WHAT IS sabotaging your hormones?
About four years ago, I noticed I was getting moody right before my periods. I’d always considered myself healthy, but knew there were things I could do to improve. As a functional medical doctor, I also knew that nutrition most likely had a lot to do with my mood swings. So I decided to clean up my diet, especially when it came to sugar and refined carbohydrates like pasta, white rice, white potatoes, and bread.
Sugar and refined carbohydrates are best known for their effects on weight gain, but these foods are frequently at the root your worst PMS and menopause symptoms, too, especially when it comes to fatigue, cravings, and mood swings. From my own experience and from the women I see daily in my practice, this one step can make a tremendous difference. When I cut sugar (and when I refer to “sugar” I mean all refined carbs, not just the white powdery stuff!), my irritability vanished. Similarly, patients and friends of mine who have stopped eating sugar feel more energy, little to no cravings or cramps, less hot flashes, and much more!
Sugar’s effect on your hormones
Sugar not only provides major highs and lows in mood and energy, it can also disrupt one of the most powerful hormones in the body: insulin. And insulin is closely connected to all of the other hormones in your body, including estrogen and testosterone.
Did you know women with PMS eat 275% more refined sugar than those without PMS?
When insulin spikes, typically after a meal high in sugar, this can lead to lower levels of an important protein known as sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). SHBG binds excess estrogen and testosterone in the blood, but when it’s low, these hormone levels increase. Insulin also increases the production of testosterone, which is then converted into even more estrogen by fat tissue in the belly.
These effects mean the ratio of estrogen to progesterone (known for keeping us calm and happy) is way too high, leading to irritability, anxiety, insomnia and more. And as women reach menopause, symptoms get more intense and can include hot flashes and night sweats as well.
Instead of NO sugar, think glycemic control
Cutting all sugar out of your life is next to impossible. Fruit, vegetables, and even legumes have some sugars in them. The trick is to lower your glycemic load. Glycemic load is an estimate of how much the carbohydrates in a certain food or meal will raise a person’s blood sugar after eating it. You want to gradually increase blood sugar and insulin as opposed to causing spikes and dramatic drops.
Simple, refined sugars cause spikes in blood sugar and insulin. But complex carbohydrates, fiber, protein and healthy fats promote more gradual increases and decreases in blood sugar and insulin, lowering the glycemic load and lifting the burden on your hormones.
I have a patient who used to keep a bag of hard candy in her purse. Whenever she was nervous or bored she’d unwrap a piece of candy and eat it. It was difficult for her to stop this long-time habit, but she now keeps a bag of nuts in her purse instead. She rotates between walnuts , pistachios, and pecans to keep her taste buds interested. This small change not only helped with cravings, mood swings, and fatigue, but her blood sugar went from 98 to 93 — a significant improvement!
4 ways to balance your hormones and curb the sugar habit
Tricks to lower your glycemic load
- Switch from white rice to brown or wild
- Replace sweet potatoes for white
- Try mashed avocado instead of dipping chips in salsa
- Add an extra serving of veggies to your plate instead of the carb choice
- Drink mineral water with a lime or lemon instead of soda
- Add nuts, nut butter, or gluten-free oats to your favorite cookie recipe
There are multiple ways to balance your hormones and ease symptoms of PMS and menopause. Here are some approaches I use in my practice:
- Natural hormonal support. Chromium picolinate (CLA) is an excellent option for supporting insulin regulation and blood sugar. And for those uneven estrogen to progesterone ratios, you might try lemon balm, passionflower (PASSIFLORA), .
- Sugar-busting nutrients. To curb sugar cravings be sure your multivitamin includes zinc, vitamin C, and B-vitamins. It’s also important to take an omega-3 supplement. The omega-3s in fish oil can not only help with cravings and inflammation, but also improve insulin sensitivity.
- Mix protein, fiber and healthy fat with treats. Take a look at the chart above for ideas. Also, be sure to include lots of cruciferous vegetables in your diet, like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage and kale for added hormone balancing.
- Lower your stress burden. This step counts as a double whammy because high levels of the stress hormone cortisol can disrupt blood sugar, increase cravings and disrupt estrogen and progesterone balance. I use Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 (or Relaxing Breath) Exercise with my patients. Dr. Weil calls it a “natural tranquilizer”. Here’s what to do:
- Exhale completely making a whoosh sound through your mouth
- Inhale through your nose to a count of 4
- Hold the breath in your lungs for a count of 7
- Release the breath in a whoosh from your mouth to a count of 8 breathing out all the stress in your body
I have my patients do this exercise upon waking in the morning for ten rounds, ten rounds at lunch and then ten rounds again before bed. There are lots of choices for decreasing stress, but this is a great first step for busy women.
Feel and look your best — starting today!
Even if you aren’t worried about your waistline, cutting back on or eliminating sugar helps rebalance your hormones, and can dramatically ease your symptoms.
One of the absolute most important ways of improving the quality of your sleep is to do it in complete darkness, as even small amounts of light interfere with the chemicals that tell your body to rest. Exercise is another way to improve sleep. However, avoid rigorous exercise 2 hours before bedtime.
Stick to an exercise regimen. You don’t need to belong to a gym to get fit and stay healthy. You can do strength training at home. Muscle burns more calories than fat and the muscle you develop will help to increase your metabolism.
Going for brisk walks or a jog will keep your cardiovascular system fit. A way to improve your cardio fitness is to do interval training i.e. alternate between low and high intensity activity e.g. walk at a medium pace for 5minutes and then at a brisk pace for 2minutes and keep alternating.
This has been shown to be a quick and extremely effective way to improve heart health and endurance. (Anyone over the age of 60 or who has heart disease, high blood pressure, or arthritis should consult a doctor before attempting interval training.)
Pursue your passions. Don’t give up on your dreams and hobbies. Take the time to do what makes you happy and helps you relax, whether it be art, taking photos, building models, baking etc.
Limit your vices. Beat drug addiction, quit smoking and if necessary – stop drinking. Avoid other risky and potentially addictive behaviours such as fighting, unsafe sex, gambling and excessive thrill-seeking.
Improve your psychological health. Decide what relationships are meaningful and which are draining you. Practice sharing things with those you trust i.e. confiding in someone when you have a problem to help you sort through it.
Get out of manipulative or controlling relationships. It’s better to be on your own and stand strong than be abused/held back by a companion. Learn to cope with emotional pain. Always seek professional advice, do not leave a problem unsolved.
Keep your mind active. Do crosswords, read more, improve your memory and never stop learning. Studies have shown that there is a correlation between mentally-challenging activities and a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s.
Be hygienic. Wash your hands thoroughly after coming into contact with a sick person, using the bathroom, or anything else that could make you sick. In addition to flossing regularly, brush your teeth and tongue at least twice daily to limit plaque and harmful bacteria.
Make little lifestyle changes. Don’t try to make huge changes which you can’t stick to like working yourself to a standstill at the gym three times a week. Rather park further away from the store, take the stairs at work, if you have a dog, take it for a walk, do some gardening, take dance classes.
Remember to do everything in moderation. Get rid of the list that needs to be checked off as this will only make you feel overwhelmed and if you don’t achieve it, you will feel like a failure. Allow yourself the occasional indulgence which will make you feel more satisfied with your new lifestyle choices.
AGING, VITAMINS AND MINERALS
A woman’s body undergoes many changes during her life, each of them unique to the female gender. Each of these phases requires specific nutrients and supplementation to enable us to live healthily.
Unfortunately, the demands of society and the cost of living mean that for many women, we are juggling home and work life for as long as we can before we allow ourselves to rest. Supplementation is often the easiest way to ensure that we get at least the minimum nutrient requirements.
However, certain lifestyle factors can affect the supplements you are taking, for example smoking and alcohol. Factors which increase skin ageing include smoking, stress, a diet full of processed food, exposure to harsh sunlight and high quantities of alcohol. Therefore, before you try invasive treatments to remove the effects of your lifestyle on your skin, look at the steps you can take to prevent accelerating the problem.
A healthy lifestyle includes selective eating and regular exercise and nutritional supplements such as vitamins A, C, D and E, the omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and zinc.
A good multivitamin is essential and should support a healthy balanced diet but not be the sole source of nutrients. A multivitamin should be free from yeast, sugar, wheat, soy, gluten, salt and dairy products and suitable for vegans. It should be free from preservatives, artificial flavours or colours.
Check that minerals are in a chelated form. Chelation allows a mineral to pass easily through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream, assisting with increased metabolism of that mineral. Your multivitamin and mineral supplement should also contain plenty of antioxidants to help with immune support.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Many women suffer from mild to severe PMS and there are certain nutrients which can assist with the symptoms. Magnesium, all the B vitamins, iron and essential fatty acids (EFAs) may relieve common PMS symptoms.
Some women are caught completely unawares by menopause and to assist your body with this change, women can benefit from supplementing with calcium, magnesium, vitamin E and the EFAs. Many women believe that vitamin E especially, has helped significantly when experiencing hot flushes. It is not always advisable to take high doses of Vitamin E. Always remember to take a good antioxidant.
After menopause it is helpful to supplement with calcium, magnesium, EFAs and vitamin D and a good multivitamin, in order to ensure a smooth transition into the next stage of your life.
Our nutrient intake needs to change as our body’s age and adapt, and as women, we can benefit from supplementing with extra B vitamins, vitamin C and D, calcium, magnesium and iron. Never forget the essential omegas.
It is recommended that women include the following supplements in either their multivitamin or as a separate supplement:
- vitamins A, C and K
- copper (important for skin and a healthy heart)
- live probiotics and enzymes (for optimal digestion)
- coenzyme Q10 (may assist in regulating heart function and boosting energy, and can help decrease the occurrence of migraine headaches)
RECOMMENDED DAILY ALLOWANCES
The RDA is the smallest amount of a nutrient that your body needs in order to avoid deficiency symptoms. If your diet is balanced with raw, fresh and whole foods, you don’t need a supplement with high amounts of nutrients. However, in times of stress, illness or lifestyle changes, you may need to opt for a higher amount of nutrients.
ILLNESSES AFFECTING WOMEN
Reproductive age (15-44 years) and adult women (20-59 years)
For women in their reproductive years (15–44), HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death and disease worldwide, while unsafe sex is the main risk factor in developing countries. Biological factors, lack of access to information and health services, economic vulnerability and unequal power in sexual relations expose young women particularly to HIV infection.
Tuberculosis is often linked to HIV infection and the third leading cause of death among women of reproductive age (15–44 years) in low-income countries and worldwide. It ranks fifth worldwide among women aged 20–59 years. A persistent cough, night sweats, sudden weight lose, are all things that you need to be aware of.
Cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer among women, with virtually all cases linked to genital infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV).
Frequent urination, or a burning sensation on urination, may indicate a bladder infection. If you are sexually active, please ensure that your partner also goes to the doctor as most women are infected during intercourse, and then get re-infected by their partner, as they are not being treated at the same time as the woman.
Depression and suicide
Women are more susceptible to depression and anxiety than men. Mental disorders and post-natal depression following childbirth are estimated to affect about 13% of women within a year of delivery. Suicide is the seventh top cause of death globally for women aged 20-59 years.
Avoid alcohol, and sugary substances, if you have a tendency towards depression, both these substances can aggravate the condition.
Cardiovascular disease: heart attacks and strokes
often thought to be a ‘male’ problem, cardiovascular disease (mainly heart attacks/ heart disease and stroke), is the main killer of older women. The reason being, that women experience and show different symptoms to men which contributes to under diagnosis.
Breast, lung and colon cancer
Among the top 10 causes of death in older women globally is cancers of the breast, lung and colon. It is essential that women go for yearly mammograms and gynaecological check-ups.
As women we carry many responsibilities. We nurture and hold, we build and grow, and we expect ourselves to do it all with elegance and panache. It is therefore vitally important that we stay in touch with ourselves and our body’s needs, so that we can obtain the nutrition and supplementation we need to meet the various stages of life in the style that meets our standards of excellence!