Balance. We all desire it and yet so many of us struggle to find it! It can be complicated, like a good relationship, as well as mystical, like the snuffleupagus. When it comes to optimal female health, fertility and wellbeing finding a healthy hormone balance is critical.
How do you know your hormones may be out of balance? Well if you suffer from sleep disturbance, fatigue, unexplained weight gain or loss, acne, irregular menstruation, infertility, PMS or have been told you have PCOS, then you suffer from a hormone imbalance.
Meg the Paleo Midwife's suggestions for helping to improve your hormone balance
1. Limit Caffeine: Remember my Bulletproof post last week? Caffeine can be great for a healthy individual, however, if your body is under stress it can wreak havoc on your delicate adrenal system. The adrenal glands produce the stress hormone cortisol in addition to sending messages to your pituitary gland. It's your pituitary gland where the hormones LH (leutinizing) and FSH (folliclie stimulating hormone) are made. These two hormones are critical for egg maturation and ovulation, which are key parts of getting pregnant. If adrenals are depleated, hormonal imbalance can occur. Choose herbal tea or decaf or half-caf coffee instead.
2. Avoid high Omega-6 Polyunsaturated fats: These are mostly found in vegtable oils like canola, safflower, sunflower or soybean oil. Avoiding these fats is a key part of the Paleo diet as they cause inflammation and easily oxidize in the body. Inflammation contribues to endocrine/hormone balance and can cause disruptions in the bodies natural cycles. The easiest way to avoid them is to read labels and ask what kind of oil is used in restaurants! They linger in chips (even sweet potato chips) and packaged foods. Choose fats from animals like butter, ghee or lard in addition to non-animal fats found in olive and coconut oils. Need to satisfy your chip craving? These will do it and keep you healthy!
3. SLEEP: Sleep really does fix everything. If your body isn't getting the rest it needs then it isn't getting a chance to repair and produce its own natural hormones. Not getting sleep affects your hormones viat two main pathways. The first is via the pituitary axis. Not only does the pituitary glad produce LH and FSH (see above) it also produces GH or growth hormone. This hormone is responsible for repair and rejuvination in the body. The second main way sleep contributes to hormone balance is with the simulation of your parasympathetic nervous system. This is the system that tells your body to chill out! Most endocrine (aka hormone) organs in your body need good parasympathetic 'tone'. There are several well documented examples of sleep deprivation effecting pancreatic insulin secreation and the release of leptin from fat cells. Leptin is an appetite-suppressing hormone. Sleep deprivation also effects your thyroid gland and it's overall function. All key things to help you look and feel your best. If you have trouble sleeping developing a few rituals around bedtime can help. Here's a link to a great article about sleep hygiene.
4. Exercise intellegently: Running marathons and doing 5 hard WODs a week does not improve hormone function! Exercise just hard enough to challenge your body but not so hard that it can't recover. When you work too hard you stimulate an overwhelming release of cortisol, which tells your pituitary that you're stressed! Most bodies can do this for a little while but in the long term your body gets the signal that maybe this isn't a great time to be fertile and bring new little cavebabies into the world!
Gentle cardiovascular activity done early in the day and feel enjoyable are key (late day workouts can harm sleep) . Many people enjoy hiking, walking, swimming or biking. A bonus, exercise done outside also helps improve your mood, vitamin D levels and overall sense of wellbeing! Lifting heavy weights 2-3 times a week can also help trigger a cascade of benifical hormone responses that can be ideal for hormone balance.
5. End your relationship with toxins: Choose your organic produce wisely. Using a guide like the dirty dozen and clean 15 can help you make budget friendly choices. Try to buy local, organic or pasture raised meats and eggs when possible.
It's not just what we eat that can effect our hormones. It's also what's in our homes, cars and offices. Limit exposure to things like plastics (BPA), non-stick/teflon cookwear and read labels on your skin care products and cleaning supplies. You'd be surprised where toxins can linger. Choose natural skin care products that don't contain hormone disruptors like parabens. Consider using homemade cleaners like baking soda, vinager and soap. You'd be surprised how effective these can be! .