Why Healthy Hormones are Essential for a Good Life
When most of us think of hormones, we think of either the bad things (i.e. PMS, cramps, mood swings, acne) or pregnancy (i.e. can I get pregnant?) But there’s actually far more to hormones than meets the eye. Most people don’t know this, but the menstrual cycle is considered the fifth vital sign of health (after body temperature, pulse rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure) because you can learn a lot about your overall health and hormone balance by monitoring your menstrual cycle. Having a healthy hormone balance is not only good for your fertility, but has effects on bone health, heart health, breast health, mental health, energy levels, interest in sex, and overall functioning of your body. Don’t forget that many other organs need healthy hormones to work properly (e.g. the pancreas needs insulin, the thyroid needs thyroid hormones) and all of these are interrelated and interconnected, so when something is wrong with one system, there will be follow-on effects to other systems.
In terms of menstrual health, a lot of what is considered “normal” for women these days (such as PMS, cramps, heavy periods, acne, and others) is actually a sign of hormonal imbalance and can be corrected.
The fact is, periods should not hurt, we should not have PMS, and all of these things (and even more serious issues like endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome/PCOS) can actually be reduced or eliminated through natural methods.
It does take some time and patience, but by following some simple guidelines you can improve your hormonal health and improve your quality of life drastically through nutrition and lifestyle.
The number one way to improve your hormonal balance is by improving your nutrition. Food really is medicine, and everything you ingest has an effect on how your body functions.
You need certain vitamins and minerals for your body to work properly and to be healthy, so if you have a deficiency in something it will often show up as problems in the menstrual cycle.
Here are some nutritional tips to improve hormonal balance.
1. Eliminate/reduce sugar 2. Eliminate/reduce processed foods 3. Eliminate/reduce caffeine and alcohol 4. Eat whole foods
Eating a whole foods diet is the best thing you can do for yourself. This means eat as many fresh foods as you can, and getting them as close to the ground as you can. The more things are processed the less nutritional value they have.
As well, things like sugar, caffeine, and alcohol are considered “anti-nutrients.” This means not only are they not good for you, but they actually prevent your body form absorbing the good nutrients that you are ingesting.
The way you live your life also has huge effects on your hormone balance.
The modern world is fast-paced and full of stress and toxins, and your body has not evolved to deal with this. This means by looking at your life and making changes you will reduce the burden of stress on your body and will function better.
Here are some lifestyle tips to improve hormonal balance.
1. Get good sleep
• Try to go to bed at the same time every day • Get 8 hours of sleep (or as close as you are able to) • Sleep in complete darkness for better sleep quality and improved hormone production
2. Reduce stress
• Figure out what’s stressing you and deal with the issue • Get counselling or other support • Learn stress relieving practices like yoga or meditation
3. Move your body
• Exercise is good for hormones but you don’t have to be a triathlete • Find movement you enjoy, such as walking, biking, gardening, dancing, or even going to the gym
4. Reduce exposure to toxins
BPA, PCBs, phthalates, phytoestrogens, and other chemicals are considered to be hormone disrupting. Reduce your exposure to these by eliminating them as much as possible from your home.
• Get rid of plastics and use glass jars (or plastics with ‘BPA free’ labels) • Look at the labels of household products and buy those without these chemicals • Specifically look at buying natural versions of shampoos, soaps, cleaners, creams, makeup, and other cosmetics
If you suspect you have a hormonal imbalance it’s important to get personalized care.
This could be from a Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioner, Naturopath, Dietitian, Chinese Medicine Doctor, or others.
By getting one-to-one support you have a partner who will help you create a personalized plan to improve your hormone balance and who can monitor your progress and make suggestions for supplements and other changes.
If this list seems too big and like too many changes all at once, that’s okay, you don’t have to do it all today! Pick one or two things that you want to change and try them for a few weeks – pick something easy that doesn’t feel overwhelming. Once you get used to them, try a couple more.
If you are looking for changes to your menstrual cycle, it can often take about three cycles (or more depending on the problem) to see improvements.
So be patient with yourself and know that everything you do is another step toward improved hormonal health and better quality of life.
Allison Macbeth, Founder & Director of Blue Poppy Health, is a Fertility Awareness and Sexual Health Educator with a Masters in Sex Education and a certified Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioner. She teaches women to balance hormones naturally for pregnancy planning, natural birth control, and improved hormonal health. She strives for a world where all women and girls have knowledge of body literacy and are able to make truly informed and empowered decisions about sex, contraception, and child-bearing. Check out her programs here or contact her here. Plus, you can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.