About a year ago, I made the decision to give my body a break from the pill after having been on it for about almost 10 years! I have to admit, I was afraid to stop at first because I didn’t really know what to expect, how my body would react & whether it would throw my hormones completely off balance. I had gotten so used to my period being regular, light, almost cramp-free & expecting it like clockwork & I was afraid all of that would change.
Thankfully, save for all the stress I caused myself over what would happen, I didn’t really experience any physical changes, my periods are nowhere near as horrible as I thought they would be, though they last slightly longer than the 3 or 4 days they’d last on birth control & I luckily got my period back the second month being pill-free.
But, worry not! I did my research & it can take anywhere between one and six months to get it back. The whole “it takes a few months for the pill & the hormones to leave your system” idea isn’t actually 100% accurate. In fact, the waiting period has a lot more to do with the body’s hormonal cycle picking up & staring up again after being suppressed due to the hormones in birth control for the time during which you were taking it.
I’m convinced that one of the reasons I was able to get my period back so quickly is the consistency of some healthy habits I’ve adopted to keep my hormones in check. Before I share some of the deets, please keep in mind that this is what works for me! I’m not a doctor & there’s no guarantee these things will work for you because everybody’s body is different!
The only way to truly know if any or all of these habits will add something to your life or improve a symptom or issue you are trying to target is to try them out for yourself, be your own health advocate & be mindful about monitoring the results & comparing the way you feel before & after incorporating the changes in order to determine if they are valuable enough to add to your routine.
What I can say based on my experience is that after consistently incorporating the following changes, I experience less PMS symptoms than I used to before I got on the pill. I used to get SO bloated before my period & I had such strong sugar cravings & while those things still happen every so often, they happen WAY LESS often than they used to. I feel less tired & sluggish while on my period, I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been, I break out less & my skin is in a really good place!
1. I CUT BACK ON REFINED SUGAR:
Fun fact: Research has shown that sugar may have similar addictive properties to those of cocaine!
Chronic sugar intake affects hormones in many ways. In fact, studies have shown that sugar has a large impact on metabolism hormones (i.e. insulin), which plays a role not only regarding our reproductive hormones, but also with regards to how efficiently & adequately our body is able to burn fat, our overall energy levels & the frequency with which they become depleted & of course, our menstrual cycle! Insulin & leptin resistance actually drive us to store fat, may cause inflammation & affect estrogen levels.
Cutting back on refined sugar isn’t easy, especially in the world we live in today, largely dominated by the packaged & processed food industry. Just about every single product we pick up of our grocery store shelf most probably contains some form of refined sugar, whether it’s masked under an “umbrella” term or listed as the first, second or third ingredient on a package, you can bet your life on it that it’s there.
But, it’s not because cutting back isn’t easy that it’s not doable. There are plenty of natural sweeteners that are a lot healthier for human consumption, contain other beneficial properties, such as antioxidants, fibre & taste just as good, if not more delicious than refined sugar! Some of my favourites are yacon syrup, pure organic maple syrup, raw organic unpasteurized honey, pure organic vanilla extract, dates or date sugar, coconut palm sugar or coconut flower syrup.
2. I KNOW THAT FOOD IS MEDICINE:
So many people take the pill to cure acne or use other artificial hormonal therapies, but truth is, FOOD does more than any of those treatments for OUR skin, hormones, physical & mental health.
Eat to nourish your body from the inside out & add healthy seeds, grains, almonds, avocados, salmon, eggs & cruciferous veggies to your diet whenever possible. These foods are rich in healthy fats, which are crucial for hormone regulation in the body, these healthy omega fatty acids are also super anti-inflammatory, which also helps reduce PMS symptoms!
3. I LOAD UP ON CRUCIFEROUS VEGGIES:
Cruciferous veggies contain bioactive compounds that bind to excess hormones in our gut & flush it out, thereby acting as a natural form of detoxification. They also improve the gut microbiome, which is intrinsically related to every vital organ in the body, including the adrenal glands & the speed at which they produce hormones.
I eat cruciferous veggies DAILY (P.S. If you get bloated from raw cruciferous veggies, make sure to steam or cook them! Their sulfur content makes some people with sensitive digestive tracts to bloat if they are eaten raw).
4. I FIND WAYS TO COPE WITH MY ANXIETY & STRESS:
Chronic stress disrupts hormone balance, which is why it’s crucial to find ways to reduce physical & emotional stress (whether it’s stressful exercise, extreme diets or mental/emotional stress). Any & all of these types of stress place a strain on the body, force it to work harder to cope, take a toll on the health of our adrenal glands & in turn, mess with our hormones. In fact, stress also largely affects gut & adrenal health, which has a direct impact on hormone regulation.
5. I USE ADAPTOGENS DAILY:
Adaptogens are medicinal herbs, roots or mushrooms, which have been used for quite some time in Ayurvedic medicine. The idea behind adaptogens is that they help the body ADAPT (hence, their name) to stressful situations that cause spikes in hormone levels & tax the adrenal glands. In helping the body adapt, when taken consistently, they improve our overall ability to be able to respond & react to situations our bodies perceive as stressful, anxious, or negative, in such a way that we don’t put too much strain on our body. The goal is to get our body to a state of homeostasis, a.k.a. its ultimate state of balance. In doing so, not only is your body in a better place hormonally, but they also help boost energy levels, improve thyroid health, fight symptoms of adrenal fatigue, stress & anxiety, which are all intrinsically related to hormonal health, improve sleep quality & clear the skin.
6. I TAKE CARE OF MY GUT (TOP PRIORITY!):
Gut bacteria modulates & excretes estrogen, progesterone & testosterone & suppresses thyroid autoimmune antibodies. Our gut is our gateway to health – it’s been termed our second brain & about 70-80% of our immune system is located in our gut!
An unhealthy gut is reflected directly in how adequately the rest of our body functions & feels, both physically & mentally, which is why it’s CRUCIAL to make your gut health a priority. Think of your gut as a mosquito net. The stronger the net & the more closely knit together the holes, the less likely the mosquitos (or bad bacteria, food particles, toxins, etc.) are able to permeate the net & rip it. The same applies to our gut; the stronger our intestinal lining, the less likely bad bacteria, toxins & leftover food particles are able to permeate it & make their way in, throwing off not only our digestion but our overall health.
Yes, it’s true; our gut is lined with both good & bad bacteria & while we need both to maintain a healthy immune system, the goal is for the good to always outnumber the bad & that’s where our work comes in: replenishing the good & doing things to get rid of the bad. There are so many things you can do to improve it, but these things need to be done consistently if you want to see results.
- Avoid antibiotics if possible
- Take probiotic supplements daily
- Eat fermented foods
- Take collagen &/or amino acids, such as L-Lysine or L-Glutamine
- Manage stress levels
- Get enough sleep! Hormones work on a schedule & lack of sleep can actual lead to high cortisol production, which can directly impact female hormones & the regularity & intensity of your menstrual cycle
- Exercise or walk for at least 30 minutes daily. My goal is to get at least 12,000 steps in a day & you honestly would never believe how easy it is if you just make a bit more of a conscious effort to walk when you can drive, park further when you go get groceries or go on daily walks outside & breathe in some fresh air. It’ll do wonders for the mind as well.
7. I LIMIT MY CONSUMPTION OF SOY:
High phytoestrogens mimic estrogen in the body & increase estrogenic activity, which can mess with your hormones. Some animal studies show that consuming LARGE amounts may have harmful effects on fertility & reproductive development (but, many of these studies studied consumption at very high levels & the participants ate processed soy, so keep that in mind & don’t run from soy too quickly!).
Try to limit soy consumption whenever possible & if you do eat it, make sure it’s whole, real soy, fermented, sustainably sourced, contains no artificial ingredients or preservatives, NON-GMO, organic & good quality.
I say no to processed soy that’s genetically engineered, such as hydrogenated soybean oil (usually processed with hexane, a chemical solvent), hydrolyzed vegetable protein + junk foods that contain soy (soy cheese, ice cream, oil, burgers, cakes, meat alternatives & frozen dinners).