An ancient adage from Chinese medicine says, “A doctor would rather treat ten men than one woman.”Chinese medicine validates what women have always known, we are indeed intricate creatures! Our hormones are in part responsible for this complexity. Their ebb and flow influence all aspects of a woman’s physical, emotional and mental well-being.
When our hormones are in balance, they create a sense of inner well-being and vitality. This inner harmony may be experienced as painless menstrual cycles or a symptom-free menopause. However, if those inner rhythms are altered, hormonal havoc ensues. PMS can suddenly transform a reasonable woman into a screaming banshee!Why do hormones have such a profound impact on our health?
Hormones and Our Health
Hormones are very powerful chemical messengers secreted from endocrine glands such as the ovary, adrenals, pituitary, and thyroid. A woman’s physiology and psyche are intimately connected to her monthly flow of hormones, which stimulate, regulate, and control all vital bodily functions. Hormonal balance influences the cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, reproductive, musculoskeletal and immune systems. Hormones also affect neurotransmitters determining moods and thinking processes. No wonder hormonal balance plays such a major role in maintaining optimal well-being throughout a woman’s life.
The two main sex hormones in a woman’s body are estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen is produced by the ovaries and by fat cells. At puberty, it is estrogen that causes breasts to grow and hips to get curvy. Estrogen also proliferates cell growth, stimulating the thickening of the uterine lining in preparation for implantation of an egg.
Progesterone is the dominant hormone produced in the second half of the menstrual cycle. It is the progestation hormone necessary for a successful pregnancy. It also balances estrogen’s proliferative effect, signaling cells when to stop multiplying.
Estrogen and progesterone are dance partners, waltzing in rhythm and balance with each other. If that delicate balance is altered, many hormonal and health problems are created. Weight gain, high blood pressure, depression, mental fog, strokes, autoimmune disease, breast cancer, and infertility are some of the problems either caused or worsened by their imbalance.
Life in the 21st century has hormonally challenged many modern women. Stress, nutritional deficiencies, hormones in meat and dairy products, estrogenic-mimicking chemicals, and the widespread use of the Pill and HRT have contributed to some of the highest levels of estrogen ever measured in women’s bodies. This estrogen excess condition is known as estrogen dominance.
Estrogen dominance causes or worsens the following conditions: allergies, breast tenderness, low libido, depression, fatigue, hair thinning, fibrocystic breast disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome, headaches, hypoglycemia, blood clots, strokes, infertility, irritability, memory loss, miscarriage, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, PMS, hypothyroidism, fibroids, bloating, weight gain (especially around the abdomen, hips and thighs), and autoimmune disorders.
Keeping Your Hormones on Track at Any Age
A key to staying healthy is making sure we maintain hormonal balance. The most notorious hormone wreckers include: sugar and sugar substitutes, refined carbohydrates, trans fats, caffeine, pesticide laden foods, alcohol, dehydration, lack of sleep, stress, emotional upsets, chemicals in commercial personal care products, and lack of exercise. These hormone wreckers are guaranteed to compromise your health, imbalance your hormones and accelerate the aging process.
A hormone harmonizing program includes organically grown, whole foods, plenty of fresh vegetable, fruits, seeds and nuts, healthy fats, (virgin olive oil, fish oils, flaxseed oils, coco-nut oil and butter), filtered water, eating regular meals, getting seven to eight hours of sleep, relaxation, staying hydrated and regular exercise.
Hormones also act as sensitive barometers underlying physiological imbalances. For instance, a toxic liver, over-worked adrenal glands, or a Candida outbreak can quickly put hormones out of whack.
Wherever you may be in your life’s journey, there are three guidelines that will profoundly enhance ongoing health and hormonal harmony:
- Support your liver
The liver plays a major role in the proper metabolizing of hormones, especially estrogen. Liver-loving foods include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, beets, garlic, lemons, artichokes, and asparagus. Liver-loving herbs include milk thistle, dandelion root and turmeric.
- Nourish your adrenal glands
The adrenals play a major role in hormonal balance, immune health, digestion, blood sugar balance, blood pressure inflammation control and mineral balance. Your adrenals are nourished by vitamin C, vitamin B5 (best taken in a B complex), cod liver oil, and magnesium. The adaptagenic herbs such ashwaganda, Rhodiola rosea and maca root provide excellent adrenal support.
- Strengthen your digestive system
A strong digestive system ensures that the food you eat can be readily absorbed by the body. Digestive strengthening foods include yogurt, kefir, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar, sauerkraut, and miso. Digestive enzymes are also helpful.
In our quest for optimal health, each decade of a woman’s life has its own unique needs and challenges.
The Roaring Twenties
The 20s are a time of great vitality, energy, and enthusiasm. But it is also easy to overdue things. College life usually means lots of junk food, stress, partying, alcohol, recreational drugs, and lack of sleep. Starting a career often includes demanding hours and more partying!
This is a decade fraught with hormone wreckers. To stay healthy during this stage of life, remember to eat nourishing meals, drink plenty of water, and make sure you get to bed by 10 p.m. at least three nights a week. If you’re taking some form of birth control pill or patch, extra nutritional support is necessary. The Pill depletes the body of key nutrients such as vitamins E, C and B’s, as well as calcium, magnesium, selenium and. zinc. A good multi-vitamin and multi-mineral are essential.
The Pill, antibiotics, and steroids destroy good gut flora resulting in Candida and vaginal thrush. A probiotic supplement, organic yogurt, and kefir restore proper gut flora.
The Sexy Thirties
With the wild 20s behind them, 30-something women are now thinking of motherhood. This is the time to return to a more healthy diet and balanced life style.
Vitamin A and vitamin D are essential for normal reproduction and fertility. Vitamin-A-rich foods include butter and cream from grass fed cows, eggs, liver and cod liver oil. Also include a multi-mineral supplement. The herb chaste tree (vitex) is renown for hormone balancing.
Natural bio-identical progesterone cream has been very effective in not only eliminating PMS, ovarian cysts and polycystic ovarian syndrome but also supporting fertility.
The Fabulous Forties
During this decade, a woman begins the transition into perimenopause, the 5–10 year period before the onset of menopause. Contrary to popular belief, this is a time when the ovary, rather than winding down, is more active than it has been since adolescence. Consequently, perimenopause is a time of excess estrogen and declining progesterone. This is behind unpredictable moods, heavy flow, hot flashes, night sweats, headaches and weight gain that often occurs at this time.
Since a 40-something woman, is more susceptible to estrogen excess, bio-identical progesterone is helpful in regaining hormonal balance.
During our 40s, the digestive system becomes weaker. Adding digestive enzymes and probiotics will strengthen digestion. The thyroid can also become sluggish. Magnesium, selenium, iodine, and vitamin A help thyroid function. Liver-loving foods and chaste tree (vitex) help balance excess estrogen levels.
Eating organic whole foods, proper nutritional support and regular exercise are especially important for this decade.
As we learn to listen to our bodies and adjust to the many changes experienced with each decade, we can gracefully and joyfully dance through our transitions, savoring the gifts and wisdom garnered from our journey through time.
The Fit Fifties
The fifth decade is the time for initiation into menopause, a stage of deepening wisdom. Since the menopausal woman has stopped menstruating, her hormone levels begin to alter and the adrenal glands become her primary source of hormonal support.
At this stage, women must make wise dietary and lifestyle choices to adequately nourish the endocrine glands. To support this transition, strengthening the adrenals, detoxing the liver and improving digestion is necessary for balance. Since progesterone declines much more precipitously than estrogen, using natural progesterone may be helpful.
Vaginal dryness is more prevalent at this time. Increasing essential fatty acids such as fish oil and vitamin E will help.
The Sagacious Sixties
From this decade onwards, a woman taps into her deep well of wisdom. This season of a woman’s life is known as the Wise Woman years.
To remain strong, active, and healthy, it is important to commit to a healthy diet and lifestyle. In addition to probiotics and digestive enzymes, it is recommended using hydrochloric acid supplements (betaine) to help digest protein foods.
A strong digestive system, mineral support and weight bearing exercise will keep bones strong. Since older women are more susceptible to chronic illnesses, eating high antioxidant, liver-loving and nutrient dense food ensures good health.
As women age, chronic inflammation fuels many diseases including arthritis, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. Natural anti-inflammatory sources include omega-3 fatty acids, found in Alaskan salmon and sardines, curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric), and quercetin, found in red grapes, red and yellow onions, garlic, broccoli, and apples. Antioxidant-rich fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, and raspberries should be a part of the diet.
As we learn to listen to our bodies and adjust to the many changes experienced with each decade, we can gracefully and joyfully dance through our transitions, savoring the gifts and wisdoms garnered from our journey through time.