There’s a disturbing trend in the field of health: men are getting breast reduction surgery like never before. No, I’m not joking – or making light of the problem. In fact, male breast reduction has grown more than 2000% in the past five years. You may see this in your clients. What’s behind this growing need? It’s hormones. When we eat too much sugar or flour (sometimes, even if its whole-grain flour), we over-produce insulin, a hormone that in excess will block our production of sex hormones like testosterone, making a man look more like a woman. But there’s a bigger reason that’s even more disturbing: it’s estrogen.
Normally, our bodies make just the right amount of hormones for our wellness. In women, estrogen is more prevalent. Men produce a little estrogen too but make predominantly testosterone. The problem is that the female hormone estrogen is increasingly prevalent in our food and in our environments. And it’s changing the balance of hormones in men, giving them larger breasts, smaller muscles, larger bellies, lower sex drive, and prostate problems. In women, higher estrogen makes for more troublesome PMS, increased depression, higher body fat, and a higher risk of breast cancer. In children, excessive hormones encourage premature sexual development. In everyone, excessive estrogen increases the risk of cancer, heart attack, and stroke. Do a thorough job of understanding your clients’ symptoms, so you can suggest where hormones might be part of their challenge. I recommend using a helpful symptoms checklist as part of your health history and revisit forms.
An external flood of estrogen makes your body reduce or stop producing hormones internally. In women, this is problematic because the body will not only stop making estrogen but will also stop making progesterone. I see many clients who are low in progesterone, what I call the Calm-and-Relaxed hormone, and these women typically struggle with depression, anxiety, low energy, and fatigue. In the ten years or so prior to menopause, this is a particularly key issue because women’s progesterone production drops off dramatically several years before estrogen production begins to drop. Thus, many women begin to suffer with progesterone/estrogen imbalance – or estrogen dominance – in those critical years before menopause. Relatively high estrogen is exacerbated by our overall increased body fat (which might be high even in someone of normal weight) because fat cells produce estrogen all on their own. Low-dose progesterone cream is available over-the-counter and is quite safe for women to use in low (dilute) doses to help with hormone imbalance. Women can monitor their hormones levels via hormone testing (saliva is more accurate than blood but both are useful) and is most helpful to evaluate on Day 22 of a woman’s cycle, where Day 1 is the first day of menstrual bleeding).
So besides body fat, where are we getting all this estrogen? First of all, from our food. Today’s modern “factory farmers” use hormones and other drugs and chemicals to accelerate weight gain in animals and increase profitability. This practice includes chickens, cows, pigs, and even fish farmers. Hormones also keep dairy cows lactating on a constant basis, including while they are pregnant. When we consume these foods, we absorb the hormones. You can avoid this source by always choosing “hormone-free” animal products, ideally also organic and free-range to avoid exposure to other chemicals in animal feed and drugs. Some of your hormone-sensitive clients may benefit from a month-long trial of avoiding all dairy foods which, by definition, are hormone-laden.
We are also absorbing large amounts of “estrogen mimickers” from our environment. These are chemicals that look enough like real estrogen to fool our bodies into making hormonal changes (medically this is called an endocrine disruptor). Bisphenol-A (or BPA) is a potent estrogen mimicker found in some plastic food wraps, plastic cups and containers labeled #7 in the little recycling triangle, and most food can linings (yes, even organic brands!). Ask your client about these types of products. Help them to choose a stainless steel water-bottle or a glass-lined model and filter their home water. Have them look for canned foods brands certified as BPA-free on the label (e.g. Eden organic foods). If they use other canned foods, make sure they rinse the contents thoroughly before use, choose foods in glass or paper cartons instead, or (even better) choose whole, fresh foods. Another major source of BPA is on cash register receipts which can be easily avoided by asking a cashier ahead of time for no receipt where possible.
Another common culprit of hormone disruption is a chemical called triclosan. It’s found in antibacterial soaps, tooth¬paste, mouthwash, deodorants, and first-aid creams. Make sure you encourage your client to read labels to find out what they are putting into their body. Soap and water remain our best weapons against the spread of infection. Explain to your clients: skin is our largest organ and a powerful absorption site that sends ingredients straight to our blood stream. In general, don’t put anything on your skin that you wouldn’t want to eat.
Another major estrogenic chemical category includes pesticides and gardening chemicals. Encourage your clients to practice natural, organic gardening. In particular, help them to understand the impact of putting a regular flood of chemicals on their lawn or flowers (e.g. Chemlawn). Even if they don’t sit on the grass, the chemicals are carried indoors on kids, pets, shoe soles, and even the wind. And it goes without speaking that it’s best to encourage them to eat as much organic food as they can find and afford (or those certified as pesticide-free). Some produce retains more chemicals than others, so use research data to help your clients spend their organic food dollars wisely. The Environmental Working Group publishes an annuallly-updated list of the types of produce with the greatest pesticide retention after harvest, given then-common agricultural practices.