Dr. Amy Bader, ND
Hello, ladies! This month let’s tackle a HUGE subject: hormones. Erma Bombeck has been quoted, “I don’t understand this generation. They have adjusted the timetable for childbearing so that menopause and teaching a sixteen-year-old to drive will occur in the same week.” (Good point, Erma!) We can laugh about them, but hormones are a very complicated business. When it comes to a woman’s chronic health problems, about 80% of the time a hormone imbalance is at the core. Hormones impact everything from mood, to sleep, to joints, to weight.
Why is this? Why do these little power-tripping compounds get all the say? Well, hormones are the main communicators of our bodies. They are made in one cell, released into circulation, and travel to other cells. There, they exert their power and tell those cells how to behave. It’s like grade school all over again— when in balance, hormones are our BFFs. When out of balance, they feel like lunchroom bullies. And, as if this isn’t enough, they all influence each other.
Peer pressure at the cellular level! Your adrenals (stress hormones) influence your thyroid (metabolic hormones), which influences your ovaries (reproductive hormones), which influence your adrenals again. It’s as if they’re playing tag on the playground. Your assignments this month will help ensure your hormones “play nice.”
Your body LOVES rhythm… especially its hormonal systems. Your hypothalamus, the master gland up in your brain, eats up routine. Supporting, enhancing or creating rhythm is incredibly helpful to so many women. Let’s start with monthly rhythm. There is a very old tradition in Anthroposophical medicine (a form of medicine that sees health as a mind-body-spirit balance) called “seed cycling”. Going way, way back, women normalized their hormones by eating seeds in concert with their menstrual cycles.
Here’s how it works: From day one of menses to day 14 of the monthly cycle, eat flaxseeds (freshly ground) and/or pumpkin seeds; from days 15 to the start of menses, eat sesame and/or sunflower seeds. The seeds should be raw and preferably organic. Eat about 2 tablespoons total per day. IF a woman has no periods, very irregular periods, or is post-menopausal (for any reason including chemotherapy or surgery), her cycle is set by the MOON. The moon?! I know, I know… Sounds super hippy dippy. BUT, it works. I’ve seen success with this technique many, many times with patients. From the new moon to full moon, eat flax and/or pumpkin. Full moon back to new, switch to sesame and/or sunflower. Try seed cycling. It’s so old school, it’s cool again.
Daily rhythm is important, too. The easiest way to create daily rhythm is to make sleep a set routine. Start by choosing a bedtime well before midnight. There is a saying that one hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after. Try to keep to this bedtime, and arise about the same time each morning. And, please, please, please make sure you are getting enough sleep. Most women need the full 8 hours to give their hormones time to balance themselves at night.
Eat for healthy hormones. Remember a couple articles ago when I wrote about the importance of digestion and the food we eat? Well… food and digestive health have a HUGE impact on hormones. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet can be so helpful to sorting out our hormone imbalances. (Read my “Gut Check” article.) In addition, it’s really important to ensure you eat plenty of fiber each day. Here’s why… Our livers are in charge of regulating our hormone levels.
When we are out of balance, our livers eliminate excess hormones by pushing them out into the digestive tract. Once in the gut, fiber attaches itself to these discarded hormones and carries them out of the body before they have a chance to be reabsorbed. Think of fiber as a sponge mopping up all the hormones you don’t need. In addition, alcohol and caffeine influence the liver and can affect estrogen levels. This, in turn, can create undesirable ripple effects, so it is best to consume alcohol and caffeine in moderation. I recommend no more than a few drinks or cups of coffee per week. One last point… and, I’m going to be blunt. Sugar is no good. It impacts our stress hormones both directly and indirectly, which in turn impacts your whole body. NO BUENO. Sorry. It had to be said. Limit it as much as you can.
Stress? Listen, ladies… We all experience it. It’s hard to get away from. But, let’s commit to a few simple things to reduce its influence so our stress hormones don’t wreak havoc on our metabolic and reproductive hormones. There are lots of ways to reduce stress— let me give you a couple of ideas. First, body posture is oddly powerful in reducing our stress hormone called cortisol. Watch the fascinating TedTalk by Dr. Amy Cuddy in which she talks about this phenomenon. SO interesting! Second, movement is a huge stress reducer. Whatever your fitness level, start incorporating movement into your life at an appropriate intensity for you. (It should feel good, not bad, to move.) Third, try your hand at meditation. Many studies show quieting the mind has a profound impact on hormones and health, especially when done consistently. This doesn’t have to be a big, time consuming event— a few minutes in the quiet of your home or in nature should do the trick.
As I said before, hormones are complicated. If you feel your hormones are still acting like little punks (and nobody likes a punk), it may be worth a visit to a licensed naturopathic doctor to get help sorting it all out. Taking the time and making the effort to get this right is important for your overall health and longevity. So, take the time and make the effort. Your hormones will thank you. (And, if your hormones make you grumpy, EVERYONE will thank you.) Until next time…
Take care of your (whole) self—
Amy Bader ND is a doctor, teacher, speaker, writer and entrepreneur. She is a graduate of the National College of Natural Medicine, where she is now an adjunct clinical faculty member training naturopathic medical students. She has private practices in Northern California and Portland, Oregon, where she lives with her beautiful daughter. She has a passion for treating patients with chronic diseases using clinical nutrition, botanical medicine, biotherapeutic drainage, and homeopathy. She has a particular interest in working with patients who want to lose weight and feel comfortable in their bodies.
Dr. Bader has been interviewed as an expert in natural medicine and natural healthcare for radio, newspapers, magazines and television. She has been a contributing expert columnist for a large online health resource website. Dr. Bader was a founding co-director of NCNM’s Integrative Skin Care Clinic. She is a member of the Advisory Counsel for Kamedis, a bio-herbal skin care company, and is a trainer for Radiancy, maker of LHE phototherapy systems.