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Hormonal Imbalance 101: How to Heal Yourself Naturally
Hormonal imbalances are so prevalent today, it's almost guaranteed that you or someone you know is experiencing some degree of hormonal turbulence. While it's always comforting to know we're not alone in our struggles, anyone who's suffering knows first hand how much more challenging life can be when something is out of balance.
And I'm not just talking conscious stress either, but stress on the body through irregular eating routines, lack of sleep, too much mental stress, and over-exercising or not exercising in a way that allows your body to strengthen and rejuvenate.
Female hormones are delicate, and much more sensitive than male hormones. Physically, women are built much differently than men. We're designed to perform tasks that promote lots of love and happy hormones, and provide a sense of comfort. Think gatherer.
In tribal times, women would tend to the children, take care of the family, gather fruits and berries to provide a food source, and maintain the community.
Men are designed to exert more physical energy, endure more stress and encounter more injury. Think hunter.
Now, this isn't a conversation about feminism or what women are capable of. Clearly women are capable and powerful members of society. I have my own opinions of what true feminine power truly is, though I'll save the empowerment speech for another day.
Today, women are not only often expected to be the threads holding the family together, but we're also raising families, sometimes alone. We're staying up far too late just to get it all done, we're driving around from place to place, making a million decisions, eating on the go and waking up after too little sleep just to do it all over again. Top that off with stimulants that are designed to take the edge off the suffering from being sleep and relaxation deprived, you've got recipe for hormonal disaster.
Dr. Sara Gottfried, Harvard Medical Doctor, Yoga Teach and Author of "The Hormone Cure" often reminds us women to practice tending and befriending by chatting with our girlfriends, cuddling babies and doing things that we're designed for. This is beautiful, because whenever we do practice tending and befriending, we can know we're giving our bodies a magical boost of hormones that will bring us into balance overtime.
Whether you're a hard working CEO in a business suit with children at home, or if you're staying at home raising your family - you're a woman. And as women, sometimes we need a reminder to take better care of ourselves.
Stress Hitting You Hard? I Can Relate...
My body doesn't respond well to stress, it never has. Even when I was a little kid, if anything stressful or upsetting happened, I would get really bad stomach migraines and headaches.
As I matured into a woman, stress impacted my body in the form of painful PMS symptoms, fatigue, yo-yo weight gain and loss, eczema and later in life, acne breakouts.
After years of exploring holistic health and alternative healing, I became a little obsessed with the female endocrine system. How to re-balance the female hormones in-particular, has become quite the passionate subject.
I think part of that is because so many of us struggle with our hormones, and are taught by mainstream media that hormones are confusing, too difficult for the average person to understand, and essentially work against us.
I'm here to tell you that none of the above is true. Hormones can be confusing at first, although once you understand the basic foundation of how stress impacts your hormones, I guarantee you'll start to see the picture much more clearly.
Your hormones are not working against you, just like mine are not working against me. Even when I am very out of balance, I know my body is only doing it's best to protect me from the perceived danger evoked by stress.
Here's the most basic breakdown I can give you for now on how hormones work:
Stress Hormones = Survival Hormones. Stress is anything the body perceives as danger, even rigorous exercise can stress the body when it's out of balance.
Your body produces cortisol and other stress hormones to help you wake up in the morning, stay energized, and to react to situations that may cause you harm.
Cortisol is actually a good hormone, however it's often demonized because we tend to produce way too much of it now.
We're also talking about basic day-to-day stressors, like driving in the car, unconsciously calculating risks when you're walking down the street, or juggling a family with a job.
When we lived in small tribal communities, we all had pretty specific roles that allowed us to contribute (good healthy stress), but not over-work ourselves to the point of exhaustion and hormonal burnout (bad unhealthy stress).
Now, we're expected to do twice, or even three times as much, often times with less emotional, mental and physical support.
Our brain, body, and hormonal systems evolved in a much simpler time with virtually no technology, and much less "urban stress" that our abundant age has unintentionally created along the way.
Sex/Beauty Hormones = Not essential for survival. These hormones keep us energized, happy, balanced, as well as promote clear and glowing skin, shiny hair and reduced PMS symptoms.
These are the hormones that keep our libido balanced, and give us that feminine essence we all want to maintain but sometimes struggle with.
The challenge here you see, is survival trumps sex and beauty. We always need to survive, but we don't always have to have clear glowing skin and plump breasts to do so. If you're starving in the wilderness and you see a berry bush to your right and a tiger to your left, you can bet the adrenaline and cortisol will kick in and have you running the opposite way to avoid that tiger and you'll forget all about the berries.
When your body is under a lot of
stress, whether it's real or perceived, conscious or unconscious, cortisol is going to be running through your system.
In a balanced body, your sex / beauty hormones like progesterone will also produce and happily go to work and perform their main functions. However, if your body is overly stressed, your sex and beauty hormones will instead convert to more cortisol to essentially "keep you alive".
Some Naturopathic Doctors refer to this as the "pregnenolone steal". It's not fair, but it happens regardless.
Obviously it's a little more complex than what I've explained here, though this really is the basic outline for you to begin understanding how stress affects your hormones, your behavior, and your life. I love the book "Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life" by Dr. Claudia Welsch and credit her for educating me on my own hormones and how to begin my own healing journey. Take her diet with a grain of sand, as she does promote some foods I personally wouldn't suggest but enjoy the rest of her book. I like to skip over most nutrition advice in books and just learn everything else I can from them. Sometimes the macronutrient ratios are helpful and then you can fill in the template from there with whole foods you know and love.
So now you see, stress is at the root of hormonal imbalance. And I want to share some of the ways you can begin to heal...
3 Ways to Nurture Your Hormonal Health
1. Eat only fresh whole foods, and get yourself into a routine. We've already covered the importance of eating real, whole foods, though now I want you to get yourself into the habit of eating on schedule.
Irregular meal times and skipping meals altogether teach your body that it's reasonable to expect a famine. If you're doing this, your body isn't able to perform all of its regular functions like producing the hormones you need to feel good, and keeping your body at a healthy weight.
I suggest you pick 3 times per day when you can get some food in you, and set an alarm to make it happen. I've had to do this for myself, and though it can be tough, living with your hormones gone awry is tougher.
2. Practice some sort of gentle exercise, be it yin-yoga, brisk walking, or dance. All of these can help boost the happy chemicals in your brain, reduce stress levels in your body and get the blood flowing to support your body's natural detoxification process.
3. Get enough healthy fats, especially Omega 3's. Healthy fats are crucial for hormone production, including healthy cholesterol. This is what initially inspired me to begin integrating local, pastured and organic eggs back into my diet last year.
I only eat the yolks, because they offer up a healthy dose of fats and cholesterol which are needed to trigger hormone production.
Awesome sources of plant-based fats are:
Organic, Virgin and Raw coconut oil. Try adding this to your smoothies, adding it to your cooking and use it on your steamed green veggies.
If you're looking for a high dose of healthy fats that support hormone re-balancing, try Borage Oil. It's nature's highest source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and can help with PMS, balancing hormones and improving the look and feel of your skin. Women who experience hormonal acne often resort to this supplement. Make sure you check with your N.D. or Physician before you take any supplements, I'm not a doctor and can only share my personal experience with you. I have to say that to keep the legal fairies happy.
Hemp oil and in some cases flax oil which is higher in phytoestrogens (plant-estrogens) are great sources of healthy fats. You can add these to your smoothies as well, but don't cook with them as they don't do well with heat. Because flax is an estrogenic oil, make sure you check with your care provider before integrating this into your diet, especially if you feel you may suffer from estrogen dominance. Some women find flax oil to be a miracle for their low estrogen, and others find it causes acne - this is one of those areas you'll have to test for yourself. If you're in menopause or suffering from low-estrogen (been there myself), then flax may be a wonderful option for you!
What Else Can You Do For Your Hormones?
Juice vegetables for extra doses of nutrients in the morning, and drink plenty of spring water. Add a pinch of sea or Himalayan salt to your water to support your kidneys (your kidneys need salt to function properly, this helps reduce the stress on them.)
Eat at around the same time every day, and don't restrict your calories. Focus on nutrient rich whole foods and avoid processed oils, refined sugars and caffeine.
Do a little yoga or gentle movement on a daily basis. Integrate even 10 minutes into your morning routine, and do something slow before bed if you can.
Keep your lighting dim in the evening to allow your cycles to regulate. Bright lighting and blue lights shut off the melatonin production which is necessary for a good nights rest. You can find low blue lights online which are little nightlight you can put throughout your home that don't have the blue light in them. If you get up in the night to go to the bathroom you don't run the risk of interrupting your melatonin by turning on a light.
Get more sleep. Being in bed before 11 pm and sleeping anywhere from 8-10 hours is ideal for adrenal nourishment and liver detoxification. That said, most moms will laugh out loud at this fantastical idea, so do what you can and ask your friends and family to help you out as much as possible.
Take magnesium before bed. Minerals are best absorbed at night, and magnesium is very important. It can help to relieve PMS symptoms and support hormonal balance.