Hormone imbalances in our society have become an epidemic. It is estimated that 85% of women have PMS symptoms and 85% of women experience hot flashes during perimenopause. However Japanese women experience hot flashes at about 1/3 the rate of us North American women and in cultures that eat primarily a vegetable based diet women have far fewer menopausal symptoms than we do.
We tend to think that our hormone fluctuations are something that happen beyond our control inside our bodies and there’s not much we can do about them. We are also not aware of the delicate balance that is played out between all the organs in our endocrine system (hormone system). Stress affects the adrenal glands. A diet high in refined foods will affect the pancreas. We all know someone with thyroid issues. All of these organs work together and as we get closer to menopause women with low thyroid function or exhausted adrenals have the hardest time.
More often than not we have too much estrogen in relationship to the amount of progesterone in our bodies. Even if our estrogen levels have dropped with menopause it is still possible to have an estrogen dominant condition because the ratio between estrogen and progesterone is out of balance. Conditions of estrogen dominance can be many: PMS, heavy periods, uterine fibroids, endometriosis, fibrocystic breasts, infertility, breast cancer and other cancers of the reproductive organs. Naturally these conditions can also cause other more seemingly unrelated symptoms such as fatigue, moodiness, foggy thinking, insomnia, weight gain, bloating and decreased sex drive.
Before trying herbal formulas for your hormone symptoms, try adjusting your diet to support your body. Eating a diet that is mostly plants in their whole natural form supplies our bodies with plenty of fiber and lots of phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are quite simply, health supporting plant compounds. We also tend to eat far too many calories than we need. When calorie intake exceeds our energy needs we end up with huge stress on our pancreas (which is an endocrine gland), our liver, and our elimination organs. With weight gain, estrogen levels increase because fat cells manufacture estrogen.
As Michael Pollan says ”Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Certain foods can also trigger hormone imbalances and in particular hot flashes:
- Aged cheeses
- Alcohol (especially red merlots and beer)
- Spicy foods
- Coffee (and other hot drinks)
- Refined wheat
- Commercially raised meat
Animals that are raised for consumption are often given steroids to promote growth. They are generally fed a diet high in soy, which is estrogenic. Milk is also high in estrogens. Remember that milk comes from a lactating cow! I had a client that eliminated her hot flashes just from eliminating dairy from her diet.
Getting enough exercise is important as well. Without even changing your dietary habits, exercise alone can decrease hot flashes by up to 50% (if you exercise daily).
The liver plays a huge role as it is meant to metabolize and deactivate hormones that the body no longer needs. If our livers are burdened with all the other many jobs it has to do, then hormone deactivation plays a back seat and hormones are re-circulated again and again. Hormones are meant to circulate once and then are bound with bile salts in the liver and excreted from the body through the digestive system. If all is working the way it should the estrogen stays conjugated (joined with the bile salts) and is excreted, however IF you eat a lot of meat or you have an intestinal dysbiosis (imbalance in gut bacteria), then a specific enzyme is present in the gut that once again makes the estrogen biologically active and it is free to be re-absorbed into the blood stream.
There are a few things you can do to facilitate this process in the body: drink enough water daily, only eat organic, grass fed meat and poultry a couple times a week, eat a lot of cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, etc…) to support the liver, take a probiotic or eat fermented foods regularly, eliminate refined sugars from your diet, get enough fiber (to encourage regular elimination) and cut out any chemical artificial sweeteners. Researchers at Duke University in North Carolina found that Splenda reduces the amount of good bacteria in the intestines by 50%!
There are also supplements that you can take like indole-3-carbinol, di-indole methane and calcium d-glucarate. They do not affect hormones but rather help the liver and the gut to carry out processes that should be a natural process in the body.
So, why do we have this excess of estrogen inside us? Some of it occurs as a part of our diet from excess of meat and dairy as mentioned above but a great deal comes from estrogen mimickers in our environment in the form of ‘xenoestrogens’. They can be found everywhere:
- Agricultural chemicals. Eat organic as much as possible.
- Body care products (deodorants, perfumes, hair products, shampoo, nail polish and remover, makeup, soaps, mouthwash, lotions)
- Household products (laundry soap, fabric softeners, air fresheners, dish soap, dry cleaning chemicals, bleach, glue, paint, solvents, tile cleaners, bathroom cleaners)
- Plastic (water bottles, plastic wrap, food containers, canned foods, shower curtains, Styrofoam cups)
In one Dartmouth University study, the researchers found that plastic wrap with olive oil heated in a microwave produced a concentration of xenoestrogens 500,000 times the minimum amount of estrogen needed to produce breast cancer cell proliferation in a test tube.
- Pollution, industrial waste, car exhaust
- Work place – copiers, printers, faxes, fiberboard, furniture, carpet
- Teflon pans
As your body tries to eliminate all these toxins certain nutrients are used up very quickly such as magnesium and B6. Xenoestrogens will cause a deficiency of these 2 nutrients. Sometimes supplementing will be enough to decrease symptoms, depending on the severity.
If you’re one of the 85% of women that experience hormone imbalances try changing your diet and your home environment first. If you’re still experiencing symptoms there are many herbs and supplements that can help. We carry a wide variety of these products and you can talk with one of our staff to find out what products are right for you. I am also giving a guided store tour on March 28 to show you all the foods, supplements and herbs that can help with hormone imbalances.
Kira Neumann, RHN