Hormones in the female body are like a grand orchestra. When all the instruments play in harmony the body functions naturally and optimally. A well-orchestrated symphony can make all the difference in the world to a woman’s well-being, her outlook on life and her overall health. As wives, mothers, single women, and/or athletes, young women and middle-aged women alike must make sure that all instruments are well-tuned.
Phytohormones are plant compounds with hormonal effects that can go so far as to actually convey oestrogenic, androgenic, corticosteroid or progesterone-like effects. These phytohormones cue hormone receptors. Therefore, women who eat a healthy plant-based diet rich in these phytohormones are less likely to experience pre-menopause or menopausal symptoms. That means less lethargy, the reduction or elimination of depression, higher activity levels, increased sex drive and clearer thought processes, among many other benefits.
The manipulation or interruption of this hormonal symphony creates a wide range of undesirable symptoms ranging (in addition to lethargy and depression) from obesity to hair loss and skin problems. We can throw the symphony off when many instruments start playing out of sync, but I will focus on just three of these “bad notes” – namely diet, exercise and stress. Diet is the first. To continue using the orchestra analogy, let me explain it this way. If oestrogen plays too loudly, progesterone cannot be heard. If cortisol is too high, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is drowned out, and if pregnenolone is low, everyone misses their cue.
Xenohormones (Xeno = alien) are synthetic chemicals. These include pesticides and plastics which exert hormonal influences on all living creatures. Yes, even those you eat. Actually, just about anything you can think of, from insects to poultry and everything in between, is affected. The danger in eating foods that contain these synthetic chemicals is that they disrupt the reproductive abilities of all living creatures and send hormones into a tailspin. A majority even have oestrogenic effects. This is like having a conductor who sabotages the entire orchestra by telling the trumpets to play when the drums should. The good news is that you can avoid xenohormones by eating organic foods.
What Defines an Organic Food?
- Grown in uncontaminated soil
- Free of pesticides (herbicides, fungicides, insecticides)
- Free of chemical fertilizers and additives
- Free from sewage sludge
- Not genetically engineered or modified (Non-GMO)
- Higher nutrient content
The difference starts from the ground up: Soil
Healthy soil produces healthy food and also balances hormones with phytonutrients and the elimination of synthetic hormones. Keeping the fake and processed hormones out of our bodies keeps our system natural and functioning correctly without the confusion of added and/or manufactured hormones thrown into the mix. Unhealthy soil leaves crops depleted of the minerals soil needs to produce healthy and naturally resistant crops. In this kind of depleted soil, even the hardiest of plants need plenty of xenoestrogenic fertilizers and pesticides, which are poisonous compounds, to stand any chance of survival. Hence we get the hybridisation of crops. Yes, those huge and uniformly flawless-looking fruits and vegetables you see in grocery stores have been even further exhausted of their nutrient content. And making things worse for us is poor digestion and modern-day food preparation. So, not only is non-organic food almost completely devoid of nutrients, but we must also factor in the poor digestion that society thanks to processed and other unhealthy non-fibrous foods that have ‘backed up’ our digestive processes over the years. We also choose to cook our vegetables now, which exacerbates the problem as this removes whatever nutrients the food had left, which makes matters even worse. This is the primary reason for the poor health and low nutritional status of the average person today.
What About Meat and Dairy?
Unfortunately, we don’t have better news for you in this regard. In fact, depending on how you look at it, and your diet, this could be even worse news for you as meat and dairy are even more tainted than crops thanks to conventional farming methods. Pens jammed full of animals means that they can’t get out to exercise. It also keeps them from sunlight and they’re fed a poor diet. To understand the implications of this we want to take that familiar saying, “you are what you eat”, a bit further and add that you are whatever you eat, eats. To make matters worse, animals raised in these conventional methods are given antibiotics, to stave off infection, and hormones to make them fatter. Malnourished poultry and beef are lean, but they must also be fat enough for slaughter and sale to the market, which is why modern farming practices rely so heavily on hormones these days. By eating conventional fatty meats you are getting an even larger dose of xenohormones (pesticides) than you think.
Let’s Balance it Out
The easy way to start cleaning out your diet is to eat organic foods. Research the “elimination diet” (or detoxification/cleansing programme) and once the system begins to rid and free itself of digestive back-up and toxic poisoning, start feeding it good things. Look for bulk items and avoid purchasing pre-packaged foods. Look for good online sellers and resources. These are only a few of the many vitamins and minerals that can help you get your hormones back in balance. Vitamins such as B vitamins (biotine, choline, folic acid, B12), vitamins A and C, D and E, and minerals such as boron, calcium, chromium, copper, selenium, zinc and magnesium are all great.
It’s one very important thing to put good organic foods into the body while keeping out harmful synthetic hormones (xenohormones), but that is just the start. The body is perfectly capable of repairing and restoring itself, but even in the healthiest individuals, exercise really moves this process along. It is therefore beneficial for everyone. We need to stimulate all of our systems to get the harmful toxins out, and there are several ways to do so. Exercise, however, gets all of our systems working at once.
Exercise helps the body detox and regain hormonal balance in the following ways:
- Improves circulation: Circulation of the blood stimulates and promotes elimination through the intestines, kidneys and skin. The heart is responsible for a very important pump system that keeps the blood constantly moving through the body to all organs and muscles. The lymphatic system, however, is not so fortunate. Sludge and toxins get caught up in this drainage system, which cannot drain without being stimulated externally. This process occurs only when we move. What we sweat out through the skin are all of the toxins that have been building up and sitting there for quite some time. We also stimulate the liver through increased blood circulation and the liver drives toxins from the body.
- Sweating: As we begin to move, circulation increases and toxins begin to move, which is when they must come out, which happens through sweat. Circulating blood brings nutrients to the organs and the muscles. Additionally, when the pores of the skin open in the process they release toxins. Internal toxins are moved externally and thus sweating is one of the best methods that the body uses to get them out. Actually, it is one of the very few ways (apart from secretion) where toxins are released and can be completely cleansed. We literally shower, drip or dry them off. It’s that simple. Saunas are also great ways to drive toxins out with perspiration, but nothing comes close to exercise-driven sweat where all systems are involved in the cleansing process.
- Breathing: When we exercise we increase our breathing rate. Breathing gives the body a chance to pump oxygen into our lungs and bloodstream. The result is better vitamin and nutrient absorption by the body. Additionally, white blood cells are produced, which cleanse the old and bring in the new. The lymphatic system is also helped along as it’s full of oxygen and, with these little powerhouses in the system, it can go to work faster and more efficiently. The increased oxygen demands associated with exercise increases lung capacity and your heart muscle gets stronger too.
- Stimulates digestion: Consistent exercise helps the digestive system (another important tool for detoxing) to work better and more efficiently. The more consistent our exercise, the more regular our digestion. The more regular our digestion, the more toxins are consistently eliminated.
Detoxing the problem
Detoxification isn’t and will never be a one-time magic solution for hormonal balance or optimal health, but it’s a great start. Instead, detoxing is an ongoing process that hopefully can become a lifestyle. Changing one’s diet is not an easy thing for a lot of people, and there are many people, both young and old, who struggle with exercise. Given the importance of balanced hormones in our daily lives, however, implementing both (even one day at a time) is worth the time and effort. Yet there another way to help get your body back to its natural rhythm, and that’s the elimination or at least the reduction of stress.
Stop stimulating stress
By balancing hormones we can reduce the need for adrenaline. That is where an elimination diet is great, in that we can eliminate foods that trigger adrenaline. Certain foods and stimulants create“gunshots” of adrenaline. Stimulants also manipulate the endocrine system and, taken excessively, can wreak havoc on hormone balance.
Rest and de-stress
Another way to reduce stress and the shots of adrenaline throughout our system is to get sufficient rest. The body must recover and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep is vital if we want all systems to be able to fully recover. But stress can keep us awake. High cortisol levels can wake us up several times at night, reducing any chance of REM sleep.
Heal the Adrenals
Years of constantly having to push hormones to keep up with the demands of chronic stress cause our very delicate feedback system to go completely awry. To help these adrenals heal one must manage chronic stress through diet and exercise. Rest well and play often. Lastly, have your hormone levels and your thyroid checked often.
The balanced bottom-line
Our bodies and hormones need real food, real exercise and less stress. Harmful diet and lifestyle choices will eventually catch up and pre-menopause (a time before menopause when a woman’s hormone production begins fluctuating and declining) is a huge risk. The great news is that we can stop it and reverse it once we are aware of the dangers and that starts with our diets. Start to pay attention to what makes you sick and what makes you well. From there you’ll be empowered to make better choices, which is when your body will naturally begin to heal itself.
Author: Mariska du Plessis
Mariska is the editor of Fitness Magazine, a writer, photographer, videographer and Wellness Blogger.
Follow her on Instagram: @justmariska_