NATURAL CONTRACEPTION, EXERCISE & LIFESTYLE
Written By: Brittani Kolasinski (BHSc Nut, Adv Dip Nut Med)
Apart from diet and nutritional supplementation, there are some key lifestyle factors that come into effect when considering our hormones. Our hormones are somewhat sensitive to things like stress, inflammation, exercise, increased fat mass, toxin exposure and the use of the OCP, but in our current fast-paced toxic world, these things can be unavoidable for some. So how can we combat the negative effects of each?
Stress and inflammation were discussed already in the last post and is worth reading back over before continuing with this one, so let’s take a more in-depth look at some other suspects causing hormonal distress.
These include things like hormone disruptors from cosmetics, plastics, pesticides from foods, medications including antibiotics and the many fragrances we spray, cleaning products, fumes from the traffic around us and so much more than we are unaware of.
Our skin is our largest organ. It absorbs and excretes, meaning that what you put onto your skin will ultimately enter into your body. Traditionally in some cultures, olive oil was used for dry skin but now we are applying lotions containing more than 20 odd ingredients, most of which you wouldn’t identify or even know how to pronounce. What’s more is that an ingredient listed as ‘fragrance’ can contain up to 100 separate ingredients that are considered toxic to the body. Today, the average woman uses at least 15 different products in the home before she’s even left the house – that’s not including the variety of toxins that are in our environment, which is estimated to be about 70,000 NEW toxins and chemicals since World War II.
“Emerging evidence suggests that nutrition can modulate and/or reduce the toxicity of environmental pollutants. Diets high in anti-inflammatory bioactive food components (e.g phytochemicals or polyphenols) are possible strategies for modulating and reducing the disease risks associated with exposure to toxic pollutants in the environment”
– Bernhard Hennig PhD, RD
The liver is the primary organ for metabolising and eliminating environmental toxins and pollutants from the body, and certain foods can help support its processes:
Drink green tea
Use spices and herbs like parsley and turmeric
Consume an abundance of cooked cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and kale
Include sulphur rich foods like garlic, leek, and onion
Flavour your water with some fresh lemon
Ensure that adequate antioxidants from coloured fruits and vegetables are included in the diet – eat the rainbow!
It’s also a wise move to take a complete inventory of your current morning routine – are there certain products you could eliminate, or make a simple switch? There are some great varieties of sulphate and paraben free shampoos and conditioners, as well as soaps and washes. Olive or coconut oil can be used as moisturiser. Cleaning can be done with variations of vinegar, water, essential oils or lemon. Teeth can be brushed with a mix of baking soda, coconut oil, and peppermint essential oil and natural deodorants are quite easy to come by – or you can simply go without. Having a healthy body means you’re free from nasty odours, which are another clear indication that there’s something out balance in your body. Cutting back or making the switch not only does wonders for your hormones and health but also halves the time it takes to get ready each day.
Exercise is considered a stress on the body, but more of a hormetic stress than a negative one. What this means is that the stress that’s placed on the body in appropriate doses can induce an adaptive response as the body recovers, it gets stronger, more efficient and more robust. This is generally a good thing. However, there is always too much of a good thing and exercise is certainly no excuse.
For women, its advised that different forms of exercise are better at different points in our cycle, as the fluctuating hormones can require different applications of movement.
The first week of your cycle (days 1-7): A decline in oestrogen can contribute to lowered energy levels, as well as the loss of blood that can further exacerbate the fatigue with the reduction of iron. It’s recommended to take it easy during this time, rest more, enjoy a week of slower paced movements, maybe with some stretching or pilates thrown into the mix.
The follicular phase is where oestrogen picks up, oestrogen is stimulating, oestogren is known for that drive, it’s an anabolic hormone meaning that it’s for building up and creating. This is good news for those who are trying to gain more muscle. This is a time where we can afford to go a little harder with our workouts, with more resistance and weight training.
During ovulation testosterone levels rise, pushing you that little bit harder. This is a time where you can see some great results in your workouts.
The luteal phase we see an increase in progesterone with a reduction in oestrogen. Strength -based training may not be ideal during this time, but rather aerobic exercises or some short bursts of high-intensity training. Think of outdoor runs, swimming, and cycling.
It’s always best to listen to your body, especially in the luteal phase there might be some pre-menstrual symptoms present that can lower your motivation. Take a step back and focus on nourishing, relaxing, and taking things easy – you don’t want to overdo it as this can throw off the hormonal balance. Restricted dieting is popular amongst women when coupled with excessive exercise it can be disastrous for our hormonal health.
Our fat cells (adipose tissue) are considered part of our endocrine system, as they are known to produce and secret hormones. Fat cells produce oestrogen, a type of oestrogen known as estrone. Too much fat mass can contribute to increased levels of estrone which has been linked with the development of PCOS, and certain cancers including uterine cancer post-menopause.
Oral Contraceptive Pill
The oral contraceptive pill (OCP) made huge advancements to us and for women as a way to legalise contraception and has also been of great benefit for some women dealing with endometriosis or PCOS, so there are some definite advantages for its creation. The OCP is used by 33.6% of the women who are using contraception, with some women as young as 11 years old, the OCP is given for not just preventing pregnancies but to ‘treat’ a myriad of other problems.
I understand the need girls may have for the OCP when dealing with such debilitating pains, embarrassing breakouts or heavy bleeds that impair their own quality of life, but what I have a problem with is the lack of investigations into why such symptoms are occurring and also the lack of education surrounding the use of the OCP. I know many women now in their late 20-30’s who have been taking the OCP for more than a decade without really knowing how the OCP is working within their body, or really knowing what alternatives they have.
The OCP contains synthetic hormones that act to shut down ovulation, inducing a sort of menopausal state. Yes, a bleed does still occur each month, but this is an anovulatory bleed. What many women don’t know is that there are vast differences between our own natural hormones oestrogen and progesterone and the synthetic varieties used including ethinylestradiol, levonorgestrel, and drospirenone.
Promotes embryo implantation and pregnancy
Decrease risk of blood clots
Promotes hair growth
Improves brain health and cognition
Increase risk of fatal blood clots
Growth of reproductive organs and breasts
Promotion of the lengthening of long bones, feminisation of the skeleton
Maintenance of structure of skin and blood vessels
Protects against cardiovascular disease
Depression – lowers serotonin levels
Decreases bone density
What’s more, is that when women do decide to transition from taking the OCP towards starting a family, there can be a loss of periods for up to 12 months on average. Not to mention, if there OCP was masking any underlying pathology like endometriosis or PCOS for so long it can be a huge setback and significantly impair their own fertility. The OCP not only shuts down your natural hormones but it’s also linked with a risk of stroke and heart attack, breakthrough bleeding, depression and interacts with common medications including anti-epileptic medications, some antibiotics, asthma medications, paracetamol, antidepressants, and thyroxine.
The OCP and Nutrient Depletion
Our body’s nutrient demands are increased when taking the OCP, again something that most women are not familiar with.
Zinc: Women using the OCP have reduced levels of zinc, thought to be due to changes in absorption.
B vitamins: Specifically, B2, B6, and B12 are all depleted by the use of OCP. Deficiency in B2 can lead to migraines and headaches which could be attributed to OCP use. Low levels of B6 can result in low serotonin, leading to low mood/depression. Low B6 increases the risk of thromboembolism.
Magnesium: Important for smooth muscle relaxation and energy production. A deficiency can contribute to muscle spasms and pains associated with menses. Low magnesium levels can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, anxiety, and migraines. Low levels also affect the balance between calcium and magnesium.
Vitamin E: OCP reduces vitamin E status. Vitamin E is beneficial for cardiovascular health and acts as an antioxidant within the body to help maintain vascular integrity.
Vitamin C: levels are lowered in platelets and leukocytes with OCP use. The OCP is thought to increase the metabolism of vitamin C. Hormonal therapies can also increase oxidative stress, increasing the need for antioxidant nutrients, such as vitamin C
Selenium: Another important antioxidant, deficiency can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. The OCP can interfere with selenium absorption.
If the OCP is something you wish to continue taking its good to be mindful of possible nutrients that may require supplementation. Always work alongside a trained professional to ensure the appropriate nutrients and doses are prescribed.
The Natural Approach to Contraception
Fertility awareness: This requires tracking your cycle and knowing with certainty when you are ovulating. As we’ve already mentioned in previous articles, there is a fertile window for women within their cycle. This method simply means abstaining from intercourse during this window or using other means of protection, like condoms.
Condoms: Simple, inexpensive and effective. Condoms also provide protection against sexually transmitted diseases. There are some natural and organic brands around that are better for you and the environment.
Diaphragm: a silicon diaphragm that you can insert and remove yourself, you can pick one up from your local pharmacy.
Copper IUD: Not suited for everyone, yet a non-hormonal method of contraception that won’t turn off your own natural hormone production, it also lasts up to 10 years and allows your body to return to its normal fertile state once removed. It’s not the best method with regards to your vaginal microbiome and has also been known to cause heavier bleeds, plus it’s much more expensive than other alternatives.
Yours in health,