Do any of these feel familiar?
- I’m so tired when I wake up, all I can think about is coffee.
- I crave sugar, and must eat chocolate every day.
- My hair is thinning, and my doctor says I’m just getting older. That doesn’t seem right to me.
- No matter what I try, I can’t lose weight.
- I’m hungrier than I used to be – I eat more but never seem to feel full or satisfied.
- I’m more puffy than usual, and feel like I retain fluid more easily.
- My belly keeps growing, and I don’t know what to do. I have to wear “mom” jeans!
These are statements I often hear from my patients who struggle with hormone imbalance but haven’t yet connected the dots between their symptoms and their hormones. The good news is that it’s not a lack of willpower or something that you’re doing wrong, it’s that your hormones are out of whack. I’ve found after 25 years of taking care of patients that the best way to get your hormones back on track is with the way you eat, move, think, and supplement.
Here are 10 shocking facts about how hormones disrupt your health and weight, so that you can start to connect the dots and get back into hormonal balance. These problems apply to both men and women.
- Want the receipt? Forty percent of retail receipts are coated in bisphenol A, a plastic also used to line canned food and make water bottles, according to research by the Environmental Working Group. 1 Retail workers carry an average of 30 percent more BPA in their bodies than other adults, according to an EWG analysis of biomonitoring data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Bisphenol A (BPA) disrupts your estrogen, thyroid, and testosterone levels, which means that it can be linked to obesity, diabetes, endometriosis, and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Women with the highest BPA levels show reduced fertility, and men with the highest BPA have decreased sperm count and decreased testosterone. BPA-free may not be any better, because the chemical industry assumes their new products are innocent until proven guilty. We need to apply the Precautionary Principle instead: Guilty until proven innocent. Next time, either decline the receipt or take it in the bag. Find out if your local retailers use receipts coated in BPA, and ask them to remove it.
- Hormones dictate what your body does with food, and the impact is stronger than calories alone. I used to be obsessed with calories, but they are only part of the equation when it comes to nutrition and weight loss. Approximately 99% of weight gain is hormonal—indeed, resetting your hormones is often the missing ingredient for successful weight loss.
- Is that lead in your lipstick? High lead can turn weaker stress hormones into stronger stress hormones. That’s what was happening to me when my cortisol was high for no apparent reason. I found out that my lead level was high, probably from my lipstick. Did you know that women eat about 10 pounds of lipstick over their lifetime? In fact, the average woman applies 515 synthetic chemicals to her body each day. It’s time to swap the conventional lipstick for organic.
- Stressed? High cortisol, the main stress hormone, is the boss of your other hormones and will affect their production and function, In fact, high cortisol could be slowing down your thyroid, raising your blood sugar and causing sugar cravings, blocking progesterone (your body’s Valium) and creating estrogen dominance, and growing your belly fat. When I was in my twenties and thirties, I rarely gave my stress a second thought. I went to the occasional yoga class and tried Transcendental Meditation, and figured that was enough. Then I gave birth to two daughters in my thirties, and couldn’t lose the baby weight with my old tricks. Additionally, I suffered with PMS and low sex drive. I went to my doctor, who told me: “Exercise more and eat less.” That didn’t seem right to me, so I left his office determined to apply my medical knowledge to my own situation. I checked my hormones: My cortisol, the main stress hormones, was triple what it should’ve been. I didn’t have a tumor; I had high stress and I wasn’t managing it well. I weighed 25 pounds over my goal weight. It took me 21 days to reset my cortisol, but it got all my other hormones back into place. Result? I lost weight, and graduated from couple’s therapy.
- Diet soda may be worse than regular soda. New research shows that diet soda may harm your metabolism (the rate at which you burn calories) more than regular soda. That’s probably because artificial sweeteners disrupt the microbiome, the aggregate microbes in your gut and their DNA. Ideally, break the diet soda habit, and remove all sugar and sugar substitutes from your food plan.
- Eating meat raises estrogen. It’s not yet clear if it’s just meat from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) or if it also applies to grass-fed, grass-finished meat, but meat eaters have higher estrogen levels compared to vegetarians, plus a greater risk of endometriosis, diabetes, breast, and colon cancer in observational studies. 2 The mechanism may be that meat messes with the subset of your microbiome that controls your estrogen levels, known as the estrobolome.4 While it’s not yet clear that grass-fed meat is a better choice, it does have a better fatty acid profile—that is, more omega-3s and less omega-6s. Given the estrogen pollution you encounter, I recommend a periodic reset by removing red meat and increasing fiber to 35 to 50 grams per day (slowly—don’t increase more than 5 grams per day to avoid gas and bloating). 5 Make sure to eat one pound of vegetables per day so that you can follow the golden rule of estrogen: use it, then lose it. Don’t keep recirculating estrogen like bad karma, because that allows it to do a back flip and increase your risk of estrogen-dependent health problems.
- An apple a day no longer keeps the doctor away. I grew up with a great-grandmother who was a bit of a radical: she was a whole foodist who practiced yoga daily and believed that the answer to health was not found in the bottom of a prescription pill bottle, but in how your architect your lifestyle. She was born in 1900 and loved to eat apples, but they were small, green, and tart. They contained about 2 grams of fructose, or fruit sugar. Today’s apples have been hybridized by Big Food to be large sugar bombs, and often contain 20 grams or more of fructose. Fructose overload has been linked to problems with the liver and leptin—the hormone of satiety that tells your brain to put down your fork when you’re full. When your metabolism is slow, it may be helpful to limit fructose and choose low-fructose fruit, such as avocados, coconut, and olives.
- Stop the chronic cardio. I used to go to the gym and run on the treadmill or read a book on the elliptical for an hour. Now we know that chronic cardio can raise your cortisol and prematurely age you. A better choice is more adaptive exercise such as Pilates or barre fitness, mashed up with burst training. Burst training improves stress resilience rather than driving cortisol high and keeping it there.
- Pringles, anyone? So we know toxins are bad, how do we get rid of them? Last year, a group of 28 residents in a town in Alabama with high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs, used as a fluid coolant in electrical systems, and known to cause high blood pressure and diabetes) were studied to see if fat-free Pringles could reduce their body burden. In fact, the randomized trial showed that fat-free Pringles containing olestra reduced their level of these endocrine disruptors by 25 percent or more. 3 But Pringles are a highly-processed fake food invented by Proctor and Gamble; how can this be the solution? A more palatable alternative is to improve your body’s detoxification pathways with periodic removal of the most common toxins and the pulsing of supportive supplements, such as fiber and N-acetylcysteine, a precursor to glutathione—your most potent anti-oxidant and scavenger of free radicals in your body.
- Hangovers hitting harder? Life is busy, and cocktail hour is a welcome reprieve. A glass of wine or two, a beer—they may seem like just what the doctored ordered. Uh, not this doctor. The very thing you’re seeking from alcohol—solace—may be the opposite of what you’re getting. Alcohol raises cortisol and temporarily slows metabolism by more than 70 percent. If you’re drinking daily, that’s a serious decrement in your rate of burning calories, and it may be tying up your liver so that it can’t keep your other hormones in balance. I’m not saying you need to become abstinent, but if you struggle with weight or fatigue, or sleep is not what it used to be, drink less but better quality. Once every six months, I recommend getting off alcohol for 21 days. You’ll sleep better and decongest your liver. If you can’t do it, you may have a sticky relationship with alcohol and need additional help to moderate.
Hormones aren’t inherently evil, but as these 10 facts demonstrate, your hormones may be working against you.