FINDING HORMONAL BALANCE
When you hear the word hormone it often invokes images of once sweet, cuddly children who overnight turn into angry, irrational adolescents covered in acne. The truth is hormones affect every one of us long before we’re born and until the moment we cease to exist. They are like chemical text messages that run through your bloodstream and get delivered to your tissues and organs. “Yo uterus, it’s prostaglandin. I’ll totes LOL if you give this lady some wicked cramps.” The other thing about hormones is that they’re really powerful. Just call them The Donald of the body. Too much or too little can be a big problem. They affect growth and development, metabolism, sexual function, reproduction, and mood. In my house of 5 girls, hormones get a bum wrap for just about everything. I’ve been riding a pretty intense hormone roller coaster since puberty.
Confessions from a late bloomer
My girlfriends were all developed long before I even needed a training bra. My mother kept telling me that I would “become a woman” soon enough and I would be miserable and wish it had never happened. Try telling that to a 13 year old who’s only desire in life is to be in at least a B cup and carry Kotex around in her purse. Well it did come and she was right…as usual. The excitement of “becoming a woman” dwindled quickly. At 15 I was diagnosed with ovarian cysts for which I was placed on birth control pills. That seemed to help clear up the cysts, but my problems were just beginning. At age 18, I was working 2 jobs to support myself and just starting out in radio. I was producing a morning show but also working nights at a bar. Living on my own, I ate terribly and sleep wasn’t even an option with that schedule. After months of intense pain I underwent laparoscopic surgery and was diagnosed with endometriosis. A condition in which cells from the lining of your uterus attach themselves to other organs. In my case they were growing on my bladder. My mother had a partial hysterectomy in her thirties from the same diagnosis.
There’s no cure for this disorder. My doctor’s solution was to send my 18 year old body into menopause. I would get what was back then still an experimental drug in the form of a pellet put into my belly every month for 6 months. After that treatment I would immediately begin the Depo Provera injection every 3 months. It was a dark and overwhelming time for me. No 18 year old should have hot flashes in line at the grocery store. After a year of this ordeal, the Depo injection was causing severe side effects. The doctor put me back onto the typical birth control pill. I stuck that out until I was 21 when the side effects were too much for me. Going off the pill sent me into a hormonal tailspin that lasted a few months. I vowed to never take hormones again.
It was only a couple of years later that I got pregnant with my first daughter. Here’s a little nifty tip to stick in your back pocket if you’re thinking about having children. Exclusive breastfeeding can suppress ovulation which in turn causes amenorrhea, the absence of menstrual bleeding. I didn’t have a cycle for at least the first 18 months of breastfeeding with all of my children. One might think that would be a cure all for endometriosis since if you’re not ovulating you’re not producing endometrial lining but unfortunately that wasn’t the case for me. As soon as my cycle returned so did the pain. By the time my twins were toddlers the pain was unmanageable and I was highly anemic from the two week cycles I was dealing with. I was advised to try a Mirena IUD. If I thought the Depo injection was a nightmare, the IUD was Nightmare on Elm Street. You’re supposed to keep them in for five years. I had mine removed after just a year. Baby number four set up shop soon after so it would be some time before I had to deal with having a cycle again.
When my fourth daughter was a year old I started researching endometriosis. I was worried about it coming back with a vengeance. With good reason. I was scared that a hysterectomy would soon be my only option to get my life back. But as a person who typically tries to prevent surgery and find the root of a problem instead of just treating it, I hoped I would solve this issue. I decided to give a plant based diet a try. I read articles claiming that animal protein was causing the endometriosis. I was vegan for 5 months before my body gave out. At that point I didn’t care if the pain came back. It would be better than starving myself to death. I was so incredibly malnourished that I ended up with a three week case of pneumonia. Three rounds of antibiotics and a couple of cracked ribs were enough of a sign that I had to start eating meat again. I was still weak for months and began noticing that my hair was falling out. At the time I was till consuming moderate amounts of soy.
A few months later I became pregnant. I was very sick and worn out. At nine weeks I went in for an ultrasound and found out that the baby had died just a couple of days before. The miscarriage itself took two weeks to happen naturally. It ended up being very dramatic with me nearly dying in the hospital so we decided to end our fertility at that point. My hair continued to fall out and I had new problems to face.
Eat like a caveman?
The events of the next year were life changing. I had a new lease on life. Sometimes a near death experience can be just the motivation you need to get out of a rut. (Don’t try that at home folks.) I started taking ballet again after many years out of it. I worked out more regularly. Was committed to losing baby weight I’d been carrying around for years. Despite my best efforts, I wasn’t having success and my body was falling apart. My once thick and luxurious hair was now falling out more than usual. How did I go from looking like one of those women in a shampoo commercial to seeing my hair looking like a dead ferret in the bathtub after every shower? I was bordering on needing a wig to cover the bald spots. My cycles weren’t doing much better. They were heavy and coming every three weeks. Then, to make matters worse…I found a knot in my breast. What? Hadn’t I just survived almost hemorrhaging to death? Now breast cancer was going to take me out? I tried not to freak out.
My gynecologist did a basic blood workup and some rudimentary hormone panels. Everything looked normal except that I was still incredibly anemic seven months after the miscarriage and blood loss. She checked my thyroid hoping that would explain the hair loss. It was normal. Next up, my first mammogram. I was 34. The same age two of my close friends were diagnosed with breast cancer. They’d had babies and breastfed, too. That’s what they tell us will prevent us from getting it. They both passed away leaving sweet babies behind. Scared doesn’t cover what I was feeling. I had to wait several weeks to be seen at the radiologist.
The day finally came. There are so many things that flash through your mind while you’re sitting in that waiting room, about to have your breast smashed between two cold metal plates. I was so relieved to find out it was fibrocystic breast disease. Many women in my family have had this. Time to hug my 4 babies that mean everything in life to me. My battle wasn’t over though. What about the hair loss and the weird cycles? I still couldn’t get any answers.
Figuring it out
A couple of months later my life changed drastically when I found out about the Paleo diet from a friend I took ballet with. It made complete sense to me and I decided to give it a go. The weight loss was immediate and the changes in my body were fantastic except for one thing. Three letters we women (and you men) love to hear: P.M.S. It was getting worse every month. It used to be an issue of mood swings for a couple of days. Now it was a full blown week of misery before my week of misery. Plus I was still losing my hair! Every other aspect of my life was thriving from this diet. What was wrong with me?
I decided to go to someone who could tell me if I was doing this whole Paleo thing wrong and submitted a question to Robb Wolf’s podcast. He answered my question a couple of weeks later on the show offering a few ideas about what he thought could be happening. The mention of a hormone imbalance really clicked for me. Specifically estrogen dominance. I did a little research and wow, was I stunned when I answered yes to so many of the symptoms on the checklist:
Craving for sweets
Mood swings (PMS)
Water retention, edema (swelling, bloating)
Fatigue, no energy
Fibrocystic breasts, Breast swelling
Weight gain in hips and thighs
Heavy or irregular menses
Loss of sex drive (libido)
Low thyroid – cold hands and feet
One of Robb’s suggestions was acupuncture. I’d had success with that for morning sickness with my pregnancies so I started going weekly. I think it’s made a big difference. Besides, we all need to relax. I’m a type A mom of four. Slowing down is generally not an option in my life. Being stuck under needles for 20 minutes is good for something. I continued to research and found in a previous podcast that Robb mentioned supplements that could help estrogen issues. DIM (diindolylmethane) found in cruciferous vegetables and Calcium D-glucarate which is naturally occurring in fruits and vegetables. Instead of taking two different things I found both in one product at my health food store. I saw results almost immediately. I began taking it mid-cycle and instead of the week of P.M.S it was only a 3 or 4 days. The next month it was less and by the next month it was almost non-existent. My cycles evened out as well. Even better? My hair stopped falling out. In fact it started growing back in! Thick baby hairs all over my head!! My stylist and esthetician have both noticed amazing changes in my hair and skin. Most importantly my husband and kids can tolerate me for those 2 weeks out of the month now.
So what caused this hormone imbalance? Honestly, I don’t know. Did I consume too much soy? Exposure to plastics? My terrible diet growing up? Maybe it’s always been a problem. It’s obvious that my hormone issues go way back. What I realized is that eating a Paleo diet wasn’t causing my P.M.S. to get worse. It was magnifying what was wrong with my body. I was eating super clean and right for my body for the first time in my life. But this problem needed to be addressed. Finally all of the other obstacles were out of the way and I could see it so clearly. I’m so grateful to have my life back and hopefully I can prevent my daughters from having to travel down this road.
You can find more from Kendall Kendrick at her blog http://primalbalance.blogspot.com/