How Your Digestion is Causing: Hormonal Imbalance

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Hormonal problems are often viewed as a part of getting older, or a burden that women must accept a few days every month. In this blog post, I will discuss how maintaining proper digestion, choosing nutrient dense foods, and managing stress (real or perceived) is the best way to avoid and remedy a host of hormonal symptoms you may be experiencing.

How many people do you know that either suffer from digestive problems or are extremely stressed out?

Exactly. It is no wonder then, why hormonal problems are rampant in today’s society.
The most common hormonal symptoms include:

  • Mood swings
  • PMS
  • Infertility
  • Night sweats/ hot flashes
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased libido
  • Cravings
  • Post-partum depression
  • Morning sickness
  • Endometriosis
  • Insomnia/ poor sleep patters
  • Loss of muscle mass/ belly fat gain
  • Cystic acne

It is my opinion that symptoms like the ones listed above are indicators that the hormones in the body are out of balance - and not something that you must accept as part of being a woman. If hormonal balance is restored, a significant decrease or complete elimination of these symptoms will often occur.

How is hormonal balance achieved?

The answer to this question is very specific to each individual. However, addressing diet, stress management, mineral deficiencies, essential fatty acid deficiency and digestion are the keys to making sure your hormones are being produced regularly, in the proper amounts for your age, sex, activity level, etc.

Since this series is focused on digestion, lets first look at some of the ways that the digestive organs are paramount in healthy hormone production.

The stomach must have the proper level of acidity (HCl) to digest the amino acids, fats, and carbohydrates that are essential to healthy hormone production. For example, thyroid hormones are derived from amino acids; amino acids are produced when protein molecules are sufficiently broken down by HCl, pepsin and digestive enzymes. Leaky gut also causes a host of hormonal problems by raising cortisol (the stress-regulating hormone produced by the adrenal glands). High cortisol triggers the suppression of the immune system in the gut, decreasing gut immunity, leading to more leaky gut. We’ll get into why this stress response is so important in a second.

Essential fatty acids must be properly digested to not only form cholesterol (precursor to hormones) but to produce anti-inflammatory properties before menstruation (without this key component, think extreme menstrual cramps, PMS).

The liver is one of the most important digestive organs, specifically in terms of hormonal regulation. This is because the liver deactivates hormones that are in excess and no longer functional in the body. When cortisol is elevated (either from leaky gut, a poor diet, or a stress response) the liver's ability to effectively remove excess hormones is highly decreased.

The small intestine is where a majority of the nutrients you eat are absorbed and utilized by the body to create and sustain healthy hormone levels. This includes proteins, fats and carbs as I mentioned before, but also vitamins and minerals that are essential to hormonal health like iodine, zinc, manganese chromium, selenium and copper. All hormones run on nutrients, which is why the digestion of these nutrients is vital.

STRESS
The discussion of healthy hormones cannot be complete without talking about stress. Stressors not only include things that you perceive as stressful (running from a predator, traffic, deadlines) but also things that your body perceives as stress:

Sugar
Alcohol
Emotional stress
Nutritional deficiencies
Allergies
Food sensitivities

The combination of impaired digestion and stress results in chronic output of cortisol by the body, which can lead to a host of hormonal problems:

Estrogen dominance
Decreased liver function
Low progesterone
Abnormal progesterone/estrogen ratio
Adrenal Exhaustion
Thyroid problems
…and more

So what can I eat to ensure proper hormone balance?

Make sure you are getting a sufficient amount of essential fatty acids (coconut oil, cold water fish, grass fed meats, poultry, avocado, egg yolk, etc). EFA’s and cholesterol are the substrate that hormones are made from, therefore a lack of EFA’s (or insufficient digestion of them) will easily lead to hormonal imbalance


Intake of green vegetables and cruciferous vegetables which help the liver detoxify extra estrogen out of the body


Be aware of phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are a group of plant- derived compounds that are similar in structure and function to the estrogens made in the body. Most people (men included) have more than enough estrogen in the body as it is. If you are someone with a diagnosed hormonal imbalance or suffer from things like breast tenderness/cysts, uterine fibroids, or endometriosis, it is even more important that you limit phytoestrogens.

Here is a list of foods with highest phytoestrogen content:
- Soy (tofu, edamame, tempeh,soy protein isolate)
- Flax seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Oats, barley, rice
- Beans and lentils

Also, focus on gut healing! I give lots of tips here, here and here.

Finally,

Relax! Here are a few of my favorite ways to relax:
Deep breathing
Yoga
Massage
Baths
Reading
Talk to a friend
Remove any unnecessary stressors from your life (social media, watching the news, allergens, caffeine, alcohol, etc)

 

You DON'T have to continue to suffer from allergies, digestive problems, anxiety, hormone imbalance, or any other chronic symptoms that seem to get worse with age.

xoxo, Amie

How Your Digestion Is Causing: Depression & Anxiety (Rebelle Nutrition)

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In part 1 of this 3 part series, I talked about how digestion and poor food choices can contribute to autoimmune diseases and allergies. Part 2 will discuss the connection between digestion and mental health.

The connection between digestion/ poor food choices and mental health is very near and dear to my heart. Throughout my life I have struggled with both depression/anxiety as well as digestive issues, and only through improving my diet and optimizing my digestion was I able to realize how closely the two are connected.

First let’s look at the 5 neurotransmitters that are responsible for the emotions we feel including depression, anger, energy levels and problem resolution:

- GABA
- Serotonin
- Norepinephrine
- Endorphin
- Dopamine

Research shows that there is a direct correlation between the stores of these neurotransmitters in the body and our personal brain chemistry. Lack or imbalance can contribute to emotions like anger, depression, hyperactivity, memory loss, drug/alcohol cravings and bad moods.

How is digestion involved?

The levels of these neurotransmitters are directly effected by our nutritional choices; including intake of amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. This is where intake and absorption of high quality protein is essential. Sources like pasture raised eggs, grass-fed beef and wild caught fish are all great options.

If our diet is lacking in these things, OR we are not digesting the nutrients in our food properly, we are unable to produce the neurotransmitters and amino acids necessary for optimal mental health.

What about poor food choices?

In terms of nutritional choices, regularly consuming foods that you may have a sensitivity to can damage gut lining (as mentioned in Part 1). The difference here is that instead of an autoimmune reaction, ‘leaky gut’ will inhibit the production of the 5 neurotransmitters responsible for optimal mental health. It is important to note that sub-optimal digestion, or 'leaky gut' can manifest in a number of ways that will vary from person to person, whether this is a physical stomach ache (the most obvious), autoimmune conditions, mental health problems, or hormonal imbalances (all of which were my inspiration for writing this series of posts :) ).

For example, lets say you’re like me and sensitive to gluten. 2 years ago I traveled to Europe and you better believe I was going to eat some bread. Continuous exposures to gluten containing foods that you aren’t used to eating (hello baguettes) can cause the intestinal lining to become permeable (leaky gut). Although for me this didn’t result in any digestive discomfort, within a few days of traveling I began to feel waves of sadness and depression that I hadn’t experienced in years since changing my diet. This was a huge reminder for me that choosing more nutrient dense foods (meats, fruits, fish, vegetables, eggs, etc.) play a vital role in the management of my moods. I also find that when eating more gluten-containing foods I tend to lose weight, which (for me) is a big red flag that I am not absorbing proper amounts of amino acids from the foods I am eating.
***Sidenote: many people also find the opposite to be true, and will experience weight loss when food sensitivities are removed, and digestion is improved.

If you suffer from depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issues and are interested in seeing whether changing your diet makes an improvement, an elimination diet that removes gluten, dairy and added sugar (real or artificial) for at least 1 month is a good place to start. During this time it is also extremely important to ‘heal and seal’ the gut lining with things like bone broth, L- glutamine, aloe vera, slippery elm, and licorice. Make sure to include as many nutrient dense foods as possible including a wide variety of protein (amino acids!). Always focus on eating lots of organic produce, and be sure to increase essential fatty acids like avocado, coconut, olive oil and ghee. Finally, prioritize chewing extremely well so that a heavy burden is not placed on your digestive system.

Want more on how to eat real food?

It is important to note that i’m NOT saying that changing your diet will completely eliminate any mental health symptoms you may have. Eliminating gluten and increasing sources of nutrient dense foods was something that made huge changes for me personally, but everyone is different. Mental health problems are very complex and multi-faceted; contact your Doctor if you have questions concerning your mental health.

Stay tuned for Part 3 on hormones!

How Your Digestion is Causing: Autoimmune Disease

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3 Surprising Ways Your Digestive Problems ManifestMaking the connection between a stomach ache and eating something that doesn’t agree with you is fairly obvious.

But did you know that nearly every chronic health symptom can be linked back to the health of your digestion, including the foods you do and don’t eat? Some of these symptoms include:

  • Seasonal allergies
  • Food sensitivities
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Joint pain
  • Skin problems
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • and a whole lot more...

This series of blog posts will highlight a few of the common complaints I see frequently with my clients, and explain how dietary changes can often be the remedy.

      1. Autoimmune conditions/ Allergies

  First, let’s define what happens during an autoimmune condition, and which illnesses/symptoms are autoimmune in nature.

In simplistic terms, an autoimmune disease develops when your immune system views your healthy cells as foreign, and begins attacking them. Autoimmune diseases can affect one or more types of body tissue. There are more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases including: 

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lupus
  • Celiac disease
  • Psoriasis and Vitiligo
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
  • Addison’s disease
  • Type 1 diabetes 

If none of these resonate with you, great! However, there are many symptoms of immune disfunction that are not quite a full-blown autoimmune disease, yet may still cause discomfort on a daily basis. These include:

  • Allergies
  • inflammation
  • progressive degeneration, joint pain

Do these sound more familiar? I often find that these 3 symptoms progressively get worse with age, and will often be blamed as a ‘part of getting older’.

I refuse to accept that excuse, so let’s go a little deeper into how the food you eat and condition of your digestive system can attribute to these symptoms. 

Intestinal permeability or ‘Leaky Gut’, essentially means that tiny particles of food are passed through the intestinal lining and into the blood stream without being digested. Leaky gut develops over time through repeated exposures of antibiotics, chronic stress, poor dietary habits, consumption of alcohol and use of aspirin and other NSAIDs.  This causes an “attack” of the healthy cells of the immune system and leads to the autoimmune diseases listed above.

The good news is, while certain allergies are inherited, most are a result of digestive problems and dietary stressors - meaning we have the power to improve them or eliminate them completely.

If you are suffering from season allergies, food sensitivities, inflammation or joint pain, a good place to start is an Elimination diet for at least 1 month. This would exclude:

  • Anything processed (cereals, crackers, cookies, breads, etc.)
  • Artificial sweeteners (sucralose, aspartame, etc.)
  • Gluten (the protein in grains like wheat, barley, rye, etc.)
  • Dairy (yogurt, milk, cheese, etc.)
  • Man-made oils (canola, vegetable, hydrogenated, etc.)

Want more info on eating real food? Sign up for my free 7 day course below!

Ok, back to gut healing.

During this time you will also want to focus on:

  • ‘healing and sealing’ the gut lining with things like bone broth (homeade is best, or I like this one),  L- glutamine, aloe vera juice (which actually helps the gut lining repair itself- SO cool!), slippery elm, and licorice. (For more digestion tips, go here!
  • If you suffer from a diagnosed autoimmune disease as I listed before, your plan of action will be a little bit more intensive, and also exclude things like eggs, chocolate, coffee, and nightshade vegetables (tomatoes potatoes, peppers, eggplant, paprika, mustard seeds, all chili’s including spices). 

This is not an exhaustive list, and for lots more information on the Autoimmune Protocol check out this website.

The AIP protocol is very restrictive, but if you have a diagnosed autoimmune condition I would definitely recommend following this plan to a T. 

The overall goal of an elimination diet is to allow the digestive tract to regenerate and heal so that you are able to tolerate more foods again without the recurrence of any symptoms.

Let me know if you have any questions about allergies/autoimmune conditions, and stay tuned for Part 2 on mental health!

How to regain energy without sugar or caffeine

 

The implications of blood sugar dis-regulation tend to be viewed as something that only diabetics have to worry about. I myself have joked about my tendency to become ‘hangry’ in between meals or have an intense (yet entertaining) ‘sugar high’ after a sweet treat. The intention of this post is to explain the effects that frequently high or fluctuating blood sugar can have on the body and the various health concerns that result. If you aren't interested in the explanation of why this happens in the body, feel free to skip down to the bottom where I offer some suggestions about tips to implement starting today!

I have always been somewhat aware of the detrimental effects of blood sugar dis-regulation. In other words, I knew that waiting too long between meals would cause lethargy, lightheadedness, lack of focus as well as leave me extremely hangry (hunger + angry).  I also knew that a quick hit of sugar/ simple carbs would give about an hour’s worth of rocket fuel energy if I wanted to work out, train a client, or have a laughing fit (my sister can attest to this frequent childhood occurrence).

Unfortunately, a majority of people in today’s society live on this same “blood sugar rollercoaster” that I have just described. Maybe you haven’t experienced quite the same extremes as I just mentioned, but if you often rely on sugar, caffeine, or certain foods just to feel “normal”, blood sugar fluctuations are most likely effecting your well-being more than you realize.

Riding the "blood sugar rollercoaster" on a frequent basis (which even I am still working on myself!) causes the organs that control your blood sugar regulation (liver, pancreas, and adrenal glands) to be unnecessarily taxed.

Your body is smart! It wants to keep the amount of glucose (blood sugar) in the bloodstream “normal” at all times. For example, when your glucose level is too low or too high, your body responds by triggering the release of certain hormones to bring it back to homeostasis. These hormones include:

Insulin: hormone released by the pancreas to bring blood sugar down. Promotes the storage of glucose which is why this is often thought of in relation to weight gain.

Glucagon: released by the pancreas to maintain blood glucose levels between meals.

Cortisol: released by the adrenals when blood sugar is too low. Converts protein from tissues into glucose as a way to bring blood sugar back up.

These are normal processes that your body is fully equipped to handle. The problem occurs when when we rely heavily on high sugar, processed meals, snacks and beverages throughout the day. Take a look at this example of a 'standard american diet':

Standard American Diet example :

8:00am Breakfast : cereal and a blended coffee drink : Glucose (blood sugar) levels rise and insulin is released.

12:00PM (pre- lunch): Blood sugar reaches very low level. Pancreas dispenses glucagon to keep blood glucose from getting too low; eventually adrenals help by releasing cortisol

1 PM (lunch): Peanut butter and Jelly Sandwich on white bread with a banana: again blood sugar soars, pancreas releases insulin.

 

Imagine this cycle repeating every time we eat a meal, snack or beverage that does not support blood sugar. Over the course of time, this leads to:

  • The wearing out of the pancreas, liver and adrenals from constantly outputting hormones
  •  The adrenals go into state of exhaustion
  • The pancreas begins to produce inadequate amounts of insulin (leading to insulin resistance)
  • The liver struggles to make glucose

Now you may be asking yourself,

Why should you care about this??

Continuous blood sugar fluctuations disrupt some of the basic aspects of human physiology including:

    • energy output/ fatigue
    • hormonal balance
    • insomnia
    • mental health
    • 'slow' metabolism
    • premature aging
    • memory loss

and many others. If these symptoms sound familiar, there are tons of ways to improve your blood sugar balance through food choices, lifestyle changes, and the help of certain supplements.

Here are some of my top tips for maintaining balanced blood sugar levels:

    • Eat a nutrient dense diet full of foods in their whole, unrefined form
    • Make sure your digestion is working properly!
    • Include protein-rich foods at every meal
    • Eat every 3-4 hours to avoid letting blood glucose levels dropping too low
    • Read labels: avoid added sugar (natural or artificial!) wherever possible
    • Increase intake of non-starchy veggies at every meal
    • Incorporate essential fatty acids at every meal for satiety

Supplemental support:

Supplements are very individualized based on every client I see. However, the 2 supplements I find to be most helpful with people trying to keep sugar cravings and blood sugar under control are:

Make sure to consult a functional practitioner before beginning any supplemental protocol.

*Finally, although this article may seem very “anti-sugar”, I truly believe in the idea of bio-individuality; we must all discover what works for us individually. Having a sweet treat once in a while is not a bad thing - as a matter of fact it can be very helpful in not feeling deprived. However if constant sugar cravings are something you experience, your body is waving a red flag!