Walking a Tightrope: The Hormone Balancing Act
Are you experiencing unexplained weight or appetite changes, insomnia, fatigue, temperature intolerances, hair loss (or growth in unwanted places), acne, moodiness, irregular menstrual cycles, headaches or low libido? If so, a hormone imbalance could be the cause. Anyone can experience uncomfortable fluctuations in hormone levels at various ages and stages in life. Now that it is fall and the kids are back in school, this time of year can throw us even more out of balance. Stress, diet indiscretions, irregular sleep and changing schedules are major triggers.
I recommend starting with the basics first. Eating and sleeping on a regular schedule is crucial. Our bodies heal and restore while we are asleep and there is no substitute. Sleeping at night in a dark room is important for balancing melatonin production by the pineal gland. For many folks with trouble falling asleep, low dose melatonin at bedtime helps. Aim for 8 hours of sleep every night and have a regular bedtime, ideally before 11pm.
Cortisol, the energy and blood sugar regulating adrenal hormone, should spike in the morning to get us ready for our day. Exercise is best done in the morning for this reason. Exercise keeps our endocrine system functioning optimally and helps us adapt to stress. Aim for at least 30 minutes of daily movement that is vigorous enough to get your heart rate up. If you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, your adrenal glands may need extra support. Consider herbs such as Ashwaganda and Rhodiola, active B-complex and magnesium.
Balancing work and play is also needed. Sedentary work like sitting in front of a computer all day wreaks havoc on the hormones, so be sure to take regular breaks to move your body. Check out the fall art around town or go for a hike and enjoy the leaves changing colors. This is also a great time of year to start a new exercise, art or meditation class.
Diet and gut health play a huge role in regulating our hormones, too. Sweeteners, especially high fructose corn syrup, and even artificial sweeteners throw your insulin, blood sugar and cortisol levels off. Overindulging in caffeine and alcohol has a similar effect. Sweets and caffeine may give you a short lived energy burst, but soon leave you feeling even more tired and foggy brained than you were before.
Stick with a whole foods diet emphasizing land and sea vegetables of every color, lean protein like legumes, organic poultry, wild caught, cold water fish and healthy fats such as walnuts and flax seeds. Avoid fried foods and fatty, corn-fed beef. Fiber feeds good gut bacteria to help us metabolize our hormones. Aim for 40-60 grams of fiber daily, which has the side benefit of keeping your bowels balanced. Probiotic foods like raw live sauerkraut and pickles also help keep the gut flora happy. Add in some liver flushing foods such as artichokes, beets, radishes and green leafy veggies to aid in the break down and excretion of hormone byproducts. Build up of these metabolites in the body can cause PMS, migraines, hot flashes, acne and mood swings. Lastly, avoid storing or microwaving food and beverages in plastic containers, which can leach estrogenic compounds into your food.
Consider lab testing if you continue to feel out of balance. Urine testing is one of the best ways to assess adrenal and sex hormone metabolism, especially for women approaching menopause. Blood testing is best for assessing thyroid and pituitary gland hormone production. Saliva and urine tests can map out your daily cortisol production to see if your circadian rhythms are in synch. Naturopathic physicians are familiar with these testing options and are experts in hormone balancing using bio-identical hormone prescriptions and other natural therapies.
Dr. Margaret Philhower is a naturopathic doctor practicing at The Bear Creek Naturopathic Medical Clinic located at 2612 E. Barnett Rd. in Medford, where she is taking new patients. She also has a private naturopathic family practice in Takilma next door to The Dome School. You can schedule an appointment by calling 541-770-5563 or visit her website at www.drmargaret.org.