A Natural Approach To PCOS

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) can impact many aspects of a woman’s health, from her moods, her weight, to her chances of conception. This surprisingly common condition can be difficult to diagnose and treat. That’s partly because conventional medicine practices are often geared towards tackling the symptoms without truly getting to the underlying reasons. Natural treatments for PCOS address this frustrating condition from all angles, addressing the whole system with a special focus on the root cause. 

What Is PCOS?

Simply put, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a hormonal problem that can affect women during their reproductive years -including during the perimenopausal years. It’s marked by irregular ovulation and higher than normal levels of the “male” hormones or androgens such as testosterone. The name refers to changes to the ovaries, which become filled with small cysts that lead to hormone imbalances. 

Because PCOS can be difficult to diagnose it’s a bit uncertain how common it is, but about five to 10 percent of women may experience it during the reproductive years. 

The Symptoms of PCOS

The symptoms of PCOS often start to appear slowly over time, and the changes they bring about are often easy to dismiss as normal.

If you experience the following symptoms, it may be time to talk with a healthcare practitioner:

  • Weight Gain

Gaining weight without any particular change in lifestyle, especially around the belly. Women with PCOS often develop an “apple” shape in which their body fat collects in the torso area.

  • Acne

Facial acne (especially along the chin, jawline and around earlobes) and back acne as well as other skin conditions such as dark patches and skin tags often go hand in hand with PCOS.

  • Hirsutism

Extra hair on the face and body, particularly on the upper lip, chest, and back as a result of hormonal imbalances.

  • Mood Changes

PCOS can particularly bring on an increased risk of depression or anxiety.

  • Irregular Periods

Some women cease to menstruate at all. Others develop very heavy periods. And while this may be a “normal” sign of perimenopause, PCOS can make perimenopausal periods much more erratic.

  • Difficulty conceiving

Cystic ovaries, as well as the accompanying hormonal imbalances, can make conception difficult, potentially leading to the need for extra help to get pregnant.

What Are The Underlying Causes Of PCOS?

Genetics

It is very often difficult to determine one precise cause for PCOS, since many factors can contribute to its development. Genetics do play a role however, so if your mother or sister has had PCOS, you are more likely to develop it. 

Weight

Carrying extra weight can also contribute to PCOS. Of course, this creates a frustrating dynamic since PCOS makes you more likely to keep gaining weight. Hormonal imbalances also make it harder to lose that extra weight. 

Stress

As well as the more measurable factors, some research suggests that high stress levels may play a role in the development of PCOS. That’s because stress can wreak havoc on your hormones, resulting in an overproduction of testosterone and insulin. 

Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance may be a major factor in PCOS. About 70 percent of women with PCOS also have insulin resistance. Obesity, high blood sugar, a sedentary lifestyle, and stress can all lead to insulin resistance. However in PCOS, insulin resistance seems to be both a symptom and a driver of the condition and affects all body types. 

Why PCOS Can Be Frustrating: The Shortfalls of Conventional Medicine

Not only is it difficult to diagnose PCOS, it can also be tricky to treat. Many conventional medical care providers seek to simply mask the symptoms by putting women with PCOS on birth control pills.

One clear flaw in this approach is that birth control pills won’t help women who are trying to reverse their PCOS in order to conceive. Another flaw in this approach is that the birth control pill may carry more risks for women over 35.  More importantly, this approach isn’t getting to the root of the problem, in fact it may exacerbate it. Birth control pills containing estrogen can actually raise blood sugar levels in addition to carrying other health risks. The goal should be to restore overall health, not add the potential for more problems. 

The Natural Approach To PCOS

A naturopathic approach considers the whole person in treating PCOS. That means addressing the underlying causes of hormonal imbalances. The goal is to improve all aspects of a patient’s health – and consequently, reduce PCOS symptoms. 

Treatment starts with a thorough evaluation of your health history as well as thorough functional testing. Although the exact protocols will vary by patient, here are some proven tips for treating PCOS.

  1. Weight Loss Plan

If you’re overweight, work with your healthcare provider to create a healthy weight-loss plan. Losing just small amounts of weight can make a big difference to PCOS symptoms. However, you want to approach weight loss in a way that doesn’t create more stress in your body as stress can have a negative effect on insulin levels. That’s why it’s important to work with your healthcare practitioner. 

  1. Natural Whole Food Diet

Eating foods without preservatives or other endocrine disruptors is the best approach to fully nourishing your body’s intricate systems.

  1. Balance Protein And Carbs

You don’t have to eliminate carbs altogether. Choose unprocessed, complex carbs (like steel cut oats, quinoa or sweet potatoes) and balance them with sources of lean protein. As well, keep your blood sugar stable by eating at regular intervals (every 4-5 hours during your waking hours). 

  1. Improve Gut Health

By improving your gut health to reduce inflammation and improve elimination, probiotics can help regulate hormone levels. 

  1. Choose Foods High In Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Essential Fatty Acids are the building blocks of many hormones, and a deficiency in EFAs is very common. Good sources include nuts and seeds.

  1. Talk to your healthcare provider about supplementation

Depending on your personal profile, helpful supplements could include magnesium, vitamin D, and calcium. In particular, specific forms of inositol (a B vitamin) have been proven effective for PCOS treatment. And chromium can help metabolize sugar and stabilize glucose levels. Some of my other favorite supplements to prevent ovarian cysts include NAC, DHEA and turmeric. However, it is important to see your practitioner for appropriate testing and diagnosis before starting any of these treatments.

  1. Get Enough Sleep

A good night’s sleep is an essential part of hormone regulation. Interestingly, studies have found that sleep problems are twice as common for women with PCOS. So be sure to pay attention to your sleep habits. 

  1. Get some healthy movement

Moderate exercise will help with weight loss. It will also relieve stress and balance your cortisol levels. One study found that a mix of high-intensity interval training and strength training helps women with PCOS. However, talk to your healthcare provider about the best approach for you as many women with PCOS do better with gentle exercise. 

Take Control of Your Hormones

Yes, PCOS can be frustrating. However, much research has been done recently on functional testing and effective natural, holistic treatments for PCOS. By treating your body as an integrated set of systems, you can get to the bottom of your PCOS symptoms and get on the path towards true balance and wellbeing.

Ready to take control of your hormones?

Book your appointment today to get started! New patients can book a FREE Meet & Greet with me HERE and existing patients can book a consultation with me HERE.

References

https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/pcos

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6250088/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5655679/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5461594/

https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2012/591654/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464617307727

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3277302/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4135453/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28595797

Hypothyroid? You May Want to Check for Food Sensitivities

By now, you’ve likely heard about gluten intolerance. The buzz word  “gluten-free” is everywhere in the health world. But how impactful is gluten? For those with thyroid issues, it may be affecting you more than you realize.

Thyroid Conditions Are Fairly Common

About 20 million Americans are currently suffering from a form of thyroid disease. And roughly 60% don’t know it. Thyroid disorders are particularly common in women with one in eight females going on to develop a thyroid condition within her lifespan, and women are five to eight times more likely to have thyroid issues than men.

Your Thyroid Can Be Under or Over Performing

A malfunctioning thyroid can lead to either over or under-production of thyroid hormones. These hormones — called T3 and T4 — affect every organ system in your body. 

Your heart, central nervous system, autonomic nervous system, bone, gastro-intestinal tract and metabolism all obey the orders of our thyroid hormones.

A Holistic Approach

Whether the issue is hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, Grave’s disease, or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the symptoms of thyroid issues can vary in severity from moderate to life-changing. That’s why naturopathic practitioners take a holistic approach to tackle thyroid issues from all angles – and that includes nutrition.

The Gluten Intolerance Link

Recent research links gluten intolerance and auto-immune issues, meaning if an auto-immune condition is the underlying cause of your thyroid disorder, your relationship with gluten may be an exacerbating factor. This connection happens so often that some studies suggest gluten intolerance screening for anyone with auto-immune thyroid issues.

Auto-Immune Thyroid Issues

If you have an auto-immune thyroid issue, eliminating gluten entirely is critical to fully understanding your condition. Even eating small amounts can cause immune reactions lasting up to six months, so complete elimination is needed in order to notice any difference in your symptoms. 

Gluten-free diets can be tricky to maintain, but the results are worth the trouble. Your gluten intake may be the critical factor affecting the function (or auto-destruction) of your thyroid.

How Does Gluten Lead to Autoimmunity?

When you ignore food sensitivities, your gut often pays the price in inflammation. Over time, inflammatory foods (like gluten) can degrade the delicate lining of your small intestine, leading to permeability or “leaky gut”. When this happens, food particles are able to slip past the protective mucosal layer, between the cells lining the intestinal wall, and reach your bloodstream. The protein portion of gluten — called gliadin — is a common culprit.

Mistaken Identity

The immune system targets these proteins as foreign particles and begins to attack them. Unfortunately, gliadin protein molecules are strikingly similar to the molecules that make up the thyroid gland. Once antibodies to gliadin are created, they can mistakenly attack thyroid tissue. From that point on, you have an auto-immune response to gluten.

A Gluten Intolerance Can Be Hidden

Many people misinterpret gluten intolerance as a “digestive” issue only. But it can affect far more than just the digestive system. Antibodies triggered by this kind of gluten intolerance travel throughout the whole body: the joints, skin, respiratory tract and brain can all  be affected. In fact, for some people affected, no digestive symptoms are seen at all. With a wide variety of possible symptoms, gluten sensitivity may take a lot of effort to uncover.

Other Grains Can Mimic Gluten

As if the situation wasn’t complex enough, once the antibodies for gluten have been created, they can mistakenly attack other proteins too. Certain grains, such as corn, oats and rice, are naturally gluten-free yet their proteins are so similar to gluten that they occasionally still elicit an immune response. A naturopathic doctor can help you identify which foods may trigger your gluten sensitivity. 

Casein Sensitivity May Also be an Issue

Lactose intolerance is much more common than gluten intolerance. However, the two often overlap. In one study in Italy, roughly 25% of people with lactose intolerance also had celiac disease, a digestive condition that is linked to gluten-related autoimmunity. 

This means that for many people, going gluten-free won’t be enough to get to the root of their auto-immune symptoms. If an intolerance to casein (the main protein in dairy) may be at play, patients are often advised to adopt both a dairy-free and gluten-free diet during the elimination phase, with dairy being added back separately to assess casein sensitivity.

How We Test for Gluten Intolerance

There are multiple ways to test for food sensitivities and ascertain whether gluten intolerance may be playing a part in your thyroid issues.

Testing for Antibodies in the Blood

Running a food sensitivity panel is one way to start learning what is going on. Although they are expensive to run, and do not always lead to a clear path of action other than the complete avoidance of the foods in question, these blood tests can be vital guideposts in the dark for tricky cases.

IgA and IgG

Both IgA and IgG antibodies are tested. These antibodies are created in response to gluten particles in the bloodstream. IgA and IgG are delayed-response antibodies — they aren’t created immediately, making them a good indicator of a long term sensitivity to gluten. However, a milder case of gluten sensitivity (when antibodies haven’t been created) may be missed, and false negatives can occur if a patient is currently avoiding gluten.

Creating a Benchmark

Your doctor may advise running a food sensitivity panel before you begin an elimination diet so that you have a benchmark to work with. While eliminating gluten and dairy are the most common requests, you may be asked to remove one or more other foods based on the results of your food sensitivity panel so that other potential problem foods don’t interfere with the success of your elimination phase.

The Gluten Challenge 

Hypo-allergenic diets may be the most powerful tool a doctor can prescribe, but no bones about it: these diets can be very difficult and take a long time. The hidden benefit is that the diet you are on during the investigation eliminates your possible triggers, so you should start to feel better right away, even as you uncover the details of your sensitivity.

Luckily, when it comes to auto-immune conditions, removing dairy and gluten are often the main dietary requirements and there are many alternative foods available.

The Elimination Phase

For anywhere from two to six weeks, depending on your individual situation, you’ll remove all dairy and gluten from your diet. During this time, you’ll keep a close eye on your symptoms to see if they resolve or reduce dramatically. If symptoms don’t resolve, you may be asked to remove additional foods: like eggs or soy.

The Challenge Phase

Once your symptoms resolve, you’ll reintroduce each food one at a time. Let’s say dairy first. You’ll have dairy in every meal for three or four days while keeping note of any symptoms or sensitivity reactions. Then you’ll be instructed to stop eating dairy for three days. 

If there are no reactions during elimination or in the final phase, a dairy sensitivity can be ruled out. At that point, you can safely add dairy back into your diet. 

A Positive Result

Next, you will begin the challenge phase for gluten. Let’s say you did have a symptom response to gluten. At that point, you would be instructed to eliminate gluten from your diet for another three to six months before attempting the challenge again. After a longer break, some food sensitivities are no longer as offensive.

If – on the other hand – your symptoms did return when you reintroduced gluten, your doctor may diagnose you with gluten intolerance.

The health of your thyroid affects every cell in your body. If you suspect an autoimmune condition may be affecting how well you feel, please give me a call. As a naturopathic doctor, I have access to a wide array of investigative tools and more extensive lab tests to help you uncover what’s really going on – and come up with a tailored plan to help you feel like yourself again.

Book your appointment today to get started! New patients can book a FREE Meet & Greet with me HERE and existing patients can book a consultation with me HERE.

Resources:

Fatourechi V. Subclinical hypothyroidism: an update for primary care physicians. Mayo Clinic proceedings. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2664572/. Published 2009. 

General Information/Press Room. Published 2014. American Thyroid Association. https://www.thyroid.org/media-main/press-room/

Ojetti V; Nucera G;Migneco A; Gabrielli M; Lauritano C; Danese S; Zocco MA; Nista EC;Cammarota G;De Lorenzo A;Gasbarrini G;Gasbarrini A; High prevalence of celiac disease in patients with lactose intolerance. Digestion. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15775678/. Published 2005. 

Shahid MA. Physiology, Thyroid Hormone. StatPearls. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK500006/. Published May 18, 2020. 

 Is Your Period Controlling You?

The week before your period, it’s not unusual for many women to experience an unwanted transformation from Doctor Jekyll to Ms. Hyde. As our hormones shift, some of us will fall apart into sensitive sleep-deprived puddles. Other simmering souls will find themselves raging without warning. Then there are the mopey bloated hermits who will choose to wrap themselves in a blanket and binge-watch Netflix until Aunt Flow takes a hike. Whoever your PMS alter-ego might be, it’s hard not to feel out of control. But it’s just a part of womanhood we all have to accept, right? Wrong. 

Sure, hormones will always shuffle, but we don’t have to be held hostage by their fluctuations. You have the power to overcome many common PMS symptoms and maybe even prevent them from happening! 

What Are The Phases Of The Menstrual Cycle?

First, let’s take a moment to revisit Sex Ed 101 to understand the different phases of your menstrual cycle. Once you get to know your natural rhythm, you can begin to accommodate a few healthy habits that will help each phase go more smoothly. In a standard 28-day menstrual cycle, our bodies go through four different phases: 

Release

This begins the first full day of your period when your womb lining is released. During this phase take time to slow down, keep workouts short and be kind to yourself, your body needs it and deserves it!

Rise

Days 8 to 14. As the title suggests, estrogen levels rise during his stage to continue the cascade of hormonal triggers. This is the time of the month ovulation usually happens, and is accompanied by good moods, energy and feeling powerful. 

Plateau

Days 15 to 21. Estrogen stops surging now and is naturally flushed out of the body as your hormone levels begin to shift and the hormone, progesterone, is in full swing. This is a good time to start supporting your body as it detoxes by drinking plenty of water and eating your veggies.

Pause

Days 22 – 28. During this final stage just before the next period some women experience cravings, cramps and irritability. You are still detoxing, and adding a little cardio into your exercise routine here can help your body to cope better.

Seed Cycling for Balanced Hormones

Seed cycling is just as it sounds. It is a way to optimize your health by ingesting seeds that contain the right hormone-helping oils for each part of your cycle. Because the length of the moon’s lunar cycle perfectly aligns with an ideal monthly menstrual cycle, women with irregular periods, postpartum moms and postmenopausal women can also benefit from the hormone supporting powers of seed cycling to help bring balance and regularity. Simply initiate the practice on the first day of the new moon, then switch to the second phase on the first day of the full moon (day 15), and repeat.

Follicular Phase – Pumpkin & Flaxseed

The first half of your cycle, the Release and Rise phases (Days 1 – 14), fall into what is known as the Follicular phase. This is when your estrogen increases and an egg is prepared for ovulation. During this time, you will want to help boost your estrogen levels by incorporating pumpkin and flaxseed into your diet. Rich in fatty acids, 1 – 2 tbsp of freshly ground flaxseed or pumpkin seeds a day can help improve your estrogen to progesterone ratio. Other benefits of these seeds include a healthier metabolism, reduced breast tenderness, and a decreased risk of heart disease and osteoporosis. 

Luteal Phase – Sunflower & Sesame Seeds

The second half of your cycle, the Plateau and Pause phases (Days 15 – 28), are grouped together into the Luteal phase. During this time of your cycle, progesterone levels rise and peak. Adding 1 – 2 tbsp of freshly ground sunflower and sesame seeds to your diet each day can support your progesterone levels and help to ease PMS symptoms that may occur during this time. Full of lignans and essential fatty acids, these seeds are beneficial for helping hormones even beyond our reproductive years. 

Tips For Balancing Your Hormones the Week Before Your Period

During the last week of your cycle, assuming no egg was implanted, estrogen dwindles and is flushed out of your body while progesterone goes up. It is possible to explore short-term strategies on top of the long game of seed cycling during this phase to help reduce some of the symptoms that accompany the dramatic hormonal shift. By supporting your hormones with the following natural strategies, you should be able to have a happy – or at least happier – period. 

1. Drink Less Coffee & More Green Tea

Do you ever feel irritable or anxious after drinking too much coffee? That’s because caffeine raises cortisol levels, which can worsen those types of symptoms. Too much caffeine can also cause sleep issues, inflammation and breast tenderness, as well as lower your progesterone levels. Progesterone is an important feel-good hormone, responsible for your overall sense of well-being. It boosts the metabolism and supports thyroid function. Because you want to raise progesterone the week before your period, not lower it, consider switching your caffeine to green tea.

Instead of increasing irritability, green tea is thought to help reduce anxiety. High in antioxidants, it also reduces inflammation, helps to balance estrogen levels, and reduces bloating and water retention. 

2. Avoid Alcohol

Alcohol has a way of quickly increasing estrogen levels which can trigger a storm of PMS symptoms like anxiety, mood problems, headaches, and disrupted sleep patterns. Not to mention, too much estrogen also reduces your ability to burn fat by more than half — which isn’t something anyone wants! 

The week before your period, swap your cocktail for a mocktail or flavored seltzer. Kombucha is a refreshing alternative that you can make at home or find in an increasing number of restaurants. Made from tea fermented to produce healthy probiotics, kombucha offers many similar health benefits to green tea and is also great for promoting gut bacteria to assist in the estrogen detox.

3. Reduce Sodium

It may seem like a no-brainer that foods high in salt will increase water retention and bloating, prime PMS symptoms you would likely happily live without. But did you know that sodium can affect breast tenderness as well? Reducing your sodium intake will help to ease these types of annoying symptoms so you can still manage to feel comfortable in your favourite clothes.

4. Increase Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral that helps keep your progesterone levels balanced by regulating the master-hormone gland, the pituitary. And magnesium also helps your muscles to relax, easing crampy symptoms. The week before your period, add more high-Magnesium foods to your diet such as spinach, beans, nuts and seeds. 

This is also the best time of the month to indulge in some delicious dark chocolate! Not only is dark chocolate rich in Magnesium and Iron, it is also packed with powerful antioxidants. Aim for the highest cacao content available, starting with at least 70%. Explore higher levels of cacao and discover how your taste gradually adjusts. Challenge yourself to see if you can get your buds to brave a pure 100%. Even if you find it to be beyond bitter, your body will reap the rewards of your valiant effort.

5. Remember to Wind Down

It’s easy to get wound tight by life’s demands. The thing is, most of us don’t take the time we need to really effectively wind down. So many of us regularly operate in a hyper mental state, fueled by an unhealthy balance of stress and restless energy. We rush through the day, our minds constantly jumping onto the next thing. When we experience continuous levels of stress, we overwork our adrenal glands’ fight-or-flight response causing our cortisol to elevate and our progesterone to drop. When progesterone is low, it can lead to a variety of problems including PMS, bloating, breast tenderness, sleep issues, and anxiety. 

To keep your cortisol and progesterone levels in healthy balance, give yourself more time to rest by going to sleep a little earlier or reducing the intensity of your workout routine. Limiting screen time and cutting down on social media are also good ways to clear your mind from potentially toxic sources. (Have you read a Comments section lately? Talk about toxic!) And of course, meditation is one of the most effective ways to slow down and get yourself grounded.

Other Factors That Can Contribute To Hormonal Imbalances

While the above suggestions are helpful for women with healthy hormone levels, there are a number of other factors that can impact hormonal imbalances. Many cosmetics and hygiene products contain a barrage of chemicals that can toxify our systems. Gut health is also connected to a wide number of problems in our body beyond digestive concerns, including hormone imbalance, mental health issues and more. 

If you find yourself suffering from PMS-type symptoms all the time, bigger hormonal imbalances might be at play. Our hormones naturally shift throughout our lives, so it is a smart decision to have your levels checked by a healthcare professional from time to time. The sooner you can identify any potential issues, the sooner you can get your body back to normal. 

Don’t let your hormones ruin your life — or even just the week before your period. You have more control than you think!

Book your appointment today to get started! New patients can book a FREE Meet & Greet with me HERE and existing patients can book a consultation with me HERE.

References

https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article-abstract/77/5/1215/2649961

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4859868/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22792003

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3208934/

https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/prior-stress-could-worsen-premenstrual-symptoms-nih-study-finds

https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/8/3/e019490

Hormonal Health: Why Balance Is So Important For Women

Hormonal health is all about balance – but achieving the right balance can be a challenge, particularly for women at midlife. One of the most striking examples of this dynamic is found in women whose estrogen and progesterone balance is off kilter. The wide range of resulting symptoms can be debilitating and women can find themselves battling heavy periods, disruptive PMS, fatigue, brain fog, weight gain and many more symptoms.

How can balance be restored for optimum well-being? Let’s take a look at how hormones influence your health and how a healthy lifestyle can help. 

Hormones and their Role In Your Health

Your body contains over 50 different types of hormones and they all act as chemical messengers to other parts of the body. Hormones are secreted by endocrine glands:

  • Pituitary gland
  • Pineal gland
  • Thymus
  • Thyroid
  • Adrenal glands
  • Pancreas
  • Testes
  • Ovaries

When hormones are released by endocrine glands they travel to specific receptor sites, where they “lock in” and transmit a message to perform a specific action in the target organ or cell.

What does this mean in practical terms? Your hormones control almost every function in your body, including:

  • Maturity and growth
  • Metabolism of food items
  • Hunger
  • Sleep
  • Sexual function and reproductive health
  • Mood
  • Cognitive ability
  • Stress response
  • Appetite

Hormones also work in tandem with each other. A good example is the relationship between progesterone and estrogen, two hormones produced by the ovaries that work together to regulate the menstrual cycle.

The Link Between Estrogen and Progesterone

Estrogen and progesterone have complementary functions. Estrogen is the more energizing of the two and helps with memory, libido, mood, sleep and many other functions. It helps protect bone density, youthful skin and hair, mental sharpness, and healthy cholesterol levels. Estrogen levels rise in the follicular phase, which is the first half of the menstrual cycle, up to the point of ovulation. 

Progesterone is produced after ovulation occurs (this time in your menstrual cycle is called the luteal phase) and has a more calming function. Progesterone levels peak about midway through the luteal phase (about 3 weeks after your last period began), then drop off before menstruation occurs. This sudden drop can contribute to symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Progesterone helps regulate the effects of estrogen on the body. It plays a role in the growth of the uterine lining during menstruation, and helps regulate the timing of menstruation.

As you see, both hormones play vital functions in a woman’s body, but they must be balanced. Having inadequate levels of progesterone is not only problematic on its own, but estrogen doesn’t function as well with low levels of progesterone. When your levels of estrogen and progesterone aren’t balanced, estrogen dominance can occur.

Estrogen Dominance: When Hormones Go Off Kilter

Without the balancing influence of progesterone, estrogen’s influence on the body can lead to troubling symptoms. Women who previously hadn’t experienced trouble with their periods may find themselves bleeding far heavier than before. They may struggle with PMS or wonder where their wild mood swings came from. The symptoms of estrogen dominance include:

  • Heavy periods
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Fertility issues
  • Blood sugar problems
  • Weight gain, particularly around the belly
  • Thyroid problems
  • Higher risk of developing autoimmune diseases
  • Bloating
  • Fatigue
  • PMS
  • Mood disorders, including anxiety and depression
  • Anger management issues
  • Increased risk of breast, uterine, and ovarian cancers

What Causes Estrogen Dominance?

Many factors can lead to estrogen imbalance, and it’s not uncommon for a woman to experience more than one cause.

  • Problems in other parts of the body can contribute to estrogen dominance, including poor liver function, because the liver helps eliminate excess estrogen.
  • Other hormones also influence estrogen and progesterone production, particularly insulin and cortisol, so when those hormones are disrupted, the effects can cascade.
  • Chronic stress can lead to harmful hormonal fluctuations.
  • A poor diet can also lead to hormonal problems, because magnesium, zinc, protein, and B vitamins help to metabolize estrogen. In addition, since fat cells produce estrogen, obesity can contribute to excess levels.
  • Normal age-related fluctuations in hormone levels can create imbalances, particularly during the perimenopause years. Women experiencing polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are also vulnerable.
  • Interestingly, sometimes estrogen dominance isn’t caused by estrogen itself. Xenohormones are compounds that mimic the properties of estrogens. They can be absorbed by the body and trigger estrogen production, leading to further imbalances. Many common products contain xenohormones, including plastics (watch out for plastic food containers in particular), pesticides, factory-farmed meat, car exhaust, and emulsifiers found in shampoo and other beauty products.

How To Balance Estrogen and Progesterone

1 – Reduce stress.

Stress, particularly the chronic stress so common in our modern lives, impacts cortisol production, which in turn impacts other hormones, including progesterone. Stress reduction techniques such as meditation and yoga can help regulate stress and hormone levels. Sometimes, a simple attitude shift in attitude can slow the “flight or fight” response that produces cortisol. To do this, try considering a stressful event in a more positive light – perhaps as an opportunity to prove your strength.

2 – Get enough sleep.

Hormonal imbalances can cause sleep disturbances. At the same time, you need adequate sleep to maintain healthy hormonal balance. If this seems frustrating, it is! That’s why I include working to create a healthy sleep routine and pattern as a key step in my 90 Days to Hormone Harmony Program.

3 – Maintain a healthy liver and gut.

Your liver metabolizes estrogen, so it’s imperative to maintain optimum liver health by reducing exposure to toxins and minimizing alcohol. In addition, your gut microbiome also plays a role in estrogen regulation. Probiotic supplements, fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut, and drinks like kefir help maintain the “good” bacteria in the microbiome. Fiber consumption triggers the production of more bacteria, so increase your fiber intake with a focus on whole grains and produce (my 2 favorite high fiber foods are blackberries and artichoke hearts). High amounts of fiber can also lead to more bowel movements, which helps eliminate excess estrogen.

4 – Eat for hormone health.

The traditional Western diet of highly processed, high-sugar foods is linked to higher estrogen production. In contrast, Plant Based and Mediterranean diets have been shown to reduce estrogen levels. These diets center around whole grains, brightly colored vegetables, olive oil, and legumes. Green, leafy vegetables like kale and spinach are particularly beneficial.

Protein is essential for the production of amino acids, which are the building blocks of hormones. Some evidence shows that vegetarian sources of protein are the most effective in regulating estrogen – but the most important factor is to avoid meat from animals exposed to pesticides and artificial hormones.

Omega-3 fatty acids help regular insulin and cortisol production and reduce inflammation, which has a beneficial effect on estrogen. Foods high in omega-3 include chia seeds, avocados, many nuts, and fatty fish.

5 – Improve hormone receptivity with exercise.

Some research shows that regular exercise can make your body more receptive to the messages carried by hormones. Plus, exercise can help reduce excess body fat, which carries estrogen.

6 – Consider replacement.

The decision to start hormone therapy can be complex, with many factors to consider, including a woman’s age and overall health. It’s important to work with myself or another integrative practitioner to find a solution that works for you.

In bioidentical hormones (often called bHRT), the hormones are derived from plants and are identical to the hormones produced in your body. These can be customized based on your unique hormone profile. Traditional hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is synthetic. The hormones are close to those in your body, but not always exactly the same. Long-term use of synthetic HRT carries many risks, including increased rates of certain cancers, heart disease, and strokes.

If you recognize any symptoms of hormonal imbalance, I can help! Reach out to get a comprehensive assessment of your hormones and a customized plan for rebalance. You don’t have to live with an imbalance of hormones!

Book your appointment today to get started! New patients can book a FREE Meet & Greet with me HERE and existing patients can book a consultation with me HERE.

Sources

Paterni I, Granchi C, Minutolo F. Risks and benefits related to alimentary exposure to xenoestrogens. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017;57(16):3384-3404. doi:10.1080/10408398.2015.1126547

Layman DK, Anthony TG, Rasmussen BB, et al. Defining meal requirements for protein to optimize metabolic roles of amino acids. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;101(6):1330S-1338S. doi:10.3945/ajcn.114.084053

Sánchez-Zamorano LM, Flores-Luna L, Angeles-Llerenas A, Ortega-Olvera C, Lazcano-Ponce E, Romieu I, Mainero-Ratchelous F, Torres-Mejía G. The Western dietary pattern is associated with increased serum concentrations of free estradiol in postmenopausal women: implications for breast cancer prevention. Nutr Res. 2016 Aug;36(8):845-54. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2016.04.008. Epub 2016 Apr 26. PMID: 27440539.

Cano A, Marshall S, Zolfaroli I, Bitzer J, Ceausu I, Chedraui P, Durmusoglu F, Erkkola R, Goulis DG, Hirschberg AL, Kiesel L, Lopes P, Pines A, van Trotsenburg M, Lambrinoudaki I, Rees M. The Mediterranean diet and menopausal health: An EMAS position statement. Maturitas. 2020 Sep;139:90-97. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2020.07.001. Epub 2020 Jul 15. PMID: 32682573.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC3574573/

Gorbach SL, Goldin BR. Diet and the excretion and enterohepatic cycling of estrogens. Prev Med. 1987 Jul;16(4):525-31. doi: 10.1016/0091-7435(87)90067-3. PMID: 3628202.

Sánchez-Zamorano LM, Flores-Luna L, Angeles-Llerenas A, Ortega-Olvera C, Lazcano-Ponce E, Romieu I, Mainero-Ratchelous F, Torres-Mejía G. The Western dietary pattern is associated with increased serum concentrations of free estradiol in postmenopausal women: implications for breast cancer prevention. Nutr Res. 2016 Aug;36(8):845-54. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2016.04.008. Epub 2016 Apr 26. PMID: 27440539.

5 Signs of a Healthy Gut

How’s your gut health? A simple “gut check” is one of the most comprehensive ways to assess your overall well-being. Growing research points to the importance of the microbiome in a wide range of functions, from your immune system, weight, and hormone levels to your mental health and more.

The term microbiome refers to the trillions of microorganisms – bacteria, fungi, and other living microorganisms that exist in your gut. It’s a complex world, with hundreds of different kinds of bacteria. Those microorganisms are the foundation of the gut-brain axis, the two-way communication network between your brain and your gut.

Maintaining the microbiome requires a delicate balance of bacteria. The “good” bacteria helps digest food, absorbs nutrients, helps produce vitamins and hormones as well as protects against “bad” bacteria. A myriad of factors can impact this balance. High-fiber foods are beneficial – gut bacteria breaks down fiber to digest it, a process which stimulates the production of more bacteria. A varied, nutrient-rich diet is important for a diverse biome, something that isn’t typically possible if you eat a lot of processed food. Stress, alcohol, and many medications may also alter the composition of the microbiome.


Is Your Gut Healthy? 5 Ways To Tell

Scientists are only just beginning to learn about the complexity of the microbiome. Despite the many mysteries still to discover, it’s actually quite easy to do a general check of your gut health. Following are some things to look for.

1 – Transit time

Healthy digestion is the key to maintaining the microbiome, and one indication of that is transit time, which is how long it takes food to pass through your digestive system. Why does this matter? Slower digestion can lead to the formation of harmful bacteria. On the other hand, when food passes through your body too quickly, you may not absorb essential nutrients. Although everyone is slightly different, optimal transit time is from 12 to 24 hours, which, for most of us, means one to two bowel movements a day. If you have no idea how long it takes to digest food, try eating about a half cup of raw beets, then keep an eye on the color of your stool (watch for bright red and don’t be alarmed, it may look like blood but it isn’t).

How to improve transit time:

  • Foods high in fiber keep things moving through your intestinal tract, so focus on unprocessed fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
  • Many people find that dairy and overly processed foods slow digestion – aim to avoid these foods.
  • Movement leads to increased blood flow and stimulates peristalsis, the wavelike contractions that move food through the intestines. Many yoga poses can help with digestion, particularly twisting moves and “child pose”.
  • Some supplements that can speed up digestion include magnesium citrate and supplements with psyllium. However, it’s important to work with a healthcare practitioner to determine the correct use and dose. It’s possible to become dependent on supplements and laxatives, which can ultimately harm your digestive system.

2 – Perfect poops

It’s nobody’s favorite subject, but the condition of your poop actually gives a good indication of  your intestinal health. The Bristol Stool Scale provides an easy visual reference. Some key things to look for include:

  • Texture: Should be smooth. Hard, lumpy poops often indicate constipation.
  • Shape: Sausage-shaped is ideal. Overly liquid is typically a sign of diarrhea, and pellet shapes are a sign of constipation.
  • Buoyancy: Sinks in the toilet. Poop that floats may contain undigested fat.

Any straining or experiencing any pain during bowel movements should be investigated, as should any blood. Get to know your own body and be alert to any changes.

3 – Gas after meals is not disruptive or painful

Some gas is inevitable after a meal and some foods, like beans and raw veggies, certainly trigger gas more than others. Excess gas, however, can indicate something is amiss in your gut. While everyone has a different baseline, pay attention if you notice changes in your level of gassiness or if gas causes distress or pain.

Easing gassiness

The following tips can reduce gassiness:

  • Chew food slowly and thoroughly. The more you break down food in the mouth the easier it is to further digest.
  • Keep a food diary to identify triggers. Common culprits include legumes and dairy products.
  • Try a short walk after a large meal since movement helps stimulate peristalsis.
  • Limit the consumption of carbonated drinks – this includes seltzer and sparkling water.
  • Try probiotic supplements. It’s best to work with a healthcare practitioner, because sometimes excess probiotics can actually cause gas.

4 – Good energy levels

Do you feel rested when you wake up? The answer is a good indicator of your gut health. Because we get energy as food is digested, your gut health is essential to your energy level, and how ready you are to face the day. If you can’t break down food properly, you won’t receive vital essential nutrients. However, the role of your gut in fighting fatigue goes deeper than that. Bacteria in the microbiome produce B vitamins, which are essential for energy. They also regulate the immune system, which is imperative for good energy.

The gut-brain axis also influences your sleep. It’s a two-way communication channel: your sleep influences the balance of bacteria, but bacteria also influences your circadian rhythms.

Low energy can also be a sign of leaky gut syndrome, which happens when the lining of the gut becomes too permeable, which allows unhealthy gut bacteria and inflammatory substances to leak into the bloodstream. People with leaky gut syndrome are at high risk for issues like Crohn’s and Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome, conditions that lead to fatigue.

5 – Your memory, mood, and focus

Growing research points to the impact of gut bacteria on our moods. Up to 90% of your body’s serotonin is produced in the gut, so it’s not surprising that altering the balance within the biome has notable effects on mood. Once again, this is a two-way street, as stress alters gut composition, which in turn can make you even more stressed because the gut’s production of hormones that impact your mood then shifts. It’s ultimately a sign of the importance of recognizing and addressing gut issues early.

The neurochemicals in your gut also impact your ability to learn new information and retain it. If you notice a change in your cognitive abilities, it’s a good idea to evaluate the other signs of a healthy gut to see if there is a connection.

How did your gut check turn out? If any items on this gut health checklist raise concerns for you, don’t hesitate to reach out!

Book your appointment today to get started! New patients can book a FREE Meet & Greet with me HERE and existing patients can book a consultation with me HERE.

Sources

Madison, Annelise, and Janice K Kiecolt-Glaser. “Stress, depression, diet, and the gut microbiota: human-bacteria interactions at the core of psychoneuroimmunology and nutrition.” Current opinion in behavioral sciences vol. 28 (2019): 105-110. doi:10.1016/j.cobeha.2019.01.011

John F. Cryan, Kenneth J. O’Riordan, Caitlin S. M. Cowan, Kiran V. Sandhu, The Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis, Physiological Reviews, 28 AUG 2019, https://doi.org/10.1152/physrev.00018.2018

Science Daily, “Food’s transit through the body is a key factor in digestive health,” June 27, 2016

Li Y, Hao Y, Fan F, Zhang B. The Role of Microbiome in Insomnia, Circadian Disturbance and Depression. Front Psychiatry. 2018;9:669. Published 2018 Dec 5. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00669

Rao SSC, Rehman A, Yu S, Andino NM. Brain fogginess, gas and bloating: a link between SIBO, probiotics and metabolic acidosis. Clin Transl Gastroenterol. 2018;9(6):162. Published 2018 Jun 19. doi:10.1038/s41424-018-0030-7

Holzer P, Farzi A. Neuropeptides and the microbiota-gut-brain axis. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2014;817:195-219. doi:10.1007/978-1-4939-0897-4_9