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.


Being Mindful Without Meditation


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.



The Best Foods To Eliminate Anxiety


Although anxiety stems from a variety of factors, one thing is certain: Diet plays a very important role. As holistic beings, our mental and physical health are inseparable. How we nourish our bodies, therefore, determines how well we achieve a calmer state of mind.

Most often we hear about the anxiety-promoting effects of too much caffeine, skipping a meal, or too many simple carbohydrates. But what we don’t often hear about are foods that actually reduce anxiety.

Here are some of my favorite foods to help you keep calm and carry on:

1. Beans:

Not only are beans good for the heart, as the saying goes, but they are also good for the nerves. Beans offer a healthy dose of fiber, which slows the digestion process and results in more stable blood sugars. Physiologically, this prevents the body from going on an undesirable roller-coaster ride—one that goes from buzzing to crashing.

Beans are also an excellent source of antioxidants. In fact, they’re right up there with popular superfoods such as berries. So what does this have to do with anxiety? Turns out an antioxidant-rich diet has been found to protect the body from harmful free radicals (which anxiety promotes).

2. Cashews:

Photo: Kim Suddeath

Cashews are a wonderfully versatile nut. They can be made into vegan ricotta, savory or sweet cream sauces, or even energy bites. They’re also a good source of zinc, which is a trace mineral essential for brain function. Zinc is like a behind-the-scenes agent when it comes to anxiety. It’s role is to convert vitamin B-6 to its active form, which goes on to help synthesize serotonin, a neurotransmitter known for maintaining mood balance. Getting enough zinc in the diet, therefore, is essential for mood balance.

3. Yogurt:

Yogurt is a probiotic-rich food. The consumption of probiotics has been shown to significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety, according to a recent study. Although the exact reason is unknown, consuming probiotic-rich foods can be a great low-risk strategy to reduce anxiety. Other probiotic-rich foods to include in your regular diet are kombucha, kefir, kimchi, pickles, sour cream, sauerkraut, and tempeh.

4. Asparagus:

Photo: Kim Suddeath

Asparagus extract is used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) as a tonic, cough suppressant, and diuretic agent. More recently, though, the extract has been used in mice to study its effect on anxiety reduction. One study found that asparagus extract was very effective in reducing anxiety symptoms. Although it may be difficult to find asparagus extract, eating asparagus when it’s in season is a beneficial (and delicious!) alternative.

5. Lemon:

Looking to start a new health routine that can also help ease anxiety? Lemon water is your answer! Abundant in vitamin C, this lovely citrus fruit is known for its powerful antioxidant abilities. In regard to anxiety, vitamin C is quickly used up when the body is under stress. And if there is not enough vitamin C available, this can actually extend the stress response and lead to higher cortisol levels in the body over a longer period of time—so to keep chronic stress away, plenty of vitamin C is required.

6. Salmon:

Photo: Kim Suddeath

Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, an essential fat we must get from our diet. Omega-3s play an important role in brain development and function. Just like zinc, omega-3s are highly concentrated in the brain. Authors in one randomized-controlled study evaluated the effects of omega-3 fatty-acid supplementation on anxiety reduction and found that subjects reduced their anxiety symptoms by 20 percent and also had lower levels of inflammation. To keep those nerves in check, eat at least two servings per week of fatty fish like salmon.

7. Pumpkin seeds:

Delivering almost 40 percent of the daily value of magnesium in just 1 ounce (~¼ cup), pumpkin seeds are another surprising food that reduces anxiety. Most adults are deficient in magnesium, and magnesium is crucial in regulating our internal response to stress. When magnesium is deficient in our diets, our bodies are less capable of reducing the amount of stress hormones released. Next time you’re at the salad bar or preparing oatmeal or making muffins, be sure to add magnesium-rich pumpkin seeds to help fight off stress.

8. Oats:

Photo: Kim Suddeath

Oats are abundant in many vitamins and minerals helpful in reducing anxiety. They contain B-vitamins, magnesium, and fiber, all of which help control stress. Because oats are whole grains containing complex carbohydrates, eating them is a great way to increase serotonin production. And serotonin, as we know, is a major antidepressant and anti-anxiety hormone. Starting the day with oatmeal for breakfast just might be the difference between a stress-reduced or stress-filled day.

9. Dark chocolate:

Easily one of the most exciting ways to manage stress, dark chocolate is an instant mood lifter with benefits to back up its use. Not only does dark chocolate contain antioxidants and magnesium, but it also contains an interesting fatty-acid neurotransmitter called anandamide. Anandamide has mood-lifting effects in the body and has recently been found to reverse stress-induced anxiety in mice. These results suggest that reaching for dark chocolate when we are stressed is not a bad thing and can actually be helpful in managing anxiety.


5 Overrated Superfoods

Photo: superfoodly

Every few months a health expert seems to uncover a “superfood” that they enthusiastically endorse as the greatest thing ever. Think back to a few years ago to quinoa. Mainstream media and big food companies fervently praised this perfectly fine seed (often confused for a grain). Quinoa is a healthy food, but before long manufacturers capitalized on the trend with quinoa chips and other quinoa-based products that were less than healthy. Inevitably, when this happens, a revolt occurs; a health blogger writes about quinoa’s anti-nutrients, a prominent doctor calls it overrated, and secretly millions of quinoa haters rejoice.

In the end, we all calm down and see quinoa (or whatever) for what it is: a perfectly healthy food or drink that fits into a well-designed diet and lifestyle plan. You’ve probably read similar hype about the following five foods and drinks. Along the way, they may have accrued a little too much hype and an inevitable backlash occurred. So here’s how to enjoy them without subscribing to the hyperbole:

1. Red wine.

Cabernet, merlot, pinot noir—take your pick. Among its purported benefits, the antioxidant resveratrol in red wine can increase HDL levels (your so-called good cholesterol), decrease platelet aggregation, and improve blood vessel function, decreasing your risk for cardiovascular disease. But over-drinking wine or other alcohol can also trigger or exacerbate inflammation, liver toxicity, and heart disease.

So what about those health benefits? Well, to get beneficial amounts of resveratrol, you’d have to drink upward of 1,000 glasses of red daily—which I definitely don’t recommend. That said, studies show that among folks who drank red wine daily, health-conscious people got its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and other health benefits. In other words, they weren’t just tossing back a few glasses of cabernet, staying sedentary, and diving into cheeseburgers. They used wine as a part of a healthy life. If you imbibe, quantity matters (opt for a glass or two, and call it quits) but so does quality. Cheaply produced wine hasn’t been optimally fermented (that takes time, which costs money), yielding more sugar in that glass of red.

2. Apple cider vinegar.

Photo: Yelena Yemchuk

A powerhouse of polyphenols and other nutrients, apple cider vinegar has been used for medicinal purposes for millennia. Problem is, little science substantiates its health claims. Research shows that for over 2,000 years, vinegar has been used to flavor and preserve foods, heal wounds, fight infections, clean surfaces, and manage diabetes, yet researchers note “much scrutiny surrounds its medicinal use.”

Research does, however, substantiate a few benefits. One study found that apple cider vinegar could significantly improve insulin sensitivity, and another found that apple cider vinegar helps slow stomach emptying, helping maintain healthy insulin levels. Apple cider vinegar might even nudge the scales favorably. One recent study found body weight, body mass index (BMI), visceral fat, waist circumference, and serum triglyceride levels were significantly lower for those who used apple cider vinegar daily compared with the placebo group.

Unfortunately, most apple cider vinegar you find in grocery stores is poor quality. One study found massive variation among eight different brands. And researchers found that their labels’ health claims were completely unsubstantiated. Among its problems, processing kills its active constituents. One study compared conventionally pasteurized apple cider vinegar with a raw, organic product. The raw organic one had more polyphenolic compounds, enzymatic strains, and acetic acid. If you struggle with indigestion or acid reflux, want to boost your immune system, or need to maintain healthy insulin levels, you would probably benefit from a few daily tablespoons of raw, unfiltered, organic apple cider vinegar. Just don’t think doing so will magically cure all your health woes.

3. Kombucha.

Kombucha has been around for thousands of years. Along with some nutrients, kombucha contains several strains of probiotics. Regardless, very little scientific evidence is available that validates the beneficial effects of kombucha.

One systematic review even concluded “the largely undetermined benefits do not outweigh the documented risks of kombucha.” the risks referring to the fact that there is no standardized process for making kombucha, and the wrong strains cultivated during the fermentation process could lead to food poisoning. Fermentation could also produce excessive acid formation, creating lactic acidosis. Researchers found that bad strains could create jaundice, nausea, vomiting, and full-blown allergic reactions that stopped in most subjects when they ditched kombucha. In other words, if you get a bad batch—you’re not in for a fun evening.

If you still opt for kombucha, check sugar content (some brands contain too much added sugar) and be ready to show your ID: The fermentation process means some varieties of kombucha contain alcohol.

4. Coconut oil.

“In the 1940s, when farmers wanted to fatten up their livestock, they gave them coconut oil,” writes Mark Hyman, M.D., in Eat Fat, Get Thin. “This plan backfired. The animals lost weight and had more energy!” Despite those and other promises, coconut got a bad rep because it’s mostly saturated fat. In fact, the American Heart Association (AHA) recently resurfaced the coconut-oil-is-bad-for-you theory. Here’s the scoop. Most of that saturated fat comes from medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which your body metabolizes differently from other fatty acids and prefers to utilize for energy rather than store. Furthermore, about half of the fat in coconut comes from lauric acid, which Bowden says your body converts into antiviral, antibacterial monolaurin.

However, this still doesn’t give you permission to go overboard. Extra-virgin coconut oil makes an excellent medium-heat cooking oil, so throw a few tablespoons into your broccoli stir-fry, and you’ll get all the benefits and none of the worry.

5. Bone broth.

Your great-grandparents might have made bone broth, which is simmered for 8 to 24 hours, creating gelatin from collagen-rich joints and releasing trace minerals from bones. Essentially, bone broth is a healthy mineral-and-amino-acid-rich drink or food, yet few scientific studies show specific healthful properties. What’s more, there is no single bone broth recipe.

Bones can also sequester the heavy metal lead, potentially contaminating the broth that is supposed to supply so many health benefits. One study looked at lead concentrations in three types of organic chicken broth and found broths contain several times the lead concentration of the water with which the broth is made. Then there are practical problems: Traditional bone broth takes time and effort. If simmering for hours doesn’t fit your schedule (bone broth can be time-consuming), you can find many premade broths online or at your local health food store. As always, read those ingredients.

Remember, too, that most plans combine bone broth with other health-minded endeavors like regular exercise and optimal sleep. In other words, no one food or drink is a “cure-all.” But you knew that already.


blog · lyme disease

A Love Note To Myself


Dear Awesome You,

This day isn’t going like you’d hoped. Your heart and mind want to be out in the world doing the things you love. Heck, you wouldn’t even mind doing something you don’t love if it meant you’d be out in the world.

Today, your body is asking you to slow down. It’s an invitation you’d rather not accept. You have so much planned for yourself, and this doesn’t feel fair.

You look out the window and see people and birds and trees doing their usual people and bird and tree things, living their lives outside, and you’d really like to join them.

Today feels lonelier than usual, and that’s alright. Maybe there’s sadness, regret, fear, frustration, longing, anger and confusion. It’s okay to feel it all. In fact, it’s actually good to really feel those emotions when they arise. I like to remind myself, cry when you’re sad, stop when you’re done.

The feelings that show up today actually need to be felt. When you let them be what they are without fighting them, they’ll be able to shift and transform. Feelings are always moving, they rarely stick unless we resist them. They just want us to stop and acknowledge them and give them love.

In some ways, you aren’t actually alone today. There are so many of us who woke up today with the same invitation from our bodies to slow down. You’re a part of a bigger group of people who are navigating the challenging world of chronic illness even if you can’t see them. Bring them into your mind and heart today.

What you experience matters, and it might mean a lot to someone out there to read about what you’re going through today. Likewise, maybe you’ll find someone else that was planning to leave the house today just like you, but their body had other plans too.

Be good to yourself today. You’re fantastic, and sometimes down days can trick you into thinking you’re not. But you aren’t your body, or your thoughts, or even your emotions. You’re the thing that exists whether you feel amazing or awful, you are your spirit.

I may not know you all out there, but I do know you’re deserving of love and patience and kindness. As author Louise Hay would recommend, go to the mirror during a difficult moment and say, “It’s okay, I love you. This will pass, but I love you and that’s forever.”

So feel your feelings, remember you’re not alone, and enjoy the company of the thoughtful, sensitive, amazing person that is you. Today you’ve got her all to yourself.

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