Hormone ‘issues’ have become a norm in our society.
In fact, 150 million women in the U.S. are using birth control pills; many of these women for something other than ‘family planning’.
Lack of menstrual cycles, extreme cases of PMS, irregular cycles, hormone imbalances and more, are considered nothing more than common occurrences that are ‘easily’ corrected with the pill or prescription medication.
However…this is just not the case.
‘Hormonal imbalance’ and ‘normal’ is like saying ‘Eating Big Macs’ is ‘normal’, or getting the majority of your nutrients from packaged, processed and frozen foods is ‘normal’…it’s not.
While there are some genetic links to hormonal imbalances, more commonly, hormonal imbalances are directly attributed to a slew of lifestyle factors that, over time, have caused dysfunction in your hormone regulation.
Before my research frenzy into the answers behind hormonal irregularities—and the ‘cures’—I struggled for years with irregular menstrual cycles.
It may not be the ‘sexiest’ topic to talk about (menstruation), but due to years of living with a chronic eating disorder, and extremely malnourished (a constant 14-year restriction diet), it’s safe to say that my hormones took a hit.
I didn’t get my first period until age 16, and over the years, off and on, lost it, got it back, lost it, got it back…to the point that my hormones were completely ‘shot.’
Because, rather than ‘preparing my body for child bearing’—my body, and its hormones, was far more concerned with that basic processes of keeping it ‘going’. My cortisol levels (stress hormones) were also stressed to the max, leading to some pretty serious adrenal fatigue (another topic for another day).
Long story short?
I was not a ‘Fertile Myrtle.’
Many times, doctors talked about putting me on ‘the pill’—but each and every time, they would counter their decision, deciding I really wouldn’t benefit from it at such a low weight anyways.
What I have learned since that time?
Endocrine (i.e. hormonal) conditions really should not be pharmaceutically or even ‘naturally’ supplemented, really until the foundational issues have been addressed first.
With the hormonal imbalances present, simply popping a pill to ‘correct’ those imbalances is more like band-aiding the problem, or symptoms, rather than addressing the root cause(s).
It tugs at my heart to see hormonal birth control handed out like candy to women who are in similar shoes – who really don’t require birth control (i.e. family planning), but only need to regulate their cycles and hormones.
ACCORDING TO A LOT OF DOCTORS:
Have acne? Take the pill.
Crazy PMS? Take the pill.
Irregular cycles? Take the pill.
Don’t want to get pregnant? Take the pill.
Wait a second…
In my practice, I have witnessed, first hand, many endocrine issues being corrected by simply:
- Addressing nutrient deficiencies and ‘under-eating’ (caloric deficits)
- Supporting digestion and elimination
- Balancing essential fats and proteins
- Addressing and managing stress and chronic fatigue, and anxiety
- Getting clients off sugar and other stimulants
For instance: Essential fats.
Essential fats are crucial in hormonal issues. And, often times, women are not consuming enough of these wonderful nutrients.
All of the body’s cells have a lipid (fatty) membrane structure. Hormone receptors are located within this fatty membrane.
With an essential fatty acid imbalance, however, the membrane receptors for those hormones do not function properly, leading to interference with the hormonal signal transmitted to the target cells.
Another example: Dietary deficiencies.
Some hormones are made from amino acids (proteins), such as tyrosine or tryptophan; others have critical mineral components (lots of veggies and fruits), and others, the steroid hormones, are made from cholesterol (egg yolks, animal fats, coconut products).
When there is a dietary imbalance, or the inability to absorb protein, fats or minerals, the hormonal system suffers. To add hormonal drugs, or even supplements and herbs, when nutritional deficiencies are present, is simply poor protocol and unsubstantiated science.
I won’t get to scientific with you, but really, the first questions that must be addressed with all hormonal imbalances, include:
- Do you, the individual, digest and absorb appropriately?
- Is there a Candida or other fungal problem?
- Are parasites involved?
- Do you consume high amounts of sugar and caffeine?
- Are you eating enough to support vitality, energy and metabolic function?
- Do you rely primarily on artificial and processed foods? (even diet foods, bars, powders)
- Do you have high-stress, anxiety or are you burning a candle at both ends of the spectrum?
The side effects alone of birth control pills (listed below) alone are enough to at least consider, first really giving your nutrition and lifestyle a thoughtful look, if the pill is being used for ‘hormonal imbalances’ or a skin care regime.
*Here is an overview of some of the reported risks and side effects of birth control pills. Some physical and emotional changes take place that are permanent while you stay on the pill. Many of these changes occur as your body’s response to synthetic estrogen.
These side effects include:
- Larger breasts
- Weight gain or loss
- Reduced or increased acne
- Slight nausea
- Emotional sensitivity right before your period
- Mood swings throughout your cycle
- Water retention/bloating
- Irregular bleeding or spotting
- Breast tenderness
- Decreased libido
What causes such side effects?
It all goes back to your gut and nutrition.
Birth control pills rob many nutrients from your body and impair the assimilation of the nutrients you consume:
- Deplete folate– Lack of folate disrupts DNA metabolism
- Deplete B Vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B6 and B12)-The lack of these “energy vitamins” can cause irritability, depression, insomnia and fatigue.
- Strip zinc– Lowering the immune system and encouraging insulin resistance
- Deplete magnesium– Leading to mineral imbalances in the body
- Impairs healthy bacteria in the digestive tract. This leads to reduced digestion, nutrient assimilation, lowered immunity, and the overgrowth of pathogens like Candida (yeast infection).
Ok, ok. You get it.
Nutrition and lifestyle can help heal hormonal imbalance. Yada, yada, yada…
So what are some EASY steps to take in addressing hormonal ‘imbalances’?
- Avoid or eliminate artificial and processed/packaged foods, stimulants, and toxins
- Adopt a healthy hormone diet (i.e. plenty of fats, variety of veggies, organic meats)
- Take sufficient essential fatty acid
- Restore proper digestive function
- Balance minerals (ensure variety of nutrients, along with supplementing with basic vitamins/minerals you may be deficient in)
- Get sufficient rest
- Get regular moderate exercise
- Drink ½ your body weight in ounces of water
- Take a quality probiotic 1-2x daily
On the food front, here are a few of my favorite gut-healing and nutrient rich foods:
- Homemade bone broth: RICH in minerals. Easy peasy to make at home. Drink 12-16 oz. per day.
- Himalayan sea-salt: Salt helps promote balance in your body—including balanced hormone production. It also allows better access to use the vitamins and minerals from food. Don’t worry about ‘low sodium’ or ‘no sodium’ conventional wisdom. Salt your food with this goodie to taste and add a pinch to your drinking water in the mornings.
- Organic, pasture-raised/grassfed meats. Don’t worry about 99% lean, tasteless meat here. Animal meats are rich in healthy fats that are powerful boosters for your hormones. I am really in to boneless, skinless chicken thighs and grass-fed ground bison at the moment. As for other fats: Cook with coconut oil or ghee/grassfed butter. Mash avocado on top of your salad at lunch. Spread coconut butter on a sweet potato. Drizzle olive oil on roasted Brussels sprouts or broccoli. Embrace the fats!
Diligently committing to making changes in many of these areas can—and will—dramatically impact your hormones, without even so much as touching a pill or supplement.
And, just like Rome was not built in a day, it will take some time and consistency (I typically coach clients to give it at least 3-months) to experience the power of change.
Once some solid, foundational habits are established, it is then that I can partner with a client to best address any additional supplemental support she needs in ‘regulating’ her cycle and/or hormones.
Until the foundations of nutrition and lifestyle are addressed, endocrine support, even through many great glandulars and herbs out there, really won’t be as effective—particularly for long-term health.
While your choice of contraception is most certainly a personal one, and in a world full of modern medical technology, we have been taught that taking a pill is the answer to any health problem.
However, the human body is still connected to its innate-wiring (i.e. you were born to thrive) in a way that science does not fully recognize.
Side note: Take oral contraceptives legitimately for ‘birth control’ (i.e. not having kids)?
That’s, again, another topic for another day. However, I recently stumbled upon this resource that may be worth a read: Taking Charge of Your Fertility, 10th Anniversary Edition: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive Health.