health

9 Signs Your Hormones Are Out Of Balance

Sometimes our bodies send undeniable signals that are too obvious to ignore. Coughing and sneezing with a fever? You’re probably sick with a cold or flu. Red, itchy eyes after playing with a friend’s dog? You might just be allergic to Fido’s fur. But in other cases, the signals our bodies send are much more subtle, and if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you just might miss the very clear message that something needs attention, stat.

Most women don’t know how to spot the signs of hormonal imbalance. After all, we’re often taught that pain and suffering are just a normal part of the female experience. Why would we think to question killer cramps or massive mood swings? Because those things are, in fact, not normal, inevitable aspects of womanhood. They’re just a few clear signs from your body alerting you to a hormonal imbalance.

The good news is, you can address many hormonal issues with the proper food and lifestyle tools and techniques. Here’s what to be on the lookout for, and how to fix it:

1. You have off-the-charts PMS.

Even though it’s called “premenstrual syndrome,” the symptoms of PMS can strike any time between ovulation and menstruation, during the second part of your monthly cycle, also known as your luteal phase. This is when many women feel everything from major bloating to uncontrollable crankiness. This cascade of unpleasant symptoms is usually caused by too much estrogen, low progesterone, and key micronutrient deficiencies.

Try: Eating leafy greens. Members of the brassica family like kale contain indole-3 carbinol, a powerful hormone balancer that promotes estrogen metabolism, which will help eliminate excess estrogen and prevent estrogen dominance.

2. You need the pill to have a “normal” period.

Birth control does not—I repeat, does not—fix your problematic period. The medication uses synthetic hormones to mimic pregnancy and prevent conception, but this blocks your body’s natural rhythms and covers up your natural hormonal imbalance.

Try: Weaning off the pill. The transition may not be easy, so it’s extra important to build a strong foundation of healthy eating and lifestyle habits and find an alternative birth control method for contraception before you quit completely.

3. You’re constantly exhausted.

Tired all the time? So are your adrenals. Those are the endocrine glands that sit above the kidneys and release the stress hormone known as cortisol. If your food and lifestyle habits throw off your adrenals’ normal production of cortisol, you might start feeling the opposite of how you should (e.g., instead of feeling a natural jolt of energy in the morning from your body’s surge of cortisol, you’ll feel sleepy and lethargic, and instead of feeling calm and relaxed and bedtime, you’ll feel wired).

Try: Adjusting your diet. Cut caffeine, which exacerbates symptoms and perpetuates the tired/wired cycle. If you can’t cut it completely, at least reduce it to one cup or less per day. Start the day with a healthy, protein-packed breakfast to balance your blood sugar and improve your odds of staying satiated and energized.

4. You have heavy bleeding with clots during your period.

If you’re changing your pad or tampon every hour, severely staining your bedsheets, or seeing dark purple clots during your cycle, something is up. Specifically, your estrogen levels. Too much estrogen is tied to this type of excessive bleeding, and it could be a symptom of something larger, especially if your periods are painful: endometriosis, fibroids, or ovarian cysts.

Try: Milk thistle. This herb has been shown to help detoxify the liver and even out estrogen.

5. Your skin is breaking out like a teenager’s.

I have spent countless hours covering up acne for the majority of my life. Whether pimples crop up every time your period approaches or you’re coping with the kind of severe acne I had, your hormones are the source of the issue.

Try: Magnesium. Your body’s C-reactive proteins are responsible for causing inflammation. Taking a calcium-magnesium supplement can help lower the amount of C-reactive proteins in your body, and calcium is also part of our tissue matrix—bones, cells, and skin—and very important for skin cell renewal.

6. Your weight is out of control and the number on the scale keeps climbing.

If you’re eating salad after salad and spending hours at the gym but you’re still not seeing results, you might be ready to throw in the towel. But the problem isn’t lack of effort or faulty scale—it’s likely your liver, which is responsible for removing toxins by turning fat-soluble toxins into water-soluble toxins so they can be excreted through your large intestine, kidneys, and skin. When you have a hormonal problem, your liver’s function is compromised and can’t work as efficiently at removing these toxins, so your body holds on to fat-soluble toxins.

Try: Adding lemons and oranges to your water. Citrus fruits contain a compound called D-limonene, which is critical for healthy liver function.

7. Your periods are very light, short, or totally missing in action.

Some women would call this a blessing, but experiencing “barely there” bleeding or no bleeding at all isn’t healthy. A short period (less than three days in length) and only light bleeding can indicate low estrogen levels. If you’ve been crash dieting or restricting your food for a long time, you may have depleted your body of important micronutrients that are necessary for estrogen production.

Try: Adding in more protein. Hormones are made from amino acids, and you can’t get your estrogen up if you can’t make enough of it from your food.

8. You have erratic cravings and crazy binges.

Everyone craves certain foods now and then, but if your cravings are out of control and you find yourself bingeing at various times of the month, your hormones are the likely culprits, and a diet heavy on sugar is the probable root cause. If you consume too much sugar, whether it’s in the form of pasta, bagels, candy, or cola—your body has to churn out a hormone called insulin to break it down. Spikes in glucose and insulin can disrupt ovulation, shutting down your production of progesterone and setting you up for the troublesome effects of estrogen dominance.

Try: Limiting your sugar intake and eating lots of fiber-rich foods that will help detoxify your liver and create more of a specific hormone called FGF21 that has been found to prevent sugar cravings.

9. Your period is brown.

If you’re seeing strange brown stuff at the start of your period, it’s actually oxidized blood that didn’t quite make it out of your uterus during your last cycle. The culprit? Low progesterone. As you already know, too little progesterone can put you at risk for an overabundance of estrogen and other conditions like PCOS.

Try: A chasteberry supplement. Research has shown it affects the production of various hormones in your body, especially progesterone.

If your period is problematic, it’s important to learn what the root cause is. Knowing this will help you get healthy now and prevent disease in the future.

health

Being Mindful Without Meditation

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For much of my life, I battled an internal engine that churned a steady stream of negative thoughts. I looked for relief in every way imaginable and often read that meditation held a powerful key to my true happiness. But every time I sat in lotus position and tried to clear my mind of thoughts, more flooded in. I was convinced I must be doing it wrong.

After years of trying—and failing—to meditate, I finally came to understand that meditation isn’t about white, flowing clothes, a special pillow, incense, candles, or mantras. The objective of meditation isn’t necessarily to achieve nirvana or even inner peace. In fact, the word “meditation” conjured so many clichéd Zen-like images that intimidated me that I started using the word “mindfulness” instead.

The science of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is all about physiology. It’s about doing whatever it takes to bring your attention to the present moment, into your body, and out of your chattering mind. And terms aside, this practice has been shown to have multiple health and brain benefits.

Mindfulness is all about learning how our brains work and using proven techniques to increase calm, focus, optimism, and emotional intelligence. The main way to do this is through breath.

Deep breaths send soothing oxygen to your amygdala, which is like the brain’s alarm clock. When the amygdala is triggered by any stressful situation, it responds with the primal protection reactions of fight, flight, or freeze. Deep breaths also activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest and recuperation.

Sitting quietly with your eyes closed and focusing on something that doesn’t require a lot of brain power, like counting the length of your breaths, helps your brain slip into relaxing alpha wave, which brings on a cascade of health benefits ranging from reducing inflammation to reducing aging.

Um, yes, please.

Trust me, if I can practice mindfulness, anyone can do it.

Here are five simple techniques to get started if you’re meditation-averse:

1. Basic breath.

This is a basic mindfulness breathing technique that will help you keep your mind from wandering back to stressful thoughts. You can do this just about anywhere and will likely experience the calming benefits after just a few minutes. The goal is to breathe evenly and slowly and count during each exhale. Only count up to 5, and then start over. If you find yourself on number 8, 10, or 15, you’ll know your mind has wandered, and you can go back to counting during exhales only up to number 5. You can also keep your hand on your heart if the sensation of your heartbeat helps you to focus on your breath.

2. Square breathing.

Imagine you’re drawing a square in the air. While inhaling slowly to a count of 1-2-3-4, imagine the upward line of a square in the air, or you can actually draw it with your index finger. When your inhale is complete, hold your breath to an equal count of 1-2-3-4 while imaging or drawing the top line of the square in the air. Next, exhale slowly to a count of 1-2-3-4 while you imagine or draw the downward line of the square. Lastly, hold your breath for 1-2-3-4 while you complete the square by imagining or drawing the bottom line across in the air. Repeat this cycle several times, either with your eyes open or closed.

3. Squish and relax.

Lie down with your eyes closed. Squish and squeeze every muscle in your body as tightly as you can. Squish your toes and feet, tighten the muscles in your legs all the way up to your hips, suck in your belly, squeeze your hands into fists, and raise your shoulders up to your head. Hold yourself in your squished-up position for a few seconds, and then fully release and relax. Do this two or three times. It should bring extra awareness to your body and may help you feel more relaxed and present.

4. Use the five senses.

When you home in on your five senses (touch, taste, hearing, smell, and vision), you connect with your body, notice sensations happening in this very moment, and give yourself a mental break. You can have fun and get creative with this with props. Try some aromatherapy oils Like lavender or jasmine for smell, yummy treats for taste, a few beautiful photos for sight, a small, soft pillow or feather for touch, and a favorite playlist for sound. Close your eyes, slow your breathing, and focus on each of your senses, one at a time (or just pick one sense to focus on at a time). The key is to take in each sensation slowly, with nonjudgmental attention.

5. Belly breathing.

Place one or two hands on your belly while you sit or lie down comfortably. As you breathe in slowly and deeply, imagine the breath filling your belly. Gently push your belly outward while you fill it with air with each inhale, and allow your belly to fall when you empty the air with each exhale. Often we breathe in an opposite way to this: sucking our bellies in when we inhale and pushing our bellies out when we exhale. By imagining our bellies filling with air with each inhale instead, we can maximize the amount of oxygen we’re taking into our lungs.

As you start to embrace mindfulness as a daily practice, just think of it as yoga training for your mind. We have to train our minds just like we train our bodies, with regular practice and dedication.

 

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