In my career as a naturopath, I’ve inadvertently wound up working almost exclusively with women. Over the past few years, there are certain things that I’ve found myself desperately wanting these women to deeply know and understand. These are the things I catch myself emphasizing and repeating, and find to be so very true, again and again. I hope that a few of the ideas on this list spark something within you if you’re on your own journey to improve your health, hormones, or life in general.
1. Your nervous system controls everything. If you’re in a constant state of fight-or-flight, it will override all the good things you are doing. Stress is more powerful than you believe or are willing to admit. Don’t fool yourself that you’re coping if you know, deep down, that you really aren’t. Seek help. Talk to people. Delegate. Stop being a perfectionist—it’s not doing your wellness any favors. If you have chronic stress in your life, supplements, nutrition, and body movement can only do so much.
2. Your liver is your best friend. If on a regular basis you find yourself experiencing breast tenderness before your period, pre-menstrual headaches, bloating leading up to your period, clotty periods, period pain, anger, frustration, irritability, and agitation, please see a naturopath, a TCM practitioner, or an acupuncturist to get help working on your liver. It’s such an important organ.
3. Wine is delicious, but it doesn’t like your hormones. Wine (and alcohol in general) raises estrogen, generally contributing to estrogen-driven PMS and period symptoms, especially when you drink above your “happy” amount. You need to have alcohol-free days. The less you drink, the happier your hormones will be. When you have alcohol, only drink it in amounts that serve you, and always with a meal.
4. Coffee really does affect your hormones. No matter how many health benefits researchers find for the consumption of coffee, coffee will still upset your nervous system, adrenal glands, and hormones in general. Especially if you already are under excessive stress. Listen: I love coffee too. It’s a gift from the gods. I’m drinking a cup as I write this. But be wise about it, OK?
5. Weight isn’t only about “what goes in versus what goes out.” Your healthy and ideal weight (and we’re not all supposed to be pencil-thin—we just aren’t!) will come when your hormones are happy and healthy. Your hormones will be happy and healthy when you find harmony among all the aspects of your life that influence them. For many women, the constant rush and excessive over-commitment make achieving this virtually impossible. No amount of restricted eating and over-exercising can make up for it.
6. Veggies are life! I don’t tout certain styles of eating, or recommend that people should eat in any one certain way. Different things work for different bodies. But veggies are life, and a high percentage of your diet should be composed of them, no matter what your food beliefs or opinions. Vegetables are full of the nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber that we all simply need for wellness—and, most especially, for happy, healthy hormones. If you do nothing else, eat more veggies. Every day.
7. Supplements are important, and do work. I often hear people (who have never studied or been trained in nutrition) say that “supplements aren’t necessary” and that “supplements don’t work.” But it’s a fact that our soils are extremely depleted—and nutrients come from the soils. Therefore, it is extremely likely that most of us have nutrient deficiencies of some sort. High-quality supplements are an amazing addition to your everyday health regimen. Sure, we won’t die if we don’t have them, but their healthenhancing benefits can often mean the difference between feeling OK and feeling vibrant. Having said that, be mindful that a lot of the supplements out there are a waste of time. Get help choosing high-quality, practitioner-standard supplements that are indicated for your personal health picture.
8. The pill is not the answer to your hormonal issues. I understand why some women choose to stay on oral contraceptives. I never tell a woman to come off the pill, but will be there to support her in reclaiming her health and hormones when she does. The pill can never fix hormonal issues and conditions. It can only mask symptoms, and when we come off the pill, we inevitably need to address these conditions at their root (which can be much more challenging after many years on the pill). It takes work to naturally address what is going on for you hormonally, but the rewards of doing so are well worth the effort.
9. Digestive problems aren’t necessarily caused by what you’re eating. They can be, of course. But I see many women who have amazing diets but still suffer terrible digestive symptoms. When we’re stressed, blood is diverted from our digestive organs (stomach, liver, spleen, intestines) and toward our arms and legs. This is the classic fight/flight nervoussystem response, preparing us to flee or attack. It greatly reduces the amount of essential oxygen and nutrients flowing to our vital organs, thereby hindering their capacity to digest the food we’re eating. Again, it comes back to stress.
10. Yoga may be the answer to everything. Yoga healed my anxiety and hormonal issues, and I don’t say that lightly. When I stray from my regular yoga practice, my issues start to creep back in. I know yoga isn’t for everyone, but it is profoundly balancing for the entire endocrine system (which means: all your hormones). It will also dramatically help your digestive difficulties by flushing fresh blood back to your vital organs. It also switches you out of fight-or-flight and back into your beautiful, calming, restand- digest nervous-system response.
11. Restriction and deprivation rarely work. I have no health “rules,” because I know that the above is true. Rather, we need to work on developing a connected relationship with ourselves on every level— physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually—so that we can listen in and know what we need in any given moment. There are times to indulge, and times not to. Times to push harder, and times to rest. When you trust your body, and its signs, symptoms, and nudges, you will begin to deeply honor this. And then your life will change.
12. Signs and symptoms are messengers, asking for change. Don’t abhor your body for giving you signs and symptoms. It isn’t turning against you, despite what you may believe. We all experience signs and symptoms at different times, letting us know when we need to start or stop doing something, when we’re off track, when we’ve stopped honoring ourselves. Listen in. Your body is reflecting the wisdom of the internal part of you that knows exactly what you need.
13. The world will not fall apart if you take a step back. Women often feel like they are the glue that holds everything together. Because we are often the epicenter of our worlds—acting as the support person in the middle of a social web—we mistakenly believe that we can’t rest, take time off, or take a step back, because if we do the world will fall apart. This is simply not true. When we honor our own needs, dreams, and desires enough to create space for them in our lives, we give other people the opportunity to step up and support us. Doing this displays courage and trust— trust that everything will still be taken care of.
14. Inspiration is everything. If you do not have things in your life that inspire you, you need to work on that. In other words: Do what you love, do what you love, do what you love. This doesn’t necessarily need to translate into the workplace (although it is helpful to at least like your job). But every day should be peppered with small things that inspire you. Life is not supposed to be a relentless drag.
15. You are your own guru. There is no one that knows you the way you know yourself. If you feel disconnected from yourself, it’s an invitation to go within and reconnect. If you feel lonely, know that this, too, is a symptom of disconnection from your Self, your Spirit, your Soul. You always know what to do, and you always know what’s best for you. You just need the courage and bravery to act upon it.
16. Everything transforms eventually. Truly, everything does. Life is hard for everyone at times. Life ebbs and flows. The best we can do is surrender to the hard times, knowing that they will transform when we have integrated the lesson and completed our growth. Trusting in this can honestly change everything.
17. Life is truly a gift. Too many people do not realize this. If you contemplate the fact that you are going to die one day— really contemplate it—it usually generates a sense of awe for the very fact that you are here. A living, breathing, human being is quite remarkable. Our minds are often too filled with our to-do lists to ponder the more important concepts.
Which of the above ideas resonate for you? What areas of your life need some more of your attention? What are you willing to do about that to reclaim your right to wellness and fulfilment?
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #57.