Low libido? Mood swings? Anxiety? Stress? PCOS? Period pains? Hormonal imbalances are all too common these days and as with a lot of 21st Century complaints, generally assumed to be part and parcel of the job. But we shouldn’t suffer in silence, assuming that painful periods are normal, or that stress is simply an integral part of our lifestyle these days and therefore doesn’t need to be addressed. In this post I hope to give you some easy pointers of how you can support your body and your hormonal balance.
Endocrine disrupting chemicals are chemicals that affect endogenous hormone production, and our lives are filled with them today. I’ll give you some examples:
- Water bottles (BPA free doesn't = safe!!)
- Personal care products
- Carpets and other synthetic textiles in our homes
- Canned food
- All plastics
- Pesticides, and therefore pretty much all of our food
- Non organic meat and animal products
- Tap water
- Pharmaceutical drugs
Endocrine disruptors (EDs) can mimic hormones in the body and bind to hormone receptors having pretty serious effects: They can create a response more powerful than the original (intended) hormone for that receptor, create a less powerful response, or create a totally different one. So it’s easy to see when you put it simply like this how wildly our hormone systems can fluctuate within our bodies with these ED chemicals on the loose. The other thing to be aware of is that even really tiny amounts of these chemicals can have severe effects, (that’s why they’re measured in parts per trillion), and when different EDs combine it’s pretty hard to know what the outcome on our health is going to be as although single chemicals have been studied, the combination of many different ones hasn’t.
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Here are some of the side effects caused by ED chemicals:
- Impaired immune system functioning
- promotion of obesity (by altering metabolism, fat cell signaling, glucose uptake, inflammation, and appetite)
- Oxidative stress (this has a systemic knock-on impact)
- Poor detoxification
- Disruption of hormonal pathways (this goes without saying) including female and male sex hormones, hormonal health in the brain, stress signals etc.
So what can you do?
Well firstly, I hope you read last week’s blog post on toxins, and if not, go back and have a read of it here. The first thing to do is to clean up your environment (more details in the previous post). Take a room of your house at a time and make a list, be systematic and practical about it - you can't replace everything at once. Simple swaps in the kitchen that can be incredibly effective are things like moving away from plastic storage containers to glass, shopping zero waste so your salmon fillets (and other food) don’t come shrink wrapped in plastic, changing cookware from non-stick to stainless steel, ceramic and cast iron etc, cooking more from scratch.
Next, think about stress. Stress causes the body to go into flight or flight mode and essentially shut down important (but not essential) hormonal pathways such as sex hormones. Low libido? Time to work on your stress levels. Stress also causes the release of adrenaline and cortisol which are useful in some situations, but a nightmare if you’re trying to wind down for some restful sleep, and we know how important sleep is for our health.
Lastly, think about diet. A large portion of our hormones (what are called the steroid hormones) are made from fat and these include estrogens, androgens and progestins. Polypeptide hormones (like ADH, antidiuretic hormone, which decreases blood pressure) are made from proteins. Do you see where I’m going with this? Hormones are made from proteins and fats, so you gotta eat proteins and fats of good quality to actively support these systems. Oily fish is a great example as it’s fatty (the good kind) and rich in protein.
So there you have it, clean up your environment and exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals, get good sleep, lower stress levels, focus on quality proteins and fats and you’ll be well on your way to supporting your hormonal balance.