First, let’s look in more detail at the role cortisol plays. Note at the end there is a comment about some people being low in cortisol and therefore inappropriate for antidepressant use. We now know that if you take antidepressants for several weeks, they lower cortisol. But right after this announcement, you will see how physical activity will also lower cortisol, and unlike the majority of antidepressants, they do not raise your blood sugar level, a great advantage.

The University of Montreal issued the following news release:

Simple spit and blood tests might detect burnout before it happens

Your blood and the level of a hormone in your spit could reveal if you’re on the point of burnout, according to research undertaken by Dr.
Sonia Lupien and Robert-Paul Juster of the Centre for Studies on Human Stress of Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital and the University of Montreal.

In addition to professional and personal suffering, burnout puts distressed workers at further risk of physical and psychological problems if ignored.

This is significant, as burnout, clinical depression, or anxiety related to the workplace affects at least 10% of North Americans and Europeans, according to estimates prepared by the International Labor Organization.

“We hypothesized that healthy workers with chronic stress and with mild burnout symptoms would have worse physiological dysregulations and lower cortisol levels – a profile consistent with burnout,” Juster explained.

Cortisol is a stress hormone involved in our bodies stress response and naturally as part of our body’s daily rhythm. Cortisol levels are often high in people suffering from depression, while it tends to be low in cases of burnout.

Too much cortisol can be as bad as too little when it comes to both mental and physical health.

Chronic stress and misbalanced cortisol levels can exert a kind of domino effect on connected biological systems.

The term “allostatic load” represents the physiological problems or ‘wear and tear’ that ensue in these different systems related to risks for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and immune problems.

By looking at various factors such as insulin, sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammation, an allostatic load index can be constructed and then used to detect problems before they occur.

“The strength of the allostatic load model is its flexible inclusion of numerous biological systems that get strained by chronic stress.

Complementary use of saliva samples and validated questionnaires allows us to go beyond measuring susceptibilities to, say, metabolic syndromes or heart problems, but also into the realm of mental health,” Juster said.

The results of this first pilot study were obtained by testing thirty middle-aged participants.

In addition to undergoing routine blood measures that assessed allostatic load, participants were instructed to collect saliva at home and during a laboratory paradigm.

They also filled out questionnaires related to their current stress levels as well as symptoms of depression and burnout.

This research is part of a greater effort to develop personalized medicine in this field.

Personalized medicine targets the customization of treatment according to the needs of the individual.

“In an effort to advance person-centered approaches in prevention and treatment strategies, we have to investigate the biopsychosocial signatures of specific diseases,” Lupien said.

“For conditions like burnout where we have no consensus on diagnostic criteria and where there is overlap with symptoms of depression, it is essential to use multiple methods of analysis. One potential signature of burnout appears to be fatigued production of the stress hormone cortisol and dysregulations of the physiological systems that interact with this stress hormone.”

Critically, people with burnout are often treated with anti-depressant medications that lower cortisol levels.

If cortisol is already lower than it should be, this course of treatment could represent a therapeutic mistake.

# # #

OK so lets look at exercise. There is a new study just published showing how exercise can increase the size of the hippocampus. If you don’t recall, that is the memory center.

“Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory.”

The authors are Kirk I. Erickson, Michelle W. Voss, Ruchika Shaurya Prakash, Chandramallika Basak, Amanda Szabo, Laura Chaddock, Jennifer S.
Kim, Susie Heo, Heloisa Alves, Siobhan M. White, Thomas R. Wojcicki, Emily Mailey, Victoria J. Vieira, Stephen A. Martin, Brandt D. Pence, Jeffrey A. Woods, Edward McAuley, and Arthur F. Kramer.

For a reprint, contact.


The hippocampus shrinks in late adulthood, leading to impaired memory and increased risk for dementia.

Hippocampal and medial temporal lobe volumes are larger in higher-fit adults, and physical activity training increases hippocampal perfusion, but the extent to which aerobic exercise training can modify hippocampal volume in late adulthood remains unknown.

Here we show, in a randomized controlled trial with 120 older adults, that aerobic exercise training increases the size of the anterior hippocampus, leading to improvements in spatial memory. Exercise training increased hippocampal volume by 2%, effectively reversing age- related loss in volume by 1 to 2 y.

We also demonstrate that increased hippocampal volume is associated with greater serum levels of BDNF, a mediator of neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus.

Hippocampal volume declined in the control group, but higher preintervention fitness partially attenuated the decline, suggesting that fitness protects against volume loss.

Caudate nucleus and thalamus volumes were unaffected by the intervention.

These theoretically important findings indicate that aerobic exercise training is effective at reversing hippocampal volume loss in late adulthood, which is accompanied by improved memory function.

[end abstract]

So you can see that we can do a good deal to improve our brain function.
This is almost certainly because physical activity will reduce cortisol and increase pleasure via the endocannabinoids. Can you help your brain by activity? No question about it. I just did a three mile walk with my old dog, and we two old dogs are now better off for it.

Bear in mind that diet and meditation also reduce excess cortisol. If you aren’t meditating, you should be. Try Autogenic Training for an easy, almost “no brainer” approach.

What about food? Our old stand-by, the Mediterranean diet shines there.
Cut way back on processed foods and shop the edges of the market. Fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grain breads, brown rice, beans, and fish.
Cut back on red meat, the only exception being grass-fed beef which has the same lipid profile as Alaskan salmon, and is totally sustainable.

If you don’t know where to get grass fed beef, look at my friend’s

Or you can find it at local farmers’ markets.

Happily yours,

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