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Hormone Harmony during Breastfeeding

Going through my pregnancies with my two sons, and supporting hundreds of women in my practice through their pregnancies and beyond, I am always interested in the information that is given to pregnant women and what that says about what our society deems important.

Women going through pregnancy know a lot – they know what to eat, what to avoid, when their baby develops eyelashes (32 weeks) and what position to sleep in. They know how to track contractions, how often to breastfeed and the best positions for breastfeeding.

What women know very little about is what is happening in their own bodies. What the hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy, breastfeeding and the postnatal stage mean for their own energy, emotions and health.

This article is here to close that gap – to help women understand the hormonal changes that occur during breastfeeding and when that hormone balance is normal, and when to seek support when it is not.

Breastfeeding Hormones

Breastfeeding is associated with production of two specific hormones: prolactin and oxytocin. These two hormones allow for peak production of breastmilk as well as bonding with your new babe. Let’s look at each one in more detail.

Prolactin

Prolactin, or “pro-lactation hormone” is produced during breastfeeding to increase breast milk supply. Levels rise for almost an hour after the baby begins to feed, encouraging the alveoli in the breasts to make milk.

But that is not all prolactin does. In fact, not just breastfeeding parents produce it – all parents produce it. Prolactin is a calming and relaxing hormone that decreases progesterone and testosterone production in both parents. It can cause mothers to feel deep relaxation (and sometimes deep fatigue) during breastfeeding and for some time after.

Interestingly, prolactin is also released during sexual intimacy, counteracting the effects of dopamine (which is associated with sexual arousal) and resulting in a sensation of gratification and calm. With high circulating levels of prolactin during the breastfeeding stage, there is often less sex drive – your body feels like it’s already in the afterglow, and your libido is no where to be seen.

Oxytocin

Mostly commonly referred to as the “love hormone”, oxytocin is released to encourage let down during breastfeeding. Oxytocin increases bonding and is produced in both parents during cuddling and intimate contact – with both the baby and with each other. Oxytocin levels are highest during new relationships, such as with your brand new baby, and while baby is breastfeeding.

Most of the time we respond to oxytocin in positive ways – it feels good to be awash in these bonding hormones. But it isn’t this way for all women. Some women are very sensitive to such high levels of oxytocin and feel more anxious, irritable or overwhelmed while breastfeeding.

Women’s Hormones in Breastfeeding

It is no surprise that women’s hormones fluctuate a lot in the time after pregnancy – after all, those hormones that helped to sustain the pregnancy are now dropping off (quickly!) to pre-pregnancy levels. How a woman feels in the months, and years, after her baby is born has a lot to do with the balance of her hormones.

Estrogen

Estrogen levels can hit menopausal levels for the months after giving birth – and for some women they stay low throughout the time she is breastfeeding. Low estrogen levels can cause mood swings, irritability, hot flashes and night sweats as well as vaginal dryness, tenderness and discomfort during sexual intercourse. Low estrogen can also zap your desire for sexual intimacy (let alone how dry your lady garden is…) Using a water-based lubricant, and engaging in foreplay can help to overcome some of these low estrogen issues, but if the concern persists, talk to your ND about a low dose topical estriol cream.

Low estrogen can also contribute to an increased incidence of yeast infections, especially in women who are prone to them. If this happens, talk to your Naturopathic Doctor about treatments that are safe during breastfeeding.

Progesterone

Progesterone – “pro-gestation hormone” is at sky-high levels during pregnancy and it can feel like a rollercoaster free fall when you return to pre-pregnancy baselines in the weeks after delivery. Prolactin production suppresses ovulation, especially during the first six months after delivery, and with no ovulation progesterone production is incredibly low.

Symptoms of low progesterone can include anxiety, depression, mood swings, low libido, and insomnia. Many clinicians believe that low progesterone is a contributing factor to the development of post-partum depression in some women. There are many available treatments for post-partum depression, if you are concerned that you may have PPD, talk to your Naturopathic Doctor right away.

Testosterone

Produced mainly by the ovaries, but also in the adrenal glands, testosterone levels are also low in breastfeeding women. Testosterone can contribute to sexual desire, as well as sexual response. Low levels can impact mood, focus and libido.

Beyond Hormones

The months after giving birth are a challenging time for everyone. My take home message here is that while lack of sleep, and an exhausting schedule are huge factors in the way women feel during the months and years of breastfeeding, there are also hormonal influences at play that need to be considered.

If you have been feeling off, feeling exhausted, or have mood swings or low moods don’t just attribute it to the busy-ness of having a baby – talk to someone about how you can support your hormones and restore your hormone harmony throughout breastfeeding.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

The PMS Diet

Premenstrual syndrome may hit you like a storm each month, throwing your mood and your body into chaos and misery. But does it have to be like that? We all know women who sail through their cycles with not a concern in the world. Is it possible that we all can achieve that level of hormone harmony and banish our PMS symptoms? Yes, I believe it is.

The PMS Diet

My philosophy is that health comes from the balance of three key components:

  1. What we put into our bodies (food, alcohol, drugs, etc.)
  2. How we move our body (exercise, flexibility, play, etc.)
  3. The thoughts we hold in our mind-body (gratitude, self love, frustration, etc.)

With this philosophy at the core of my approach, I often suggest that women with hormone imbalances consider the impact of their diet. And in PMS your diet can have a huge impact – for good, or for bad. So lets get to it and discuss how you can have an impact on your PMS by optimizing your diet.

  1. Quit sugar

Ladies, you know this one. But it is so damn hard to do – your body can send some pretty strong cravings for sugar when hormone imbalances associated with PMS cause your serotonin to plummet. But sugar is not going to make anything better.

Women who experience PMS eat, on average, 275% more refined sugar than women who do not have PMS. What?!! That’s a ton of sugar! And women with PMS also consume between 200-500 more calories per day – typically in the forms of carbohydrates, fats and sweets. That is not going to make anyone feel better!

The main issue is that sugar increases the loss of magnesium in the urine – and magnesium deficiency is thought to be the cause of a lot of PMS symptoms, including fatigue, irritability, brain fog, insomnia as well as period cramps. Just to add to your misery, sugar also increases salt and water retention, leading to swelling and breast tenderness. Ugh.

  1. Avoid alcohol

We’re still in common sense country here, but avoiding alcohol really is something you need to do if you want to balance your hormones and eliminate PMS. While reaching for a glass of wine (or two) is tempting when you’re in a PMS rage, you are not making things any better. Alcohol can inhibit your liver’s ability to detoxify hormones, and can lead to higher circulating estrogen levels. This can exacerbate the imbalance of hormones that is already thought to cause PMS – high estrogen to low progesterone.  So consider making a cup of tea instead, and skip the alcohol for your own sake.

  1. Cut the caffeine

I’m really not making any friends with this article. I’m feeling like a bit of a buzz kill! But let’s talk straight – hormone imbalances are strongly associated with our behaviours. And we can change our behaviours!

Drinking coffee, and other caffeine-containing beverages, has been found to be associated with PMS, and with a greater severity of PMS. If you have PMS, I encourage you to try a cycle without caffeine and see if you notice an improvement, a lot of the women in my practice have found this to have a huge impact.

  1. Skip the salt

If you experience bloating, breast tenderness or swelling during PMS, you should check your diet to see if you are eating too much salt. Mostly found in processed food, salt can contribute to water retention, and swelling. Skipping prepared, processed and fast foods should bring your salt intake down to a balanced and healthy level.

  1. Get complex

Breads, bagels, crackers, pasta and other simple carbohydrates are setting you up for blood sugar instability and almost guaranteeing a miserable PMS. Instead of these foods, opt for the complex carbohydrates, these are slower to digest, keep you full longer and your blood sugar stable. Women who eat more complex carbohydrates also eat more fiber, an important nutrient that promotes estrogen elimination from the body.

So banish the bread and instead go for whole grains – brown rice, oats, quinoa, millet, and amaranth are delicious. And try sweet potatoes, squash, lentils, and beans for filling complex carbohydrates.

  1. Go green

Leafy greens are a PMS fighting superfood! A rich source of calcium and magnesium, leafy greens also support liver function, encouraging the liver to detoxify and eliminate excess estrogen. Choose your favourite leafy greens and eat them every day – kale, spinach, arugula, swiss chard or collard greens are all excellent choices!

  1. Go fish!

Fish, and other foods that are rich in vitamin B6, are important for any woman struggling with PMS. B6, a water-soluble nutrient, is involved in over 100 reactions in our body, many of which are involved in the production of hormones and neurotransmitters. Vitamin B6 is one of the best studied nutrients for PMS, and it has been found to help restore balance for women with PMS and reduce symptoms, especially mood symptoms such as irritation, anger and sadness.

  1. Open sesame

Sesame seeds are an excellent source of calcium, and clinical trials have found that women with the highest intake of calcium have the lowest incidence of PMS symptoms. While most studies have been on calcium supplements, increasing dietary calcium is a great place to start.

Other great sources of calcium include tofu, sardines, leafy greens, cabbage, broccoli, green beans, squash, bean sprouts, almonds, brazil nuts, quinoa, chickpeas, beans and oranges.

  1. Beans, beans, beans!

There are many reasons why beans pack a powerful punch in treating PMS. Beans are an excellent source of magnesium, one of the most important nutrient imbalances in PMS. Taken as a supplement, magnesium can improve mood, reduce breast tenderness and relieve pain during periods.

But beans offer more than just magnesium. They also are a rich source of fiber and protein. Women who consume a mostly vegetarian diet have lower incidence of PMS and lower levels of estrogen – both benefits that can be achieved by just increasing the beans in your diet.

  1. Boost Bacteria

Fermented foods, like kim chi, sauerkraut, kombucha and kefir all contain probiotics – healthy bacteria that can live in our digestive tracts and support our overall health. Healthy bacteria do more than just help our digestion, they also support hormone balance – especially estrogen elimination, an important component of managing PMS.

When your bacteria balance is optimal your body is able to easily eliminate estrogen. When your bacteria levels are out of balance estrogen levels increase and can significantly contribute to PMS. So try some fermented foods, or take a daily probiotic to balance your bacteria.

 Diet and More

Diet is an excellent place to start in treating your PMS.  It may seem simple, but simple things can sometimes be incredibly powerful.  Each action you take on a daily basis, each food you eat, or those foods you don’t eat, all influence your hormone balance and determine whether you sail through PMS or struggle.  Once you have started with these dietary changes, if you are still experiencing symptoms, check out my top treatments for PMS, ask whether you may be experiencing PMDD or take a refresher on the hormonal imbalances of PMS.  And if you are ready to take the next step, feel free to get in touch so we can work together on resolving your PMS.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

 

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150 Symptoms of PMS

With 3 out of 4 women experiencing some symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, most of us can come up with a pretty good list of symptoms for ourselves. But did you know that 150 symptoms have been identified? That’s a pretty substantial number!

Ranging from mild bloating to severe mood changes and migraines, and everything in between, PMS can seriously impact a woman’s mood, quality of life, and relationships.

And remember, you don’t just have to accept PMS. You can manage it and treat it effectively. But that’s in another article. This one is The 150 Symptoms of PMS.

Digestive Symptoms

  1. Bloating
  2. Weight gain
  3. Constipation
  4. Diarrhea
  5. Nausea
  6. Vomiting
  7. Gas
  8. Cravings for salt
  9. Cravings for sweets
  10. Cravings for alcohol
  11. Increased appetite
  12. Decreased appetite
  13. Increased sensitivity to alcohol
  14. Increased sensitivity to taste/ spices/ flavour
  15. Increased thirst

Physical Symptoms

  1. Fatigue
  2. Water retention and swelling
  3. Increased sweating
  4. Night sweats
  5. Hot flashes
  6. Fatigue
  7. Increased sleep hours/ desire for sleep
  8. Clumsiness
  9. Easy bruising
  10. Increased heart rate
  11. Irregular heart beat
  12. Increased sensitivity to light
  13. Increased sensitivity to sound
  14. Increased sensitivity to touch
  15. Increased sensitivity to chemicals
  16. Seizures

Ear, Nose, Throat and Head

  1. Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  2. Dizziness
  3. Lightheadedness
  4. Headaches
  5. Migraines
  6. Cold sore outbreaks
  7. Puffy eyes
  8. Blurred vision
  9. Hordeolum (eye stye)
  10. Dry mouth
  11. Rhinitis (runny nose)
  12. Worsening of allergy symptoms
  13. Increased sensitivity to odours

Respiratory System

  1. Shortness of breath
  2. Worsening of asthma
  3. Sore throat
  4. Sensation of lump in throat
  5. Hoarse voice

Muscles, Bones and Joints

  1. Back pain
  2. Leg pain
  3. Joint pain or worsening arthritis
  4. Muscle weakness
  5. Muscle stiffness

Lady Garden Symptoms

  1. More frequent urination
  2. More frequent yeast infections
  3. More frequent urinary tract infections
  4. More frequent HSV outbreaks
  5. Dry vaginal tract
  6. Painful intercourse

Breast Symptoms

  1. Breast tenderness
  2. Breast swelling
  3. Increase in breast size

Skin Symptoms

  1. Acne
  2. Dry skin
  3. Oily skin
  4. Oily scalp
  5. Increased sweating
  6. Swelling of face or extremities
  7. Worsening of rosacea
  8. Worsening of eczema
  9. Worsening of psoriasis

Mood and Emotional Symptoms

  1. Increased libido
  2. Decreased libido
  3. Poor decision making
  4. Eating disorders
  5. Anger
  6. Aggression
  7. Irritation
  8. Forgetfulness
  9. Indecisiveness
  10. Poor concentration
  11. Brain fog
  12. Inability to think clearly
  13. Poor learning, less able to retain information
  14. Lack of motivation
  15. Increased sensitivity
  16. Avoidance of social interaction
  17. Avoidance of responsibilities
  18. Withdrawn
  19. Confusion
  20. Excitability
  21. Mood swings
  22. Restlessness
  23. Hopelessness
  24. Anxiety
  25. Depression
  26. Loneliness
  27. Guilt
  28. Apathy
  29. Poor self esteem
  30. Reduced confidence
  31. Jealousy
  32. Paranoia
  33. Fearfulness
  34. Tension
  35. Poor coping
  36. Inability to relax
  37. Feeling keyed up or on edge
  38. Sadness
  39. Suicidal thoughts
  40. Frequent outbursts
  41. Sudden outbursts
  42. Feeling overwhelmed
  43. Feeling out of control
  44. Difficulty controlling anger or sadness
  45. Crying
  46. Melancholy
  47. Defensiveness
  48. Stubbornness
  49. Negative outlook
  50. More easily offended
  51. More easily hurt or upset
  52. Lack of coordination
  53. Intentional self harm
  54. Increased addictive behaviours (shopping, drugs, alcohol)
  55. Increased productivity
  56. Decreased productivity
  57. Hypersomnia
  58. Insomnia
  59. Lack of pleasure in life
  60. Worsening of pre-existing mental health concerns
  61. Possible increase in criminal behaviour

Well, try as I might, I could only find 133 symptoms of PMS.  To be considered a PMS symptom, it must have the following characteristics:

  1. Restricted to the luteal phase (second half) of the menstrual cycle
  2. Resolve by the four day of the next cycle (fourth day of the period)
  3. Cause impairment or distress for the woman
  4. Occur in at least two cycles
  5. Not be an exacerbation of another condition

Can you think of any PMS symptoms I may have missed? Were you surprised by any of the symptoms on here? Let me know in the comments below!

 

10 Tips to Treat PMS Naturally

PMS (premenstrual syndrome) sucks.  That’s not medical jargon, that’s just the way it is.  Once a month, up to three-quarters of women experience physical or emotional discomfort or pain which can last up to 14 days (seriously.  14 days.)  Over 150 symptoms of PMS have been identified but the most common symptoms are:

Naturopathic treatment of PMS
There are over 150 symptoms associated with PMS
  • Decreased energy
  • Irritability, nervousness, anxiety and anger
  • Food cravings
  • Depression
  • Headache
  • Altered sex drive
  • Breast pain
  • Muscle aches and low back pain
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea and/ or constipation
  • Swelling of the hands and feet
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping

What causes PMS?

Honestly, we don’t exactly know.  Researchers, clinicians, and people all over the internet debate this constantly.  We do know that it’s most likely a combination of imbalances in our hormones, neurotransmitters, lifestyle factors and our environment that leads to symptoms of PMS.

Balancing these diverse systems gives most women relief from their PMS symptoms. But it can take some time to determine what will work for you!  Don’t try to do this alone – an experienced naturopath or functional medicine doctor can guide you and give you the best chance for bidding farewell to your PMS.

Below you will find my TOP TEN natural treatments for PMS.  Start here.  Empower yourself with knowledge.  Then find the support you need.

10 Tips to Treat PMS Naturally

1. Exercise

Come on.  We know exercise is important, but did you know it can decrease your PMS symptoms?  Studies have shown again and again that women who engage in regular exercise have fewer PMS symptoms than women who do not.  And the exercise doesn’t need to be intense – it just needs to happen regularly (at least 3 times per week throughout the month).

Exercise can reducing estrogen levels, improve blood sugar levels and raise your feel-good endorphins!  And really, any exercise will do.  So run, dance, swim, cycle, hula hoop, yoga or pilates – it doesn’t matter.  Just do it!

2.    Cut the sugar

Women who experience PMS have been reported to eat whopping 275% more refined sugar than women who do not get PMS symptoms.  DAMN.

Refined sugars zap our magnesium levels, increase salt and water retention and create imbalances in our insulin levels.  All of these concerns have been linked to PMS symptoms.

Eliminating refined sugar and limiting simple carbohydrates (grains, pasta, baked goods) in favour of high fiber complex carbohydrates (fruits and vegetables, whole grains) lowers levels of estrogen, improves magnesium levels and can significantly improve symptoms of PMS.   So cut out the cookies, cakes, bagels and breads in favour of oatmeal, popcorn, quinoa, brown rice and other fiber rich foods.

 3.    Eliminate caffeine

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but caffeine consumption is associated with more and worse PMS symptoms.  Caffeine is linked especially to breast tenderness, anxiety, irritability and difficulty sleeping during PMS.  The impact is even worse when combined with sugar (pay attention all you Frappuccino drinkers!).  Eliminating caffeine, or limiting it during the premenstrual phase can improve PMS symptoms for a lot of women.

4.    Take a probiotic

Probiotics are not just for digestive health!  Those little buggers living in our intestines are working hard for our health.  Healthy bacteria can decrease symptoms of PMS by increasing beta-glucuronidase enzyme activity and promoting estrogen excretion.

The best way to establish healthy bacteria levels in your gut is to take a probiotic supplement.  Try for one with both Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum.  Taken with food, probiotics are extremely safe and have no negative side effects (you can experience bloating if you take too much – 1 to 10 billion is usually a safe amount).

 5.    Consider Cal-Mag

1k-7649 spinachEstrogen and calcium are BFFs in our bodies.  Estrogen is involved in the absorption, metabolism and utilization of calcium in our bodies (this is why we are more prone to osteoporosis as we age – we’re learning so much today!)  And studies have found that both mood and physical symptoms of PMS are improved with daily calcium supplementation

Magnesium deficiency is a serious concern and most women with PMS are deficient in magnesium!  I’m going to say that again – MOST women with PMS are deficient in magnesium.   Magnesium deficiency causes fatigue, irritability, mental confusion, menstrual cramps, insomnia, muscle aches or pains and heart beat irregularities.

Dietary sources of calcium include dark green leafy vegetables, dairy (cheese, yogurt, milk), tofu, and almonds.  Dietary sources of magnesium are similar and include green leafy vegetables, tofu, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains.  Take to your ND about a Cal-Mag supplement, and take it in the evening away from other medications and supplements.

6.    Bring the B vitamins

It is hard to keep track of the hundreds of different things B vitamins do!  One of the most important is the detoxification of hormones through our liver.  If you don’t have enough B vitamins, your body is going to be dealing with those hormones a lot longer than you want to be.

Vitamin B6 is also a superstar when it comes to treating PMS.  Necessary for the production of two neurotransmitters – serotonin and dopamine (read all about them in my article on hormones for happiness!), vitamin B6 can seriously ease symptoms of PMS such as low energy, irritability and mood swings.

As if that wasn’t enough, B6 is also involved in transfer of magnesium into cells – without B6 magnesium wouldn’t be able to enter cells.  This is another reason why B vitamins, and especially B6 are so important in the relief of PMS symptoms.

7.    Dong Quai

Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis) is a traditional Chinese herb with thousands of years of use for imbalances in women’s hormones.  It has been used for menopause, painful menstruation, no menstruation and as a uterine tonic.  Dong quai has phytoestrogenic properties and I recommend it for women who experience PMS symptoms in addition to painful menstruation.

Dong quai is usually used from ovulation (day 14) until menstruation begins.  If you are also experiencing painful periods, continue it until your period stops.

 8.    Chaste tree

The SINGLE most important herb in the treatment of PMS, chaste tree (Vitex agnus castus) has been a life-changer for many women in my practice.

The effects of chaste tree appear to be due to the impact it has on the hypothalamus and pituitary – the starting point for hormone production in the body.  As a result, chaste tree is able to normalize the production of many hormones, for instance, reducing prolactin levels and normalizing the estrogen to progesterone ratio.

Chaste tree is best taken daily throughout the menstrual cycle.  Studies have found it to be useful for almost all symptoms associated with PMS including irritability, mood swings, anger, anxiety, headache, and breast tenderness.

9.    Licorice

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is an amazing herb – one of the most powerful we use.  It has been used in both Western and Eastern herbal medicine for thousands of years for a wide variety of ailments.  It also has impressive modern scientific research to back up its historical uses.

 Licorice is useful in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome because it lowers estrogen levels while simultaneously raising progesterone levels.  Licorice also blocks the hormone aldosterone, decreasing water retention.

Licorice is usually taken from ovulation (day 14) until your period starts.  It should not be used if you have a history of kidney disease or high blood pressure.  You should be under the care of a Naturopathic Doctor while taking licorice.

10. See a Naturopathic Doctor

Obviously I think this is the best thing you can do to help manage your PMS symptoms.  Naturopathic Doctors are experts in correcting the underlying imbalances that lead to PMS symptoms.  Your unique set of symptoms will give an experienced ND a lot of information that can be used to individualize a treatment plan just for you.  NDs also can order comprehensive hormone panels that will identify imbalances in cortisol, estrogen, progesterone or testosterone that may be contributing to your symptoms.  You can find a licensed Naturopathic Doctor in your area by visiting the national association websites – CAND in Canada and AANP in the United States.  And of course, you can contact me if you’d like us to work together.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

The Empowered Woman’s Guide to HSV

Oh herpes. No one wants you. But with 2/3 of people under age 50 having some form of herpes, a lot of women are dealing with this unwanted guest in their lady garden. And herpes isn’t going anywhere – once you have the herpes virus, you always have the herpes virus. Herpes is one of the types of virus that is able to remain in a hidden state in our bodies (called “latent” infection) and pop out when we least want it to.

Types of Herpes

There are two types of herpes simplex virus – HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 is the virus associated with most cold sores. HSV-2 is the one associated with genital herpes. However their location doesn’t really matter – you can have HSV-1 on your genitals, and while relatively rare, you can also have HSV-2 around your mouth.

How to Get Herpes

Now no one wants to get herpes, but honestly it is hard to avoid. HSV-1 and -2 are transmitted by physical contact, kissing or sexual intimacy. As one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, exposure rates are very high. To avoid exposure to HSV use condoms or dental dams when having sexual contact, and avoid direct contact during known outbreaks in a partner.

While HSV-2 is commonly transmitted sexually, it can infect the mouth as well through oral sex. Most cases of HSV-1 are contracted during childhood, but can also occur sexually. HSV-1 and -2 can both also be passed along to infants during childbirth.

Symptoms of HSV

Many people recognize the symptoms of cold sores – a watery blister near the lip (or sometimes the nose) or in the mucous membranes of the mouth. As the blister heals it forms a characteristic scab.

But herpes can also be completely silent – many people have HSV infections and never know it. This contributes to the high rates of exposure to HSV – it can be passed on even if no active blisters or sores are present.

Symptoms of an outbreak can also cause some symptoms such as tingling, burning or flu-like symptoms before the blisters appear. It is important to avoid direct contact with a partner during these times (use a condom or dental dam).

The first contact with the virus will cause the primary outbreak – usually with symptoms showing up between 2-21 days after contact. Typically this outbreak is more severe and can last longer than subsequent outbreaks.

Triggering Future Outbreaks

Any number of different triggers can lead to the resurgence of the herpes virus. Things that compromise your immune function – like lack of sleep, stress, poor diet and alcohol consumption are common triggers. Other triggers may be sun exposure, excessive heat, skin irritation or other local infections.

Diagnosing HSV

The best test is a simple swab, done in your doctor’s office soon after the onset of the blisters. It can take up to a week for results to come back, so treatment is often started if the symptoms and appearance are consistent with a herpes infection.

There are blood tests available as well that can be used if HSV is suspected.

An Empowered Approach to Treating HSV

My first step in treating HSV in women is to offer assurance. You are practically a unicorn if you have never had HSV – most people in Canada do have it (and remember, once you’ve had it you always have it). It is a virus like any other and we need to let go of some of the negative connotations around contracting HSV.

Second, there are antiviral medications available that can help to lessen the severity of an outbreak and lower the chances of passing HSV to a partner. While I don’t advocate for on going use of these medications, they can be used judiciously in women who are looking for short term support.

Of course, as a naturopathic doctor, my focus is on empowering women to make choices for their health based on knowledge and informed by science. So I like to emphasize what we, as women, can do to help control HSV and prevent outbreaks.

St. John’s Wort – most commonly known as a treatment for depression, Hypericum perforatum (St. John’s Wort) also has powerful antiviral properties that are effective against herpes viruses. Typically taken at higher doses for 1-2 weeks, then decreasing to a lower or maintenance dose.

Lysine – one of the more well-known treatments for HSV, lysine is an amino acid that helps to stabilize the virus and prevent reactivation. It is most often taken daily to prevent outbreaks. Many doctors also suggest consuming more lysine in the diet, and avoiding arginine – this balance supports the immune system in it’s work. Below you’ll find a list of foods high in lysine (enjoy lots of these!) and foods high in arginine (limit these).

Lemon Balm – topical lemon balm is stellar at soothing and supporting the healing of cold sores and genital herpes. It is applied directly to the lesions once or twice per day during an outbreak.

Coriolus Mushrooms – mushrooms pack one hell of a punch when it comes to optimizing our immune system. Coriolus mushrooms in particular have been found to optimize immune function and support the immune system in it’s battle against viruses. I suggest taking mushrooms regularly to support your immune function.

Empowered Steps

If you are struggling with recurrent HSV outbreaks, or this is your first outbreak, I hope that you feel more knowledgeable after reading this article. As always, I suggest that you work with a qualified Naturopathic Doctor to put together a plan that approaches all aspects of your health, and the health of your lady garden. If you’d like to work with me, I am happily taking new patients in my women’s health focused practice in Toronto. You can book here.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Phytoestrogens: Hormone Balance With Food

Phytoestrogens, or plant-based estrogens, are compounds found in our food that can bind to our estrogen receptors.  While a lot of confusion exists on the impact this has on our hormone health, I’m going to help you understand the amazing balancing effects of phytoestrogens, and tell you why you should consider having more of them in your diet.

Why Phytoestrogens are Important

In our bodies we have three sources for estrogen: the estrogen we make (also known as endogenous estrogen), the estrogen we eat (phytoestrogens) and the estrogen-like compounds we are exposed to in our environment (xenoestrogens).

Each of these estrogens can bind to an estrogen receptor and cause an estrogen-like effect.  The chemical estrogens, or xenoestrogens, from the pesticides, herbicides, personal care products and other chemicals in our body have a much stronger impact than that of our own home-made estrogen.  And the plant estrogens have a much weaker effect.

The Balancing Effects of Estrogen

With many women suffering from conditions of excess estrogen – like fibroids, PCOS, obesity and estrogen dominance as well as estrogen sensitive conditions like endometriosis, fibrocystic breasts and breast cancer – lowering their body burden of estrogen is important.  For women with high estrogen, consuming more very mildly estrogenic phytoestrogens can prevent the negative impact of exposure to their body’s own estrogens as well as the chemical estrogens from the environment.  When you have lots of plant estrogens in your body they occupy the estrogen receptor, causing a very small estrogen-like impact, but most importantly, they prevent other stronger estrogens from binding to that receptor.  This results in an overall lower estrogen state in the body.

Following along so far?  It gets better!

When women are suffering from low estrogen – due to hysterectomy or menopause, phytoestrogens can also be helpful.  When women is no longer producing her own estrogen in optimal amounts, the small amount of an estrogen effect from a phytoestrogen can help to boost her estrogen levels and diminish symptoms of low estrogen like hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia and mood swings.

Food Sources of Phytoestrogens

More than 300 different plants contain phytoestrogens. There are several subclasses of phytoestrogens, some of which are listed below.

Lignans – Vegetables, fruits, nuts, cereals, spices, seeds; especially flax seeds

Isoflavones – Spinach, fruits, clovers, peas, beans; especially soy

Flavones – Beans, green vegetables, fruits, nuts

Chalcones – Licorice root

Diterpenoids – Coffee

Triterpenoids – Licorice root, hops

Coumarins – Cabbage, peas, spinach, licorice, clover

To increase dietary sources of phytoestrogens, consider the following foods:

Flax seeds – the highest food source of phytoestrogens is flax seed and oils. The phytoestrogens in flax seeds are lignans. Lignans have antitumour, antioxidant, and weakly estrogenic and antiestrogenic characteristics. They have been found in studies to decrease vaginal dryness, hot flashes or night sweats in women with low estrogen symptoms.

Soy, edamame, tofu, tempeh – the best known phytoestrogen, soy, when consumed in the diet, is safe for women with symptoms of both high and low estrogen.  For hot flashes and night sweats, women who consume soy tend to have less symptoms than women who do not.  Other research suggests that increasing soy foods in the diet stabilizes bone density, decreases cholesterol levels and has a favourable effect on cardiovascular risk profiles in menopausal women

Beans: soybeans, tempeh, black beans, white beans, kidney beans, lentils, mung beans, coffee

Grains: wheat berry, oats, barley, rice, alfalfa, wheat germ

Seeds and nuts: flaxseed, sesame seeds, fenugreek

Vegetablesyams, carrots

Fruits: apples, pomegranates

Herbs and spices: Mint, licorice root, ginseng, hops, fennel, anise, red clover

Harmonizing Your Hormones

If you are interested in exploring more ways to balance your hormones naturally, book a free 15 minute meet and greet appointment with me to discuss how you can bring harmony to your hormones and fire up your health!

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

 

The PATH To Treating Bacterial Vaginosis

BV, or Bacterial Vaginosis is the most common vaginal infection in women worldwide. With few symptoms, aside from an unpleasant odour, many women are experiencing recurrent BV infections without receiving appropriate treatment.

But no more. Today I will take you on the PATH to treating BV, so that you don’t have to struggle with BV any longer.

Understanding BV

Bacterial vaginosis occurs when the healthy bacteria balance in the vagina is disrupted. With trillions of bacteria colonizing the vaginal tract, when those populations are out of balance the delicate pH of the vagina changes and symptoms can occur.

Unlike yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis typically has fewer symptoms. Not usually associated with pain, itching, irritation or pain with intercourse, bacterial vaginosis has just two main symptoms:

  • a thin whitish discharge
  • a foul “fishy” odour

These symptoms are often worse after a menstrual period or exposure to semen in the vagina – these can alter the pH balance and support the growth of less-than-desirable bacteria in the lady garden.

The most common bacteria involved in BV is Gardnerella vaginalis, but some other bacteria have been implicated as well – including Mycoplasma hominis, Ureaplasma urealyticum and Prevotella bivia…along with many others.

The metabolic activity of these bacteria causes the discharge and the characteristic odour of BV.

While BV may have few symptoms on its own, it can lead to urinary tract infections (UTIs), pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, candida infections and an increased risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Diagnosing BV

BV is pretty straightforward to diagnose – and most women can tell you without a doubt if they are experiencing it. To diagnose BV your doctor will use what is called the Amsel Criteria. This can easily be done in office.

The PATH To BV Treatment

Understanding that BV is caused by an imbalance in healthy bacteria is the most important step in treating BV. When I am treating BV, I encourage all women to follow the PATH – four essential steps in treating BV so that it doesn’t keep coming back.

            PROMOTE Healthy Vaginal Flora

The bacteria that live in our lady garden are essential for maintaining a healthy vaginal environment. Their health often depends on our behaviours – so we need to do what we can to support them.

A diet high in sugar can promote the growth of undesirable bacteria. As can a diet low in fiber from plant foods. A lack of fermented foods in the diet can lead to low populations of healthy bacteria as well.

The most important thing we can do to promote healthy vaginal flora is to take a probiotic supplement. Both oral and vaginal probiotics (suppositories and creams) can support and promote a healthy balance of bacteria levels in the vaginal tract. Selecting appropriate strains is important – make sure that any probiotic you choose has adequate amounts of Lactobacillus – at least 10-12 billion per day for at least 6 months is what is recommended.

            AVOID Triggers of Vaginal Infection

Just as we need to promote healthy bacteria levels, we also have to avoid those things that promote infection.

Bacteria imbalances are more common in women using the birth control pill – both due to the high doses of estrogen and the less frequent condom use in women on the pill. Antibiotic use will also alter bacteria balance and increase the incidence of BV.

Douching and wearing non-cotton based underwear will also increase the risk for BV and should be avoided, especially during active treatment for BV.

            TREAT Overgrowth of Bacteria and Normalize pH

The normal pH of the lady garden is somewhere between 3.8-4.5 – a nice acidic environment.   The pH is maintained in this range by the healthy bacteria – mostly Lactobacillus that colonize the vaginal tract. In BV the pH is elevated above 4.5 – sometimes as high as 7.0! Restoring the healthy pH is essential for resolving the symptoms of BV and preventing recurrence.

The best way to normalize the pH is with the use of boric acid suppositories. Having a similar pH to the healthy vaginal tract, boric acid can restore the pH and, when combined with healthy bacteria supplementation, treat BV very effectively.

Your ND will help you to understand the protocol for use of boric acid suppositories and you can have a local compounding pharmacist make the capsules just for you.

HEAL Inflamed or Irritated Tissues

For the majority of women bacterial vaginosis is not associated with significant irritation or inflammation. If you have redness or swelling of your vulva, discuss with your Naturopath whether you may also have a candida (yeast) infection.

For women using the boric acid suppositories to restore healthy pH balance, there is a small chance of irritation. If this occurs a topical vitamin E gel is highly effective for decreasing irritation and healing the tissues.

Taking the PATH

Now that you have a roadmap to treating BV, I hope you will always consider the PATH when you are managing your BV. This approach has helped countless women in my practice overcome their bacterial vaginosis, and I hope it will help you too. If you’d like to work together and allow me to be a guide on your PATH, don’t hesitate to book an appointment today!

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Select Resources

Cribby S, Taylor M, Reid G. Vaginal Microbiota and the Use of Probiotics. Interdiscip Perspect Infect Dis. 2008 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2662373/

 

Estrogen Dominance

Estrogen dominance – it’s the most common hormone imbalance for women in their 40s and has symptoms that will sound familiar to many of you – but many women don’t realize this imbalance even exists. So let’s shed some light on this imbalance so that no woman has to suffer in silence anymore.

Women’s Hormones 101

To understand estrogen dominance, first we have to start with a quick refresher on our two primary female hormones – estrogen and progesterone.

Estrogen is the main hormone in the first half of our menstrual cycle and causes the lining of the uterus to thicken. Estrogen is produced by the ovaries, but also by fat cells. Estrogen levels can also be raised by exposure to xenoestrogens – compounds in our environment that look like estrogen and are able to bind to estrogen receptors.

Progesterone is the main hormone in the second half of our cycle, and supports implantation and pregnancy. Increases in progesterone signal the body to stop making so much estrogen. Progesterone is made almost completely by the ovaries, but small amounts can be made in the adrenal glands as well.

WTF is Estrogen Dominance?

Women are born with all their eggs – so the eggs we ovulate each month have been along for the entire ride of our lives. As our eggs age their quality decreases – this has two major impacts that set us up for estrogen dominance.

  1. Older eggs take longer to mature – an older egg may be slower to reach maturity – this causes the brain to produce higher levels of FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) to attempt to mature the egg. The higher the FSH, the more follicles that are stimulated and the higher the estrogen production.

While many women believe estrogen levels decline in our 40s, the opposite is in fact true. Estrogen levels only significantly decline at menopause.

  1. Older eggs produce less progesterone – one of the main reasons our fertility drops off with age is that our older eggs make less progesterone. This drop in progesterone production can impact much more than our fertility – it is also the reason that PMS is more intense in our 40s and sets the stage for estrogen dominance.

Estrogen dominance is the state where estrogen levels are not balanced by progesterone levels – too high estrogen and too low progesterone. And this is where the chaos begins…

Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance

Not sure yet if you are dealing with estrogen dominance? Read these symptoms and see if they ring true for you.

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Bloating
  • Carbohydrate and sugar cravings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Brain fog
  • Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
  • Frequent yeast infections
  • Joint pain or inflammation
  • Heavy or irregular periods (longer or shorter cycles)
  • More PMS
  • Headaches and migraines premenstrually
  • Swelling and water retention
  • Lack of sex drive/ low libido
  • Breast tenderness or swelling
  • Uterine fibroids

Why Haven’t I Heard of Estrogen Dominance?

Unfortunately a woman who presents to her doctor with the symptoms listed above will often be dismissed (It’s just stress! You’re getting older – it happens), be given an antidepressant, be put on the birth control pill (to “regulate” hormones) or told to relax, lose weight, or get counseling. Very rarely will a doctor delve into the hormonal fluctuations with hormone testing, or even discuss the likely imbalances that occur in our 40s.

Testing for Estrogen Dominance

For some women the symptoms are so clear that testing may not be necessary. But for most women, hormone testing is recommended to get a clear picture of what her individual hormone balance is, and to develop a plan that will help to restore her personal hormone harmony.

DUTCH test, hormone testing,hormone test, women's hormones, hormone healthHormone testing can be done via blood tests, saliva tests or the DUTCH urine test. I go into greater detail on hormone testing in this article: Hormone Testing Options

For any hormone test that is done, the most important thing to look for is balance. Many women are dismissed as “normal” when their hormone values are all within the normal limits. But more important than the actual value of the hormones, is the balance between the hormones. If estrogen is normal but progesterone is very low, estrogen dominance occurs. If estrogen is high but progesterone is normal, estrogen dominance occurs. You need to ensure that whoever is interpreting your tests with you has a great deal of knowledge on hormone balance.

It’s Not Just About Your Periods

As you can see from the list of symptoms above, estrogen dominance impacts a lot more than just our periods and our PMS. All our hormones function in harmony with each other – and when one hormone is imbalanced, there can be significant ripple effects on the other hormones. Below are just a few:

Estrogen dominance worsens hypothyroid – high levels of estrogen lead to an increased clearance of our energizing thyroid hormones – this can lead to symptoms of hypothyroidism (fatigue, brain fog, weight gain, hair loss) or worsen symptoms in women who have this condition

Estrogen dominance is worsened by stress – increased production of cortisol, as occurs during times of stress, lowers progesterone levels. Cortisol also competes with progesterone for receptors – which can cause symptoms of estrogen dominance even when progesterone levels are adequate. This can worsen symptoms of stress like irritability, decreased coping, fatigue and overwhelm.

Treatment of Estrogen Dominance

When we are treating estrogen dominance we have two main goals in mind – lower the estrogen and increase the progesterone.

Lowering Estrogen

  1. Decrease exposure to xenoestrogens – Commonly found in plastics, personal care products and household cleaners, avoiding exposure to the synthetic estrogens that are abundant in our environment is an essential first step.
  2. Support estrogen detoxification – B vitamins, probiotics, brassica vegetables, DIM and 13C are all essential for allowing your body to clear the estrogen and restore balance to your body. Your Naturopathic Doctor will help you to determine what the best choices are for you – but starting with a B complex supplement, a probiotic and choosing more foods in the cabbage family (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts) is recommended.

Increasing Progesterone

  1. Make sure you can make it – essential nutrients for the production of progesterone include B vitamins (especially vitamin B6), and magnesium. So ensuring you have an abundance of these in your diet, or in supplement form, is important for overcoming estrogen dominance.
  2. Bioidentical progesterone cream – sometimes the only way to overcome estrogen dominance is to add back some of what we need – progesterone. Available in Canada as a prescription from your Naturopath, bioidentical progesterone provides your body with the progesterone you no longer make as easily. It can be a life changing treatment for many women in their 40s.

Harmonizing Hormones

Our 40s as women can be a tumultuous time – raising children, achieving career success, supporting spouses, aging parents – any number of significant life events. But our hormones don’t need to be tumultuous. We can support our bodies and our minds by focusing on achieving our individual hormone harmony. If you want to discuss more about your hormone health, book a free meet and greet or an appointment today.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

WTF Is Happening: Hormones in Your 40s

This event is for all those women who are wondering WTF is happening with my hormones?

As we move through our 40s our hormones enter into a “second puberty” – a time of significant upheaval in our previously balanced state.  And if you thought puberty was bad – try having kids and partners and jobs on top of it!

If you are curious if your hormones are contributing to your:

  • Mood changes, anxiety, depression, PMS or what we affectionately call “werewolfing”
  • Low libido (or high libido!  It happens!)
  • Acne, hair growth, or hair loss
  • Irregular periods, no periods, heavy periods, sometimes all of these, sometimes none of them
  • Breast changes
  • Insomnia or sleep changes
  • Or so many, many other issues

Then please join me at Oma Chiropractic on Thursday, May 31st as we drop some truth bombs on what REALLY IS HAPPENING during our 40s.

You can find more information on the Facebook Event page here:  https://www.facebook.com/events/161921597814032/ 

Hope to see you there!

PCOS and Mental Health

Polycystic ovarian syndrome is the most common hormone imbalance in women and yet very few people are talking about how significantly this imbalance is impacting women’s lives.

PCOS can impact any woman, at any age – from puberty to perimenopause, and in addition to the typical symptoms of irregular or absent periods, acne, facial hair growth and scalp hair loss, there can also be an increased incidence of mental health concerns.

PCOS and Depression

It has been my experience in practice that women with PCOS often have signs of depression – many of them due to the effects the symptoms of PCOS have on their body image. Researchers have found that nearly ¼ of women with PCOS have depression and they too suggest it may be linked to the “emotionally distressing” symptoms associated with PCOS, rather than the underlying hormone imbalance itself.

PCOS and Anxiety

Rates of anxiety are also higher in women with PCOS, with 11.5% of women in one study having both diagnoses (compared to an average 9% in the general female population).

Anxiety may be associated both with the physical symptoms of PCOS, but potentially may also stem from the hormone imbalances, such as low progesterone, that are common in PCOS. Progesterone is an anxiety-lowering hormone and low levels of progesterone occur when there is no ovulation – such as in PCOS.

PCOS and ADHD

Another interesting finding from the 2018 study on PCOS and mental health – women who have PCOS have an increased risk of having children who are diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or an autism spectrum disorder. The researchers suggest that it may be due to higher circulating androgens during development.

Support for PCOS and Mental Health

Focusing on whole body health, rather than just the visible symptoms of PCOS is important for all women with PCOS. While most women will want to focus on clearing acne and decreasing body weight, we must look at women as a complex entity of interlacing systems – ladies, we are all unicorns – we need to be treated individually and with attention to our specific wants and needs. Our mental and physical health are one and the same, and we should seek care from health care providers who recognize that.

Your Naturopathic Doctor can help you to put together a plan that focuses on your diet, lifestyle, obstacles to health, hormonal imbalances and mental and spiritual health.  Looking at your life and health as a whole, rather than individual symptoms to be managed, your ND works with you to achieve optimal health – in all areas of your life.

Select References

Thomas R Berni Christopher L Morgan Ellen R Berni D Aled Rees.  Polycystic ovary syndrome is associated with adverse mental health and neurodevelopment outcomes.  The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, jc.2017-02667

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.