Sex and your Muffin Top

muffin top

You know effects of stress on your heart, your body, your health, your belly,…

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a super hero or a magic pill that could wipe the slate clean and slow down all those effects today?

There is!

The best part? It doesn’t come from a lab, deplete any natural resources or cost hundreds of dollars. You’ve got it already.

Stress and your Body

You know the story about the fight or flight response, right?

When something happens and you need to move fast. After the fact, the stress response goes into high alert for a certain time to make sure you’re out of the woods.

The good news is that, in this state, your adrenal glands pump out cortisol to keep you going like the Energizer bunny.

If your community has just been evacuated to a shelter because of a flood; if you just lost a loved one and have to keep putting one foot in front of the other through the funeral; if you were in a car accident and are recovering from whiplash and a broken leg, then good doses of cortisol are just what you need.

As one of the hormones of the endocrine system, cortisol impacts the entire system in the same way that one musician will influence the sound of an entire orchestra, for better or for worse. Click here for a quick physiology lesson to explain further.

Cortisol influences hunger, blood sugar levels, inflammation and libido, all for the sake of keeping you moving until you’re out of danger. Because that’s what the stress response is: a survival mechanism to get you out of danger.

However, when you’re under constant stress, day in and day out – yes, I’m talking to you, Ms-Trying-to-Do-it-All, with work, children (or trying to get pregnant), love life (or trying to have one), traffic, over-stimulation from TV. The drive and drama in your life + the caffeine you consume means you’re in chronic low-level stress mode all. the. time.

The bad news is that given too much reign, cortisol will keep playing its tune all day, every day.

In your body, cortisol
• Stimulates insulin: increases your hunger, decreases your satiety (feeling full), ultimately messes with your blood sugar
• Stimulates belly fat: enough said
• Displaces progesterone: reduces your sex drive, makes it harder to get pregnant, AND opens your body to the damaging effects of estrogen dominance
• Suppresses the immune system: makes you more susceptible to getting sick
• Suppresses melatonin production: makes it harder to sleep

OK in the short term, when you’re coping with a real emergency.

Not ok in the long term.

Which is why we need a super heroine to come along and keep that stress hormone in check!

Enter: Oxytocin

Not just for labouring women, this hormone is the champion of feeling safe, aka reducing danger signals and promoting the relaxation response.

Oxytocin reduces cortisol levels.

Think about it, in order to give birth to or nurse a baby, a woman must feel safe. This is an animal instinct. The “tagline” for the relaxation response is rest and digest: necessary to proper sleep and nourishment. (You wouldn’t take a nap or stop for a meal while you were fighting or fleeing, would you?)

Oxytocin improves digestion and sleep, and cuts the muffin top off at the pass.

Oxytocin is also known as the bonding hormone. Under its influence, babies bond to their mothers (and fathers), couples bond to each other, individuals bond to community.

Oxytocin creates connection.

What better way to find a sense of safety and reduce cortisol levels?

I suggest you take several doses of oxytocin daily:

1. Deep hugs
2. Massage or other body work
3. Hold a baby, play with a child, snuggle a pet
4. Hang out with your soul sisters – even through email, chat, texts and Facebook groups, the intimacy is real and has an impact on your physiology
5. Need an extra boost? Have an orgasm…or two…which, in the right company, means you’re deepening the connection to your self.

Have something to add to the list? By all means, tell us in the comments below. When you share your thoughts, you open the possibilities for others.

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Navigating the Perils of Perimenopause

Perimenopause is a process, not a disease.

Let me say that again: Perimenopause is a natural process, a stage in the journey of a woman’s life. It is NOT a disease state that requires medical intervention.

Like puberty.
Like pregnancy.
Like labour & delivery.

In my practice, it shows up as

  • the 40-year-old who can’t get pregnant;
  • the woman who’s tried everything to lose the 20 lbs that showed up overnight and refuse to leave;
  • the woman who can’t sleep at night, yet can hardly keep her eyes open all day;
  • the confidant woman paralysed with anxiety;
  • the woman who wants a new job and can’t stand the site of her husband…let alone have sex with him;
  • the woman who walks into a room and…wait a sec, what was I saying?

She’s anywhere between 35 and 50, yet she feels like you may as well just buy her a flowered hat and sign her up for shuffleboard.

“Nobody talks about this,” my girlfriend complained the other day. And yet, we’re all (not so) silently suffering through its effects.

Is this all you have to look forward to?

Not at all.

Perimenopause is a transition. Depending on your attitude and willingness to work with the waves, it can be navigated smoothly, albeit not always gracefully.

As a holistic nutrition student, I learned that menopause is “simply” puberty in reverse.

Puberty:

  1. Ovaries produce estrogen (boobs, pubic hair, curves + uterus develops + bleeding starts)
  2. Progesterone kicks in (ovulation + body ready to maintain a pregnancy)

Perimenopause (= around menopause):

  1. Progesterone production declines (ovulation stops)
  2. Estrogen dwindles (stop bleeding = menopause after 1 year without a period)

But we aren’t simple creatures, as the men in our lives like to remind us: we’re complicated. (I prefer the word complex.)

First of all, puberty got rolling a good 3 years before you actually got your period and continued to fine-tune for a few years after. (Remember all those years of feeling more like a moody alien than a normal teenager?) The transition out of child-bearing mode takes its time as well, with just as many mood swings. About 10 years, and you might even start feeling the symptoms of hormonal shifts in your 30s.

The complexity comes from the fact that these processes involve much more than just your 2 female hormones.

All the glands of the endocrine system work in concert. (Skip the green box if you’re already familiar with this system.)

Endocrine System

The Endocrine System – Click on the image for easier reading

If other aspects of your endocrine system’s out of whack, your sex hormones won’t be able to do their job properly. (Which impacts periods & pregnancy as well as perimenopause.)

When your sex hormone production begins to wane in your 40s, the other hormones change their tune to create a new harmony. Generally, that interplay happens most dramatically with the thyroid and adrenals. If those two musicians aren’t feeling their best: the perils of perimenopause.

The key players in this crazy dance:

Cortisol (from the adrenals) gets into action to keep you safe and able to cope during occasional times of strife. It keeps you alert to potential danger and ready to make a hasty retreat if necessary.

Unfortunately, we’ve set up our lifestyles in such a way as to keep that state of emergency going constantly. (To read more about this concept, click here.)

When stress gets the best of you, or you can’t get out of bed in the morning, that’s cortisol out of whack.

On the other hand, you know that elated mood you’re in about a week after your period, like someone lifted a veil? You know the peaceful, blissful state, like you’ve never looked or felt better than in your 2nd trimester of pregnancy? That’s progesterone at work.

Progesterone calms the brain as part of its job to keep you zen & happy while pregnant.

Given the way that cortisol can dominate progesterone (see #3 in the green box), it’s not hard to see why so many women of this age suffer from anxiety.

Estrogen is like the Enjoli of the body. You remember the ad?

“I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never, ever let you forget you’re a man, ‘cause I’m a wo-o-oman.”

Ah yes, the epitome of the 70s women’s movement – elbowing in to take our place in the boardroom without giving up power in the bedroom, all while keeping up the housework.

The main peril of this life stage is estrogen dominance, the state in which estrogen is too high relative to progesterone.

It happens because of progesterone decline, progesterone resistance (see the green box), or because diet & lifestyle increase your exposure to xeno-estrogens & estrogen mimics from chemicals.

In terms of attitudes and ideals, it’s easy to see how this state has energetically become so prominent these days. Modern women focus most of the our energies into being sexy, successful, multi-tasking CEOs and push aside the instinct to make babies until much later, if at all.

Part of estrogen’s job is to enhance our female wiles to snag a mate, then give us the wherewithal to raise/maintain/hold together a family. One part of this particular super-power means that estrogen (along with her sister progesterone) makes us more, umm, let’s call it open to compromise.

I heard it best described in a conversation between Marc David and Dr. Sara Gottfried (during the Psychology of Eating Conference in July). One of them said something like, we spend childhood just being ourselves, go through the 1st change to become accommodating for about 35 years and then go through the 2nd change to be our (true) selves again.

Estrogen dominance also disrupts thyroid function (through iodine displacement as described in the green box).

Thyroxin modulates metabolism, that is, your energy levels and your ability to lose weight. The thyroid gland sits in your throat, the middle of the 5th chakra, the emotional centre of expression and judgment. Your Voice.

It’s interesting to note that the hormone, which defines the first half of womanhood, also keeps the ability to speak your truth in check.

One thing for sure, once you get to the end of the fertile leg of the journey, once the estrogen levels off to a minimum, you no longer give a shit what others think. I see women in perimenopause all around me compelled to say what they have to say, do what they have to do, wear what they want to wear. It’s no wonder job and husband dissatisfaction are high on the perimenopausal complaint list.

(This by no means insinuates you have to change them – unless you do – but it means you need to reassess priorities and relationships. You may need to learn a few new dance steps with your sweetie, your colleagues, even your girlfriends.)

I could go on about all of this. In fact, as I wrote this, I realized that I could develop each sentence into a paragraph, each paragraph into a chapter…hmm, now there’s an idea… For now, I’ll keep it “simple”.

Is there a “simple” way to address the complexity?

You bet: reduce estrogen dominance.

HERE ARE 3 WAYS TO START:

1. Reduce exposure to xeno-estrogens.

Opt for household cleaners with natural ingredients (never anything chlorine based).
Pull out your grandmother’s old cleaning tricks.

2. Clear out/displace the excess.

Eat 7-10 servings of vegetables each day. Vary the types and colours; always include leafy greens, sea vegetables and (cooked) cruciferous.
Eat legumes (pulses) at least 3 times a week.
Eat good quality protein and fats (building blocks for all your hormones) at each meal.

Make it simple: vegetarian chili with sliced avocado

3. Reduce mental-emotional stress

Hang out with your girlfriends
Hang out in Nature (sunshine!).
Move in a way that you love, be it Zumba or running, surfing or dancing,…

Even simpler: Take a walk in the park with your BFF.

(For more detailed information about reducing estrogen dominance, click here.)

As I said, this is really just the tip of the iceberg, but let’s get this conversation happening. I’d love to hear about your experiences. Let’s support each other through this transition, to land softly grounded on the other side.

When you share in the comments, you open possibilities for others.

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8 Steps to Healthy Breasts

Because the women in my life are so important to me, I’m dedicating all of my work for October 2013 to them: my friends, my colleagues, my readers, and all the ladies I connect with in multiple Facebook communities. I want to empower my sisters with a baseline of knowledge, which you can build on as part of your own healthy practices.

Self Love

While most of the western world observes breast cancer awareness in October, I want to put a positive spin on things. The blogs I’ll post this month will pour energy and focus into the manifestation of breast health. It’s a celebration of our femininity and our connection to the Goddess.

Today, I offer you practical tips for your breast health.

Purple Cabbage

The food & lifestyle recommendations I’m sharing here are good for your breasts no matter the state of your/their health.

Perhaps you simply want to incorporate their care into your daily routine. Maybe you want to lessen your tendency towards cysts, or alleviate monthly pain & tenderness. (Incidentally, these benign breast symptoms are much more common than their more insidious cousin.) And yes, reduce your risk for breast cancer, perhaps even help to heal it.

My intention is to move beyond the fear of cancer. Where we put our attention, grows. Why wait for a diagnosis to provide motivation to change habits in your life that may contribute to that, and other diseases?

WHAT IF YOU MAKE A RADICAL DECISION TO TAKE YOUR BREAST HEALTH INTO HAND SIMPLY AS A PART OF LOOKING AFTER THE GIFT THAT IS YOUR WHOLE BODY?

I can guarantee you, whatever’s good for the “girls” is good for the whole woman.

First some facts:

  • Breasts are made up of glandular tissue that’s sensitive to hormonal changes in the body, which means they change through the menstrual cycle, and through perimenopause.
  • They’re particularly sensitive to estrogen, to which we’re exposed more & more (see below).
  • Because of the strong link between the nervous & the endocrine (hormonal) systems, breast tissue is highly reactive to stress (both internal & external).
  • Breasts and nipples come in all shapes & sizes. Most of us have one that’s larger and/or higher than the other.  We’re all different. Or should I say, unique. As such, it’s important to get to know what that means to you. What’s your normal?

Estrogen dominance, the imbalance of estrogen relative to progesterone,

  • is amplified by high body fat (some estrogen is produced in the fat cells)
  • and by a high sugar/simple carb diet (increased insulin sets the stage for cellular inflammation and increased estrogen circulation by suppressing the hormone SHBG).
  • Inadequate fibre reduces the clearance of hormones once they’ve done their job, allowing them to recirculate and do more than they were intended for.
  • Environmental toxins (aka endocrine disruptors) mimic and increase estrogenic activity. Estrogen exposure includes that from the Pill & HRT, and their circulation in our waters.
  • Add inflammatory tendencies from poor diet and stress, and you have the recipe for overstimulation of breast tissue, a higher incidence of benign breast symptoms (lumps, cysts, pain), as well as an increased risk of cancer. (Estrogen dominance is also responsible for PMS, uterine fibroids and thyroid imbalances.)

One point to highlight about any symptoms in your breasts

This is the place in your body that’s deeply linked to the way that you care for others, yes, but more importantly, your breasts are a barometer for how well you’re nourishing yourself. Any symptoms you experience in your breasts are a part of your soul’s messaging system, reminding you that there are places where you need to give more time, love and energy to yourself!

So, let’s dive into what can be done to protect, improve and maintain these gals.

Get to know your normal. In the next blog, I’m going to detail a new approach to the Breast Self Exam. Knowing the details of your own body is a crucial step in improving on its integrity.

For now, I give you

8 STEPS TO REDUCE ESTROGEN DOMINANCE AND IMPROVE BREAST HEALTH

Try looking at these suggestions as a way of improving your diet globally, for all sorts of bonus health reasons, like more energy, a healthier weight, clear skin, and increased libido. Now, who wouldn’t want all that?

This is not something you need to do in one shot, because then you’ll be right back to your old habits next week. Instead, every few days, choose a new habit to incorporate, a different food type to replace, or a new food to add to your menu. Let this be a gradual transition, a gentle shift to a new way of living, with lots of room for forgiveness and kindness along the way.

1. EAT MORE VEGGIES!

  • Aim for a minimum 4 cups; challenge yourself to get as many colours of the rainbow in one day. Vary the types and preparation.
  • Eat more cruciferous veggies daily: indole-3-carbinol limits estrogen binding. Be sure to mostly eat them cooked to lessen the goitrogenic effects, i.e. improve iodine absorption.
  • Eat fewer nightshades, or avoid them altogether if you have inflammation.
  • Include leafy greens daily. These babies, which include fresh herbs, are packed with vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fats and phytoestrogens!

The upshot: the more veggies you eat, the more you displace poor food choices, which means you will

  • Decrease body fat
  • Decrease sugar and refined carb intake
  • Increase soluble fibre intake

2. Get to know where you’re exposed to xeno-estrogens and other toxins that add to the load your liver has to clear:

  • No more plastic containers; especially with hot, acidic, fatty food
  • No more chlorine-based cleaning products
  • Opt for organic food
  • Drink filtered water; consider a filter for your shower
  • Choose cosmetics with natural ingredients

3. EAT PHYTOESTROGEN- AND LIGNAN-RICH FOODS; these plant-based compounds act like estriol and lessen the impact of estradiol. Bonus: they’re all rich in fibre!

  • Legumes/pulses/beans; includes red clover & fenugreek
  • Seeds, nuts & healthy oils
  • Whole grains such as brown or red or black rice, quinoa (≠whole wheat/grain flour products)
  • Leafy greens (yes, I’m repeating myself on this one!)

fiber-rich-foods crop

4. GET ENOUGH IODINE to decrease the ability of estrogen to bind to receptors

  • Seaweed; add a 2-inch piece of kombu to your rice, instead of salt; eat more sushi!
  • Tincture; a small drop can be applied right to a sore breast daily for 2 weeks
  • Supplement drops
  • If you’re at the beach, take long, deep breaths of the iodine-rich sea air!

5. EAT PLENTY OF GOOD FAT The more omega-3 and other high-quality fats you eat, the fewer “bad” fats you’ll eat (hydrogenated, trans, heat-processed, fried oils)

  • Cold water fish; salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines
  • Flax, hemp & chia seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, butter, ghee
  • Avocado, olives, free-range eggs

6. Eliminate dairy
It’s mucous-forming. And, in the US, BGH given to cows adds to your hormonal load.

From an energetic perspective, milk is meant to flow from the breasts, out of a woman’s body. When you ingest milk, you reverse that natural flow, and create blockages & inflammation in joints, kidneys, uterus, ovaries, as well as breasts.

Stay away from all dairy for one month, and see what happens – you might be surprised!

7. REGULAR MODERATE EXERCISE regulates insulin and reduces body fat.

Walk, bike, swim, garden, yoga, dance around the living room like an idiot,…find something you love to do. Make it fun!

8. CHANGE YOUR BRA

An underwire or a too tight bra will prevent proper blood & lymph circulation, which means it cuts off the nutrients going into your breasts, as well as the removal of wastes coming out.

I know. I know. I love my “Body by Victoria” as much as the next girl. But, I’ve come to appreciate those as my occasional bras, and save the cotton sports bras & Lululemons for daily use. It’s made a difference to how lumpy by boobs used to get premenstrually. I’m currently on the lookout for a stunning bra that holds the girls in place without the wires and without looking like it’s a hand-me-down from my great-aunt Bernice.

Have you tried other solutions to improve the health of your breasts? Tell us about it. When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

Because this is a topic that effects us all, be sure to share this post with the women in your life, using any (or all!) of these buttons.

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