Small but mighty messengers, hormones act as our body's communication system, influencing metabolism, mood, menstruation, and fertility. Hormones have a major impact on how we feel each and every day.
Women often believe symptoms associated with imbalanced hormones are normal, but mood swings, cravings, weight gain, and brain fog all point to one problem: an overwhelming toxic burden. Writing symptoms off without understanding the deeper cause does our health a disservice, because it means we're assuming there is nothing more to be done.
This is not the case when it comes to addressing hormonal imbalances. We can absolutely make changes to impact our hormonal health for the better. Looking carefully at our exposure to toxins is the first step.
Many toxins are endocrine disruptors, which means they alter the body's natural hormonal processes.
This can happen in many ways. Some mimic hormones and overstimulate our systems, others bind to receptors and block the reception of endogenous hormones (the ones we naturally make).
Endocrine disruptors can also negatively affect our ability to process and eliminate hormones, causing them to build up. The end result? Infertility in both men and women, increased risk of certain cancers, increased risk of immune and autoimmune diseases, and many other not-so-fun symptoms that trickle back to hormonal imbalance.
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Our environment is filled with toxins like never before, we encounter them both within and outside our homes. It's no wonder our natural ability to detox is challenged. Surprisingly, there are many indoor toxins to be aware of. Things like building materials (think asbestos or lead paint in old homes) and fumes that can off-gas from new furniture and carpeting.
The cleaning products many of us use are doing way more harm than good, especially those with fragrances.
We may even be consuming toxic endocrine disruptors through our tap water, like residues of medications (i.e. birth control) or heavy metals. The good news about indoor toxins is you can control your exposure to them. Buying cleaner home products and filtering your air and water are big steps in the right direction when it comes to creating a cleaner and greener environment.
Plastics & Food
You and I both know it, plastics are everywhere. What you may not realize is that plastics are working against your hormone goals. Plastics contain bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, and dioxin which are known endocrine disruptors. Cans lined in BPA, plastic bottles and food containers, and even nonstick coatings on cookware can all contribute to hormone sabotage.
Eating conventionally grown produce puts us at a much higher risk of consuming chemicals that are related to hormonal imbalance. For example, agricultural chemicals, like the herbicide glyphosate, are extremely abundant in our conventionally produced food supply and heavily linked to disruptions in both estrogens and androgens.
And if you're an omnivore, animal products are no exception! Meat and dairy that is not organic, grass-fed, and/or pasture-raised can contain hormones that will negatively impact our own as well as antibiotics that can disturb the precious good bacteria we need for regulating and metabolizing hormones.
Not Very Pretty
I know, you don't want me to tell you to throw away your favorite lipstick. But I can't talk about toxic burden without mentioning beauty products, which can contain a slew of harmful compounds including heavy metals, glycol ethers, and parabens. Luckily, many companies are getting smarter and developing products that help us look great without all the unnecessary dangerous ingredients. A great resource for cleaner beauty products is the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Database.
Our mouths are also at risk of toxin overload. Many of us are walking around with at least one amalgam filling, which contains mercury and continues to release mercury vapor as long as it is present. Unfortunately, fluoride is an endocrine disruptor as well, not to mention it's also neurotoxic.
The Inside Story
The impacts of toxins are not limited to our outside world. Genes may also predispose us to a higher toxic burden due to issues with detoxification. Genetics can provide us with a valuable look at our susceptibility to toxins and what we can do to correct genetic variations on an individualized level. Looking even deeper, we now know that the toxicity of stress, negative self-talk, and bad relationships can be just as harmful to our health as a whole, and can also impact the way our hormones function.
The Good News
Luckily, we can take proactive steps with our hormonal health to ensure a balanced and high-functioning endocrine system.
Here are my top 10 tips for reducing your toxic burden and taking control of your own hormonal health:
- Invest in high-quality air and water filters. These basic components of life can't be underestimated, and the investment will be worth the benefit. Drinking plenty of fresh, clean water is essential for our detoxification mechanisms to work their best (and it helps us look good, too).
- Ditch plastics and cook clean. Opt for stainless steel or glass for storing food and beverages, and if you have to buy canned goods look for those labeled BPA-free. It's also important to use clean cookware without nonstick coatings like Teflon to avoid other undesirable chemicals. Stainless steel and ceramic coated pots and pans are safer options.
- Explore holistic dentistry. If you have amalgam fillings, consider looking for a holistic or biologic dentist to remove them. Do your research to make sure they use the correct safety precautions like proper ventilation and dental damming, otherwise, it could do more harm than good. It's easy to find fluoride-free toothpaste—that's an incredibly easy swap that can help your health in multiple ways.
- Get outside in the sunshine each morning. Not only does this support optimal levels of vitamin D, which regulates both your hormones and immune system, but it also supports the production of antioxidant and sleep-supporting melatonin.
- Limit exposure to electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs). Signals produced by Wi-Fi, cell phones, TVs, computers, and other electronic devices can decrease the activity of endocrine organs. Put your phone on airplane mode at night, turn off the Wi-Fi router when you're not using it, and get an EMF protection pad to use underneath your laptop to limit your exposure.
- Eat organic, pasture-raised, high-fiber, real food. Choosing organic food protects us from the dangers of agricultural chemicals. When it comes to animal products like meat, eggs, and dairy, choose organic, pasture-raised, or grass-fed to avoid harmful synthetic hormones and get a more nutrient-dense product. Along those same lines, it's essential to eat foods in their most natural and wholesome form, especially plants. Consume plenty of fiber to ensure your body removes toxins efficiently. Bonus points for eating broccoli—this provides beneficial compounds like calcium d-glucarate that helps bind and eliminate excess estrogen.
- Sweat and move every day. Sweating through exercise and the use of infrared saunas is extremely detoxifying, helping to offset the many physical insults we're exposed to. My favorite ways to get moving are Zumba, dance, and rebounding to support lymphatic flow and effective detoxification. Be aware, though, that over-exercising (CrossFit every single day) can increase stress hormones and negatively impact sex hormones, leading to hypothalamic amenorrhea (a loss of your period) and infertility.
- Love your body with massage, acupuncture, and dry brushing. Massage and acupuncture can improve circulation throughout the entire body and increase blood flow to the uterus and ovaries—which helps to release toxins. Acupuncture can target specific endocrine organs to help correct imbalances. Dry brushing is something you can do at home to get the same benefits; simply use a natural bristle dry brush and, starting at your feet, use broad overlapping strokes on each part of the body, working upwards and always brushing toward the heart.
- Use herbs and supplements as needed. Hormonal testing can reveal individualized needs to help us best correct imbalances. For example, someone who is estrogen dominant could benefit from diindolylmethane, or DIM, derived from cruciferous vegetables which will help with estrogen metabolism. Someone in need of more follicle stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, and progesterone may benefit from taking an herb called vitex. Magnesium can be helpful for reducing high levels of cortisol and the citrate form is particularly helpful for moving the bowels to eliminate toxins.
- Rest, meditate, and sleep. Taking downtime is essential for your overall well-being, as it lets you calm the nervous system, reduce stress hormones, and cultivate hormonal balance. Meditation is one way to restore yourself to a calm and peaceful place—even just a few minutes a day of eyes closed and deep breathing can work wonders. Earthing is another great stress reliever, too. This simply involves getting outside in nature with your bare feet on the ground in order to shift your energy and circadian rhythm for deeper, more restful sleep. Of course, sleep plays a super special role in allowing the brain to detoxify, while also calming stress hormones, balancing hunger hormones, and improving mood. If you're struggling to get good sleep, try wearing blue-light blocking glasses at the computer or when you're watching TV to protect your body's natural melatonin production. It's also helpful to create a nightly bedtime ritual and get into the same sleep/wake cycle every day.
These steps will help you regulate the function of the entire endocrine system (including the thyroid, adrenal glands, and ovaries), enhance the function of the liver and gallbladder to process toxins, and boost the digestive system to remove toxins and excess hormones.