Category Archives: Hormonal Balance

Stress can cause PMS, menopause problems, and more

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It’s not easy being female — the hormonal ups and downs each month through puberty and then menopause can range from mildly irritating to downright debilitating. Although many, if not most, women suffer from some degree of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), the extreme health and mood imbalances associated with PMS and menopause are a sign your system is out of whack, most likely because of stress.

Hormone balance is very sensitive to stress, inflammation, toxins, poor diet, sleep deprivation, lack of exercise, too little sunlight, and other common factors of modern life. Because the reproductive hormones play an important role in brain health, mood, and brain inflammation, when they’re off, brain function and mood suffer.

In women, imbalances are characterized by excess estrogen, insufficient progesterone, or too much testosterone. Stress and blood sugar that is either too low (hypoglycemia) or too high (insulin resistance) are the most common culprits of PMS symptoms and a miserable menopause transition.

Symptoms of hormonal imbalances in women include:

  • Frequent or irregular menstruation
  • Mood instability
  • Depression
  • Problems sleeping
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Crying easily
  • Irritability
  • Poor concentration
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Low libido
  • Migraines

Low progesterone from chronic stress

One of the more common reasons for hormonal imbalance is low progesterone caused by chronic stress. This is a mechanism called “pregnenolone steal,” when chronic stress robs the compounds needed to make progesterone in order to make stress hormones instead. This leads to PMS and sets the stage for a miserable menopause transition.

When it comes to stress, the brain does not know whether you are angry at traffic, soaring and crashing after snacking on a glazed donut and triple-shot caramel latte, or narrowly escaping being trampled by a bison. All it knows is to prepare for fight or flight and that reproduction hormones can wait until things have settled down. But for many sleep-deprived, over-stressed Americans fueled on caffeine and sugar, settling down rarely truly happens.

The fix isn’t necessarily in a tub of progesterone cream; first address the sources of stress. A primary stress-buster is a diet that stabilizes blood sugar. People often either eat too infrequently and too sparingly, or they overeat and eat too much sugar. Both are stressful for the body.

Here are some other common causes of chronic stress that lead to miserable PMS and menopause:

  • Sugar, sweeteners, starchy foods (rice, pasta, bread, etc.), too much caffeine
  • Food sensitivities (gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, corn, nuts, grains, etc.)
  • Leaky gut and gut inflammation symptoms — gas, bloating, indigestion, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, irritable bowel
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Pain and inflammation — joint and muscle pain, skin rashes, respiratory issues, brain fog, fatigue, depression
  • Autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism
  • Overdoing it, over exercising, not taking time for yourself
  • Bad diet of junk foods, fast foods, processed foods

Restoring hormonal balance naturally

Ideas to halt pregnenolone steal include an anti-inflammatory diet, stabilizing blood sugar, restoring gut health, dampening pain and inflammation, and managing autoimmunity. These are functional medicine basics. Make sure you are eating the right amounts and kinds of essential fatty acids. Additionally, certain botanicals are effective in supporting female hormone health and the body’s stress handling systems. Ask me for more advice.

Handling store receipts raises levels of toxic BPA

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A new study that had subjects handle store receipts showed BPA absorbed through the skin stays in the body much longer than ingested BPA. The study had subjects handle common store receipts for five minutes, then wear gloves for two hours before washing their hands.

BPA measurements in the subjects’ urine showed BPA levels highest for the first two days after handling the receipts. After one week, three of the six volunteers still showed BPA in their urine.

However, when the subjects ate a cookie with BPA, follow up urinalysis showed BPA levels spiked after five hours but was cleared after a day. The scientists concluded that the body can more quickly metabolize and clear ingested BPA than BPA absorbed through the skin.

BPA toxicity in everyday food and beverages

BPA (bisphenol-A) is the main component of polycarbonate and is found in water and beverage bottles, plastic lids, the lining of tin cans, food storage containers, dental sealants, contact lenses, and electronics.

Store receipts aren’t the only place people come in contact with BPA. Canned foods often contain significant amounts of the chemical — the lining in a soup can can deliver 1,000 percent more BPA than fresh soup.

Plastics beverage bottles are another common source of exposure, especially if the bottle has been exposed to heat, light, or acids (such as soda).

Plastic food containers, especially if they have been heated, are another common source. Plastic coffee lids, straws, and any other plastics that come in contact with foods deliver BPA as well.

BPA on store receipts

Store receipts aren’t the only source of BPA that can be absorbed through the skin. Other sources of thermal paper that contains high amounts of BPA include fast food receipts, ATM receipts, airline tickets, gas station receipts, lottery tickets, fax paper (if anyone still uses that), etc.

Although this latest study had subjects handle the receipts for five minutes, previous studies have shown handling a receipt for just five seconds transfers BPA through your skin and into your bloodstream. Your skin absorbs ten times as much if your fingers are wet or greasy.

You can even absorb BPA from handling cash that has been stored with receipts.

Why BPA is toxic to the body

Studies have shown BPA to be problematic to human health in various ways. It has estrogen-like properties that skew hormone balance. Rodent studies have shown BPA causes reproductive defects, cancer, and breakdowns in metabolic and immune health.

BPA is especially toxic to a developing fetus, raising the risk of causing chromosomal errors, miscarriage, and genetic damage.

The chemical is also linked to poorer sperm quality, early puberty, reproductive dysfunction, cancer, heart disease, thyroid problems, insulin resistance, and obesity.

BPA raises the risk of triggering autoimmunity

Recent studies have also shown that BPA can both trigger and exacerbate autoimmune diseases due to its disruptive effect on the immune system. It has been linked to autoimmunity to nerve sheathes, the common target of attach in multiple sclerosis, and to Hashimoto’s thyroid autoimmune disease.

BPA-free is no guarantee

Unfortunately, products listed as “BPA-free” are not a green light either. Many non-BPA plastics also contain synthetic estrogens.

How to reduce your body burden of BPA

Reduce your exposure to BPA as much as possible by not handling receipts and avoiding plastic food and beverage containers. Additionally, help buffer the damage of BPA and other toxins by eating a whole foods diet and supplementing with nutritional compounds that support detoxification and cellular protection. Ask me for more advice.

Exercise your throat muscles to reduce snoring

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Snoring happens when the tissues and muscles become too “floppy” during sleep and vibrate. Researchers found simply exercising those muscles to maintain their tone can help reduce snoring.

In a 2015 study, researchers looked at groups of men and women who did not have obstructive sleep apnea, which is associated with many health risks, but snored due to mild or moderate sleep apnea.

For the study, all the participants were instructed to irrigate their nasal passages (such as with a neti pot) three times a day to rule out nasal blockage as a cause of snoring. (Sinus infections also cause snoring and regular nasal irrigation can help combat this.)

Then the subjects were divided into two groups. One group used nasal strips and deep breathing exercises to address their snoring.

The other group performed 8 minutes of tongue and palate exercises three times a day.

At the end of the three-month study, only the group who performed the exercises saw a difference in their snoring — and it was a significant difference.

The exercise group saw the frequency of nightly snoring drop by the 36 percent and the intensity of sound by 59 percent.

This explains why people who regularly sing, play horn instruments, and even play the didgeridoo also report fewer problems with snoring.

Throat and palate exercises to reduce snoring

As with any exercise, the key is to stick with it and keep up the frequency. You’ll also need to perform these on a long term basis for the benefits. Add the exercises to your commute, tooth brushing routine, or along with your morning cup of coffee. Your bed partner will thank you and you may experience feeling more rested and energetic during the day.

  1. Push the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth and slide it backward 20 times.
  2. Suck your tongue upward against the roof of your mouth 20 times.
  3. Push the back of your tongue down while keeping the tip touching the inside of your front teeth 20 times.
  4. Lift your soft palate and uvula 20 times.
  5. Using your index finger, press the inside of your cheek muscle away from your teeth 10 times on each side.
  6. When you’re eating, bite down, then lift your tongue to the roof of your mouth as you swallow, without tightening your cheek muscles.

Midlife hormones, inflammation, and snoring

Although nasal congestion and obesity can cause snoring, many people notice their snoring kicked in during midlife.

Some research shows this is due to a decline in reproductive hormones — estrogen in women and testosterone in men. These hormones play a role in the part of the brain responsible for throat and palate muscle tone during sleep.

Inflammation of the upper airways have also been shown to increase snoring. Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet may help reduce swelling in those tissues and reduce snoring.

Ask me about maintaining healthy hormone levels and reducing inflammation through nutritional and lifestyle means.

Stress can wreck your hormones and cause PMS

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For some women, their monthly period is no big deal. For others, it’s a grueling journey through depression, anxiety, irritability, pain, and more. If you think premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is too awful to be natural, you’re right — PMS is a symptom of a hormone imbalance often caused by too much stress.

Although a variety of factors can cause hormonal imbalances and PMS, one of the more common is low progesterone caused by long term chronic stress.

Low progesterone symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Crying easily
  • Irritability
  • Poor focus and concentration
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent or irregular menstruation
  • Low sex drive
  • Migraines

How stress lowers progesterone

Chronic stress causes pregnenolone steal, a situation that causes progesterone deficiency and hormonal imbalances. Pregnenolone is a precursor hormone used to make progesterone and the stress hormone cortisol.

The body can only make so much pregnenolone. This means that if stress is always high, it “steals” pregnenolone from progesterone to make cortisol in order to meet the demands of stress. This causes an imbalance between progesterone and estrogen.

Factors that cause pregnenolone steal

Progesterone cream use can further skew hormones. It’s better to address the causes of low progesterone, which is typically stress-induced pregnenolone steal. Causes of pregnenolone steal and PMS include:

  • Sugar and sweeteners, excess processed carbs — rice, pasta, bread, pastries, etc.
  • Excess caffeine
  • Food intolerances — gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, corn, nuts, grains, etc.
  • Digestive issues — bloating, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, leaky gut, pain, etc.
  • Lack of sleep
  • Inflammation — joint pain, chronic pain, skin rashes, brain fog, fatigue, etc.
  • Autoimmune disease (such as Hashimoto’s)
  • Overdoing it; over exercising
  • Feeling constantly overwhelmed
  • Poor nutrition

Reverse pregnenolone steal to soothe PMS

Ways to reduce pregnenolone steal include an anti-inflammatory diet, restoring gut health, and managing autoimmunity.

A variety of compounds can help soothe PMS, such as omega 3 fatty acids and gamma-linoleic acid (GLA). GLA is found in evening primrose oil, borage oil, and black currant oil.

Supporting serotonin, a brain chemical that promotes well-being, may help with PMS mood symptoms — tryptophan, 5-HTP, St. John’s Wort, and SAMe.

This is a broad overview. Ask me for more advice on using natural therapies to alleviate PMS and support healthy hormones.

Fasting 13+ hours reduces cancer and disease risk

Beautiful woman drinking a cup of tea in bedExtended fasting during the night fast may lower your risk of breast cancer or improve your prognosis. Fasting has also been shown to provide decrease the risk for other types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

In the first study of its kind, researchers analyzed 11 years of data from non-diabetic breast cancer patients with surprising results.

The women who fasted less than 13 hours per night showed a 36 percent increase in breast cancer recurrence compared to those who fasted for 13 or more hours per night.

In other words, going at least 13 hours between between dinner and breakfast is associated with a lower risk of cancer.

The study looked at daily sleep and dietary habits, serum blood sugar and inflammation markers (hemoglobin A1c and C-reactive protein), and the recurrence of cancer and breast tumors.

Longer fasting for better sleep and less disease risk

The study showed that each two-hour increase in fasting time made for longer nights of sleep. This is important not only because it helps people feel better, but also because it points to a healthier sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm. An imbalanced circadian rhythm increases cancer risk, including breast cancer, along with numerous other chronic diseases.

Each two-hour increase in fasting time also reduced blood sugar and systemic inflammation, hence lowering the risk of diabetes and other diseases.

The longer nighttime fasters showed significantly lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a protein made in the liver that increases with inflammation. Chronic inflammation leads to serious diseases, including heart disease, some forms of cancer, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease.

Got low blood sugar or adrenal fatigue? Then a bedtime snack may be appropriate

While the new research makes a strong case for extended nighttime fasting, long fasts may be detrimental to those with low blood sugar or adrenal fatigue.

In these cases, allowing blood sugar to drop too low through fasting can cause a series of negative hormonal consequences that result in insomnia, mood issues, fatigue, and poor brain function.

If you wake up anxious at 3 or 4 a.m., you may be a victim of low blood sugar and need to eat a little protein to fall back asleep. Eating a little bit before bed can also help prevent those all-too-early wake-up calls. You also need to follow a diet during the day that stabilizes blood sugar.

Eating a healthy blood sugar diet over time may help you stabilize your blood sugar to the point that you can comfortably adopt the extended nighttime fast.

A simple, non-medical strategy for reducing cancer and disease risk

These findings suggest that simply extending the time between dinner and breakfast to at least 13 hours may be a simple, non-medical strategy to reduce the risk of breast cancer and chronic disease.

If you have questions or concerns about nighttime fasting, sleep habits, blood sugar balancing, or disease prevention, please contact me.

A functional medicine viewpoint on birth control pills

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If you take birth control pills, it’s important to understand how oral contraceptives can affect your hormone balancing, your liver, your thyroid, and your brain. This functional medicine viewpoint can help you make an informed decision about contraception, or give you insight into buffering potential consequences.

Birth control pills flood the body with an unnatural amount of hormones that are also synthetic. This can imbalance the body in a number of ways.

Your body’s hormone balance depends on finely nuanced communication between the brain and the hormone glands. The brain determines how much hormone the glands should produce based on hormone activity in the body.

When you introduce hormones into the body, this tells the brain the body has plenty of hormone. As a result, the “feedback loop” of communication between the brain and the hormone glands slows down or becomes dormant, lowering the body’s natural production. This may create symptoms or problems when the time comes to go off the pill.

Functional medicine view of birth control and the liver

Excess hormones can stress the liver as it must break down those hormones for elimination. Chronically overburdening the liver causes it to become sluggish and congested, increasing the risk for inflammation, high cholesterol, and poor immune function.

Also, when the liver cannot properly detoxify estrogen, the hormone goes back into the bloodstream in a more toxic form, raising the risk for breast cancer, endometriosis, premenstrual syndrome, fibrocystic breasts, ovarian cysts, cervical dysplasia, and endometrial cancer.

Functional medicine support of liver detoxification may include the use of compounds such as dandelion extract and milk thistle extract to help mitigate these effects.

Oral contraception and methylation

Taking birth control pills can result in depletion of methyl donors. Methylation is a liver detoxification process in which a methyl group, which is a carbon atom attached to three hydrogen atoms, essentially tags a toxic compound so that the body can eliminate it.

About 20 percent of the population are already slow methylators. Taking birth control pills can compound this problem, making it more difficult to detoxify environmental compounds. Methylation defects have also been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.

Functional medicine view of birth control and the brain

Depleting methyl donors can also lead to lower serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is the “well being” neurotransmitter that prevents depression, and healthy methylation activity is necessary for sufficient serotonin.

Compounds that can support methylation include methyl B12, P-5-P, MSM, and trimethylglycine. Compounds that support serotonin activity include 5-HTP, St. John’s Wort, and SAMe.

Birth control pills and the thyroid

Elevated estrogen from birth control pills can cause symptoms of low thyroid function by hindering conversion in the liver of inactive thyroid hormone (T4) to the usable form (T3).

Elevated estrogen can also create too many thyroid-binding proteins, which prevent thyroid hormones from getting into cells. Both these mechanisms can cause symptoms of low thyroid activity, or hypothyroidism.

Functional medicine risks of birth control pills

The more publicized risks of oral contraceptives include heart attack, stroke, and venous thromboembolism, however these risks are recognized as being minimal.

The purpose of this article isn’t to scare you, but simply to educate you in the ways birth control pills can affect your health so you can make an informed decision or understand how you may be able to mitigate their effects.

Although certain nutritional compounds may be helpful, it’s also important to use an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle approach to optimize the function of your body and reduce risks.

Schedule a visit with me for more advice on healthy hormone function.

PCOS: The causes, consequences, and how to reverse it

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PCOS, or polycystic ovarian syndrome, is the most common female hormonal imbalance today. PCOS has far reaching consequences, including an increased risk of autism in offspring. The good news it may be reversible through diet and lifestyle changes.

PCOS is a condition in which an imbalance in estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone causes cysts to grow on the ovaries. While this can be painful, the consequences of PCOS can be severe, including a 60 percent increased risk in giving birth to a baby who will develop an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The symptoms of PCOS

Consider the symptoms of PCOS, below, which reflect how pervasive this disorder is on the body as a whole.

Here are some symptoms:

  • Infertility
  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Acne, oily skin, or dandruff
  • Obesity and excess weight, usually concentrated around the abdomen
  • Male pattern baldness
  • Dark, thick patches of skin on the neck, arms, breasts, or thighs
  • Skin tags
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Sleep apnea

PCOS causes male attributes

The hormonal imbalances associated with PCOS cause higher levels of the male hormone testosterone. This in turn leads to the development of such male attributes as male pattern balding, facial hair growth, deepening voice, and perhaps a more aggressive or indifferent personality.

What causes PCOS?

It’s no accident that symptoms of PCOS are similar to those of high blood sugar and diabetes. Although genetic predisposition plays a role in PCOS, the diet and lifestyle factors that cause insulin resistance (high blood sugar) and type 2 diabetes also cause PCOS: a diet high in sugars and processed carbohydrates, lack of plant fiber, overeating, and lack of exercise.

The upside to this is that switching to a whole foods diet that is free of sugar, lower in processed carbs, and high in vegetables and adding in daily physical activity can help reverse not only high blood sugar but also PCOS. For younger women this paves the path to a smoother transition through perimenopause and menopause, a period in life that can be made miserable by blood sugar imbalances.

The vicious cycle between PCOS and blood sugar

Standard lab markers that can identify PCOS include a fasting blood sugar of over 100 and elevated triglycerides and cholesterol, especially if triglycerides are higher than cholesterol. Not surprisingly, these are also markers found with insulin resistance, or pre-diabetes.

Insulin resistance is a condition in which the body’s cells become less sensitive to insulin due to a high-sugar, high-carbohydrate diet, over eating, and sedentary lifestyle.

This leads to high testosterone and PCOS in women (and elevated estrogen in men).

Unfortunately, elevated testosterone causes cells to become more resistant to insulin, thus creating more testosterone in a vicious cycle.

As a functional nutritionist, I can guide you in strategies for balancing blood sugar and managing PCOS naturally. Contact me today to schedule a Skype call.