Are You Secretly Smoking? – By Dr. Alan Christianson:
Hi there. Dr. Alan Christianson here. Hey funny thing, are you secretly smoking? What does that mean? You know we put a lot of thought into things that make us healthier and things that improve our day to day well being but there maybe hidden factors effecting us that we may not be aware of. Some of them may even be more powerful then smoking. This is pretty wild and this hit me like a ton of bricks.
So I am working on this book which is about stress response and how the stress response throughout our bodies may be this big hidden factor causing us to gain weight. The whole world, we are talking by like 2030, we are predicting that the majority of the humans on the planet or over 50% will be obese and the stress factors, the cumulative number of stress factors may be behind this.
So here are the scenarios. So I am working on this book. It is a little later at night. I should be in bed by this time but I am getting this thing done. I am working with a schedule. I am taking care of my family. I am exercising. I am busy with practice and I am writing this book. I come across this study and this study totally gives me a reality check. This is called the Whitehall 2 study and between 2002 and 2004 a little over 4000 British civil servants were tracked. They were given a lot of questionnaires and they were evaluated on various aspects of their health and then it was done observationally. You know who lived and who died and of those who did not live, what were the markers that predicted that the best. They used a lot of the markers you would expect. Did they have high cholesterol? Did they have high blood sugar? How was their blood pressure. How heavy were they. Did they smoke or not? So a lot of the common things you would think about in a health study or questionnaire. The exciting thing about this study and why it got on my radar is that they also measured what they call the cortisol slope.
So cortisol it is this hormone that is the main regulator of all our bodies daily rhythms. It is high in the morning and low at night when we are healthy. If you drew that out like a line then you have a graph that has a high point on the left and then it goes down as you move to the right. You have a a declining slope kind of like a ski slope. That is what should happen but if we are under a chronic state of stress then our cortisol slope gets totally goofed up. So it may be a flat line or a backwards line like a slope you could not go up and that cortisol slope is one of those things that they measured. In this study they looked at total causes of mortality but then also cardiovascular causes of mortality, mostly heart of attacks. Most of the strong common predictors were big things. The second largest factor of total death was smoking status. We have seen that a lot. That is one of the biggest triumphs in public health is that smoking kills people. We have hard data on that, no surprise.
So here is the scenario. I am reading this study and I know I am pushing my schedule off by doing that. I am feeling pretty pious about the fact that I do not smoke. I eat my veggies. I exercise. I practice healthy habits to keep myself relaxed as best I can but I am burning the candle at both ends. I am thinking you know I am healthy and doing a lot of right things for myself so oh well. I will be fine and I will get through this. It is really not that big of a deal. I thought even though I am staying up here and there its really not that big of factor on my overall health. Yeah I might be a little groggy the following day but I will exercise and shake it off and it will be fine.
Okay so here is the reality check. The Whitehall 2 study showed that the smokers who had a healthy stress response. You know low levels of stress. Good daily rhythms. Healthy hygiene of their cortisol patterns. They had a lower risk of death then the non-smokers with a higher level of stress disruption. Totally blew me away. So what in the world are we to make of this? We put thought into our self care but probably the most important thing we can do is to put thought into our daily circadian rhythms and the hygiene behind that.
The irony behind that I think in a lot of ways being concerned about our health and being thoughtful about our diets might be counter productive. We might be putting ourselves in a higher state of stress. So rhythm is critical. Our bodies daily rhythms are amazingly powerful. So after reading this study. This Whitehall study. I put it down and I went to bed and I have done my best to keep sleep on track. I also thought about what is it that helps restore rhythms. What if we are off or our cycles are disturbed? Apart from just going to sleep on time what corrects that? So here are two of the most powerful things.
Sunlight. Get bright light within a half hour of waking and the amount you want is roughly thirty minutes. For bright lights, indoor lights do not cut it. The sun does cut it. Indoor lights they make some special ones that put out more than 10,000 Lumens. They do work. Being outside on a cloudy day does also works. Even if you are not directly under the sun. Even being in the shade outside works. You do not want to wear sunglasses and if you are active then bonus points but even being sedentary and having your coffee or tea reading your paper totally helps.
So number two. If that is the big thing for the daytime then what is it for nighttime? Well that is going to be your dinner and what your dinner is made up of. So cortisol needs to spike in the morning and bright light helps it come up. Well what shuts it if? So cortisol along with effecting our daily rhythms also controls our blood sugar. The thing is that if we are really trying to eat healthy we may be eating less food and there is a lot of advice encouraging us to have smaller evening meals. They say what, eat breakfast like a King and lunch like I think a Queen and dinner like a Popper. I have heard that one a few times. So people are encouraging small evening meals and we are also encouraged not to eat starch. That is popular in a lot of circles these days going very low on carbs. Well if you do both of those things your sleep quality will tank.
One big paper showed that within 48 hours of being very low on your carbs your sleep quality goes down by over 60 minutes and we are now learning that sleep is a huge factor to our overall health. Of course our stress response is but also the circadian rhythm is a big factor for that. So you want to have dinner. You want to have a solid dinner. A study that I saw that was really surprising looked at Israeli policemen and it showed that if you took two groups of people and they both got the same calories but the group that had most of their calories with their evening meal that was the group that lost more weight. They also slept better and were more energized. So what we are learning is that are bodies need more food later in the day and that they need healthy carbs later in the day. That is things like buckwheat, Quinoa, sweet potatoes and lentils, brown rice, pinto beans, navy beans and these are a few of my favorite things as far as carbs go. They are good foods and they help to put your body into a state of relaxation. Carbs cause us to generate serotonin which cause us to make more melatonin and we need that at night. So if you already at a place to where your diet is causing you to maintain weight you know you have got to adjust things and decrease some food during the day but healthy carbs at night are a good thing for your sleep so that is the second tip.
The big take home message is to be really aware of your totally stress load and honor that and make that a top priority for your self happiness and your long term wellness.
Dr. Alan Christianson here tuning out saying thanks so much more being with me and I will talk to you again really soon.