s made by ruling out other possible conditions. I.e. if you have these symptoms (like fatigue) and they do various tests and they don’t find any other disease, then maybe you have CFS or “Adrenal Fatigue.”

Because there is no clear diagnostic test, these people are all in no man’s land. That is, their condition is open to interpretation – and the conventional MDs are likely to give out a diagnosis of CFS whereas the alternative practitioners are likely to say it’s “adrenal fatigue.” (And people are likely to self-diagnose themselves with either adrenal fatigue or CFS, depending on what information they previously came across on the causes of fatigue). The point here is that there is no objective scientific test that can diagnose someone with either adrenal fatigue or CFS, let alone to distinguish between the two.

What I am suggesting here is that a huge proportion of people who have these symptoms are simply using different words for essentially the same thing.

  • Alternative practitioners will say it’s “Adrenal Fatigue” and tell you the narrative of how chronic stress wears down your adrenals so they can’t produce enough cortisol.
  • Conventional MDs will say it’s “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” (or perhaps burnout syndrome or vital exhaustion).

So here’s the interesting part…

While there is virtually no research in existence on “adrenal fatigue,” there is actually a mountain of evidence from 20 years of research examining the relationship between these fatigue syndromes and adrenal function/cortisol levels.

So even though there is no research on “adrenal fatigue,” we can assess the validity of the theory of adrenal fatigue by looking at the dozens of studies that have examined the link between cortisol and chronic fatigue/vital exhaustion/burnout syndrome.

Based on the logical assumption that chronic stress might underlie these fatigue syndromes, researchers have been conducting well-controlled studies for over two decades to try to find a link between cortisol levels and fatigue syndromes. There are literally dozens of studies on this that have been conducted by researchers all over the world for over 20 years.

And, as you’re about to discover, the results of those studies are wildly contradictory, and the studies have failed to show that abnormal cortisol levels are the primary cause of these conditions.

 

Is Adrenal Fatigue Real? The Answer from 20 Years of Research Examining The Cortisol-Fatigue Link

As a whole, the research looking at these 3 fatigue syndromes and their relationship with adrenal function/cortisol levels is all over the place and is massively contradictory.

  • Some studies are showing cortisol levels are higher in the morning…
  • or lower in the morning…
  • or higher all day long…
  • or lower in the morning and higher at night…
  • And the majority of studies show that there is no difference in cortisol between people who are burned out or chronically fatigued compared to those who are perfectly healthy.

To take this one step further, there are even studies which have examined the same people during burnout/chronic stress and after recovery from burnout/chronic stress that have shown:

  • Decreased cortisol levels as symptoms improve
  • Increased cortisol levels as symptoms improve
  • No change in cortisol levels as symptoms improve

In short, with dozens of studies done on this topic by scientists all over the world for over 20 years, there is no consistent finding of any particular cortisol pattern that is associated with chronic fatigue.

Indeed, the data show that for the vast majority of people with chronic fatigue, there is no difference in adrenal function or cortisol levels at all when compared with normal healthy people.

I’m about to show you the summary of all of the 79 studies that have been done on this topic over the last two decades, but first, let’s just keep in mind the basic predictions of the “adrenal fatigue” theory. If adrenal fatigue is a real thing, it would mean that when we look at the research, we can expect to find a few things:

 

Adrenal Fatigue Predictions

If poor adrenal function/low cortisol were the primary cause (or even a major cause) of chronic fatigue/burnout…

  • PREDICTION #1: We should find that all (or at least a large majority of) people with chronic fatigue/burnout have low cortisol levels (or at least some type of cortisol abnormality).
  • PREDICTION #2: We should find low cortisol levels (or some type of cortisol abnormality) at the onset or early stages of chronic fatigue conditions.
  • PREDICTION #3: We should see a reliable relationship where cortisol levels relate to symptoms. I.e. People with less severe symptoms have close to normal cortisol levels, and people with more severe symptoms have larger cortisol abnormalities.
  • PREDICTION #4: We should see a reliable relationship where, as symptoms improve, so do cortisol levels.
  • PREDICTION #5: We should find that raising cortisol levels should improve symptoms dramatically (as it does in true adrenal insufficiency/Addison’s disease).

 

Adrenal Fatigue Predictions, Is Adrenal Fatigue Real, theenergyblueprint.com

As you’re about to discover, the actual evidence does not support any of these five basic predictions of the adrenal fatigue theory.

Now I’d like to actually show you all of the studies and what they found, so that you can come to your own answer to the question “is adrenal fatigue real?”

Let me emphasize again that this is essentially the entire body of scientific research examining the relationship of chronic stress and adrenal function. I.e. This is all the studies, so I’m not cherry picking the research to prove some theory—I’m showing you all the studies, including the minority of the studies which do show abnormal cortisol levels. When you look at all the studies – the entire body of evidence – it becomes readily apparent how contradictory all of the findings are. And specifically, it becomes apparent that cortisol abnormalities are not found at all in the majority of people with chronic fatigue or burnout.

Without further ado, here is the entire body of scientific research examining whether cortisol is linked with fatigue:

 

Now let’s look at the 20 systematic literature reviews on the link between chronic fatigue and cortisol levels.

 

The Systematic Literature Reviews on the Cortisol-Chronic Fatigue Link

The Overall Body of Scientific Evidence – What do the 79 Studies Say About The Link Between Cortisol Levels and Fatigue?

 

59 individual studies and 20 literature reviews

  • 15 of 59 studies give evidence for LOWER morning cortisol levels in people with chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia or burnout syndrome
  • 11 of 59 studies give evidence for HIGHER morning cortisol levels in people with chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia or burnout syndrome
  • 33 of 59 studies show no significant differences in cortisol levels in people with chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia or burnout syndrome (and/or that cortisol does not change as symptoms improve).

 

Evidence from intervention studies

  • 10 studies overall
  • 3 of the 10 studies showed a connection between cortisol increases and improvement in symptoms.
  • 7 of the 10 studies showed no connection between fatigue and cortisol changes.

 

Evidence from 20 literature reviews

  • The majority of reviews conclude that there are inconsistent and contradictory findings — i.e. some studies show high cortisol is linked with chronic fatigue/burnout, and others show low cortisol, and most do not find any cortisol abnormalities at all.
  • The most common cortisol abnormality is in the direction of lower cortisol. But these changes are small and not found at all in a majority of studies.
  • There is no specific cortisol pattern or change in HPA axis function that is unique to chronic fatigue/burnout.
  • The majority of reviews conclude that people with chronic fatigue/burnout have no adrenal/HPA axis dysfunction and have normal cortisol levels.

 

A Deeper Look At Some of The Most Revealing Research on the Cortisol-Fatigue Link

Now let’s examine a few of the most impressive and revealing studies more in-depth.

Now let’s look at some systematic reviews (the highest level of scientific evidence) of the research on the link between HPA axis (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, the whole network of brain regions that control adrenal cortisol output) function and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Speaking on the studies on burnout and cortisol levels, the researchers said:

“When taken together, among all the studies that investigated HPA-axis function and burnout, 3 support an INCREASE in HPA-axis functions in burnout, 5 support a DECREASE in HPA-axis functions, and 11 did not support a significant relationship.”[5]

They concluded:

“The pioneering studies that focused on the relationship between burnout and dysregulation of the HPA-axis have yielded inconsistent results. Data from subsequent studies with improved designs suggest there is no HPA-axis dysregulation in burnout…”[6]

HPA Axis dysfunction can be found in a small subset people with chronic fatigue syndrome. Even here though, the research is certainly not particularly compelling that HPA Dysfunction is the cause (or main mechanism) of why people get Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. In fact, the overall body of science makes the case that HPA Axis Dysfunction is likely a result – rather than a cause – of chronic fatigue.

A systematic literature review titled The HPA axis and the genesis of chronic fatigue syndrome” reviewed the studies examining HPA Axis Dysfunction in CFS and concluded:

Recent prospective studies of high-risk cohorts suggest that there are no HPA axis changes present during the early stages of the genesis of fatiguing illnesses.”[7]

Naturally, if HPA-Axis dysfunction were the cause of chronic fatigue, it should be present and detectable in the onset and early stages of the disease. In other words, if populations at high risk for getting chronic fatigue are analyzed, and the researchers can find no link between abnormal cortisol levels and a later risk of getting chronic fatigue syndrome, that is a good indication that cortisol levels/HPA function is not a significant causal factor. Moreover, if people who only recently developed chronic fatigue syndrome are analyzed and no cortisol/HPA abnormalities are found, that is also a good indication that cortisol/HPA function is not a significant player in the condition.

It’s not accurate to claim that something is the cause, when that thing isn’t even detectable at the onset or early stages of chronic fatigue.

The researchers also noted that HPA Axis Dysfunction is not present at all at the onset or during the early stages of CFS, and thus, the evidence doesn’t support the notion that HPA Axis Dysfunction is the cause. Moreover, they noted that just by correcting sleep patterns or through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, the HPA Axis Dysfunction can be reversed – even as someone continues to experience the symptoms of CFS. Here’s what they wrote:

“In summary, evidence suggests that, although there is HPA axis disturbance present in subjects with operationally defined CFS, it is not present before the onset of CFS or during the early phases of illness, but develops once the illness has taken a more chronic course.”[7]

They concluded:

“A reversed direction of causation (i.e. that the illness leads to HPA axis change rather than the other way around) is supported by the findings that there is an apparent absence of HPA axis changes early in the genesis of chronic fatigue states, and that modifying cognitive behavioural components of the illness leads to a normalization of the HPA axis.”[8]

In short, there is no compelling case that adrenal dysfunction/HPA axis dyfunction/low cortisol levels are playing a significant causal role in chronic fatigue. It cannot be the primary cause of chronic fatigue, just by virtue of the simple facts that:

  • It’s not present in the majority of people with chronic fatigue/burnout
  • It’s not present during the onset or early stages of chronic fatigue/burnout

Naturally, if something is not even present at the onset or early stages of the actual condition it’s being claimed as a “cause” of, then one cannot reasonably claim it to be a “cause.” Moreover, if abnormal cortisol levels are claimed as the “cause” of a condition, and it is then discovered that a majority of people with that condition don’t actually have abnormal cortisol levels, then we know that abnormal cortisol levels are clearly not causing the condition.

 

Is Adrenal Fatigue Real? – Summary Of Research Findings:

In summary, we can conclude with the following succinct summaries of the relevant literature:

  1. The majority of people with chronic fatigue/burnout appear to have perfectly normal cortisol levels. This is the most important point to grasp, because cortisol level abnormalities cannot possibly be “the cause” of a condition when most people with that condition don’t have cortisol abnormalities at all. Based on the research, we can estimate the percentages as follows:

• Roughly 20-30% of the overall population of those with chronic fatigue syndrome have low morning cortisol
• Roughly 10-15% of people with chronic fatigue syndrome have high

morning cortisol
• Roughly 65% or more of people with chronic fatigue syndrome have perfectly normal cortisol levels.

Overall-the-research-indicates-that-the-majority-of-people-with-chronic-Fatigue

  1. The overall body of evidence is contradictory. Studies find low, high, and perfectly normal cortisol levels in people with chronic fatigue/burnout. More than 20 years of research – over 60 studies, and 20 reviews of the scientific literature – have failed to generate any consensus about whether or not cortisol/HPA abnormalities even exist in chronic fatigue/burnout.
  2. A subset of people with chronic fatigue syndrome have low cortisol levels and blunted HPA axis activity. Overall, the evidence suggests this is the most common cortisol abnormality in chronic fatigue syndrome, among the minority of patients who have any cortisol abnormalities. (Remember, the majority of people with chronic fatigue have perfectly normal adrenal function and cortisol levels, and still another subset of people have the exact opposite cortisol abnormality).
  3. Cortisol/HPA axis dysfunction – even when they do occur in some people – are not present at the onset or early stages of the condition, and thus are likely not “causal.” (But it is certainly feasible that when cortisol abnormalities do occur, in a minority of people with chronic fatigue, they may act as a perpetuating factor in the condition that makes recovery more difficult).
  4. There is no specific change or pattern of HPA axis function or cortisol levels in either chronic fatigue syndrome or burnout syndrome. There is no specific pattern of cortisol/HPA dysfunction that is unique to chronic fatigue — the HPA axis abnormalities seen in some patients with chronic fatigue/burnout are also found in many other different conditions that have completely different types of symptoms. Thus, if cortisol levels or HPA axis dysfunction is claimed as a “cause” of chronic fatigue, it should be pointed out that it is extraordinarily unlikely that the same cortisol abnormalities could cause two (or 10) different types of conditions that have different sets of symptoms.
  5. There is a lack of longitudinal evidence that links cortisol changes to either worsening or improvement of chronic fatigue. There is little to no evidence that shows any kind of link between cortisol abnormalities causing chronic fatigue/burnout, as well as a lack of evidence showing that normalizing cortisol levels leads to improvement in chronic fatigue/burnout. In other words, more severe symptoms don’t typically relate to greater abnormalities in cortisol levels. And recovering from chronic fatigue/burnout is not typically paralleled by any changed in cortisol. In short, cortisol levels don’t appear to meaningfully relate to symptoms, and thus are unlikely to be the “cause” of those symptoms.

 

Does The Research Support The Predictions of Adrenal Fatigue or Not?

Please recall the 5 predictions of the theory of “adrenal fatigue” that we went over previously. As we can now see, none of the basic predictions of the “adrenal fatigue” theory are supported by the body of evidence.

  • PREDICTION #1: We should find that all (or at least a large majority of) people with chronic fatigue/burnout have low cortisol levels (or at least some type of cortisol abnormality). (NOT SUPPORTED BY THE EVIDENCE)
  • PREDICTION #2: We should find low cortisol levels (or some type of cortisol abnormality) at the onset or early stages of chronic fatigue conditions. (NOT SUPPORTED BY THE EVIDENCE)
  • PREDICTION #3: We should see a reliable relationship where cortisol levels relate to symptoms. I.e. People with less severe symptoms have close to normal cortisol levels, and people with more severe symptoms have larger cortisol abnormalities.  (NOT SUPPORTED BY THE EVIDENCE)
  • PREDICTION #4: We should see a reliable relationship where, as symptoms improve, so do cortisol levels.  (NOT SUPPORTED BY THE EVIDENCE)
  • PREDICTION #5: We should find that raising cortisol levels should improve symptoms dramatically (as it does in true adrenal insufficiency/Addison’s disease). (NOT SUPPORTED BY THE EVIDENCE)

In summary, the evidence does not support the theory that cortisol levels (or adrenal/HPA axis function) are a significant causal factor in chronic fatigue/burnout, and much evidence contradicts that conclusion.

 

The 4 Big Problems With The Theory Of “Adrenal Fatigue”

Beyond the simple fact that the research doesn’t support the notion that cortisol abnormalities have a clear link with chronic fatigue/burnout, there are also a number of other areas where the theory of “adrenal fatigue” is contradicted by the scientific evidence.

Specifically, there are four more big problems with the theory of adrenal fatigue.

Below are several pop-out boxes that go into detail on several other concepts showing that chronic fatigue is likely not being caused by any sort of adrenal dysfunction or cortisol abnormality. (Note: Click on the links below to open up the explanations for each problem).

PROBLEM #1 - Raising People's Cortisol Levels with Medication Doesn’t Fix Their Symptoms (and Can Make Them Worse in the Long Run) (CLICK TO READ MORE) +
Here’s a simple way to test the theory of adrenal fatigue: If “fatigued” adrenals that aren’t producing enough cortisol is the fundamental cause of the symptoms, then increasing people’s cortisol levels should make them better.

For example, in true adrenal insufficiency/Addison’s disease (an accepted medical condition, in contrast to “adrenal fatigue) where people truly have low cortisol levels, we know that administering synthetic cortisol (e.g. hydrocortisone) actually does have amazing, life-transforming benefits. It is a life saver for people with low cortisol levels.

This is indeed a very simple way to test the theory. If low cortisol levels are truly the fundamental problem in chronic fatigue, then raising cortisol levels should fix the problem (just as it does in Addison’s disease). And many prominent proponents of “adrenal fatigue” actually do precisely that – they attempt to treat people with hydrocortisone or other forms of cortisone/cortisol to artificially raise cortisol levels.

This idea has actually been around for a long time. It was popularized by the book “Safe Uses of Cortisol” by Dr. William Jeffries.

Jeffries explained a concept the “adrenal insufficiency period,” which is essentially the same as “adrenal fatigue” – too little cortisol being produced by the adrenals. He talked about several different problems that were supposed to be associated with these low cortisol levels:

Several Different Problems supposed to be associated with these low cortisol levels │ Is adrenal fatigue real, theenergyblueprint.com

  • Fatigue
  • Pain
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Inflammation
  • Mood problems

According to Jeffries, the problem here was too little cortisol, and thus, the solution he proposed was to administer synthetic cortisol (e.g. hydrocortisone) to increase a person’s cortisol levels.

Indeed, many alternative health practitioners still do use this approach, based on this thinking that lowered cortisol levels are causing the symptoms.

But the research shows that it doesn’t work, and that it often makes things much worse in the long-term.

It often does lead to some initial short-term success for a subset of patients. Likely because of two things:

  1. Cortisol is a powerful anti-inflammatory, so suppressing inflammation by pumping extra cortisol into the body can cause some initial benefits. (Think of how heroin or opium may have some initial benefits, but is not actually moving you towards health in the long run).
  2. The placebo effect will cause some subset of people to feel better with any medication (or even no medication at all – a sugar pill).

But what the research has shown is that when people with chronic fatigue (even the small segment who do have low morning cortisol levels) take external cortisol, it does not have significant benefit (and may even cause harm in the long run).

While initial studies seemed to potentially show some limited benefit[47] [48] (at least in the short-term), subsequent research which was more well-designed and longer term showed that taking more cortisol does not have benefit and may even cause worse outcomes in some people. Here are the results of the 3 studies conducted on this subject:

Study 1 – 70 patients were randomized to receive either hydrocortisone or placebo treatment for 3 months.[49] They found a significant improvement in 66.7% of patients taking hydrocortisone, and 54.3% of patients on placebo. Benefits were greater in the hydrocortisone group, but there was a remarkable amount of people reporting improvement on placebo, which is suspect. There was small improvement in a rating of “global health” but no significant change in ratings of fatigue for people taking hydrocortisone for 3 months.

Study 2 – 32 patients were put either on hydrocortisone or placebo for 28 days. 34% of patients on hydrocortisone reported a significant decrease in fatigue, compared with 13% reporting decreased fatigue while on the placebo.[50] While some patients reported reductions in fatigue, the researchers concluded the majority of our sample gained little benefit from hydrocortisone…”

Study 3 – This was the most recent, the most well-designed, longest duration, and the most conclusive study.[51] It was a double-blind, placebo controlled, crossover-design 6-month study with 80 people with CFS. (Note: “Crossover” means that the same individuals spent 3 months on placebo and 3 months on the cortisone treatment). The study put people on 3 months of placebo treatment and 3 months of active treatment with hydrocortisone and fludrocortisone.

Remarkably, at the end of the 6 months, they found that raising cortisol levels did not improve symptoms – there was no differences between treatment and placebo in patient-reported fatigue or well-being.”[52]

Importantly, they also noted that there weren’t even benefits to raising cortisol in the subgroup of patients with the lowest cortisol levels. The researchers explained:

“Finally, chronic fatigue syndrome is thought to be a heterogeneous disorder, and treatment with low-dose steroids may only be effective for a certain subset of

patients (my note: i.e. those with lower cortisol levels). However, our treatment was not beneficial in patients with the lowest cortisol levels.” [53]

Another study confirmed this finding

The patients with the lowest cortisol levels and adrenal reserve were not the most symptomatic, nor were they more likely to respond to hydrocortisone treatment.”[54

So even for that small subset of people with chronic fatigue who genuinely do have low cortisol levels, supplementing with external cortisol to raise cortisol levels back to normal still typically doesn’t give benefit.

Here are some conclusions from the studies which tested hydrocortisone treatment in people with chronic fatigue syndrome:

  • “We found that low-dose hydrocortisone treatment has mild side effects and affords minimal therapeutic benefit for CFS, but significantly suppresses adrenal responsiveness.”[55] (Note: Your adrenal responsiveness is critical to coping with stressors, so it’s potentially very problematic to do things which prevent the body from adequately responding to stress).
  • “Taken together, hydrocortisone replacement therapy cannot be recommended for clinical use because of the limited benefit, because of the loss of efficacy upon discontinuation and because of the adrenal suppression when using higher doses.”[56]
  • “According to the stress crash theory, restoring HPA axis homeostasis…would revert the immune abnormalities observed in ME/CFS and thus improve the symptoms. However, the evidence supporting this stress crash or adrenal burnout hypothesis in ME/CFS is not strong. … treatment with hydrocortisone or fludrocortisone appears to have limited, mixed, or even adverse effects in ME/CFS.”[57]

Overall, the research does not support the idea that cortisol levels are the primary factor causing fatigue and other symptoms in people with chronic fatigue syndrome.

Correcting cortisol levels via medication does not improve fatigue for the vast majority of people. This is why it is not used as a treatment by virtually all evidence-based physicians.

Again, this suggests that:

  1. The body is intentionally lowering cortisol levels, and it’s not due to “adrenal burnout” preventing the adrenals from producing enough cortisol.
  2. Cortisol is not the primary cause of the symptoms in chronic fatigue.

Moreover, raising the body’s cortisol levels to a level higher than what the body is trying to maintain comes with a number of potential side effects:

Potential Side Effects Of Raising THe Body's Cortisol Levels │ Is Adrenal Fatigue Real, theenergyblueprint.com

  • Weight gain
  • Insulin resistance
  • Bone loss/osteoporosis
  • Poor immune function
  • Sleep problems/insomnia
  • Acne and other skin problems
  • Mood changes
  • Chronic pain
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Fainting
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Abdominal pain
  • Headaches
  • Heart disease
  • Fatigue
  • Fluid retention
  • Diarrhea
  • Facial swelling
  • Facial hair growth in women
  • Fever and chills
  • Dizziness
  • Brain fog
  • Loss of adrenal responsiveness (which hinders the body from adequately responding to stress, and makes one less resilient).

Based on this research, what can we say about the question “is adrenal fatigue real?” Simply put:

  • The reason why administering cortisol-raising treatments is not standard practice in medicine for treating chronic fatigue/burnout is because the research doesn’t support it.
  • Correcting cortisol levels has little if any impact on the symptoms associated with chronic fatigue, even in the subset of chronically fatigued people with low cortisol levels. (And it can potentially cause problems).
  • If raising cortisol levels back up to higher levels does not fix the chronic fatigue (or at the very least, provide significant benefit over a placebo), then low cortisol levels are clearly not the fundamental cause of the symptoms in chronic fatigue.
PROBLEM #2 - If a Potential Biomarker is Not Reliably Associated with a Specific Condition, then it is Not a Valid Biomarker (CLICK TO READ MORE) +
As you’ve now seen, there is no particular cortisol abnormality that is reliably associated with fatigue. Indeed, the majority of studies show that the vast majority of people with fatigue have perfectly normal cortisol levels.

And yet, a large percentage of alternative health practitioners are attempting to diagnose a specific fatigue syndrome based on cortisol levels. (E.g. “Adrenal fatigue” and “adrenal burnout” and “adrenal exhaustion”).

This is pretty crazy if you think about it. There is no other condition in the world where people would insist on using a diagnostic marker that the research shows is so inaccurate and inconsistent.

When you’re looking for a diagnostic marker of a disease, you want to use some kind of marker that would show up on a test that would let you know if a person has a particular kind of illness. What you want to find is a reliable diagnostic marker that tells you whether or not someone has that condition.

This marker needs to be found in the large majority of people with that condition. And it needs to not be found in the majority of people without that condition.

Think about this scenario for a moment: Let’s say you wanted to have a test to see if people have insulin resistance/type II diabetes.

Now, let’s say you wanted to do this by looking at fasting blood sugar levels. (That is actually the primary thing physicians look at to assess insulin resistance). Of course, what you expect to find is that people with more insulin resistance have higher blood sugar levels.

Now let’s say you didn’t actually find that! Let’s you analyzed the blood sugar levels of thousands of people with type II diabetes and found that diabetics have:

  • High blood sugar 25% of the time
  • Low blood sugar 25% of the time
  • Normal blood sugar 50% of the time

If that were the case, could you still use fasting blood sugar to diagnose insulin resistance?

Of course not!

This is basically the absolute worst diagnostic marker imaginable. They would never use a marker like that – they would throw it out immediately.

Why? Because they would recognize that it’s obviously not a valid marker to know whether or not someone has that condition!

Yet, that’s exactly what is going on with “adrenal fatigue.” Many practitioners are trying to use a diagnostic marker (cortisol) which simply does not have a reliable relationship to fatigue.

There is no other condition in the world where people would claim to use a diagnostic marker for a condition that is claimed to be sometimes high in the condition, sometimes low, and sometimes normal. In such a scenario, it would immediately be recognized that the biomarker is an invalid way of diagnosing the condition.

PROBLEM #3 - In Chronically Fatigued Persons with Low Cortisol, the Hormonal Profile Indicates that the Body is Intentionally Lowering Cortisol Levels, Not that the Adrenal Glands are “Fatigued” and Can’t Produce Enough Cortisol (CLICK TO READ MORE) +
Based on the research into the hormonal profiles of people with chronic fatigue, even in those who do actually have low cortisol levels, the indications are that the body isn’t producing less cortisol because it can’t produce enough (i.e. because the adrenals are “fatigued” as a result of chronic stress), but because the body is instentionally lowering cortisol levels.

This is a critical point that often goes unnoticed.

To understand this, it requires a bit of understanding of how the HPA axis works.

In short…

The HPA AXIS │ Is Adrenal Fatigue Real, theenergyblueprint.com

  • Corticotropin Releasing Hormone (CRH) is produced by the hypothalamus
  • Adrenocorticotrophic Hormone (ACTH) is produced by the pituitary
  • Cortisol is released by the adrenal glands

The key point here is that the adrenals (i.e. cortisol levels) are being regulated by the hypothalamus and pituitary.

Once we understand this, it tells us something critically important about whether the low cortisol levels are caused by adrenals that are failing to make enough cortisol or if it’s because the brain is intentionally telling the adrenals to produce less cortisol.

See, in Addison’s Disease (true adrenal insufficiency), it is truly a case of the adrenals not being able to produce enough cortisol.

How do we know this?

ATCH In Addisions Disease │ Is Adrenal Fatigue Real, theenergyblueprint.com

Because in Addison’s Disease, we see extremely high levels of ACTH.

What does that mean?

It means that the brain is screaming as loud as it can at the adrenals trying to get them to pump out more cortisol. Normally, more ACTH would lead to higher cortisol levels. But in Addison’s, the adrenals cannot respond to the ACTH signal and cannot produce enough cortisol.

So we see a clear pattern of:

  • High ACTH (i.e. the brain trying to get the adrenals to produce more cortisol)
  • Low cortisol (i.e. the adrenals can’t produce enough cortisol)

In burnout and chronic fatigue syndrome, we do not see this pattern at all.

  • As explained in the research above, most studies indicate perfectly normal cortisol.
  • Even in the small subset of people with lowered cortisol levels, we see normal or close to normal ACTH.

In other words, we clearly do not see a pattern of the brain calling for more cortisol to be produced and the adrenals not being able to produce it.

In addition, we also know from research on people with chronic fatigue that even low doses of hydrocortisone (which raises cortisol levels) suppress the body’s own production of cortisol.[10] What that clearly indicates is that the body wants cortisol levels exactly where they are, and trying to raise cortisol will cause the body to fight back and lower its production of cortisol even more.

If the adrenals were “fatigued” and unable to produce enough cortisol, we would expect to see that:

  • ACTH levels should be high. (They’re not high).
  • Raising cortisol (via hydrocortisone) to normal levels should produce dramatic benefits, and should not suppress the body’s own production of cortisol. (But it doesn’t have either of these effects).

In other words, the body is clearly making precisely the amount of cortisol that it wants to have – no more, and no less.

So what this means is that in the subset of people with lowered cortisol levels, it appears that the body is intentionally lowering cortisol levels.

This may be for several possible reasons:

  1. The body may intentionally lower cortisol to allow the body’s immune and inflammatory system to function in the face of threats: If there are chronic infections and/or toxins being put into the body, cortisol can suppress the immune response too much. Thus in situations where there is a chronic infection present or chronic toxin exposure, the body may intentionally lower cortisol to allow the body’s immune and inflammatory response to function properly.[11] In a recent 2016 study, researchers sought to determine whether the underlying cause in chronic fatigue syndrome is cortisol/HPA dysfunction, or inflammation and oxidative stress. And they showed that the inflammation and oxidative stress causes the HPA axis dysfunction, rather than the other way around. Research has indeed shown that the HPA axis is downregulated in response to chronic inflammation.

The downregulation of the HPA axis in the face of a chronic inflammatory environment is well documented. The HPA axis becomes hyporesponsive following prolonged exposure to the cytokines, and this adaptation occurs relatively quickly.”

The researchers concluded:

The stress crash theory that HPA axis hypofunction drives the activation of immune-inflammatory pathways in ME/CFS cannot be validated. This theory is contradicted by a number of findings, including (a) HPA axis hypofunction is only present in a subgroup of patients, (b) there are no changes in HPA axis during the early stages of ME/CFS, and (c) the immunosuppressive effects of GCs are enhanced in ME/CFS. On the contrary, we propose that HPA axis hypofunction in ME/CFS may be explained by a number of mechanisms, namely (a) chronic inflammation, through increased levels of TNFα; (b) a Treg response with elevated levels of IL-10 and TGF-β that is evident in some ME/CFS patients; (c) increased activity of (oxidative and nitrosative (O&NS) pathways, especially increased nitric oxide (NO) production; and (d) the effects of infection-related mechanisms that can downregulate HPA axis activity, such as LPS tolerance and viral infections…

HPA axis hypoactivity in ME/CFS is most likely a consequence and not a cause of a wide variety of activated immune-inflammatory and O&NS pathways in that illness.”[12]

If one is going to point the finger at some underlying cause, chronic inflammation and oxidative stress are likely better places to look than adrenal/cortisol changes. And to go one step further, the factors causing the inflammatory/oxidative changes.

  1. The body may intentionally lower cortisol as a simple consequence of poor sleep and certain lifestyle factors: Research indicates that lowered morning cortisol is not causal in fatigue syndromes, but likely arises as a consequence of a person’s behaviors, physical traits, or the very symptoms of the disease – e.g. disrupted sleep, medications, sedentary lifestyle, or simply being overweight.[13],[14] (We will discuss this in more detail in the next section).
  2. The body may intentionally lower cortisol as a way to facilitate the body’s healing response: Some hormone specialists have suggested that lowering cortisol levels is part of the body’s healing response, and that downregulation of the entire HPA axis is part of what happens when the body simply slows everything down to allow healing to occur.[15] (It is hard to objectively validate this with research, but it meshes well with the science and the experience of many clinicians who treat fatigue).
  3. The body may intentionally lower cortisol as part of the body’s downregulation of all many physiological systems in chronic fatigue: Research indicates that chronic fatigue is associated with a systemic, whole-body lowering of metabolic rate and energy production.[16]Essentially, this research suggests that virtually all of the functions of the entire body slow down in chronic fatigue. So in this case, lowered cortisol levels are potentially just one of hundreds of lowered chemicals in the body that can occur in chronic fatigue. (Interestingly enough, the study which found this body-wide shutdown of the metabolism actually found normal cortisol levels in people with chronic fatigue, despite hundreds of other metabolic markers being downregulated. [17] So even here, we get more evidence that cortisol levels are not a major player in chronic fatigue.)

In short, the actual hormonal profile of fatigued persons who have low cortisol does not support the notion that their adrenals are “fatigued” and cannot produce enough cortisol.

Rather, it indicates that the body wants cortisol levels exactly where they are, and is not attempting to make any more cortisol.

PROBLEM #4 - The Same Exact Cortisol Pattern That is Claimed By Some to Be Associated with Chronic Fatigue/Burnout is Also Found in People who Are Simply Overweight, Night Owls, on, Antidepressants, or Simply Sleep Deprived (CLICK TO READ MORE) +
We have now seen that while most people with chronic fatigue/burnout have perfectly normal cortisol levels, there is a small subset of fatigued people with lowered morning cortisol levels.

The best estimate, from one review of the research is that 1/3rd of studies find lowered morning cortisol levels in roughly 1/3rd of people with CFS. (Note: If you do the math on that, it works out to be roughly 1/9th of overall people with chronic fatigue. But let’s be generous and estimate that it’s somewhere between 15-30% of people with chronic fatigue that have lower morning cortisol levels.)

To be more specific, the studies which have shown this cortisol abnormality have generally shown that it is specifically the morning cortisol awakening response that differs. (Even in these studies, most of them indicate that cortisol levels at all other times of day are perfectly normal, and that total cortisol output over 24 hours is also normal). And to get even more specific, the claim is that these people have a smaller peak in the rise in morning cortisol levels.

So one could perhaps reasonably believe from this that the lower morning peak in cortisol is a sign of “fatigued adrenal glands” that can’t produce enough cortisol, and that this is the real issue causing the symptoms of chronic fatigue/burnout (as some proponents of adrenal fatigue have).

Except there are several big problems with assuming that this cortisol pattern is a causal factor in chronic fatigue…

  • This same exact cortisol pattern is also found in numerous other groups of people without chronic fatigue/burnout.
  • The same exact cortisol pattern can be caused within days of engaging in simple behaviors (i.e. it is not caused by “adrenal exhaustion”).
  • And the same exact cortisol pattern can be caused by some of the very symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.

As one research review put it:

There is also no convincing evidence that any HPA axis changes are specific to CFS or a primary cause of the disorder rather than being related to the many possible consequences or corollaries of the illness.[18]

There are numerous factors that will, by themselves – i.e. without chronic fatigue – cause the exact same cortisol pattern of a low morning peak in cortisol:
1.     Excess body fat (i.e. being overweight)
Research has shown that the more overweight someone is, the lower their morning peak in cortisol will be.[19]

Here is the graph from the key study on this topic:

How Obesity Affects Cortisol Levels Graph │ Is Adrenal Fatigue Real?, theenergyblueprint.com

You can see clearly that being slightly overweight causes a slight lowering of morning cortisol, and being significantly overweight causes an even lower peak in morning cortisol levels.

Is the low morning cortisol a sign of chronic stress exhausting the adrenals, or simply being overweight?
2.     Night owl chronotype (i.e. staying up later)
You can see here from this graph how one key study showed that night owls (evening types) have the same exact low morning peak in cortisol.[20]

The CAR And Chronotype Graph │ Is Adrenal Fatigue Real. theenergyblueprint.com

Several other studies have also confirmed this finding.[21][22][23][24][25][26]

Here’s one study found nearly double the morning cortisol levels in people who were morning types compared to evening types.[27]

Dinural Salivatory Cortisol Pattern Graph │ Is Adrenal Fatigue Real, theenergyblueprint.com

So again, the simple trait of being a night owl is, by itself, enough to explain why a subset of people with chronic fatigue/burnout have this cortisol pattern.

Moreover, research has also shown that being a night owl is associated with many other illnesses, including burnout.[28][29][30] Research has also shown that people with CFS tend to have disrupted circadian rhythm, which will lead to this cortisol pattern.[31]

So it is likely that a sizable portion of people with burnout/chronic fatigue are night owls, and have this cortisol pattern simply because they are night owls.
3.     Night eating
Research has also shown that the simple habit of late night eating will cause a lower peak in morning cortisol levels.[32]
4.     Antidepressant use
Several different types of prescription and over-the-counter drugs can affect morning cortisol levels. One example is some types of antidepressants.

Here is a graph from one study that showed a lower peak in morning cortisol in people on antidepressants.[33]

This graph illustrates the morning cortisol awakening response in a group of people with stress-related exhaustion, that only differed based on whether they were on antidepressants or not.

The Impact of Antidepressant Use On Salivaary COrtisol │ Is adrenal Fatigue Real, theenergyblueprint.com

Again, both groups had stress related exhaustion, but only the group on antidepressants had the low morning cortisol awakening response.

So is the cortisol pattern the result of “adrenal fatigue” or simply taking antidepressants?
5.     Being sedentary
Several studies have shown that being sedentary can cause a lower morning peak in cortisol levels.[34]

Here is one study that looked at people with major depression to examine how their physical activity habits related to their cortisol patterns.

Estimated Salivatory Cortisol Curves By Different Levels │Is Adrenal Fatigue Real, theenergyblueprint.com

Higher physical activity led to a more pronounced rise (awakening response) and fall of daily cortisol levels.
6.     Having a day off work instead of working
Research has even shown that morning cortisol awakening response can be high one day and low the next, as a simple function of whether or not someone has work that day or it’s a weekend.

Specifically, having work (and thus a greater anticipated demand of the day) will lead to a higher cortisol peak, and having a day off work leads to a lower cortisol peak.[35]

Cortisol Awakening Response CAR at the workplace Graph │ Is Adrenal Fatigue Real?, theenergyblueprint.com

As you can see from the above graph, simply having a day off lowered morning cortisol awakening response in all groups.

Importantly, this change occurred from one day to the next, and thus contradicts the notion that it’s chronic stress that causes this lower morning cortisol pattern.

Side note: This also represents a significant confounding variable in cortisol testing, for two reasons:

  1. If people doing at-home tests take measurements on non-work days, they measure lower than on other days.
  2. Patients in chronic fatigue groups likely have more non-working persons compared to healthy people. So the studies comparing chronic fatigue patients to healthy people are confounded by the fact that many people with chronic fatigue will have cortisol patterns that reflect non work days.

So is it “adrenal fatigue” or simply a reflection of the perceived demands of the day?
7.     Poor sleep (or lack of sleep)
This is likely the biggest factor of all.

Several studies have shown that simply sleeping poorly will cause a lower peak in morning cortisol.[36] [37]

There is no need for chronic stress to exhaust the adrenals – a single night of poor sleep will cause the same exact cortisol abnormality that some people claim to be the “cause” of chronic fatigue.

Moreover, it is known that people who develop chronic fatigue syndrome often develop sleep problems. Thus, the sleep problems that emerge in many people with chronic fatigue may actually be the biggest factor in causing the low peak in morning cortisol in some people.

Here’s where this gets particularly interesting. There is research showing that people with chronic fatigue syndrome have unusually high rates of sleep disorders. For example:

People With Chronic Fatigue Have Sleep Disorders Infographic │ Is Adrenal Fatigeu Real? THeenergyblueprint.com

  • Studies have shown that close to 50% of people with chronic fatigue have some type of sleep disorder.[38]
  • One study found that more than 50% of chronic fatigue patients have either obstructive sleep apnea or sleep-related movement disorders (e.g. restless leg syndrome).[39]
  • Another study found that a whopping 46% of people with chronic fatigue syndrome have obstructive sleep apnea.[40]
  • Another large, population study showed that nearly 80% of people with chronic fatigue syndrome experience unrefreshing sleep and 20% had either narcolepsy or obstructive sleep apnea.[41]

When you consider how common poor sleep and full blown sleep disorders are in chronic fatigue syndrome – and when you consider that sleep problems alone will cause low morning cortisol levels – it’s actually a wonder that so most studies still show that most people with chronic fatigue have perfectly normal cortisol levels!

In short, the fact that poor sleep itself causes low morning cortisol, and the fact that poor sleep is so common in people with chronic fatigue strongly suggests the possibility that the lower cortisol isn’t causing the whole condition, but that low cortisol is simply an epiphenomenon – an effect of one of the symptoms of chronic fatigue: disrupted sleep.

Moreover, in case you would still be inclined to try to explain things through the lens of “adrenal fatigue” theory and say that the poor sleep is exhausting the adrenals, it’s worthwhile to note that the research has actually shown that even a single night of poor sleep will cause low morning cortisol, and that simply correcting the sleep can immediately resolve the cortisol pattern back to normal, within just days.[42] In other words, there is no need to invoke any theories about the adrenals getting “fatigued” in order to explain a low peak in morning cortisol – it may simply be an acute response to poor sleep. There is research that supports this:

“Both daily variations in sleep behaviors and ongoing sleep disturbance and fatigue are associated with a disrupted cortisol rhythm. In contrast, prior-day napping is associated with a more robust cortisol rhythm.”[43]

In other words, the morning peak in cortisol levels changes from one day to the next according to how much sleep you get. Sleep more and take a nap in the afternoon and you can bring your morning cortisol levels back up to normal the next day.

Another study in people with depression supports this view as well. They found that it is only those people who have trouble sleeping that have low morning cortisol – i.e. the people with depression who don’t have sleep problems have normal cortisol levels.[44] Again, this suggests that it is the sleep issues that are causing the cortisol abnormalities. (I.e. The low morning cortisol isn’t the “cause” of the depression – it’s simply an epiphenomenon that occurs in those depressed people who don’t sleep well.)

One study on people with burnout syndrome went so far as to say

The data supports the notion that sleep impairments are causative and maintaining factors for this condition.[45]

Another study in chronic fatigue syndrome concluded:

Neuroendocrine abnormalities (i.e. low morning cortisol) reported to be characteristic of chronic fatigue syndrome may be merely the consequence of disrupted sleep and social routine.”[46]

The simple fact is that this one factor – poor sleep – is, by itself, enough to explain why a subset of people with chronic fatigue have low morning cortisol levels.

To sum up:

It is known in the research that people who are night owls and/or poor sleepers have higher rates of burnout/chronic fatigue. So we know that if we compare a group of people with chronic fatigue/burnout to a group of normal healthy people, it is virtually guaranteed that the chronic fatigue/burnout group will have more night owls and/or poor sleepers (i.e. people with insomnia).

(And it is also extremely likely that the chronic fatigue/burnout groups will have higher rates of the other factors, like antidepressant use, lower physically activity, and excess body fat compared to the general healthy population).

Here’s the key point: Simply because the chronic fatigue/burnout group of people will likely have more individuals that have these factors going on – i.e. they are poor sleepers, night owls, sedentary, on antidepressants, or are overweight – these studies are very likely to conclude that overall, people with chronic fatigue/burnout have lower morning cortisol levels. (Since the people with these factors will skew the overall average cortisol numbers of the entire group).

Considering how common poor sleep is in people with chronic fatigue, it is actually shocking that most studies still find perfectly normal cortisol levels in the vast majority of people with chronic fatigue/burnout.

Indeed, the fact that so many common lifestyle factors (that are known to be especially common in people with chronic fatigue) can induce low morning cortisol levels, and yet, the majority of studies still find normal cortisol levels in most people with chronic fatigue adds further evidence to the notion that cortisol levels are simply not a significant causal factor in chronic fatigue.

The point here is to simply say that the proposed cortisol abnormality claimed to be associated with fatigue/burnout (lower morning peak in cortisol) it not actually not unique to fatigue/burnout – it arises all the time in people without fatigue/burnout. Nor is it evidence of “adrenal exhaustion” due to chronic stress – the same cortisol pattern arises in people all the time without any chronic stress over months or years taxing their adrenals.

Low morning cortisol levels do not mean that the adrenals have been exhausted and can’t produce enough cortisol – it is often an acute hormonal response to simply being a night owl, being overweight, being a night eater, being on antidepressants, or not sleeping well. It doesn’t even require months or years of these factors – it can arise from simply staying up late the night before, or poor sleep the night before. One can even have a lower morning cortisol peak from simply having a day off of work.

In short, low morning cortisol levels are not evidence of exhausted adrenal glands, but may simply be an acute hormonal response to being a night owl, medication use, night eating, being overweight, or poor sleep.

 

Making Sense of The Science: When Cortisol Levels Are Low (in a Minority of People with Chronic Fatigue), it’s Likely a Consequence, Rather than a Cause of Chronic Fatigue

We now know 4 important facts about the cortisol patterns seen in people with chronic fatigue/burnout:

  1. Low morning cortisol levels are not present in the majority of people with chronic fatigue/burnout.
  2. Low morning cortisol levels are not present at the onset or early stages of chronic fatigue/burnout.
  3. Raising cortisol levels (via medication) does not resolve the fatigue or provide any meaningful benefit over a placebo for the vast majority of people with chronic fatigue. (Including those with measurably low cortisol).
  4. Low morning cortisol levels can be caused by simply being a night owl, taking antidepressants, being sedentary, being overweight, or not sleeping well.

Taken together, these facts make it clear that that abnormal cortisol/HPA axis function is not a primary cause of chronic fatigue.

The cortisol abnormalities that do occur in a subset of people with chronic fatigue can also be easily explained. These abnormalities may simply be a consequence of some of these lifestyle and behavioral factors, rather than a cause of the whole condition of chronic fatigue/burnout.

Infographic │ Is adrenal fatigue real, theenergyblueprint.com

And this is why many researchers have concluded that HPA axis dysfunction and cortisol abnormalities are likely not a major cause of chronic fatigue/burnout, but arise as an effect of some of the lifestyle factors (e.g. insomnia, lack of physical activity, medication use, etc.) that commonly occur in chronic fatigue/burnout.

And this is precisely what one of the biggest reviews of the scientific research, The HPA axis and the genesis of chronic fatigue syndrome, concluded:

A reversed direction of causation (i.e. that the illness leads to HPA axis changes rather than the other way around) is supported by the findings that there is an apparent absence of HPA axis changes early in the genesis of chronic fatigue states, and that modifying cognitive behavioural components of the illness leads to a normalization of the HPA axis.”[58]

Another very recent systematic review of the science from 2013, titled A Review of Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis Function in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome stated:

“the abnormalities (in HPA function) are subtle, and there is marked variation in basal and challenge tests in CFS patients and a real risk that these so-called abnormalities are simply confounds or epiphenomena.”

Another study concluded:

“Few studies report on severity of the fatigue or disability, and there is reason to suggest that some behavioural consequences of fatigue may themselves cause the shift in adrenocortical functioning … For example Leese et al. found that short-term night-shift working mimics the HPA changes observed in patients with CFS. They conclude that the changes observed in CFS may be secondary to disrupted sleep and social routine, and thus an epiphenomenon in terms of fatigue causation.”[59]

One of these systematic literature reviews concluded:

“Inactivity, sleep disturbance, psychiatric comorbidity, medication, and ongoing stress experienced by people with CFS will affect HPA axis function, and the findings that HPA axis dysregulation is more prominent in patients with a longer duration of illness suggest that the endocrine changes may be secondary.”[60]

One study on burnout went so far as to say:

The data supports the notion that sleep impairments are causative and maintaining factors for this condition.[61]

Another study concluded:

Neuroendocrine abnormalities (i.e. low morning cortisol) reported to be characteristic of chronic fatigue syndrome may be merely the consequence of disrupted sleep and social routine.”[62]

So are low morning cortisol levels in a subset of people with chronic fatigue evidence that adrenal fatigue is real? No.

While some people believe that a low morning cortisol peak means that a person has “adrenal fatigue,” it may actually just mean that a person has excess body fat, or is sedentary, or is taking medications, or is a poor sleeper, or stays up late (or a combination of those factors).

The simple facts presented above can easily explain why a subset of people with chronic fatigue/burnout have a smaller morning peak in cortisol levels.

Based on this research, what can we say about the question “is adrenal fatigue real?”

Since cortisol abnormalities are not typically present at the onset or early stages of chronic fatigue, and since cortisol abnormalities are not present at all in the vast majority of people with chronic fatigue, a reversed direction of causation – where cortisol abnormalities are caused by other factors, inactivity, medication use, poor sleep, etc. – is the most compelling explanation for cortisol abnormalities, in the minority of people with chronic fatigue who do have them.

 

More Problems With Adrenal Fatigue

There are also a number of other problems with the theory of “adrenal fatigue” and the way it is diagnosed and treated. In this section, we will address some of these issues that further question the scientific validity of the diagnosis and treatment of “adrenal fatigue.”

(In an effort to keep things organized and easy to understand, we’ve put the following sections in the pop-out boxes below. Please click the boxes below to unveil text for each of the below topics).

Inaccuracy of Cortisol Tests (Click to read more) +
Interestingly enough, most people who are diagnosed with low cortisol and “adrenal fatigue” or “adrenal exhaustion” don’t actually have low cortisol levels. There are several serious methodological problems in the way cortisol levels are often tested that lead to faulty results.

There are 4 reasons why this happens:

  1. Tests that don’t give the full picture of cortisol amounts.

See, there are different ways of measuring cortisol.

  • Saliva
  • Blood (serum)
  • Hair
  • Urine

The practitioners who believe in adrenal fatigue have generally relied on saliva measurements (also called the Adrenal Stress Index). Saliva measurements of cortisol are indeed a valid method of assessing free cortisol. But, it’s important to understand what is actually being measured. Saliva measurements measure unbound or “free” cortisol – i.e. cortisol not bound to a protein carrier molecule. This is only about 3-5% of total cortisol in our body at any moment. The rest of the cortisol may be bound or in some step of the metabolic pathways involved in clearance of cortisol through the urine. So saliva cortisol doesn’t really give the whole picture about total cortisol produced by the adrenal glands.

The claim in “adrenal fatigue” is that the adrenals get worn out and can’t produce enough cortisol. Yet, saliva measurements do not allow us to assess the amount of cortisol produced by the adrenals – only the amount of cortisol that is free cortisol in the body at a given time.

The ideal marker of total cortisol production in the body is measuring cortisol metabolites (breakdown products) in the urine, because that reflects the other 95-97% of cortisol that our body produces.

Why does this distinction matter?

Simple: Because research has now found that many people who have low cortisol based on saliva tests (and who are told that their adrenals are exhausted and can’t produce enough cortisol) actually show normal or even high total cortisol production.

(Note: This pattern of low free cortisol but high total cortisol is actually extremely common -- particularly in overweight people, which the majority of people in the Western world now are. So this scenario of low cortisol in saliva testing, but high total cortisol production is actually extraordinarily commonplace – to the point where most people who are told they have low cortisol levels based on saliva tests don’t actually have low cortisol.)

Want to know just how common this is? Here’s functional medicine practitioner Chris Kresser explaining it in more detail:

“According to unpublished data from a lab called Precision Analytical that does cortisol testing, of 2,000 test subjects that they’ve looked at with low free cortisol, only 15% actually had low total cortisol. So, put [in] a different way, people with low free cortisol were actually more likely to have normal or high total cortisol than they were to have low total cortisol.”[64]

This is clearly a big problem. Why? Consider that many practitioners prescribe external cortisol (hydrocortisone) to people that they diagnose with low cortisol.

In this scenario, a person might even be told that their cortisol is low, and then put on glucocorticoid medication or other substances to try to raise cortisol, not realizing that cortisol is already too high. This obviously has the potential to make a person worse.

Again, it’s worth emphasizing this because it’s so shocking: It is actually more common for a person with low cortisol on saliva tests to have normal or high total cortisol production, than to actually have low cortisol.

  1. Tests administered only once.

This is a fairly straightforward one. Many practitioners only do a single saliva test. This is simply not accurate. Cortisol levels fluctuate dramatically over the course of 24 hours. They even fluctuate dramatically within the span of a single hour, in the first hour after awakening (called Cortisol Awakening Response). So these single measurement tests simply are not accurate measures of anything.

To get reliable and accurate measurement of cortisol, one should ideally do multiple saliva tests over the course of 24 hours. Or at least, multiple time points within the first hour after awakening to assess the cortisol awakening response.

  1. Some functional medicine labs have revised their “reference ranges” in a very narrow range.

The “reference range” is the range of cortisol values that a lab uses to interpret lab results and say what is considered normal, or abnormal.

What this means is that by having a narrow reference range, more people will fall outside of the normal and thus will be diagnosed with low cortisol.

Many labs have changed the reference ranges in recent years, and these revisions are generally not supported by endocrinologists or based on sound scientific evidence.

In other words, some independent labs and individual practitioners simply choose to arbitrarily decide what they believe should be the “normal cortisol” values, and then create a very narrow range for it (much more narrow than conventional endocrinologists) and thus, many more people are diagnosed with abnormally low cortisol levels.

  1. Tests are often not administered at the correct time in the morning

Another massive problem with cortisol testing is that because of the huge change in cortisol levels in the first hour after awakening, taking the measurement 30 minutes or 60 minutes later than one was supposed to take it can give a reading that is dramatically lower than the actual cortisol levels.

As soon as we wake up in the morning and light enters our eyes, it initially a steep and dramatic rise in cortisol levels within the first 15 to 30 minutes after awakening. This is called the “Cortisol Awakening Response.” (This steep peak in cortisol levels accounts for over 50% of our total cortisol production during each 24 hour day.) Importantly, after the initial hour after awakening, there is a massive and rapid decline in cortisol levels.

To show you what I mean, take a look at this image of the cortisol awakening response.

Do you notice how much cortisol values change in just 30 minutes or an hour?

So what would happen if the test is administered just one hour or two hours later than it’s supposed to be?

You’d obviously get a wildly inaccurate cortisol level.

It turns out that this is exactly what has happened on a massive scale. Many of the labs doing these cortisol tests didn’t instruct people to take their first saliva sample within the first 30 minutes of after awakening.

So what this amounts to is that tens of thousands of people who have had cortisol testing for “adrenal fatigue” took their first saliva samples an hour or two hours into the morning, which misses the entire cortisol awakening response and gives a completely inaccurate cortisol reading. Specifically, it will give a much lower cortisol level than is actually the real amount of cortisol your body makes in the morning.

I can’t emphasize enough how big of a blunder this is. Accurate cortisol readings depend on the saliva sample being taken in the first 30 minutes after awakening. If you take your morning sample an hour or two after waking up, it is virtually guaranteed to get someone falsely diagnosed with low cortisol.

Based on the above factors, what can we say about the question “is adrenal fatigue real?”

It is likely that a sizable portion of people being diagnosed with low cortisol levels and “adrenal fatigue” actually have perfectly normal adrenal function and cortisol levels.

The Real Symptoms of Low Cortisol Don’t Match Up With The Claimed Symptoms of “Adrenal Fatigue.” (Click to read more) +
One of the most glaring problems with the “adrenal fatigue” theory is that the claimed symptoms (of adrenal fatigue) do not actually match up with the actual symptoms that are accepted to be associated with low cortisol.

Here are the symptoms claimed to be caused by “adrenal fatigue”:

Symptms claimed to be caused by adrenal fatigue

  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Weight gain (especially “belly fat”)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Brain fog
  • Low blood sugar
  • Low libido
  • Waking up tired even after sleeping 7 or 8 hours
  • Cravings for sugary and salty foods
  • Trouble sleeping through the night (especially waking up between 2-4am)

And here are the symptoms that are actually caused by low cortisol levels:

Symptoms of low cortisol levels │ is adrenal fatigue real, theenergyblueprint.com

  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Low appetite or anorexia
  • Darkening of your skin (hyperpigmentation)
  • Low blood pressure, even fainting
  • Salt craving
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
  • Nausea, diarrhea or vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Muscle or joint pains
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Body hair loss or sexual dysfunction in women

You’ll notice that there are some of the symptoms on both lists – like fatigue, low blood sugar, depression, and cravings for salt.

But there are also several major discrepancies – it’s actually weight loss (not weight gain) that is associated with low cortisol, as well as things like nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, muscle/joint pains, body hair loss, skin darkening, and loss of appetite (the opposite of sugary food cravings) that are all common symptoms of low cortisol that are not claimed to be associated with “adrenal fatigue.” 

In addition, it’s also worth pointing out that the symptoms claimed for “adrenal fatigue” are significantly more common occurrences in regular healthy people, and are not specific to low cortisol states or people with chronic fatigue issues, such as weight gain, cravings for sugary foods, anxiety, waking up tired, and trouble sleeping. These are all symptoms that apply to large portions of the general population, and are not unique to people with chronic fatigue or low cortisol. Thus, a huge percentage of the general healthy population will identify with these symptoms.

In fact, if you go to chiropractor and naturopath James Wilson, D.C.’s (the creator of “adrenal fatigue”) website, www.adrenalfatigue.org and take his symptoms-based quiz that supposedly helps determine if you have adrenal fatigue, here is his initial list of symptoms:

  1. Tired for no reason?
  2. Having trouble getting up in the morning?
  3. Need coffee, cola, salty or sweet snacks to keep going?
  4. Feeling run down and stressed?
  5. Crave salty or sweet snacks?
  6. Struggling to keep up with life’s daily demands?
  7. Can’t bounce back from stress or illness?
  8. Not having fun anymore?
  9. Decreased sex drive?

If you answered yes to even a few of these questions, he claims that this means you may have adrenal fatigue.

Now look over that list closely. Do you anyone who wouldn’t at least say yes to at least a few of those questions, at least some of the time?!

What I am suggesting is that he has coined a new syndrome (“adrenal fatigue”)…

then created a diagnostic criteria of adrenal fatigue where no matter whether a person has high, normal or low cortisol they may still be diagnosed with adrenal fatigue…

and then created a very broad list of general symptoms that even a large percentage of healthy people will identify with.

So I decided to do a survey to get to the bottom of this discrepancy between the actual symptoms of low cortisol levels vs. the claimed symptoms of adrenal fatigue.

I wanted to know if a population of people with fatigue – most of whom were convinced that they had “adrenal fatigue”(or have officially been diagnosed with it) – would actually identify with the real symptoms of low cortisol levels.

I took a sample of over 600 people with fatigue and then simply presented them with the actual symptoms that are associated with low cortisol (see the list above).

Then I simply told them

“Can I ask for your help with this little survey? It's a list of 12 symptoms, and I just want to know whether this list of symptoms feels like a good fit with YOUR symptoms, or if it doesn't seem like a very good fit.

In other words...

Do you read this list of symptoms and think "Wow, that sounds like what I have" or "No, that doesn't really sound like what I have."

Please only say "Yes, this sounds like what I have" if you identify with at least 6 of the 12 symptoms.
Otherwise, say "No, this doesn't really sound like it matches well with my symptoms"

Here is what I was covertly doing...

Again, the list of symptoms I posted are the actual symptoms of low cortisol levels. (Not the much different, much more vague and general, list of symptoms claimed for "adrenal fatigue.")

This simple survey was designed to find out if people with fatigue (many or most of whom believe they have adrenal fatigue) would actually identify with the real symptoms of low cortisol levels.

Here are the results:

  • 77 of 621 people (12.4%) of people said that the symptoms of low cortisol are very similar to their symptoms.
  • 544 of 621 people (87.6%) of people said that the symptoms of low cortisol are not similar to their symptoms.

Well, simply put, it means that the vast majority of people with fatigue do not have the symptoms associated with low cortisol levels. Over 8 out of 10 people with fatigue do not identify with the symptoms of low cortisol levels.

This is just one more piece of data to go along with dozens of actual scientific studies on this subject again suggesting that the vast majority of people with chronic fatigue do not actually have low cortisol levels.

Based on this research, what can we say about the question “is adrenal fatigue real?”

  • If most people with fatigue don’t have symptoms of low cortisol, it doesn’t make much sense to attempt to explain chronic fatigue by saying that it’s caused by low cortisol.
  • This is particularly true in light of the fact that we have already seen from the actual studies that most people with chronic fatigue do not actually have abnormal cortisol levels.
  • If studies don’t show low cortisol levels in the majority of people with chronic fatigue, and most people with chronic fatigue don’t identify with the symptoms of low cortisol levels, it simply does not make sense to keep focusing on cortisol as a valid way of explaining fatigue.
Many Different Cortisol Abnormalities (and Even No Abnormality At All) Can All Still Get You Diagnosed With “Adrenal Fatigue” (Click to read more) +
Another problem with the “adrenal fatigue” theory is the rules (or lack of rules) many people are using to interpret cortisol tests.

As you’ve now seen, cortisol levels are an extraordinarily bad predictor of whether or not someone is fatigued. A person who is completely exhausted and burned out from chronic stress may have high cortisol, or low cortisol or normal cortisol. As explained above, in the setting of any illness, this scenario should immediately get that biomarker ruled out as an invalid way of diagnosing a condition. Yet, many health practitioners still claim to diagnose “adrenal fatigue” based on cortisol measurements.

The interesting thing that many people have done though, is basically rigged the game to virtually always come out with an adrenal fatigue diagnosis.

The 3 Stages Of Adrenal Fatigue, is adrenal fatigue real, theenergyblueprint.com

  • If a person has high cortisol, they may be told they’re in the “first stage of adrenal fatigue.”
  • If they have normal cortisol levels, they may be told they’re in an early stage or middle stage, before their cortisol levels decline.
  • If they have low cortisol, they may be told they’re in a “late stage of adrenal fatigue.”

In other words, they’re using a diagnostic marker that can potentially always be used to claim that someone has “adrenal fatigue” – regardless of whether cortisol is high, low, or totally normal.

(It’s important to note here that these supposed “phases” of “adrenal fatigue” are not validated by scientific research. Indeed, as we’ve seen in the research, cortisol levels do not have any reliable relationship to the severity of chronic fatigue).

Again, in conventional medicine, in any scenario like this, this way of diagnosing people with a condition would immediately be recognized as scientifically invalid. A biomarker that is this inconsistently associated with a set of symptoms would immediately be thrown out as an invalid biomarker for that condition.

The Treatments Typically Given To People Diagnosed with Adrenal Fatigue Don’t Actually Raise Cortisol Levels (Click to read more) +
This is another area where the adrenal fatigue theory just doesn’t make sense. The claim with adrenal fatigue is that the adrenals get burned out and then low cortisol levels produce fatigue and many other symptoms.

Key point: The primary claim of adrenal fatigue is that it’s low cortisol levels in people with “adrenal fatigue.”

Here’s why that’s a critical point to pay attention to: The supplements typically prescribed by alternative health practitioners to correct adrenal health don’t have scientific evidence showing that they raise cortisol levels.

In fact, virtually all the evidence on virtually all of the supplements prescribed to people with “adrenal fatigue” have actually been shown in the research to lower cortisol levels!

Obviously if the claim is that someone has low cortisol levels, it doesn’t make sense to prescribe things which are known to lower cortisol levels.

Here are some of the most typical substances prescribed to people with “adrenal fatigue”:

The Most Typical Substances Prescribed to People with adrenal fatigue │ Is adrenal fatigue real? theenergyblueprint.com

  • Rhodiola rosea
  • Ashwagandha
  • Lemon balm
  • Licorice root
  • Phosphatidylserine
  • Ginseng
  • Tulsi

The lone exception that works to potentially raise cortisol levels (by inhibiting cortisol conversion to cortisone) is licorice root.

For all the other herbs and supplements commonly prescribed to people with low cortisol levels, the scientific evidence only shows that these substances lower cortisol levels!

I am not aware of any studies that have ever shown that any of these substances work to increase cortisol.

And in speaking with functional medicine and adrenal function expert, Dr. Bryan Walsh, he said “I have literally never seen adaptogenic herbs raise cortisol levels.”

If the claim is that people with “adrenal fatigue” have symptoms due to low cortisol levels, it does not make sense to prescribe substances that are proven to lower – not raise – cortisol levels.

Moreover, it also does not make sense to explain the benefits of these substances (which are real) through the lens of how they affect cortisol levels. (In reality, they affect many other systems of the body, including the brain, the immune system, inflammatory cytokines, and perhaps most importantly, the mitochondria (the energy generators in our cells)).

How does all of this relate to the question “is adrenal fatigue real?”

To sum up: If low cortisol is the problem, it doesn’t make sense to prescribe substances that are proven to lower cortisol levels.

Most Studies Attempting to Link Cortisol Levels with Various Illnesses and Symptoms (e.g. Chronic Fatigue/Burnout) Have Major Confounding Variables That Are Not Controlled For in The Research (Click to read more) +
As you saw in the previous section, it is now known that many physical traits and behaviors can induce cortisol abnormalities. Indeed, there are actually many more factors than just what I mentioned above that influence the daily cortisol pattern:

Factors that influence the daily cortisol pattern, theenergyblueprint.com

  • Body fat
  • Physical activity
  • Medication use (e.g. antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, painkillers, opioids, stimulants, etc.)
  • Chronotype (night owls vs. morning types)
  • Eating habits (e.g. night eating)
  • Psychological traits (e.g. loneliness)
  • Genetics
  • Perceived overall stress load
  • Perception of upcoming stress of the day (e.g. workdays vs. non-workdays)
  • Psychiatric illness (e.g. depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, PTSD)
  • Poor sleep

Importantly, the studies assessing cortisol levels in various illnesses have almost universally failed to control for most or all of these variables.

Thus the claims of how cortisol abnormalities are linked with various illnesses should be taken with a grain of salt.

These are all major confounding variables in the studies which have tried to link abnormal cortisol patterns to various diseases (including chronic fatigue/burnout).

What this means is that many of the supposed cortisol abnormalities in such diseases may simply be effects of symptoms of the disease (e.g. taking painkillers, poor sleep, or being physically inactive due to fatigue), rather than actual causes of the disease. Or they may simply be due to co-occurrences – for example, insomnia, depression, and excess body fat are all common co-occurrences in numerous different diseases.

In other words, while the common thinking of adrenal fatigue proponents is to point to cortisol abnormalities as a causal factor in the disease, there is much research indicating that it may be a reversed direction of causation – that these symptoms and lifestyle factors (e.g. poor sleep, excess body fat, medication use, etc.) are causing the abnormal cortisol patterns, rather than the other way around.

It’s also important to recognize that a lower morning peak in cortisol can be caused by numerous different lifestyle variables that change on a day to day basis, and are not valid evidence of “exhausted adrenal glands.”

Moreover, I have literally never heard any health practitioner even mention these confounding factors when they analyze cortisol results of individuals they are working with.

To give just one example of why this is problematic: Let’s take a person who has low morning cortisol levels and their doctor believes that it’s due to “exhausted adrenals.” In reality, it may simply be due to the fact that the person is a night owl and they typically go to bed very late and don’t sleep enough. Instead of addressing the person’s sleep hygiene habits, the doctor may prescribe hydrocortisone to treat the low cortisol levels. Of course, this mistake in treatment approach – treating the cortisol levels instead of treating the sleep habits – may have major health consequences over time.

As one 2017 review of the science on cortisol patterns in disease stated:

“Given that the bulk of the research examined was cross-sectional in nature, it is possible that a flattened DCS (diurnal cortisol slope, or pattern with a lower morning peak in cortisol) is a symptom, or a consequence, of a prior disease state. Many diseases result in physical pain and psychological stress. Consequently, a flattened DCS could be caused by pathophysiological or stress-related changes resulting from the experience of the disease itself. …Together, these findings suggest a reverse-causal explanation deserves more attention in future research.”[65]

Of course, it is still possible and likely that truly low cortisol levels may be a causal or perpetuating factor in some illnesses. The researchers of the 2017 literature review concluded that the effects likely go both ways:

“Given the transactional nature of the regulation of interrelated biological systems, and our findings of associations between flatter DCS (lower morning peak in cortisol and/or higher even cortisol levels) and multiple health outcomes, it seems plausible that reciprocal and cascading interactions among clock gene mechanisms, sleep, cortisol, inflammation, fatigue, appetite, behavior, and social and psychological experiences jointly contribute to the observed associations between flatter DCS and multiple types of negative health outcomes.”[66]

In short, while cortisol abnormalities may be a contributing factor in some conditions, the evidence being used to claim them as a causal factor is weak, and confounded by over a dozen variables.

In the case of chronic fatigue, we should be very cautious with assuming that a low morning cortisol peak is valid evidence of any sort of “adrenal fatigue.” As discussed above, low morning cortisol levels may simply be an indication of a sedentary lifestyle, excess body fat, poor sleep, night eating, disrupted circadian rhythm, taking certain prescription or over-the-counter drugs, or simply staying up late.

Moreover, we must remember that the research isn’t even consistent in showing any specific type of cortisol or HPA abnormality in relation to fatigue. As one review of the research put it:

“The above cited literature shows that the evidence on possible relationships between burnout and vital exhaustion on the one hand and HPA axis (dys)regulation on the other remain somewhat inconsistent. For example, there are studies showing either lower, higher or unchanged cortisol awakening profiles in groups with higher levels of burnout. … even some very well-conducted studies could not find associations between burnout and HPA axis dysregulations.[67]

Based on this research, what can we say about the question “is adrenal fatigue real?”

Virtually all of the research done trying to link cortisol levels with chronic fatigue (and most others diseases) is cross-sectional and thus, confounded by multiple factors that influence cortisol levels. So one should take such studies skeptically.

As discussed above, in chronic fatigue/burnout, the case for a reversed direction of causation – i.e. the illness and behavioral consequences of it, cause cortisol abnormalities in some subset of patients – is more compelling than the case for cortisol abnormalities being a significant causal factor.

 

Is Adrenal Fatigue Real – Summary

In summary, the scientific evidence does not support the notion that adrenal function/HPA axis function/cortisol are a significant causal factor in chronic fatigue.

Here is the bulletpoint summary of the key points in this article:

  1. The “adrenal fatigue” theory is not supported by the research.
  2. Studies have been conducted by researchers all over the world for over two decades examining whether adrenal/HPA axis dysfunction is a primary cause of chronic fatigue/burnout. 20 years of research into this has failed to show any type of HPA or cortisol abnormality that is reliably found in people with chronic fatigue/burnout.
  3. Overall, the research indicates that the majority of people with chronic fatigue/burnout have normal cortisol levels. Thus cortisol levels cannot reasonably be said to be the “cause” of chronic fatigue if it’s not even detectable in the majority of people with chronic fatigue.
  4. The research shows no clear link between cortisol levels and chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia/burnout. Some studies indicate increased cortisol in people with chronic fatigue/burnout, others show decreased cortisol, and the vast majority of studies show no differences in cortisol levels at all.
  5. Cortisol levels are not a valid biomarker of fatigue or burnout. If poor adrenal function/low cortisol were the primary cause (or even a major cause) of chronic fatigue/burnout, we would expect to find that all (or at least a large majority of) people with chronic fatigue/burnout have low cortisol levels. Yet, the vast majority of people with chronic fatigue or burnout from stress have no cortisol abnormalities at all. Thus cortisol levels are not a valid biomarker of chronic fatigue.
  6. Cortisol levels measurements are not a valid way of diagnosing people with chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia/burnout vs. normal healthy people. There is no specific cortisol/HPA abnormality seen in these conditions, and no abnormality at all in most people. A small subset of people (likely between 15%-25%) with chronic fatigue/burnout have a lower morning peak in cortisol levels. (This lower morning peak in cortisol occurs as a result of many common variables – including being overweight or simple lack of sleep – and is not unique to chronic fatigue/burnout). There is no evidence to suggest that this low peak in morning cortisol is a causal factor, since it is not present at all in the majority of people with chronic fatigue/burnout.
  7. Even studies that do find cortisol abnormalities show only very slight abnormalities — and typically still show normal overall 24-hour cortisol output. Thus, there appears to be little to no evidence suggesting that the adrenals are incapable of producing enough cortisol.
  8. Low salivary cortisol levels are not actually evidence of “adrenal fatigue.” Research that assessing total 24-hour cortisol output via urine shows that the majority of people who have low salivary cortisol levels actually have normal total 24-hour cortisol production by the adrenal glands.
  9. There are no cortisol abnormalities present at the onset or early stages of chronic fatigue. If poor adrenal function/low cortisol levels were a cause of chronic fatigue/burnout, we should expect to find low cortisol levels at the onset or early stages of these conditions. Yet, we do not find that. Thus poor adrenal function or low cortisol levels cannot reasonably be said to be a “cause” of chronic fatigue.
  10. Cortisol level measurements are not a valid way of assessing the severity of chronic fatigue. If cortisol levels were a major cause or contributor to chronic fatigue, we would expect to see a reliable relationship where the more severe the symptoms are, the larger the cortisol abnormality we would expect to find. Yet the research shows that cortisol levels are not a valid predictor of symptoms, and do not typically relate to symptom severity.
  11. Cortisol level measurements are not a valid way of assessing the cause of chronic fatigue. Cortisol level testing is useful for ruling out legitimate medical conditions like Addison’s disease and Cushing’s disease, but appears to be of little to no value in chronic fatigue/burnout.
  12. Cortisol level measurements are not a valid way of directing the course of treatment for chronic fatigue. Measuring cortisol levels to detect cortisol abnormalities is of little value in helping people with chronic fatigue, since treatments that target directly increasing cortisol levels have largely proven ineffective.
  13. Cortisol testing has many methodological flaws that can often lead to false diagnoses of low cortisol levels when a person doesn’t actually have low cortisol levels.
  14. The notion of “phases” of adrenal fatigue that have clear connections to specific levels of cortisol has not been validated by science. People with severe chronic fatigue may have high, low, or perfectly normal cortisol levels.
  15. The adaptogenic herbs often prescribed to people who have been told they have “adrenal fatigue” are only shown in the scientific research to lower cortisol levels – not raise them. It does not make sense to prescribe substances that lower cortisol, if the claim is that chronic fatigue is being caused by cortisol levels that are already too low.
  16. The symptoms claimed for “adrenal fatigue” are vague and generalized symptoms that are not actually unique to low cortisol levels or chronic fatigue. (I.e. A large portion of the healthy general population will say “yes” in response to many symptoms listed on “adrenal fatigue” questionnaires found online).
  17. Lower cortisol levels – when they do occur in a small subset of people with fatigue – are almost certainly not the result of the adrenal glands being “fatigued” and unable to produce enough cortisol. If this was the case, we would see a pattern of high ACTH and low cortisol levels (as is seen in Addison’s disease), which indicates that the brain is calling for more cortisol to be produced but the adrenals are unable to produce enough. This hormonal pattern is not seen in chronic fatigue/burnout. Thus, the body is likely intentionally lowering cortisol levels and is producing exactly the amount it wants to be producing. (Again, this may be to allow inflammatory and immune responses to function well).
  18. The vast majority of people with chronic fatigue (over 85%) do not actually identify with the real symptoms of low cortisol levels.
  19. In the most generous scenario of giving some sort of importance to cortisol levels in chronic fatigue, in the subset of people with lowered cortisol levels, it is possible that this hormonal abnormality may be perpetuating the condition by creating additional symptoms and/or making recovery more difficult. Even this has not been validated by research, however. Moreover, the fact that raising cortisol levels (via hydrocortisone) fails to reliably give benefits – even to those with lower cortisol levels – suggests that cortisol levels are of minimal importance in chronic fatigue.
  20. A lowered morning peak in cortisol levels is something that arises in numerous different conditions, and is not unique to chronic fatigue/burnout.
  21. A lowered morning peak in cortisol levels is not evidence of “adrenal fatigue,” since it can be found in healthy, non-chronically fatigued people who are simply sleep deprived, sedentary, on certain medications, or are night owls.
  22. Cortisol levels typically do not change in response to interventions that improve symptoms and/or normalize health. If cortisol levels were the major causal factor of the symptoms in chronic fatigue/burnout, we would expect to see a reliable relationship where, as symptoms improve, so do cortisol levels. Yet, the majority of intervention studies that have shown significant improvement in symptoms (e.g. energy levels) typically show that there are no changes in cortisol levels that parallel these symptom improvements.
  23. Fixing cortisol levels does not fix the fatigue. This is even true in people with lower morning cortisol levels. If low cortisol were the fundamental cause (or even a major cause) of chronic fatigue/burnout, then raising cortisol levels would improve symptoms dramatically. (As it does in true adrenal insufficiency/Addison’s disease). Yet, raising cortisol levels (via medication) does not significantly improve symptoms when compared with placebo treatment. (And it may be harmful in the long run).
  24. The focus on cortisol levels in chronic fatigue/burnout appears to be extremely misguided. Cortisol level testing appears to be of little to no use in chronic fatigue/burnout – either diagnosing chronic fatigue/burnout or helping to direct a beneficial course of treatment. The following five points make it clear that the focus on cortisol is simply not warranted by the research:
    • The vast majority of people with chronic fatigue or burnout from stress have no cortisol abnormalities at all.
    • Cortisol abnormalities are not present at the onset or early stages of chronic fatigue.
    • Based on the research, it appears likely that cortisol abnormalities (in the minority of people where they occur) may be just an epiphenomenon that results from being a night owl, taking antidepressants, inactivity, being overweight, or having sleep problems.
    • The majority of intervention studies that have shown significant improvement in fatigue typically show that there are no changes in cortisol levels that parallel these symptom improvements.
    • Interventions in people with chronic fatigue/burnout that directly target the cortisol abnormalities and raise cortisol levels (e.g. hydrocortisone) do not significantly improve symptoms vs. placebo.

Key Points in this article │ Is Adrenal Fatigue Real, theenergyblueprint.comSo is “adrenal fatigue” real?

Overall, the theory of “adrenal fatigue” is not supported by the scientific evidence.

Over two decades ago, the theories of the “stress crash” or “HPA crash” “adrenal insufficiency period” or “adrenal fatigue” came into prominence, and have become the dominant way of thinking about chronic fatigue among most holisitic/alternative/integrative health practitioners. These theories hypothesized that the likely underlying cause of many diseases such as chronic fatigue syndrome or burnout syndrome was hormonal abnormalities (e.g. low cortisol levels) resulting from chronic stress wearing out the adrenals or HPA axis, and that these abnormal cortisol levels would turn out to be the cause of the symptoms seen in these conditions. The most common variation of this idea is of course, the theory of “adrenal fatigue.”

The theory was logical and appeared to make sense on many levels.

Unfortunately, 20 years of research have failed to validate the theory. Moreover, many lines of evidence overtly contradict the notion that adrenal/HPA function or cortisol levels are a primary factor in chronic fatigue/burnout.

The research appears to validate the position held by the Hormone Foundation and Endocrine Society (that represents 14,000 Endocrinologist MDs):

“’Adrenal fatigue’ is not a real medical condition. There are no scientific facts to support the theory that long-term mental, emotional, or physical stress drains the adrenal glands and causes many common symptoms.”

If we are going to truly find effective answers to chronic fatigue, we must let go of outdated concepts that aren’t supported by the evidence. I humbly suggest that if we want to make real progress in helping people with chronic fatigue, we must move beyond the “adrenal fatigue” theory and stop focusing on the adrenals/cortisol as thought it is the central cause in chronic fatigue.

Overall, the body of scientific research suggests that the focus on cortisol levels as the key factor in chronic fatigue is extremely misguided.

My hope is that this review of the research will help to shift the paradigm of how we approach treating chronic fatigue/burnout, and to help individuals struggling with chronic fatigue/burnout to find the best, evidence-based path to fixing their fatigue.

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Is Adrenal Fatigue Real? – Sources

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