Firstly we will develop a basic understanding of hormones and women’s health and how they are affected by our diet and lifestyle. When we have this understanding and awareness we can begin to make choices that can restore balance, bring health and wellbeing and have a deeper connection with our whole self, emotionally, physically and spiritually.
The East and West approach to medicine
Eastern knowledge is based on awareness and self observation. Western advances in science offers us a deeper understanding of the structure and function of the cells, hormones, tissues and organs that make up the whole body. This is a very segregated approach to understanding the whole self. Easter medicine takes a more holistic approach, the bigger picture if you like.
Western medicine is very good at treating individual symptoms. Eastern medicine gets to the root cause of the imbalance by treating the whole self. Developing a deeper connection and awareness of ourselves gives us the triggers on which to act when you feel that ‘your not feeling quite right’. From a deeper awareness of how we feel. We can start to restore balance before the imbalance manifests into deeper set conditions.
Sign of imbalance:
- Indigestion: bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhoea
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Hot flashes
- brain fog
- Jonit pain
The key to physical and emotional female health and wellbeing is through awareness of our sex and stress hormones. The subject of hormones is vast and can be quite confusing. Looking at the hormones from an Ayurvedic perspective can simplify this complex subject which will help us understand what is out of balance and how we can rectify it.
There are 2 concepts we will refer to: ‘’duality’ and ‘like increases like’. When we have an understand on these, we can apply the principles to help regain balance and good health.
Duality is the concept of opposing forces. We can apply this to all aspects of our physical and emotional being from the food we eat, the activities we do, our jobs, and also our physical body, including hormones.
‘Like increases like’ can be observed when our lifestyle, diet or environment is dominated by the same forces.
Let’s have a look at these principles in relation to Yin and Yang or Kapha and Pitta in Ayurveda. The opposing principles that nourish and invigorate life. Yin and Yang are opposites that depend on each other.
The doshas are also interdependent of each other. Kapha brings the cooling effects to the fires of pitta. Pitta motivates kapha and provides directions and force. Kapha is grounding for Vata’s air and spacey equities and Vata moves Kapha when it gets a bit ‘stuck in the mud’. The dance of the doshas is what sustains life:
By understanding the doshas we can use these same principles to understand the stress (Pitta or Yang) and sex (Kapha or Yin ) hormones. The relationship between these two opposing sets of hormones is at the root of women’s health.
Western lifestyles are very Pitta (Yang) dominant. Driven by professional and social ambitions. Juggling, work, family life, multitasking, social activities and exercise. How do we measure our achievements or success? By how much we manage to fit in to one day? Do we ever feel satisfied with what we have achieved?
This is a very classic example of Pitta imbalance. Here we can see Pitta activities, dominating a Pitta lifestyle, which can be further increased by a Pitta diet – Like increases like. We are constantly striving for more and not taking time to nourish the body.
Here we’ll take a closer look and the opposing forces of Yin and Yang or Kapha and Pitta. Remember one is not better than the other until it becomes too dominant. One cannot exists without the other.
|Sex Hormones: Oestrogen and Progesterone||Stress Hormones: Adrenalin and Cortisol|
|Moist and lubricating||Dry and hard|
How does it feel when we have too much Yin or too much Yang
|Weight gain||Hot flashes|
|Masses form in the body: fibroids, fatty lumps||Insomnia|
Activities to enhance Yin
Activities to enhance Yang
|Massage||Exercise – sport|
|Rest and sleep||Activity: multi tasking.|
|Dairy, carbs, oil, moist food.||Coffee, spicy foods, dry food, raw.|
|Meditation. Being.||Making decisions. Solving problems. Doing|
How do we want to feel?
The first step to feeling well is developing an awareness of how we feel. From the table above, if our lifestyle favours one side we are more likely to become out of balance.
For example if we spend much of our adult life in stressful jobs, juggling family life, looking after kids, not getting enough sleep and eating a diet which does not suit or Ayurvedic type or features highly with processed or convenience foods, we are definitely favouring the Yang energy. Too much heat leads to burnout and symptoms associated with too much heat in the body: during sensations, inflammation (anywhere in the body), autoimmune conditions or migraine.
Individually, each aspect may not be too big a deal, but over time, too much Yang can really deplete your reserves of Yin. Stress in particular can have a huge impact on our reserves of Yin. This is also true of too much Yin. We need that balance of both. Yin and Yang work together. Too much Yin would bring heaviness and stagnation.
Throughout your day, you may be faced with small stressful situations. This is a natural process as innately the stress hormones help us survive. Stress hormones are Yang. When stress hormones are released it’s like lot’s of little fires!! We’re constantly looking to the cooling energy of Yin to put the fires out.
We need to balance the Yin and Yang, the Pitta and the Kapha, the nourishing and energetic. Yin is density, the structure and building blocks of our body, Yang is energy, the energy that moves, digests and motivates. To do this we look to the 3 pillars of health: diet, lifestyle (including exercise) and managing stress.
When Yin and Yang are balanced how does this look?
- Our diet is nourishing and suitable for our Ayurvedic type.
- We move our body and get outside in nature to breath fresh air and connect with our environment We have develop an awareness of how we are dealing with stress in our life by incorporating Yin enhancing activities.
- Our life-force energy – Prana is strong. It flows through our body with ease.
- We feel fulfilled, nourished, content: physically, emotionally, spiritually.
- We have a regular menstrual flow or are managing the transition through peri and menopause
- We are receiving enough good, nourishing sleep.
The Sex and Stress Hormones
The female sex hormones oestrogen and and progesterone are Yin. They are nourishing, building, lubricating and cooling in nature. Oestrogen is pure Yin, whereas Progesterone is described at the ‘Yang within Yin’ in Eastern medicine. In her book ‘Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life’ Dr Claudia Welch beautifully describes these hormones are the Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire of the hormones. Progesterone (Fred), although Yin, leads the dance and provides balance to Oestrogen (Ginger’s) extreme Yin.
Oestrogen is not only responsible for the female sexual characteristics, but every cell in the body benefits from the nourishing, moist qualities. Briefly, oestrogen (there are many forms) are mainly produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands, and from precursor hormones throughout he body.
The problem may not be that we’re not producing enough sex hormones but they are insufficient to balance the stress hormones.
Progesterone is a little more Yang (pitta) or masculine. It acts to keep oestrogen in check. It’s produced in the ovaries until after menopause and in the adrenal glands. You can feel the rise in progesterone in your body during the progesterone dominant phase of your cycle. Progesterone brings a rise in body temperature after ovulation. Progesterone helps prevent masses forming in the body due to high oestrogen.
Progesterone can also be used to synthesis oestrogen and stress hormone when needed.
The major stress hormones are Cortisol and Adrenalin. Yang in nature they are responsible for our well-being and survival. They are triggered in response to a real or perceived threat. They make us more alert, make our heart pump faster and gets us ready to get out of situations of threat. The effect of adrenalin is instant and short lived. Cortisol rises just as adrenalin does, but it stays active in our body for much longer.
Again the stress hormones are produced in the adrenal glands. Although they play an important physiological role, the problem, is they are triggered more often and with a more sustained Yang – Pitta effect. Too much stress, high levels of stress hormones means we need to sustain the demand. This demand can be met by sacrificing the sex hormones to meet the demands.
The effects of stress on our body:
- Hypersensitive to stress.
- Over worked adrenal glands – adrenal fatigue
- Overall hormone resistance e.g. Thyroid resistance.
- Reduced immunity
An awareness now of how our diet, lifestyle and ways of managing stress is affecting how we feel is the first step to preventing hormone imbalance and the exhaustion of the glands in the body that produce the.
How we eat and live our life now, will directly affect how we feel through the peri menopause and menopause phase of our lives. Naturally our hormone levels rise and fall to meet the demands of the phases of our lifecycle.
Women constantly fee the ebb and flow of sex hormones throughout our life and months cycles. At puberty our sex hormones increase greatly and the levels of progesterone fall from the age of 35. From puberty to menopause is the Pitta phase of our lives where we we require a higher level of stress and sex hormones to enable us to work, look after family, deal with the activities of life and bearing children.
Post menopause we don’t need the levels of Yin hormones to bear children and (hopefully) balance the stress hormones. Remember too much Yin can just be as bad as too much Yang. So, we need to find ways of maintaining balance through diet, lifestyle and stress management to cope the the natural process of change through the peri menopause and menopause phase in our life.
The body will alway want to buffer the effect of one hormone becoming too high, e.g. balancing the affect of too much stress hormones and a demand for more to maintain balance.
Peri menopause and menopause
Many women worry about this natural process due to the symptoms they may face. Our understanding may be that is is caused by a deficiency in oestrogen. Of course levels of oestrogen and progesterone fall, but if we balance the Pitta (yang) activities with kapha (yin) activities we can nourish and preserve our sex hormones.
Perimenopause is the transition phase from a normal cycle to menopause, which is classified as being a year of no period.
Perimanopause can last from a few years to 10 years. As perimenopause can start when levels of progesterone start to fall at around 35, some women can experience symptoms of imbalance from then as their levels of sex hormones are already depleted. So the key is look after your sex hormones before well before the the peri menopause phase of our life. It’s like paying into a pension for when you retire.
Oestrogen deficiency is associated to the longterm excess of stress hormones. Adding more oestrogen is just putting on a sticking plaster, it’s not training the cause.
Ayurveda views many of the symptoms of peri menopause and menopause as Pitta imbalance, although consideration is given to all 3 doshas. Quite simply, there is not enough Yin to keep us cool, calm and lubricated. Hot flashes are a good indicator of hormone imbalance. Too much Pitta, it can be treated very easily.
Here are some simple steps you can take:
Follow a Pitta reducing diet. You can find out more about Pitta foods HERE.
Agni deepana (balance the digestive fire) to ensure our digestion is capable of digesting the food we eat and not creating a build up of toxins and stagnation in the body. A simple remedy for agni deepana is cumin and honey: In a dry pan, roast then grind cumin seeds to a fine powder. Store in an airtight jar. Before 2 meals dip 1/2 tsp of good quality raw honey into the jar (about 1/2 tsp). Have this before you meals.
Coriander water treats hot flashes very effectively: Lightly crush 3tsp of coriander seeds and infuse in a glass of water. Strain and drink in the morning.
Over the next few weeks it is worthwhile getting to know yourself and your symptoms a little better. Here’s your task: What I’ve been feeling? What I’ve done to alleviate these symptoms.
Tasks to do.
Build a deeper awareness of how you are feeling. Take 5 mins at the end of the day or through. voice notes to note down how have you been feeling emotionally physically.
Questions to ask?
- How am I feeling today?
- Do I feel any physical niggles?
- How was my sleep?
- How do I feel when i wake up in the morning?
- How do i feel through the day.
- Do I feel alert?
- Is my mind clear.
- Am I able to focus
- Did I take some time during the day, to relax with tasks to do. A space just to be with no agenda and no demands.
Long before symptoms/conditions manifest for western medicine to treat, Eastern medicine can treat the symptoms and bring balance before symptoms manifest into a deeper set condition.
It takes a little more time and consideration to get to know ourselves to understand what is best for us.
Just as an incompatible diet, stressful lifestyle, inappropriate exercise can create imbalance they can be adjusted to create balance.
The next workshop will be to develop a lifestyle plan to help us stay balanced as we transition through peri menopause and menopause.