The Tips I Give All My Patients To Lower Inflammation, Balance Hormones & Restore Gut Health
Inflammation is my specialty. But more and more, I'm convinced that hormones, inflammation, and gut health are like a trifecta. When you have one imbalance, it creates an overall imbalance. And when you fix one, the other one improves. I call it the "Wellness Trifecta."
How do you know if you're suffering from imbalances in any of these areas?
Inflammation: Acute Inflammation is a normal mechanism our body uses to heal wounds. But chronic low-level inflammation isn't good — it's associated with many problems, including fatigue, weight gain, brain fog, acne, allergies, and autoimmune disease.
Hormones: With a hormone imbalance, you may experience the above symptoms, as well as heightened PMS and dryness.
Gut: If you gut is unbalanced, you may also have bloating, constipation, or acid reflux.
If any of these symptoms sounds familiar, I recommend following these key wellness tips below. As a health care practitioner who struggled with all three issues myself, I know making these simple changes can lead to big benefits:
1. Get your fiber from at least 3 cups of vegetables a day.
Vegetables contain hundreds to thousands of phytonutrients — literally plant hormones — that have a hormone-balancing effect in the body. Vegetables (as well as fruit) also supply us with fiber that binds itself to old estrogen, thereby clearing it out of the system, leading to better overall equilibrium. This is great for both men and women who suffer from estrogen dominance.
Vegetables also supply prebiotic fibers that good bacteria feed on in the gut. This fiber is most abundantly found in asparagus, chicory root, leeks, onions, and garlic.
Aim for at least three — but ideally up to nine — cups of vegetables a day. Start slowly with well-cooked vegetables twice a day, and then gradually add more every day.
2. Cut out inflammatory foods.
Everyone is different. Still, for many people, foods like processed dairy, gluten, alcohol, sugar, processed snacks, omega-6 oils, and soy can incite inflammation and manipulate hormones.
Food sensitivities and inflammatory foods can lead to leaky gut, inflammation, and systemic imbalance, which put hormones in flux. Find out which foods don't work for you, and cut out the culprits over a month's time.
3. Eat healthy fat (and avoid the harmful kind).
The fats that you should steer clear of: vegetable oils, peanut oil, canola oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, margarine, shortening or "spreads" — all of which are high in omega-6 fats.
Your friendly fats: coconut oil, avocados, olive oil, grapeseed oil, and other healthy sources of saturated fat that boost testosterone or female hormones. Cholesterol is needed for formation of healthy cell membranes and is a precursor to all steroid hormones (progesterone, estrogen, FSH, etc.). We can't have proper hormonal balance without adequate amounts of saturated fats.
Adding oily fish and fish oil, which contain polyunsaturated omega-3 fats, to your diet is one of the easiest ways to help balance your hormones and lower inflammation. If you're vegan, omega-3 fats are also found in algae oil and (less so) in chia seeds, flax, and walnuts.
4. Get cortisol under control.
Chronically elevated cortisol could be the hormone that's sabotaging your wellness trifecta — even if you're doing everything else right. Even naturally thin people have to worry about cortisol: Researchers at Yale University, for example, found slender women who had high cortisol also had more abdominal fat.
Cortisol was my personal nemesis — limited sleep, too much coffee, stressful days at work and with the kids, and long, hard cardio threw me into a crisis.
For me, getting cortisol under control with sleep, meditation, and yoga was the biggest step I took in fixing my wellness trifecta. Surprisingly, creative outlets like writing, volunteering, and teaching also really helped me tap into those feel-good chemicals that counteract cortisol.
5. Avoid all-day caffeine.
Excessive caffeine raises your cortisol and slows down your thyroid. Plus, it aggravates acid reflux and gut disorders.
The key word here is excessive. That's not to say that you can't have a cup of coffee or tea. Plus, depending on your genetic makeup, you may be a better caffeine metabolizer than others.
But when you're aggressively trying to fix your hormones, gut, and inflammation levels, try a trial of reduced or zero caffeine. And avoid any intake after noon, when it can interfere with your circadian rhythm.
6. Take vitamin D.
Vitamin D is actually a hormone, and it plays a significant role in GI health. There are actually D receptors in our teeth, salivary glands, esophagus, and stomach. Low vitamin D levels are linked to slow stomach emptying and bile production, putting the trifecta in flux — inciting inflammation, and triggering hormone disruption.
Vitamin-D deficiency is ridiculously common. Although you can obtain D from the sun, it's often not enough, especially if you are dark-skinned. Though some foods like oily fish and fortified milk contain vitamin D, I recommend supplementing with at least 5,000 IU a day.
7. Look out for endocrine disrupters in your environment.
Endocrine disrupters, or hormone disrupters, hit the trifecta hard. Not only do they affect your hormones, but they also have adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects. This spells inflammation and gut flora imbalance.
Hormone disrupters are everywhere, unfortunately. We just know about the tip of the iceberg with regards to chemical endocrine disrupters. The comprehensive list is about 870, and we don't even know them all! But what you can do is be cognizant and educate yourself about the most harmful ones.
At the very lead, try to avoid parabens, phthalates, and bisphenol-A (BPA). Common offenders include plastics, air fresheners, dishwashing soap, laundry detergent, cleansers and cleaners, cosmetics, deodorants, toothpaste, shaving gel, and lotions. Check labels and use resources like EWG.org.
8. Ditch long cardio sessions for short interval training.
I used to be a sucker for long, slow cardio, so this one was hard for me — but it works! Long cardio sessions can actually lower your thyroid function and increase cortisol and inflammation. Contrarily, interval training increases your HGH (human growth hormone) and slows down aging.
I recommend Sprint 8, a cardio routine in which you sprint eight times, spiking your heart rate eight times. It's pretty simple: Warm up for two to three minutes on the treadmill, then increase the speed to a sprint for 30 seconds. Then, decrease the speed to a comfortable jog for 90 seconds. Do the sprints seven more times and you're done! It's quick but exhausting.
9. Add adaptogens to your life.
Adaptogenic herbs — especially maca, rhodiola, and ashwagandha — help the body adapt to stress. Adaptogens improve the entire body's resistance to stress (not just a particular organ or system) and create balance and harmony in the body, thereby reducing inflammation and balancing hormones.
Maca, high in minerals and fatty acids, is especially famed for hormone harmony. Many women notice less PMS, increased fertility, and improved skin, while men notice increased sperm production and libido and better sleep. Bonus: It tastes great in smoothies.
Ashwagandha and rhodiola improve thyroid and adrenal function, creating systemic balance and increased energy. (That's why I created a custom supplement with all of these herbs, along with vitamin D, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and phosphatidyl serine.)
10. Consider going off the Pill.
Unless absolutely necessary, I recommend weaning yourself off hormonal birth control. The synthetic hormones could hurt your thyroid function, hormones, and digestion.
Whether you're looking to balance your hormones, fix your gut, or reduce inflammation, following the above tips can be life-changing.
Dr. Amy Shah is a double board certified MD with training from Cornell, Columbia and Harvard Universities. She was named one of mindbodygreen's Top 100 Women In Wellness to Watch in 2015 and has been a guest on many national and local media shows. She helps busy people transform their health by reducing inflammation and eating more plants, utalizing the power of the microbiome to help digestion, natural hormone balance and food sensitivities. She is an expert on intermittent fasting for women and has a 2 week guided group program.