In today’s world of hi-tech solutions, fast foods and other modern advances, everything we need is practically at our fingertips and good old-fashioned elbow grease is a thing of the past. But beware: The very conveniences that save you so much time and effort may also be wreaking havoc on your hormones!
Hormone Imbalance: A Growing First-World Problem
Not only does the typical Western Diet, high in refined carbs and saturated fats, contribute to abnormally-high estrogen levels, but the abundance of soy ingredients in our food and xenoestrogens in our environment also play a major role. In the US alone, estrogen levels are up to 100 percent higher than in undeveloped countries where the diet lacks processed comfort foods, and where women are naturally more active on a day-to-day basis. With hormone disruptors around every turn, it’s not surprising that women in the U.S. and other developed countries notice a much more dramatic shift when menopause hits—the drop in estrogen they experience is so much larger due to the higher levels of estrogen promoted by their lifestyles and environments. So if you want to avoid the hidden hormones in your environment, here are some of the biggest culprits:
The primary estrogen imposters facing women today are xenoestrogens, synthetic chemicals—usually petroleum-based—that act like estrogen in the body. Xenoestrogens are found almost everywhere in the environment; they’re in synthetic clothing, soap, computer chips, plastics and a myriad of other items we rely on every day. Exposure to xenoestrogens can cause hormone imbalance, contributing to estrogen dominance in women. Not only have xenoestrogens been shown to cause birth defects in animal studies, they also contribute to the development of feminine characteristics in men, including smaller sex organs, breast development, reduced testosterone levels and lower sperm count.
Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that are chemically similar to estrogen, and act as weak estrogens in the body. Although they have potential health benefits like supporting cardiovascular and bone health, they also act as “endocrine disruptors,” contributing to hormone imbalance. Soy, the most common phytoestrogen, is found in everything from baby formula to the soy protein used in processed and meat-free foods. Other foods that contain significant levels of phytoestrogens are flaxseed, sesame seeds, certain vegetables like alfalfa sprouts, green beans and collard greens, fruits like prunes and peaches and grains like wheat and oats. While it might be hard to avoid phytoestrogens completely, eating them in moderation might be your best bet, especially if you suspect an existing hormone imbalance.
Even if you make a point avoid foods high in refined carbs and saturated fats, the meat you’re eating might contain hidden hormone disruptors. If it isn’t full of antibiotics or chemical additives like sodium phosphate and hydrolized proteins, it’s probably teeming with hormones like estradiol (a precursor to estrogen), progesterone and testosterone, or maybe even synthetic ones you’ve probably never heard of like melengestrol acetate, trenbolone acetate and zeranol. Most meat producers inject hormones into their livestock to make them grow faster, allowing them to be sold more quickly and also reducing feeding costs. Do the hormones enter your system when you eat meat from hormone-treated animals? Yes. It only follows that they can contribute to hormone imbalance in your body. When it comes to meat, if you’re concerned about hormone imbalance, stay on the safe side and only buy organic.
It’s true: Too much stress can actually throw your hormones out of whack! Your body produces a limited supply of many different hormones like estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA and the “stress” hormone cortisol. These hormones are all interchangeable, and your body converts one to another, depending on which hormones you need most at any given time. During times of stress, your body dips into your hormone supply to create more of the “stress” hormone cortisol, which is needed to help you deal with the stress. This depletes your body of more crucial hormones like estrogen, progesterone, or testosterone. It makes sense that if you are in a constant or prolonged state of stress, hormone imbalance may result.
Lack of Exercise
Regular exercise is key for protecting against hormone imbalance and keeping energy levels high in both women and men. When you exercise, your body releases hormones that are important for maintaining healthy metabolism and mood. Resistance training (lifting weights) also raises testosterone levels, helping to build muscle mass and keeps estrogen levels in check, helping to keep estrogen dominance and hormone imbalance at bay. Lack of exercise throws your hormones out of balance because it contributes to lower testosterone levels and higher estrogen levels, as well as other hormone imbalances.