How to select a low hormone birth control, plus answers to your burning questions about hormone testing while: on birth control, pregnant, or in menopause.
Dear Candace –
I am athletic and one of those people who have never worried about my weight too much. But in the past year I’ve added almost ten pounds to my frame, without eating any more than usual. In fact, I’ve been working out more often but this muffin top isn’t budging. Could it be hormonal? What do my hormones have to do with weight gain, or having a tough time losing it?
Hormones are really basic – fundamental and essential! — to our health and longevity, and when they are out of balance we are out of balance, both mentally and physically. It is very difficult to maintain a normal weight if an undetected hormone imbalance is silently undermining our efforts.
So if you're suddenly sporting a muffin top, hormone imbalance may be the culprit!
In perimenopause all sorts of symptoms associated with the imbalances of fluctuating hormones can start to appear, and sometimes it feels like we put on pounds just looking at a sweet roll. Women in menopause may be depressed and frustrated that they can’t lose weight as easily as they used to, or have immovable belly fat they never had before. The same applies to younger women who can have hormone imbalances because of poor diet, lack of sleep, and a highly stressful or unbalanced lifestyle.
Hormone testing can identify one or more hormone imbalances that may be contributing to your stubborn weight gain. If that’s the case, lifestyle changes, supplements or safe bioidentical hormone therapy can help you rebalance and restore optimal hormone levels so you can begin to shed weight and feel great about your body again!
I’m in my 50’s, and within the last couple of years I can count a half-dozen friends and acquaintances who have been stricken with breast cancer. Some have been treated and are now living normal lives, but another has died. Is there more of it now, or are we just getting to the age where breast cancer is expectable? And I’ve heard about so many things that can cause it – food, cell phones, hormones, pesticides, deodorant, genetics, sugar, you name it — that I’m practically afraid to step out the front door! Can you help separate the fact from the fiction?
Signed, Give Me the Skinny
What a great question! While there is a LOT of information around on breast cancer causes, it is not always easy to put the pieces together in a way that leads to actionable steps. Let’s start with separating FACT from FICTION.
FACT: Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide (find a great interactive site with facts about cancer around the world here.) Great progress has been made in understanding both treatment and causes, and a plethora of screening and awareness programs is now available.
FICTION: A breast cancer diagnosis is merely an unlucky roll of the dice. Though nothing has been proven to eliminate cancer risk, it’s vital that every woman understands that she has the power to reduce her own breast cancer risk with simple lifestyle choices.
But the phrase ‘simple lifestyle choices’ is not a headline-maker…so a common sense approach to this subject is not always easy to find, though it is very real! Here’s what you need to know about reducing your breast cancer risk:
FACT: Excess weight and obesity increases breast cancer risk. In recent studies, researchers at Montefiore Medical Center looked at breast cancer patient outcomesand found that, despite state of the art treatment, excess weight or obesity increased breast cancer recurrence by 30%-50%! (Learn more about the study in this video from Montefiore Medical Center.)
FACT: Two-thirds of all breast cancers are fueled by excess or unbalanced estrogen. The increased risk detected in the Montefiore study was specifically linked to women whose breast cancer tumors were fueled by estrogen. What is the link between fat and estrogen, you ask?
FACT: Simply put, fat cells are mini-estrogen producing factories. So the more body fat we have, the more fat cells we have churning out estrogen – and raising the risk for breast cancer or its recurrence. Women with the most common forms of breast cancer who are overweight or obese at the time of diagnosis have significantly higher risk of breast cancer recurrence and death.
FACT: A healthy weight is the best defense against hormone imbalances that can fuel a breast cancer diagnosis or recurrence. Since an increase in body mass equaled an increase in breast cancer recurrence, your best choice for preventing or minimizing risk for breast cancer is losing weight and maintaining hormone balance.
With these facts in mind, now let’s talk about the best ways to turn these facts into positive action:
- LEARN: get the skinny on hormone basics here, in my short and easy-to-read primer on the function and interactions between cortisol, DHEA, estrogens, progesterone, testosterone and thyroid.
- TEST: Detect hormone imbalances such as estrogen dominance, low progesterone or high cortisol, all strongly associated with higher risks for breast cancer. Ask your doctor for a saliva test, or order yours online from a reputable supplier such as ZRT Labs or Canary Club . Once you have the results, consult with a health care professional or personal hormone consultant to understand the interactions and your best choices to achieve balance.
- ADJUST: Correct signs of estrogen dominance and other cancer-related hormone imbalances by losing weight and supplementing with natural, bio-identical progesterone (BHRT) to balance estrogen. And consider re-testing six months later to make sure you are maintaining optimum balance.
- EAT: To lose weight and reduce estrogen dominance, choose hormone-free, organic foods, fruits and vegetables as often as possible; reject simple sugars, carbs, and caffeine in excess. (Tip: Don’t think “I can’t have them”; instead think “I don’t want them!” This gives YOU back your power!)
- DO enjoy plenty of cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts that promote proper estrogen metabolism. These wonder-veggies can actually rid the body of xenoestrogens that dangerously raise estrogen levels. Consider supplements with the active ingredient DIM. (See my blogpost on “The Cruciferous Connection” here.)
- DO get your EFA’s (Essential Fatty Acids) and “good fats” in fish oil supplements, fresh salmon or other oily fish, avocados, olive or coconut oils, and nuts and seeds. These good fats help regulate cell reproduction, inhibit tumor growth, boost the immune system and reduce inflammation.
- DO avoid bad estrogens, not only by choosing hormone-free foods, but by heating/microwaving in glass or ceramic (never plastic), using stainless steel or BPA-free water bottles, and switching to ‘green’ household, garden, and personal care products. (Milk is just one example of a food product where unnecessary hormones can lurk; learn more in my post here.)
- DRINK: Drink at least 64 ounces of water every day to flush out fat, free radicals, and other toxins that invite cancers.
- BE HAPPY: Balance your cortisol levels to normalize blood sugar and insulin levels, which provide raw fuel for tumors. Prioritize time each day to unwind and counteract stress with deep breathing and tension-releasing exercise such as stretching, yoga, swimming, and walking. Protect yourself from the cancer-inducing effects of toxic stress by doing the things you love to do and spending time with the people, pets and projects that calm, relax, engage, and ignite your zest for living, as well as your own immunities against cancer.
Do you have a question about the link between cancer and hormones? Ask me!
I really don’t understand all the fuss about hormone therapy. I’m getting older, so isn’t it normal and natural that my hormones are changing?
You’re absolutely right! If you feel healthy, positive and are living an active life, your hormones may be perfectly in balance for your age. The goal of hormone therapy should NOT be to return you to the body and drive of your younger days…we all know by now that there is no actual Fountain of Youth! But hormone testing can allow you to achieve optimal aging.
Life in full bloom: Optimal aging includes keeping your hormones in balance.
In optimal aging, hormones all work in concert with each other, allowing you to stay active, alert and living a full and fulfilling life. But for many men and women of a certain age, a lack of hormone balance results in weight gain, lack of stamina, foggy thinking and other uncomfortable symptoms that are definitely not requirements of growing older.
Though the world of advertising — and even some doctors — will recommend hormone therapy to address specific symptoms, I am a huge advocate of hormone testing before treatment. Hormone testing assures you that you are choosing the right treatment to address symptoms, and avoids unnecessary side effects. As an example, you might want to check out my recent blog post on the proliferation of advertising and health implications for supplemental testosterone, or Low-T, here.
As a Hormone Health Educator and Consultant, my specialty is identifying and helping you understand the imbalance, and then help you decide the most effective way to address it through diet, lifestyle changes or bio-identical supplementation or replacement…whatever works best for you.
Hormone balance and optimal aging never boils down to just one hormone. It’s about all of the key players – estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, cortisol, thyroid – working together, in sync and in harmony. Just like the symphony orchestra, if one instrument is out of tune, so goes the melody. Hormones are your internal symphony, and the goal is to keep them in tune with your body’s natural rhythms!
Do you have a question about your hormone balance? Ask me!
Why did you leave me?? And what do I have to do to get you back in my life?
Dear No Mojo,
You just might be walking around with an undetected hormone imbalance that’s been sabotaging your sex life. Why, and how does this happen? Well, hormones work in synchrony to maintain balance sort of like an orchestra, where if one instrument is out of tune the whole symphony suffers, or like a seesaw, where too much weight at one end causes the board to swing wildly back and forth before it eventually slams to the ground.
And so it goes with hormones – take testosterone, the hormone we all associate with the drive, desire and libido of the species. Potent though it is meant to be, testosterone has to take a back seat to cortisol, the master stress hormone that when operating in overdrive will make us too tense or tired for lovemaking. When stress hormones stay stuck on the high end of normal for too long, it is not unusual for the hallmark symptoms of hormone imbalance to set in: mood swings, insomnia, headaches, and feeling generally annoyed, impatient and definitely not in the mood.
Another all too common libido-lowering scenario is estrogen dominance, a situation where estrogen levels are too high relative to too low levels of progesterone, its’ balancing partner. This classic imbalance tends to trigger overproduction of a protein known as SHBG, or Sex Hormone Binding Globulin, you don’t have to remember that! But what you do need to understand is that when there are too many SHBG proteins around on account of excess estrogens, they actually deplete testosterone making it unavailable for the heavy libido lifting. At the same time estrogen dominance also runs interference on thyroid function, blocking or slowing it down leading to lethargy, weight gain, depression and other low-thyroid culprits, none of which do much for one’s libido.
So my considered advice dear No Mojo is to find out if you have a hidden imbalance that may be dimming your desire by testing your hormone levels as soon as you can say “saliva test.” This is the most convenient, stress-free and painless (no needles) way to measure hormone levels. Saliva and bloodspot tests too can measure bioavailable or “free” hormone levels to help identify which hormones are actively at work in your body, and which are playing hooky. Shedding a light on this hormonal playing field can illuminate long ignored imbalances that may not only be the culprit behind a libido gone AWOL but a number of other unwanted symptoms you had no idea were caused by a hormone imbalance.
Follow the easy home collection instructions, mail in your samples in the self-contained mailer, and book a phone consult with me to review and interpret your test results once you have them (usually within 3 to 5 business days of receipt of samples) in your hot little hand. We can take an hour to review your results together so that you fully understand any detected imbalances, how they relate to your symptoms, natural supplements you may need to take, and lifestyle changes to make that will bring your hormones back into balance and your libido back into your life.