I am going to share a little bit of my journey that ultimately led me to a career path in pelvic floor physical therapy. It did not start with hormones. I actually had no idea that I was creating a self-hormonal imbalance.
How do you have hormonal imbalance? For women in menarche, it is pretty easy to cause hormone disrupt. Men and post-menopausal women, however, have a much "steadier" set of hormones. They do fluctuate, but not with the "swings" that menstruating women have; see image below. For this reason, it is especially important to remember that most diets, including Keto and intermittent fasting, have had studies performed based on post-menopausal and male populations, meaning that those who have hormone fluctuation may not benefit from such diets due to a different type of energy requirement (Wellness Mama Podcast- Alisa Vitti of FloLiving).
Search Female Hormone Cycle on google for images- I no longer use images inless I have been granted the rights to do so in order to comply with copyright laws.
Monthly Male Hormone Cycle
Men have a "diurnal" cycle which means that their fluctuation of testosterone is daily vs. monthly.
Several ways hormones get disrupted are the things that we do DAILY. Eat. Clean. Bathe.
So let's start with eating. From high school to being a collegiate athlete, I did not have a great diet. I won't take full credit for this though, because I was simply not educated how to "eat healthy". Don't get me wrong, my parents did their best to provide me a balanced diet-- it was the choices I made as a teen (McDonald's, Taco Bell, etc). At that time, I was just a high schooler making high school-brain decisions about eating. But in college, I truly grocery shopped for things that I thought were "healthy". Special K Cereal- heart healthy, low-fat! Lean Cuisine freezer meals- low-fat, low-sodium, 200 calories! Halo Top ice cream- 200 calories for the whole carton! (Sorry y'all, I love HaloTop, but sugar alcohol is still sugar).
THE ROOT CAUSE
So why wasn't I eating healthy? I was consuming sugar. Lots and lots of processed, white sugar. I also learned during this time that I was sensitive to gluten (however, I am not sensitive to bread from fresh, milled grains. The reason for my gluten sensitivity is due to the process that bread goes through to maintain shelf life. See this article for more info on bread that is healthy and change your outlook on gluten). **ALSO: Gluten sensitivity is different than gluten intolerance**
Research has been conducted on the affect of sugar on the immune system and its role in causing/contributing to other problems including diabetes, obesity, cancer, heart disease. Several articles (see resources below) discuss how sugar can contribute to chronic inflammation and our slow/halt our immune system's cascade of responses. So literally, eating too much sugar can impair the immune system and contribute to cancer formation/proliferation.
For hormones, increased sugar intake can increase hepatic (liver) fat, as well as increase blood glucose levels, which in turn causes a significant disrupt to hormones. Stored fat also gives off excess estrogen, which can obviously have a great effect on menarchal women. Now remember, these are the chronic effects. I tell my patients, and I try to live life 80-20, meaning 80% of the time, I choose healthy habits. This, for me, is healthy so that mentally I do not fixate on or worry about that 20%. If you have a donut every now and then, it is going to be OK. If you have a sugar addiction, however, this is something in your lifestyle that will eventually need to be addressed.
What changes did I make? I strive for a diet full of greens, less processed sugar, less processed wheat/breads, and more vegetable variety. This took time. I did not do this over night. The changes have helped reduce my chronic low back pain, reduce pain from chronic ovarian cysts, and reduce constipation/bloating/IBS symptoms. In turn, because of a more balanced diet, my hormones began to balance out. By my hormones balancing out, my cycles were less painful, and all of the above improved significantly. I have also had less fatigue, brain fog, and headaches by the end of a long day. When I am consuming too much sugar, I can tell a significant difference to my energy. Some of the chronic things I deal with get worse when I have chronically been eating poorly (Christmas time... oops).
The things I learned while on my pelvic floor clinical about the digestive system are ultimately what drove me to make those small changes. What sold me on it, is that I felt better.
Our bodies, our digestive system, our hormones, like balance. Balance looks like taking time to eat around the same time daily. Making sure our portions are fairly balanced. Grocery shopping WEEKLY vs. monthly. Meal prepping and planning what you need to purchase at the store vs. going to the store hungry and making it a free-for-all.
Everyone is motivated differently. Some people do best with a "crash course" change in diet and lifestyle modification. I have found, however, the best way to avoid failure is to make slow and steady changes to diet and lifestyle. Make small goals, for example: If I eat 10 cookies a day, a small goal is to eliminate 2 cookies a day for a week. When I can do that, I eliminate 2 more, etc. It is important to have little wins and promote a POSITIVE outlook on change. Same goes for exercise. If I exercise 1 minute more per day than last week, that is a WIN! The second thing is to avoid purchasing sweets at the grocery store. If it isn't in our home, Zach and I won't eat it. If it is... we have a harder time restricting ourselves.
Whether you are a new mama, or 30 years postpartum, you can do this! Find a team that believes in you and can support your journey. The biggest thing to remember: No one can make changes for you. The drive and the will to change has to come from within. So, self-care (mentally, emotionally, physically) comes FIRST! I can want change for my patients, but ultimately, they have to make the choice to change.
Refer to my blog post on gut health for tips on improving change in the body.
3. Rahiman, F., & Pool, E. J. (2016). The effect of sugar cane molasses on the immune and male reproductive systems usingin vitroandin vivomethods.Iranian journal of basic medical sciences,19(10), 1125–1130.
4. The in vitro effects of artificial and natural sweeteners on the immune system using whole blood culture assays. F. Rahiman, E. J. Pool J Immunoassay Immunochem. 2014; 35(1): 26–36. doi: 10.1080/15321819.2013.784197
This content is created in order for individuals to learn more about the pelvic floor. I am in no way giving medical advice or medically assessing the pelvic floor through this blog. If you ever have any health questions or concerns, please consult with your physician or midwife. If you are ever unsure if you are performing exercises correctly, it may be beneficial for you to get a referral from your physician to a pelvic floor therapist for further evaluation. My blog posts are for educational purposes only! I am not liable or responsible for any damages resulting from or related to your use of this information.