Monthly Archives: June 2020

Trouble Sleeping?

Magnify Your Melatonin Production

If you’ve ever had a bad night’s sleep, you know how nearly everything in your life suffers the next day. Simple chores suddenly feel like massive tasks, you’re more on edge in situations that normally wouldn’t bother you much, and you might be tempted to reach for a caffeinated beverage or sugary treat to get you through a mentally foggy morning.

Underlying good sleep is a hormone called melatonin. Synthesized in the pineal gland, melatonin is secreted in a circadian pattern, with the highest amounts released during nighttime. When the sun begins setting, declining levels of light signals a chemical cascade that triggers the secretion of melatonin. Levels of this hormone rise almost 10-fold at night, telling the body to unwind. Sunlight the following morning then suppresses melatonin levels.1


400 times more melatonin is produced in the gut than in the brain, where it serves to balance inflammation and acts as a powerful antioxidant.

While melatonin is rightly thought of as the sleep hormone, it does so much more than just regulate sleep patterns. This hormone is also involved in many regulatory processes, including metabolism, reproduction, and managing inflammation in the body. Melatonin can even help organs, such as the gut and liver communicate. In fact, 100 times more melatonin is produced in the gut than in the brain, where it serves to balance inflammation and acts as an antioxidant.

It is such a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, in fact, that it was found to not only protect the lungs of mice in a SARS model from ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome), but also help the immune response during lung infection and heal lung damage in this animal model of infection. 2

Melatonin production varies according to the season and availability of light. Depending on where you live, that means producing this hormone for a longer period in the winter than in the summer.3 However, as you get older, melatonin production gradually declines. This can reduce the quality of your sleep, but decreased melatonin production with age is also associated with a decline in cognitive abilities like thinking and social functioning.

Reduced amounts of melatonin have been attributed to a number of disorders, including sleep disorders and jet lag.

Recent studies have even found diminished production of melatonin at the very early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, providing new insight about new ways to manage this cruel disease.4 We’re even seeing how melatonin can be beneficial for cancer patients. In clinical trials, melatonin has shown some promise to increase the efficacy of cancer chemotherapy and improve survival. Several studies have also shown that melatonin reduces the adverse toxicities of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Melatonin, Sleep, and Circadian Rhythms.

If you’ve read our previous blog post on how to step up the immune system, then you know that the quality and quantity of your sleep affects your immune system. The less sleep you get, the more prone to infection you become.

Having sufficient amounts of melatonin can support a healthy circadian rhythm. Your circadian cycle responds to light and darkness to alternate alertness with sleepiness. By circadian rhythm, I am referring to your biological clock — your body’s internal timer. This master clock controls the production of melatonin. When there is less light, the pineal gland in the brain is signaled to make more melatonin. As a result, you get drowsy.5

Sleep Disturbances & Melatonin

Sleep disorders can come in many different forms, but underlying all of them is a diminished quality of life and wellbeing. Insomnia in any form, whether it’s difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or both, disturbs your body’s delicate internal rhythms. Anyone who has had a run of sleepless nights also knows that it leads to increased anxiety. Eventually, you may feel wired while feeling exhausted at the same time. This tired but wired feeling is what we discussed in a previous blog: “Get Your Cortisol In Check.” It will also throw off your gut rhythm, leading to either constipation or diarrhea, and disrupt the natural circadian rhythm of your gut microbiome, leading to metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and weight gain.

Melatonin levels start to rise two hours before bedtime. That’s important to know, because most of you probably run your day like a marathon until the moment you decide to shut the lights and go to sleep. But, once you shut off the lights, you can’t get to sleep and you wonder why. Well, you can’t just push your body out of a race and expect it to wind down in just 5 minutes and fall asleep.

The Night Shift: Good or Bad?

Working the night shift is another major problem. The later you stay up, the more you crave something sweet or starchy. Your body is tired, and it wants quick energy to keep it going. By the next morning, the digestive system is out of sync, and eating can actually make you feel sick to your stomach.


Night shift work messes up your digestive system’s harmony and triggers sugar / carb cravings.

If you are a shift worker, unfortunately, some of this is out of your control. For most of us, though, the choice to have regular sleep times is ours to make. I cannot stress enough the importance of regular sleep patterns. Consistency is key, as the body and your gut microbiome like predictability.

Jet Lagged woman sleeping on a plane

Jet Lag

If you’ve ever experienced jet lag, you know the feeling of having your circadian rhythm disrupted. If you fly from, say, Los Angeles to New York City, you will lose three hours because your body is running on west coast time. If you take a red eye and land at 7 a.m., your biological clock thinks it’s 4:00 a.m. This throws off the delicate internal rhythm of your enteric (gut) nervous system, which leads to problems such as constipation and poor digestion. All these issues are compounded by the dehydrating in-flight atmosphere.

Most of us are not traveling across time zones, but still struggle with healthy melatonin production. We are delicate biological systems, onto which all sorts of unnatural technologies have been introduced, which result in a disturbance in our innate ability to regulate our bodies in connection with the earth, sun and moon.

Melatonin and the Immune System

Melatonin is more than just a sleep hormone; it also has significant anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. That makes melatonin a powerful ally for the immune system, where this hormone provides numerous benefits. Various species of animals and birds have melatonin receptors in a wide variety of organs and immune cells, and melatonin increases certain white blood cells, including the natural killer cells that are specialized to target and kill cells infected with viruses to prevent their spread to other neighboring cells.6

During the winter, when we are usually exposed to less sunlight, we produce more melatonin. Studies have shown that increased melatonin production in the winter helps manage proinflammatory cytokines, which is beneficial to control the pathogens that can make you sick and support the immune system. Overproduction of melatonin –– along with less sunlight –– in the winter might account for the increased levels of fatigue, but also mood disorders such as depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). 7 8

As with all hormones, balance is key with melatonin. Declining levels of this hormone can also occur for many reasons, including age. Reduced levels can adversely impact the function of different immune cells. Age-related drops in melatonin production can also reduce important antioxidant protection in older individuals, contributing to or increasing the severity of some age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease.9

Melatonin Is An “Immunological Buffer”

Researchers have labeled melatonin an “immunological buffer.” This hormone helps direct the chemical messengers that almost all immune cells produce, helping the immune system work more efficiently.

Melatonin also helps manage free radicals. Typically, the body has powerful antioxidant defense systems to fight these free radicals. When they accumulate beyond the body’s capacity to manage them, a condition called oxidative stress occurs. This can overwhelm the body’s antioxidant defenses and create disease.

Melatonin works with both acute and chronic immune responses. In conditions that require an early immune response against external stressors, such as viruses and parasites, melatonin can help stimulate the immune system. In others that create a long-term immune response like chronic infections, melatonin performs as an anti-inflammatory molecule.10 Like oxidative stress, chronic inflammation is a driver for nearly every disease.

Studies are showing that melatonin can help manage viral infections, such as Covid-19. Excessive inflammation, oxidative stress, and an exaggerated immune response all play a role in the development of the damaging consequences that many of us fear in relation to Covid-19 infection. The anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immune-regulating protection of melatonin can help limit virus-related damage, such as that caused by Covid-19. Not surprisingly, a recent study showed that melatonin can help reduce anxiety, improve sleep quality, and lead to better clinical outcomes for COVID-19 patients.11

Melatonin & Gut Health

When you think about hormones such as melatonin, you probably see them as being manufactured in the brain. If you’ve read Happy Gut, you understand the enteric [gut’s] nervous system is in charge of producing many neurotransmitters. While the pineal gland is most famous for secreting melatonin, the gut contains at least 400 times more melatonin than the pineal gland. The concentration of melatonin in the gut, in fact, surpasses blood levels by 10 – 100 times.12 Outside the pineal gland, the intestine is the major site for melatonin production.


Illustration of Normal vs. Leaky Gut

Click image to enlarge.

Melatonin exerts its effects through specific membrane receptors, named melatonin-1 (MT1), MT2 and MT3 receptors. These receptors are located at different sites throughout the body. The MT3 receptor, for instance, is located in liver, kidney, heart, lung, intestine, muscle and brown fat tissue.. Studies have shown these receptors are involved in regulating motility, inflammation, and pain within the gut.14

As an antioxidant, melatonin provides a wide range of gut support, including regulating the inner lining of the intestinal tract, called the intestinal mucosa. Melatonin protects the gastric mucosa from damage that pain relievers called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can cause. Melatonin also helps regulate the little energy factories found within nearly every cell, called mitochondria.15

In addition, this wide-ranging hormone helps manage immune functions throughout the gut. In animal studies, it has been shown to protect against intestinal inflammation.16 Animal studies have also shown that small doses of melatonin increase intestinal motility.17

Sleep and the gut are intimately interrelated. An unhealthy gut can impede circadian rhythms, altering the body’s sleep-wake cycle and impacting sleep-regulating hormones, such as melatonin. Conversely, the quality of sleep can impact the diversity and quality of the gut microbiome.18Interrupted circadian rhythms in the colon impact the gut in several ways. They have been linked to digestive problems, including gas, and constipation. I’ve written more about the sleep-gut connection in this blog.

Low melatonin production can also lead to leaky gut.

Studies have shown that decreased levels of melatonin heighten the risk of increased intestinal permeability and endotoxemia.19 As a result, things not intended to slip through the gut wall augmenting the immune response and inflammation throughout the body.

Reduced levels of melatonin have been connected to irritable bowel syndrome or IBS. Studies involving patients with IBS found that melatonin relieves symptoms such as abdominal pain and abdominal distension. Melatonin could be a future therapeutic option, in fact, for IBS management. In one placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial in 40 patients with IBS, taking 3 mg of melatonin orally at bedtime for two weeks significantly alleviated abdominal pain.20

5 Ways to Support the Production of Melatonin

Melatonin is best known as the sleep hormone, but as you’ve seen, its anti-inflammatory, immune-supporting, and antioxidant benefits make this a key hormone for gut and immune health. While a supplement before bed can help support melatonin levels, the best way to maintain optimal levels of this hormone is by supporting the body’s natural production. These five strategies support healthy melatonin production at any age.

  1. Limit blue light at night.Until artificial lighting was invented, the sun was our major source of light. We spent the evenings in almost total darkness. Obviously, that’s not the case today as screen time –– TV, laptops, tablets, and phones –– trickles into the late evening hours for almost everyone. Blue light benefits us during the day, because it can improve your attention, mood, and how quickly you react to something. At night, however, blue light throws your circadian rhythm out of balance. As a result, sleep quality suffers, because blue light suppresses melatonin. Studies have shown that compared with green light, blue light suppresses melatonin for about twice as long and shifts circadian rhythms by twice as much.21 To reduce the impact of blue light, consider using blue-blocking glasses near bedtime, use dim red light in the evening, and limit or eliminate electronics at least two hours before bed.
  2. Get some morning sunshine. Many of us spend our mornings inside, rushing from home to the office (even if lately, the office has been our home). As a result, we miss out on the morning sunlight that can optimize our levels of melatonin. Exposure to sunlight boosts the production of your feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin, which the body uses to make melatonin. Studies have shown that exposure to bright morning light reduces the likelihood of insomnia, premenstrual syndrome, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).22 You don’t need much. Even 10 – 15 minutes of natural sunlight in the morning can improve melatonin production and boost your mood throughout the day.
  3. Make more melatonin by healing your gut. An unhealthy gut results in lower production of melatonin, which will impede sleep levels, immune health, and overall well-being. Lower levels of melatonin, in turn, can damage the gut. When patients have trouble sleeping, I almost always start with the gut. Following the Happy Gut® Diet and using the Gut C.A.R.E. Program supplements will go a long way toward healing the gut. For a total gut reboot, check out the Happy Gut Reboot: 28-Day Cleanse.
  4. Eat foods high in melatonin. One way of indirectly increasing melatonin is by eating foods high in the amino acid tryptophan, which is a precursor for melatonin production. Studies have shown that eating melatonin-containing foods significantly increases levels of this hormone. Among animal foods, eggs and fish contain the amino acid tryptophan, which is a precursor for melatonin production. Among plant foods, nuts are highest in melatonin. Some kinds of mushrooms, germinated legumes, and seeds are also good sources of melatonin.23
  5. Try fasting. Animal studies have shown that food restriction increases melatonin concentrations in the gut and in the brain, suggesting that fasting is yet another way to help increase melatonin production and get all of the other benefits of a healthy gut.24

When it comes to detoxification, good sleep is critical. We know that brain detoxification happens while you sleep.25 Melatonin plays a critical role in that process: Its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits protect against damage to the brain, including damage to the little energy factories called mitochondria.

Animal studies have shown that melatonin directly scavenges free radicals and stimulates an enzyme called glutathione peroxidase, which produces the body’s superhero detox molecule, glutathione, to fight free radical damage in the brain and other organs.26

While you might have considered melatonin as a sleep hormone, you can see now how this critical hormone also works as a powerful antioxidant, immune regulator, an anti-inflammatory, and so much more. Healthy levels of melatonin promote good sleep, but they also boost your immune system, keep the gut healthy, and support your overall well-being.

When your gut health suffers, so does the production of key hormones such as melatonin. As a result, your mood, immune health, weight, and happiness all take a hit. Keeping the gut healthy is especially critical during this stressful, uncertain time. The good news is that with these happy gut strategies, you can support a healthy gut and produce the optimal amount of hormones, including melatonin. As a result, you get great sleep, maintain a strong immune system, and cultivate an overall sense of happiness and wellbeing.




























Build Your Oxytocin Reserve to RESET

This little known and misunderstood hormone could be the missing link in balancing runaway cortisol levels. I’m really excited to dive into telling you about this secret hormone superpower, but first, let’s review… 


In my last blog, I talked about how elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol could take a hit on your gut and immune health. While I focused on those two areas, elevated cortisol levels can also sabotage weight loss, your mood, increase your risk for diabetes, and erode your overall well-being.


In the short-term, when you experience an acute stress, cortisol works in your favor. The problem happens when this hormone stays “on” when it really should be off. That’s when the repercussions can have serious effects on the gut, immune system, and your peace of mind


I left you with 10 ways to manage cortisol levels in that last blog. Today, I’m going to show you the most important way you can put a checkmate on that hormone.


Boosting your oxytocin levels is your secret weapon to dial down cortisol and help you maintain a sense of calm, even during these crazy times. 


 The last few months have been rough for us all. If you’re like most everyone I know, you need a healthy dose of “feel-good” emotions to give you a respite from the constant stress. That’s where oxytocin comes in. Many of you are walking around with diminished oxytocin release, without even knowing it


However, what you do know is you feel like life has lost its joy for you. The days drag, and you feel like it’s a struggle to make it to the finish line. You think there’s something terribly wrong with you, but all you need is a healthy dose of the “love” hormone. I call oxytocin the “cuddling and connect hormone,” and it’s very important for your sense of life satisfaction. 


The good news is that even if you’re feeling anxious or stressed out right now, you can build more oxytocin. And it’s the one time I’ll tell you that you can be “naughty” doing so. These strategies are actually fun to implement (including a three-letter word…. Hint, hint), and you will feel its effects immediately. 


Let’s start first by diving into what and how…


Oxytocin is essential for your gut, immune and overall health.


What is Oxytocin?

Researchers have traced the development of oxytocin back at least 400 million years. The hormone played a role in helping our ancestors survive. Oxytocin fosters healthy brain development at birth. Over time, a healthy brain contributes to things that humans need for survival: Social sensitivity, complex thinking, and language. As a child develops, oxytocin provides nutrition in the form of human milk. That bond between mother and child, supported by oxytocin, supports emotional and intellectual development as well as selective attachment. This allows a child to develop skills that he or she will use throughout life, including social behavior and emotional health. As the child grows up, oxytocin supports growth during development, resilience, and healing. All of these things help the child thrive and be resilient throughout life.1 


Oxytocin can help you better manage strong emotions such as stress and anxiety, while promoting a feeling of calm and peace. 


Your body produces oxytocin naturally. This tiny molecule of a hormone, produced in your hypothalamus, then stored and secreted by the pituitary gland, acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. When you release oxytocin, you protect your body from being bombarded with stress hormones, like cortisol. Think of oxytocin as the hormonal equivalent of a feel-good movie, a meaningful hug from a friend, a warm towel after a shower, or cuddling up in a blanket on a cold winter day. This is your ahhh hormone that keeps you calm and collected.


“If you ever experience burnout, emotional disconnection, or withdrawal from things and people you love, it is probably due to cortisol knocking oxytocin down”, says Dr. Anna Cabeca in The Hormone Fix. Thankfully, oxytocin helps counterbalance cortisol’s negative effects.”


You’ve probably experienced the calming, peaceful effects of oxytocin, even if you didn’t recognize that this hormone was at work at the time. Maybe you felt moved by music or recognized a pleasant smell? Go back to that moment. Do you remember the feeling inside? Immediately, you felt relaxed. Your levels of anxiety or stress went down. You felt safe in that environment, and maybe even a deep sense of camaraderie with the people you were with. That’s the benefit of oxytocin, and you can tap into it right now!


Mother nature is wise — the body releases oxytocin whenever you need to feel connected with someone else. 


And who’s the most important person that should connect with you when we’re born? 


Your mom!


From the moment you were born, you felt the effects of this hormone: Moms release oxytocin during childbirth and breastfeeding. Oxytocin fosters a bond between mother and child, earning it the title “the hormone of labor.”


Over the past 100 years, though, scientists have found that oxytocin plays a role in many other functions including sexual activity, social bonding, and managing stress. “The hormone of labor during the course of the last 100 years has had multiple orgasms to be the hormone of love,” write Navneet Magon and Sanjay Kalra. “Many more shall be seen in the times to come!”2



Oxytocin and Mood Disorders

If you’re feeling stressed out or anxious –– and who isn’t these days? –– oxytocin can rescue you and help you manage these uncomfortable feelings. And this is based on science. Research shows that oxytocin can lower stress and anxiety


When the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) responds to stress by releasing cortisol, as I talked about in my last blog, oxytocin can help keep that response from getting out of hand.3 One example of the measurable physiological effects of oxytocin is lowering blood pressure.4 When something triggers anxiety or stress, oxytocin is released in specific brain regions that help manage the response to dial down those mood imbalances. Researchers are better understanding how oxytocin and oxytocin-receptor genes can help improve stress- and anxiety-related conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder. 


One animal study looked at how physical activity impacted oxytocin and its effects on anxiety and empathy levels. (I’ll talk more about empathy in a minute.) Male and female mice ran in wheel cages for six weeks. Researchers measured their empathy and anxiety levels, followed by brain and blood oxytocin levels. Exercise improved empathy-like behavior and lowered anxiety in all the mice.5 Boosting oxytocin levels helps lower anxiety and stress while helping you better empathize with those around you. Talk about a win-win during these turbulent times!


Are you with me so far?



Oxytocin: The Love Hormone

Oxytocin plays a big role in social behavior. When you feel inclined to help, share, donate, or volunteer, that’s oxytocin at work. As humans, we really couldn’t have survived without this hormone.6 


Hugging, kissing, cuddling, and sex increase the production of oxytocin, strengthening the bonds between adults. 


Have you felt that feeling of “being in love”? That’s the feeling of oxytocin. Studies have shown that people who fall in love have higher levels of oxytocin compared with single folks. Even better, they continued to have that amazing feeling six months later!7  


But don’t despair if you’re not in a relationship or in love. There are plenty of other ways to elevate your oxytocin production. Even during these social distancing times, you can give a loved one a hug or gently touch their arm. These gestures of human touch can immediately raise oxytocin levels in you as well as the recipient of your touch.


Sex also stimulates the release of this hormone.  Along with other hormones like dopamine and prolactin, the body releases oxytocin when you orgasm. This is the same kind of rush you get when you listen to your favorite music or (I’m not encouraging this!) do drugs.8  And guys, it also helps with erections — thus why they are 90% mental and 10% physical. 


For the record, increasing your levels of oxytocin won’t instantaneously make you trust or fall in love with someone. You can’t magically fix a bad relationship, suddenly empathize with someone you don’t know, or feel more trusting just by increasing oxytocin levels. You have to actually know someone and feel something about them to get the feel-good benefits of this hormone. But for people who you already know and care about — your significant other, your friends and colleagues, your family — 


Oxytocin can improve feelings of love, contentment, security, and trust.


Boosting-Benefits of Oxytocin

There are a lot of other benefits of maintaining healthy amounts of oxytocin secretion that are worth discussing. Here are my top 4:

[1] Weight loss. Studies show that sufficient amounts of this hormone can help you manage your appetite so you lose weight.9 When you feel content and calm, you’re less likely to overeat or grab something sugary to calm you down. Elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol can also lead to weight gain. Sufficient amounts of oxytocin can balance out the effects of cortisol, nudging the scales in your favor.

[2] Better sleep. Studies have shown that oxytocin can help you sleep better.10 This makes sense, considering how this hormone balances out cortisol and helps you feel more calm. Remember that you’re also releasing oxytocin when you orgasm or have sex. If you’ve ever drifted off to deep, restorative sleep almost immediately after sex, you can thank oxytocin!

[3] Gut health. Oxytocin can increase the release of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) in cells that line the intestine. This helps to protect the intestine and repair intestinal injury in conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).11

[4] A stronger immune system. Among its immune-supporting benefits, oxytocin can:

  • Inhibit inflammation that, left unchecked, can weaken the immune system
  • Exert an antimicrobial-like effect to fight pathogens that create infection
  • Promote wound healing and regeneration
  • Suppress stress-associated immune disorders12 


So I hope now you get why oxytocin is so important and can benefit you. Increasing levels of this hormone can instantly boost your mood. You feel more connected with other people and more intimate with your partner. Your immune system becomes stronger, you sleep better, and you can even hit your goal weight with more oxytocin. In short, you want plenty of this hormone sticking around!



Gratitude is an Oxytocin-Boosting Attitude 

One of the most effective ways to increase oxytocin is by cultivating gratitude. In one study, researchers examined how gratitude impacted oxytocin levels in 69 heterosexual couples. 


Researchers asked each participant to choose something specific that the partner did for him or her that fostered gratitude. The recipient took up to five minutes to thank their partner for that action. They then noted their reactions to the interaction in private online questionnaires. The interaction and self-report were repeated with the second partner. 


In other words, each participant in the study participated in two interactions: One in which he or she expressed gratitude, and one in which he or she received an expression of gratitude. Participants in this study said that they felt more loving when they cultivated gratitude. The positive emotion that gratitude creates can strengthen a relationship in the short term and over time.13


The good news is that you don’t need to be in a romantic relationship to foster gratitude, and you can practice this with anyone. 


Writing thank you cards, calling someone who means a lot to you, and keeping a journal are great ways to cultivate gratitude. You might even consider a gratitude buddy, where you each text or email each other three things you feel grateful for every morning and evening. Once you start feeling the effects of gratitude, it becomes contagious!


11 Effective Ways to Boost Oxytocin

Like other brain chemicals, oxytocin is very sensitive to moment-by-moment changes. In other words, you can increase the levels of oxytocin by making a few simple choices during any moment of your day. The more your body releases oxytocin, the easier it becomes to release this hormone consistently. Here are 11 ways to do that.


[1] Really listen. The greatest gift you can give someone is to be fully present and really listen to what the other person is saying. “When listening to another person, don’t just listen with your mind, listen with your whole body,” says Eckhart Tolle in The Power of Now. You make the other person feel cared for, which boosts oxytocin levels in you both. Watch their face and listen to what he or she is telling you. Listen with your eyes and your complete body. 

[2] Have fun. We could all incorporate more fun into our lives. Having fun includes doing more things that you love and bring joy into your life. Rent a feel-good movie, go see a comedy show, play charades or have a park stroll with your best friend. Laughter and maintaining a playful attitude can help lower cortisol levels and improve oxytocin.

[3] Give a gift. When you give something –– a donation to your favorite charity, a handwritten card –– without expecting anything in return, you do get something back: A big oxytocin boost. Try it for yourself, with no strings attached, and see what happens. 

[4] Serve a meal. Creating a healthy, delicious meal and sharing it with others can increase oxytocin levels. These weekend breakfast tacos make an easy, delicious brunch item you can share with your friends and that everyone is sure to enjoy.  

[5] Do yoga. One study looked at 15 people with schizophrenia, which often involves social difficulties, and how yoga might increase oxytocin levels. After one month, yoga had improved how participants recognize emotions and how they function socially. They also had increased levels of oxytocin.14 Even a few minutes of asanas (yoga poses) can help here. You can find great yoga poses for an easy at-home routine in Happy Gut.

[6] Meditate. Mindfulness meditation is a great way to boost oxytocin. Meditation might sound like a daunting or loaded term, but you really only need a few minutes to get its many benefits. Even being fully present when you do simple tasks like washing the dishes can bring you joy and increase oxytocin levels. You’ll find a simple meditation technique here.

[7] Get a massage. Human touch is therapeutic, and one of the best ways to experience that is with a massage. One study found that just 15 minutes of moderate-pressure massage on the upper back could raise oxytocin levels.15

[8] Hug someone. Human touch raises oxytocin. When you hug someone, you release oxytocin. If they aren’t a hugger, telling your friends, colleagues, and significant other that you love them can also boost oxytocin levels.

[9] Playing with your dog. If you own a dog, petting him or her can also release oxytocin. If you don’t own one, visit a friend who does or offer to dog sit. Cats can increase oxytocin too, but petting them too much may overstimulate them, causing them to bite or scratch and increasing your cortisol levels!

[10] Do something a little scary. You might not have expected this one! Moderately stressful activities such as riding a roller coaster or jumping out of an airplane can increase oxytocin levels. If you’re a single rider, you might make a bond with the person next to you on a rollercoaster.16

[11] Fix your gut. If you want more oxytocin, start by focusing on the gut. Studies have shown that gut bacteria –– more specifically, the probiotic bacterium Lactobacillus reuteri –– can increase oxytocin levels and support immune responses. The right balance of healthy gut flora can benefit a wide variety of conditions, including mental health and metabolism.17 


We’re still learning about how oxytocin can help improve conditions such as anxiety, aggression, stress, and the fear response. Researchers are exploring how using intranasal oxytocin, for instance, might be a potential treatment for anxiety and depressive disorders.18 While you can use synthetic oxytocin, the body makes this hormone naturally. Why not make more on your own with these strategies? 


One of the best ways to restore gut balance and optimize levels of oxytocin is to take a probiotic supplement


When you have the right gut flora — an abundance and diversity of good gut bacteria — you support immune health, balanced hormones, optimal energy levels, and an overall sense of well-being. 


I’ve combined a high-quality probiotic supplement with other gut support in my brand new HAPPY GUT® RESET: 7 Day Detox. This program creates a clean start to balance hormones, lose weight, and feel better now that the summer season is here. 


Detoxification is an overused term, but what I am referring to here is giving the liver all the nutrients it needs to process and eliminate harmful toxins from the body. With detoxification, think of the liver as a factory with two shifts. 


PHASE I (the first shift) receives raw materials, processes them, and sends them on to (phase 2). However, some of the products that pass through the first shift are more harmful than the raw materials they started out as. 

PHASE II (the second shift) needs to be functioning optimally in order to quickly get rid of these new, more damaging substances. If the liver’s detoxification pathways become overwhelmed, this can lead to an unwanted build-up of toxins in the body. 


I’ve addressed both phases of detoxification with The HAPPY GUT® RESET: 7 Day Detox, which also includes sufficient amounts of protein and probiotics to aid the detoxification process. With this kit, you’ll get: 

  • 2 meal replacements a day using the HAPPY GUT® CLEANSE SHAKE
  • HAPPY GUT® REVIVE, a 50-billion CFU probiotic supplement to support gut and immune health while helping the body better absorb nutrients to detoxify
  • HAPPY GUT® DETOX1, a synergistic formula that combines an extensive array of nutrients that combat damaging free radicals, support the immune system, and help detoxify heavy metals and other harmful compounds.
  • HAPPY GUT® DETOX2, a unique blend of nutrients specifically designed to support phase 2 detoxification, the process whereby your body prepares toxic compounds for elimination. 


Among its roles, the liver helps eliminate excess amounts of hormones, including cortisol, while helping balance feel-good hormones such as oxytocin. The nutrients in this program go beyond detoxification. Sufficient amounts of protein also keep blood sugar levels balanced, so you stay full, focused, with a steady mood and energy throughout the day. The Happy Gut® Cleanse Shake provides an inexpensive, convenient way to get high-quality protein combined with gut and liver-supportive nutrients to help you properly detoxify. 


When your gut is happy, so is your mind and body. 


The HAPPY GUT® RESET: 7 Day Detox provides the essential nutrients that  the body needs to have more energy and focus, lose weight more effortlessly, sleep better, and maintain a steady mood throughout the day.























Get Your Cortisol In Check To RESET

We all know that stress is a big trigger of gut unhappiness. With everything that is happening in the world right now, every virtual patient I am seeing is experiencing higher-than-normal levels of stress that can manifest in many different ways: irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut, weakened immunity, anxiety, and other symptoms of a sick gut


Underlying much of this stress is cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone. When you hear “stress hormones,” you might automatically think cortisol is bad. Like any hormone, though, maintaining balance is the key. Too little or (more likely) too much cortisol can disrupt your sleep, your mood, and your overall well-being


Your gut and immune system take a hit, as increased cortisol levels become a silent killer, paving the way for nearly every disease. 


What is Cortisol?

The adrenal glands make cortisol, and the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain are the control centers for this hormone, monitoring and adjusting its concentration in the blood according to how much cortisol your body needs.


This system –– the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis) –– produces a series of chemical messengers, including cortisol that form a feedback loop and help the body maintain balance under normal circumstances. Together, the HPA axis regulates digestion, immune function, sex drive, metabolism, and how the body responds to stress. A well-functioning HPA axis is what makes life great, dynamic, with boundless energy and motivation to get things done.


In fact, cortisol speaks to almost every cell in your body, because most of them have cortisol receptors.


Cortisol levels are generally higher in the morning and gradually taper throughout the day.  A healthy cortisol curve looks like this.



Healthy Cortisol Levels:

  • Manage blood sugar levels
  • Regulate sleep-wake cycles
  • Support how the body utilizes carbs, protein, and dietary fat
  • Regulate energy levels
  • Normalize blood pressure
  • Help the body perform specific functions, including metabolism and reproduction
  • Enhance the immune system by keeping inflammation in check


We’re even seeing how cortisol might perform as a communication highway between the gut and brain. In one study, researchers looked at the bacteria of 24 piglets. (The gut and brain development of these baby animals resembles the gut and brain of human infants). They discovered that one particular bacteria uses cortisol to communicate with, and make changes to, the brain. While the study focused on people diagnosed with autism, it reveals how the gut communicates with the brain and how neurotransmitters and even hormones, such as cortisol, can help that process.¹

So in the right amounts, cortisol is perfectly healthy and plays many critical roles in the body. 


When cortisol levels becomes imbalanced, it can be “the robber that comes to steal your peace” — disrupting your mood, sex drive, sleep, and energy levels. 


Because this hormone plays so many roles in the body, high levels of cortisol can wreak havoc on nearly every system, including the gut and immune system. If you want a happy gut, you need to have happy, balanced cortisol levels.


Elevated levels of cortisol –– when this hormone stays high long after it should taper down –– can make you gain weight, especially unwanted fat in the middle, and make losing weight incredibly difficult. Studies over the past 15 years have shown that even moderately high cortisol levels can also impair brain function, weaken your immune system,make you more susceptible to infections, and increase the risk of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes. 


I’ve seen this in my patients — high cortisol levels due to stress, leading to lapses in short-term memory and word-finding difficulties to the point the person thinks they’re now losing their mind on top of the stressor.


Overall, cortisol is what I like to call the “elephant in the room”, because it is the silent menace that can ravage your health. You can ignore it, but it will still be there. For a while, it may stay silent. In fact, the symptoms of…


High cortisol may remain “silent” for months or even years before you start noticing them.


But, it’s not really silent — the problem is the person often has grown so accustomed to living with high cortisol levels that they fail to identify its damaging presence in their state of health until someone calls out that “elephant in the room”.


And in that point of acknowledgement when I look into their eyes and say — “You’re holding a lot of stress” — often a sigh of relief follows, sometimes even with tears.



Understanding the Stress Response

To understand why cortisol balance is so important, and why imbalances can become a problem, we need to look a little bit at how the stress response works. A healthy body has an intricate, interconnected system called the HPA axis, which I mentioned earlier. In a healthy body, this system releases cortisol when it is needed and stops releasing it when the body no longer needs this hormone.


Underlying this process is the autonomic nervous system, within which you have two opposing systems:

  • SYMPATHETIC Nervous System – triggers a “fight or flight” response 
  • PARASYMPATHETIC Nervous System – helps the body calm down


Think of these two opposing systems as your “on” or “off” switch, or the gas pedal and brake in your car. When you feel stress, the sympathetic nervous system kicks in and the body moves into “fight or flight” mode, meaning you either confront or run away from whatever threat you are experiencing. Historically, this helped us survive in the wild, and it can protect us today from potential threats


When you feel stressed out and the sympathetic nervous system gets turned on, the adrenal glands release adrenaline. The results of this hormone are immediate, and physical changes occur very quickly in the body. Your heart rate increases. Your muscles tense. Whatever doesn’t impact your short-term survival –– things like digestion and sex drive –– get put on the backburner.  The primary focus of the body during this imminent threat is to either fight or run away from a problem. 


If the brain continues to perceive something as dangerous after that initial activation, the adrenal glands release another stress hormone, called cortisol. This helps the body continue to deal with whatever danger it has encountered. 


When that stress subsides and your body has restored its sense of harmony, the sympathetic nervous system turns off, and the parasympathetic nervous system goes on, so you stop releasing cortisol. Through a complex feedback loop, stress stimulates the production of cortisol when the body needs it and inhibits it when the body no longer needs it.²


Think of your parasympathetic nervous system as “One Big Sigh of Relief”


Unfortunately, that’s not often what happens when someone experiences near-constant, low-grade stress. Whether that stress is real or imagined, stress stays on overdrive and cortisol production stays “on” when it should be “off.” Over time, that takes its toll on the HPA axis, especially the adrenal glands, which continue to release stress hormones even when the body no longer needs them.


Let’s apply this to current events. Even during the 2020 pandemic, many of the stressors we have encountered are imagined, not real. To the body, it doesn’t matter. The same stress response occurs whether you are actually threatened by something or think that you are threatened with something. Over time, this “stress in overdrive” response creates problems throughout the body. Here, I’ll focus on cortisol’s impact on the gut and immune system, and how…


Gut balance creates hormone balance.



High Cortisol Can Lead to Leaky Gut 

Stress is a huge factor in how your gut behaves or misbehaves. If you’re constantly stressed out and your cortisol levels stay high, that will manifest with gut issues ranging from indigestion, low stomach acid, poor digestive enzyme production, to problems including small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and increased intestinal permeability.


At the root of stress response is the fight-or-flight response, a heightened state of alertness that is controlled by stress hormones such as cortisol. As a sudden reaction that gets you to safety, this response serves its purpose, but over the long term, it can result in gut problems. For many people this adaptive response is activated for way too long without enough of its counterbalancing “relaxation” response.


When the sympathetic nervous system stays on when it shouldn’t, all sorts of things can happen to the gut, from indigestion to gas and bloating after you eat a meal to conditions like leaky gut. If you cannot digest your food properly, you will suffer from nutrient deficiencies, abdominal distress, imbalances in gut bacteria, and protein malnutrition. As a result, your risk of developing leaky gut syndrome and food sensitivities is high, along with all the symptoms associated with these conditions. In other words…


Extended stress can lead to gut distress.


Once you have a leaky gut, toxins, foreign material, infectious organisms, and partially digested food particles “leak” into your bloodstream — your good gut flora suffers too.


The stress response “in overdrive” can also alter the natural balance of healthy bacteria in our guts, causing the gut ecology to shift in favor of a more hostile group of critters. 


The quality and diversity of your gut bacteria is a two-way street, which in turn can impact stress levels. 


One review looked at how various forms of stress –– things like psychological stress, sleep deprivation, pollutants, and diet –– impacted gut flora among military personnel. Among their potential for damage, researchers found that unhealthy gut microbiota can increase inflammation, increasing the risk of gut-related diseases, including irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease.³ 


We’re still understanding how stress can impact specific gut bacteria, and vice versa. One animal study, for instance, found that probiotics could improve the stress response and restore tight junction integrity.4



Getting the right nutrient support is critical to maintaining a healthy, happy gut…


but so is learning to better manage the stress levels — which if left unchecked, keep cortisol high and damage the gut leaving a wake of misery for the person living with a sad gut.



High Cortisol Levels Can Weaken The Immune System

The immune system has been top-of-mind for me, as well as many of you for the last few months. And you can’t talk about how to optimize your immune system without talking about hormone balance.


As a health-regulating gatekeeper, your gut plays a key role in optimizing your immune system, while keeping out potentially detrimental substances.5


Anything that impacts the gut will also impact your immune system, because up to 70% of your immune system is housed all along the digestive tract. 


When you’re stressed out and your cortisol levels stay high, you can get sick more often. Why? Cortisol isn’t the enemy of the immune system. In fact, in the right amounts, cortisol can support the immune system by lowering inflammation levels. 


However, too much of this stress hormone has the opposite effect: It creates more inflammation, which can weaken the immune system. High levels of inflammation then lead to an overworked immune system that can’t protect you against viruses and other infections.6 


As a result, chronic stress can increase the risk for infections.7 More specifically…


Stress lowers white blood cells called lymphocytes that are particularly adept at fighting viral infections. 


Without these hardworking white blood cells, you have a higher risk for viral infections.8 


I’m sure everyone who’s reading this has gotten sick at some point when they were under high stress! 


One review looked at over 300 empirical articles to evaluate stress’s impact on the immune system in humans. The overall conclusion was that short, acute stressors, which usually last a few minutes, such as feeling stressed about an exam, could strengthen the immune system. Chronic stress had the opposite effect, suppressing the immune system.9


So, how do we get this runaway train under control?



Calming Down Cortisol

10 Ways to Get Your Stress Levels in Check


This is such an important conversation to be having right now.


I’ve highlighted here how elevated cortisol levels can impact the gut and immune health. The “stress in overdrive” repercussions that accompany high cortisol can also increase anxiety, depression, headaches, sleep problems, and brain function. Stress impacts your health in so many ways. The body was intended to be in mostly a relaxed, calm state, not constantly stressed out. 


The best way to have healthy cortisol levels is to manage stress. By creating a relaxed state within yourself, your gut will benefit from reduced stress hormones, less muscle tension, and important vagal tone — important input from the “relaxation” portion of the autonomic nervous system — the parasympathetic nervous system — that allows you to digest and process food with ease.


When you find yourself getting wound up because of stress, you can easily access the parasympathetic nervous system to return your body to a natural state of balance. With some practical techniques, you can change your focus toward health and connection and instantly begin the process of healing and disease resolution


A harmonious mind-body-gut connection helps restore cortisol balance and promotes overall wellness. 


Getting cortisol in check is one key step in improving your digestive wellness, diminishing the effects of leaky gut syndrome, and fortifying your immune system. This is what most of us need right now.


10 Ways to Get Your Stress Levels in Check

[1] Meditate. One way to promote the relaxation response and manage cortisol levels is through a mindfulness practice, like meditation. Meditation is the most powerful tool for creating a sense of peace within, even when you are still surrounded by the day-to-day stressors of life. You cannot control what happens outside of you or what happens to you, but you can certainly control your internal state of mind. Ultimately, how you respond to stressful situations is really the only thing that you have control over. Worrying, getting angry, and arguing with others does not change the external events that have transpired. They may be necessary in the moment, but long-term they damage you by promoting the release of stress hormones like cortisol and putting you into that fight-or-flight response that sets your entire body, including your immune system and your gut, on high alert. Even a few minutes of meditation every day can help the body better manage cortisol levels. You’ll find a simple meditation technique here.


[2] Find active relaxation techniques. Relaxing mindfully is a great way to balance cortisol levels and establish calm, which will support a healthy gut and immune system. When I say active relaxation, I mean doing something constructive but calming that attenuates your health and wellbeing. For example, you can do a progressive muscle contraction-release sequence from head-to-toe, leaving your body feeling refreshed and relaxed. Another one of my favorite ways to unwind is forest bathing, a traditional practice where you visit a forest and breathe its air. Just getting out into nature is healing in and of itself. Numerous studies show that forest bathing can significantly reduce cortisol levels to reduce stress.10 But if you can get out to a park and feel the grass under your bare feet or walk on the sand by the seashore, these are other great ways to actively relax your body, mind and spirit.


[3] Remove sugary, processed foods. Yes, I know that grabbing a cookie or something sweet when you’re stressed out might bring a moment of relief. But the stressor will still be there after you indulge, and high blood sugar levels will keep your cortisol elevated. 


Remember this: what your body feels, the mind feels. Sugar creates an internal rollercoaster, potentially raising your heart rate and blood pressure, leading to a feeling of unrest in the mind.


Cortisol imbalances, in turn, can trigger sugar and carb cravings, making you more likely to choose foods that create gut imbalances and further upset your gut health with nasty bugs like candida. If you need something sweet that will also support the gut and immune system, try my almond-hemp chocolate truffles recipe in Happy Gut.


[4] Eat more gut-healing foods. The right foods support gut balance and mitigate some of the effects that high cortisol levels can create. Eating foods high in dietary fiber can protect the gut. In one study, researchers looked at how short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) might impact stress and anxiety in mice. When the gut digests dietary fiber, it makes these SCFAs. Colon cells then use these SCFAs for energy. When researchers introduced SCFAs to the guts of mice, they had a significant decrease in stress-related behavior. They found that SCFAs could reduce the risk of stress-induced leaky gut.11 Fermented and cultured foods can also support the gut. I talk more about these foods in Happy Gut


[5] Get 8 hours of sleep every night. Poor sleep –– not getting enough sleep or getting poor-quality sleep –– affects your hypothalamus, the master control center in your brain that regulates all hormone secretion, including cortisol.12 Studies have shown that with poor sleep, your cortisol levels remain elevated the following evening.13 This can create a vicious cycle where you continue to sleep poorly at night and stay stressed out during the day. If you work late-night shifts, these high cortisol levels will trigger early-morning sugar cravings.


[6] Practice breathing with movement. Some patients have told me that accessing the breath when they are stressed out is hard to do. One solution is to combine breathing with movement to lower stress hormones, which helps to relax your gut. One study among 29 nurses (28 of them female) with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) found that mindfulness-based stretching and deep breathing exercise could support healthy cortisol levels.14 I talk about a few breathing techniques in this blog. My favorite way to move with the breath is through yoga.


[7] Try yoga. Studies have shown that for people with depression, a regular yoga practice is more effective than medications alone to manage depressive symptoms but also lower cortisol levels.15 You don’t need an hour-long Vinyasa Flow, either. Even five minutes of sun salutations and down dogs can help. During quarantine, I made a 20-minute yoga routine part of my morning waking ritural. When you do inversion poses in yoga, the flow of blood to the brain calms the nervous system and can relieve feelings of stress that are often the source of gut-related maladies. You’ll find simple, gut-healing poses in my book, Happy Gut.


[8] Incorporate adaptogenic herbs.  When you’re eating well, supporting gut health, and implementing the right lifestyle factors to manage cortisol, I’ve found a few well-studied herbs can provide that added nudge to help better manage the levels of this stress hormone. Two of my favorite adaptogens –– so called because they help the body better adapt to stressful conditions –– are Rhodiola rosea and ashwagandha. One study gave 80 participants either a 200-mg dose of Rhodiola rosea twice daily or no treatment for 14 days. Supplement users found that Rhodiola rosea lowered stress while significantly improving mood.16  


I’m also a big fan of ashwagandha, an herb that can help the body better adapt to stress. One study gave 64 participants with chronic stress either a 300-mg ashwagandha extract or placebo twice a day for 60 days. Researchers measured serum cortisol levels before and after the study.  At the end, serum cortisol levels were substantially reduced in the ashwagandha group compared with the placebo group.17  



[9] Boost your bonding hormone. The body has a powerful hormone called oxytocin that can help balance the impact of cortisol. Basically, oxytocin puts the brakes on stress and anxiety to create a calm, collective feeling. It is the hormone that bonds mother to child. Stay tuned: In my next blog, we’ll be featuring this cortisol-balancing hormone and I’ll show you many ways that you can harness the benefits of oxytocin! 




[10] Support liver detoxification. The liver is your body’s main organ of detoxification. One of the critical roles it plays is to help clear excess amounts of hormones, including cortisol. Without the work of your liver, hormones would stay in circulation for too long. Enzymes in the liver control the concentration of cortisol.18 When your liver becomes backed up with an accumulated toxic load, which happens often in our modern world, it fails to clear these excess hormones, leading to unhealthy levels of cortisol. You can learn more about how to avoid these toxins in this blog.



The best way to support the liver’s detoxifying abilities is by getting the correct nutrients. Protein is one of them. Without sufficient amino acids from protein, the liver cannot complete phase 2 detoxification, the phase where the liver tags metabolites with an anchor that pulls them out of the body. 


As a result, your liver gets backed up much like Lucy did in the famous chocolate factory episode of “I Love Lucy,” where she was stuffing chocolates in her bra, mouth and chef’s hat. Trust me, you don’t want to get backed up like Lucy.


Some of my readers and patients have asked about an “express” program that provides everything the body requires to optimally detoxify. This is especially important if you’ve been feeling additional stress the last few months, and maybe ate a few (or more) things that didn’t support the gut and immune system.


That’s why I re-imagined the Happy Gut® 14-Day Mini-Cleanse into the new, easy-to-complete Happy Gut® Reset: 7-Day Detox. This kit offers a clean start to balance hormones, lose weight, and feel better now that the summer season is here. And since a lot of people may not have the time or be ready to commit to the more extensive, deep dive of my Happy Gut® Reboot: 28-Day Cleanse, this is the perfect alternative you’ve been patiently waiting for.


With detoxification, think of the liver as a factory with two shifts:

[Phase 1] The “first shift” receives raw materials, processes them, and sends them on to the “second shift”

[Phase 2] The problem is some of the processed products from the first shift are more harmful than the raw materials they started out as. 


So the second shift, or Phase 2, needs to be functioning optimally in order to quickly get rid of these new, more damaging substances. If the liver’s detoxification pathways become overwhelmed, this can lead to an unwanted build-up of toxins in the body (think Lucy in the chocolate factory). 


The great news is there is a solution that supports both Phase 1 and Phase 2 liver detoxification.


Along with Phase 2-supporting amino acids, I’ve combined all the nutrients the liver needs to detoxify in the…




  • CLEANSE SHAKE. A gentle “gut cleanser” that serves as 2 meal replacements per day
  • REVIVE. A 50-billion CFU probiotic supplement to support gut and immune health while helping the body better absorb nutrients to detoxify.
  • DETOX1. A synergistic formula that combines an extensive array of nutrients that combat damaging free radicals, support the immune system, and help detoxify heavy metals and other harmful compounds in Phase 1 detoxification.
  • DETOX2. A unique blend of nutrients specifically designed to support Phase 2 detoxification, the key second step that packages toxic compounds for elimination from the body. 


With this program, you can rest assured you are providing your body all the nutrients it needs to detoxify healthily. And we even take the guess-work out of meal planning. 


I’ve shared this program with a couple of my patients and I’ve already received rave reviews. One 37-year-old female told me that she lost five pounds doing this detox. 


Another really loved the smoothie recipes we created, along with the shopping list to ensure all ingredients are used with minimal waste. And one of my male patients, who didn’t believe supplements made a difference, couldn’t believe the results he saw, including a boost in energy that motivated him to start exercising again after months of not going to the gym.


Providing the right nutrients to support liver health helps balance hormones including cortisol, which will help you lose weight, have more energy, and sleep better. Feeling constantly stressed out isn’t normal, and you don’t have to accept living with that low-grade stress, even during these crazy times. Giving your body the right nutrient support with the Happy Gut® Reset: 7 Day Detox supports hormonal balance to keep the gut, immune system, and overall health strong and resilient

It’s time to Reflect, Reset and Renew, and you can easily begin today with my 10 tips.


















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