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  • Primal Eating and Female Hormones

    I had hoped to add this to a thread I'm sure I spotted about PMS but I can't find it anywhere so here is my comment anyway!

    I was over at Art's site and posed the question 'what are the effects on the female hormonal cycle of eating Paleo/Primal/EF because if our eating and exercising has such a dramatic effect on our insulin activity it must affect other hormones'. In my case I know it has affected the dopamine/seratonin pathways as I no longer suffer with bipolar so it seems to me likely that it will affect my other hormones too.

    I posted this further on in the discussion after some more research on my part ...

    "As I think this is an important aspect of EF/PB/Paleo/Cavepeople stuff (!) I've added more of what I've discovered below - I hope that's OK, it is quite lengthy. I feel there is a tendency for the whole 'caveman' experience to overlook the differences between the genders.

    I'm 44 (in April) 5' 5.5" tall and weigh just under 130 lbs. I'm probably currently around 19% bf, have been down to 16% (which is where I feel my best) during the summertime and was up in the mid 20s% when I was practically a full time endurance Iron-distance triathlete on a high carb vegetarian diet! Go figure - LOL!

    My cycles reduce down to 25 days for several months then switch back up to 28 but have always otherwise been regular. I do have a notable day or three of soreness mid-cycle (left or right side depending on which ovary is actively releasing ova I guess) which appears on occasion to trigger slight constipation (or occasionally the reverse!).

    My periods have become heavier I think over the last six months or so (I've been PB/EF eating for a year now) having appeared to have lightened when I originally switched my diet and training. At my age I'm probably also into a period of perimenopause very likely and have noticed that the two nights before my period starts I have very disturbed sleep and often wake up having drenched the bed sheets in sweat (this is new since PB but could be coincidental).

    The luteal phase is from the day after ova release and is when the site of the release on the ovary surface produces corpus luteum (hence luteal). This chemical triggers the release of mainly progesterone which raises the basal body temperature and prepares the lining of the womb for imminent implantation.

    The phase from the beginning of the period to the point of ovulation is the follicular phase and is dominated by rising oestrogen levels to the point of ova release when progesterone then becomes dominant although there is some oestrogen activity a day or two after ovulation which may cause a slight drop in temperature.

    The luteal phase is averaged at 14 days but the normal range is usually between 10 - 16 ending with the beginning of the new cycle and is fairly constant in individuals. The length of the phase prior to ovulation can alter and is particularly sensitive to stress (whether psychological or physical - so I guess here the effects of cortisol etc) so late arriving periods are actually delayed ovulation as the time from ovulation to period is usually constant.

    Given how obvious it's now becoming that we are so completely 'driven' by hormones (and I mean everyone here, not just females!) we must be affecting our systems differently now we eat and exercise in a way that so drastically alters our insulin (a hormone of course) profile.

    I'm beginning to see the system as a form of hormone super-highway with only so much traffic capacity! If it's completely jammed with insulin vehicles whizzing up and down, with the traffic cop (the brain) giving priority to insulin because the fuel supply to the brain is essential it's little wonder that so many other hormonal systems are being shunted to side streets and back alleys and getting lost!

    So back to the impact on females who of course have an extra hormone system running and competing for that space on the super-highway!

    In my researching I've come across some interesting information regarding Pre Menstrual Symptoms and the advice given to alleviate them ...

    Progesterone Deficiency is noted in PMS - progesterone is apparently associated with the relief of anxiety, headaches, sleep disruption, water retention and breast tenderness (the major PMS symptoms).

    Progesterone (a steroid hormone) - formed including ketones and oxidized cholesterol (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progesterone) and is produced in the adrenal, ovaries (corpus luteum) and by placenta and can break down to cortisol as part of the stress response.

    The fact it's synthesized using ketones makes me wonder about the affect of a more ketone orientated fuelling system which EF/PB etc certainly are especially if you go very low carbohydrate.

    Could females benefit perhaps from less focus on ketone fuelling (ie slightly higher carbohydrate levels) during the luteal phase to support progesterone levels?

    I also note that yams (Dioscorea family) contain bioavailable precursors for progesterone synthesis, they are a more carby food (and hail from the areas of the world from where we originate), perhaps this could be an appropriate small addition to the diet in the luteal phase? They are also quite fiberous so may also aid the constipation effect?

    If you also consider the fact that progesterone provides a pool of hormone that can be converted to cortisol as part of the stress response perhaps it might also be worth reducing stress (perhaps through reduced physical exercise) through that luteal phase?

    Stress also depletes serontonin and dopamine which clearly have an affect on mood. The production of cortisol from progesterone produces more aldosterone which is known to contribute to water retention and hence swollen breast.

    There is also a suggestion that oestrogen can become dominant (through birth control and medications) and when this is raised during the luteal phase it may cause irritability and aggression and other physcial PMS symptoms. Of course soy products are thought to cause oestrogen rises in both genders.

    The dietary advice that is given ... "reduce excess sugar, salt, unhealthy fats, caffeine, or alcohol and increase protein, healthy fats, fiber and complex carbohydrates as an improper diet results in hormonal imbalance, inflammation, weight gain and nutrient deficiencies that may cause PMS".

    So everything I've found so far in terms of dealing with PMS points to PB as being a good way of keeping the hormone system running smoothly! No surprise there. But I think the take away point may well be that for those females who do notice differences through their cycle it is well worth considering adapting your eating and exercising routines through your cycle.

    I've just had the least good 4 week spell (it's relative of course I still feel 1,000% better than pre-PB - but you do find yourself striving for better once you know what it feels like) and when I look at my training records it's coincided with a two week period of increasing physical activity during my luteal phase so perhaps the increase has prompted some progesterone imbalance due to more cortisol demands? An interesting hypothesis I shall now away to test.

    Of course it's also been the dead of winter here at 57 north so chances are there may also be an element of vitamin D deficiency going on ... just so many potential confounds but all the more reason to think these issues through from all angles."
    Seeking the natural way in a modern world ...

  • #2
    Awesome information. This is exactly what I've been dealing with and I appreciate you sharing all of this. I have an appointment with a gyn in a couple of weeks. Really would like to find a way around this that doesn't involve an IUD or creams. Eager to see what you come up with regards to this issue.
    Melissa Fritcher - 330/252/150
    http://lessofmimi.wordpress.com
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    • #3
      This is good info. We have a daughter who lives on bread and fast food and she has downright scary PMS. I wish I could influence her eating decisions but husband and I are "the enemy" right now and she's not open to discussion.

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      • #4
        wow....as someone working to gaining back her fertility, i better find me some yams right???
        Get on my Level
        http://malpaz.wordpress.com/

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        • #5
          Originally posted by MalPaz View Post
          wow....as someone working to gaining back her fertility, i better find me some yams right???
          Yams won't do it---our bodies can't extract the Diosgenin from the yams. Best to take an over-the-counter bio-identical Progesterone cream like Pro-gest. I've been using it for over a year, pre-Primal. 48, clockwork-regular periods, no perimenopausal symptoms anymore! Have stopped taking it since going Primal to see how my cycle balances out naturally.

          Will respond more as I have time--have lots of Progesterone/Estrogen dominance links and info to share!

          Thanks for starting the discussion, Kelda.
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          • #6
            I am doing a bit of experimenting with this....jury is still out, but I have seen improvement. Your thoughts are intriguing and line up to what I was considering in a lot of ways.

            Long time ago my monthlies were horrible, long cycles, major pain and side effects (along with a laundry list of other medical issues)

            Low carb then primal for several years = better cycles, but still not great but at least I can survive each cycle

            Back in the summer I was working out a lot more, being consistently primal had me bouncing off the walls with energy (crossfit 2-3 days a week, hiking 2 plus days, trail running, etc), lots of IF'ing, so on. I have never worked out to that level.

            I started to fall apart....gained weight (not muscle), my cycles crashed, I was having all sorts of crazy pains and side effects mid cycle, and I started to get days of major lethargy (been years since I had that issue). I had my thyroid checked (normal), had an ultrasound...no issues.

            I think I stressed out my adrenals which messed with my hormones big time...my guess anyways.

            I slowed down, reduced and then eliminated crossfit (sad face), went to just walks and staying moving instead of trail running or 6 mile hikes, I stopped fasting, and in general I tried to keep my carbs low but not super low.

            Fast forward four plus months later, and I am doing TONS better. All the mid month issues have disappeared, and my cycles are getting shorter which they needed to. Lost weight and have actually toned up a bit....while working out a fraction of what I was before.

            So I am currently going with adrenal stress as the cause at this point, and I am going to keep up what I am doing now. I also dropped dairy on Jan 1 to test if that helps as well. We are in the early stages of trying to start a family, so hopefully this improvement bodes well for the future
            Erin
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            • #7
              Here's one excerpt from an article (for Mal):

              Progesterone and Amenorrhea

              Often the cause of amenorrhea is that the ovaries do not release eggs (ovulate). Your ovaries may be releasing the hormone estrogen but not producing progesterone, a hormone necessary for periods to occur. In this case, the usual treatment is physiologic doses of progesterone cream of between 20-30 mgs progesterone per day from day 12 to day 26 to mimic what the body would produce naturally.

              Continued exposure to estrogen without the presence of progesterone the last two weeks of our menstrual cycle to ‘trigger’ a shedding of the uterine lining, places us at risk.

              In more advanced cases [of PCOS], high doses of progesterone may be required. Your GP may prescribe a high dose progesterone cream (10% ~ 100mg per 1 gram application) to ‘kick start’ your period. Your physician, in raising your progesterone levels as quickly as possible with a relatively high dose, is in fact using progesterone’s natural anti-estrogen properties to protect you.

              To prevent amenorrhea from recurring, examine your lifestyle. Make changes in your diet or activities to maintain your ideal weight, consider herbal support like Vitex (chaste tree), Dong Quai, Maca and/or Tribulus; incorporate vitamin & mineral supplements; avoid cigarette smoking, excessive use of alcohol and mood-altering stimulants or sedative drugs; try to resolve areas of emotional stress and conflict in your life; be moderate in all your activities; try to balance your work, recreation, and rest; and above all maintain a positive outlook.

              Given that amenorrhea may also result from potentially serious disorders of the ovaries, the hypothalamus, or the pituitary gland, I strongly suggest you seek out a competent healthcare professional to evaluate your menstrual cycles in relation to your hormone levels, and guide you back to optimal health.
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              • #8
                Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance
                from:
                http://www.johnleemd.com/store/estrogen_dom.html
                * Acceleration of the aging process
                * Allergies, including asthma, hives, rashes, sinus congestion
                * Autoimmune disorders such as lupus erythematosis and thyroiditis, and possibly Sjoegren's disease
                * Breast cancer
                * Breast tenderness
                * Cervical dysplasia
                * Cold hands and feet as a symptom of thyroid dysfunction
                * Copper excess
                * Decreased sex drive
                * Depression with anxiety or agitation
                * Dry eyes
                * Early onset of menstruation
                * Endometrial (uterine) cancer
                * Fat gain, especially around the abdomen, hips and thighs
                * Fatigue
                * Fibrocystic breasts
                * Foggy thinking
                * Gallbladder disease
                * Hair Loss
                * Headaches
                * Hypoglycemia
                * Increased blood clotting (increasing risk of strokes)
                * Infertility
                * Irregular menstrual periods
                * Irritability
                * Insomnia
                * Magnesium deficiency
                * Memory loss
                * Mood swings
                * Osteoporosis
                * Polycystic ovaries
                * Premenopausal bone loss
                * PMS
                * Prostate cancer (men only)
                * Sluggish metabolism
                * Thyroid dysfunction mimicking hypothyroidism
                * Uterine cancer
                * Uterine fibroids
                * Water retention, bloating
                * Zinc deficiency
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                • #9
                  Could females benefit perhaps from less focus on ketone fuelling (ie slightly higher carbohydrate levels) during the luteal phase to support progesterone levels?
                  In a word, yes--and I think we do this instinctually.

                  I have noticed that many women crave carbs premenstrually, right when their progesterone levels drop if there is no implantation of an fertilized egg.
                  Many of my pregnant clients feel the need to eat a lot of carbs in their first trimester, prior to the placenta ramping up to full progesterone production.
                  While eating vlc this cycle, I tracked my carbs and noticed almost a bell-shaped curve of increasing carbs beginning 2 days prior to my period, dropping 2 days after it started.
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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Dragonfly View Post
                    Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance
                    from:
                    http://www.johnleemd.com/store/estrogen_dom.html
                    * Acceleration of the aging process
                    * Allergies, including asthma, hives, rashes, sinus congestion
                    * Autoimmune disorders such as lupus erythematosis and thyroiditis, and possibly Sjoegren's disease +
                    * Breast cancer
                    * Breast tenderness
                    * Cervical dysplasia
                    * Cold hands and feet as a symptom of thyroid dysfunction +
                    * Copper excess
                    * Decreased sex drive +
                    * Depression with anxiety or agitation
                    * Dry eyes +
                    * Early onset of menstruation
                    * Endometrial (uterine) cancer
                    * Fat gain, especially around the abdomen, hips and thighs +
                    * Fatigue +
                    * Fibrocystic breasts
                    * Foggy thinking +
                    * Gallbladder disease +
                    * Hair Loss +
                    * Headaches
                    * Hypoglycemia
                    * Increased blood clotting (increasing risk of strokes)
                    * Infertility
                    * Irregular menstrual periods
                    * Irritability +
                    * Insomnia +
                    * Magnesium deficiency
                    * Memory loss +
                    * Mood swings
                    * Osteoporosis + (osteopenia)
                    * Polycystic ovaries
                    * Premenopausal bone loss
                    * PMS +
                    * Prostate cancer (men only)
                    * Sluggish metabolism +
                    * Thyroid dysfunction mimicking hypothyroidism +
                    * Uterine cancer
                    * Uterine fibroids
                    * Water retention, bloating
                    * Zinc deficiency
                    Dragonfly, I had all symptoms marked with a (+). However, testing showed undetectable levels of estradiol and normal levels of progesterone.

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                    • #11
                      I'm glad it's ringing bells, I'll come back later today to try and add some more information that I've been trawling through.

                      I definitely feel there is a place for an adapted 'Primal for Girls' given all I'm reading!
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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Meadow View Post
                        I am doing a bit of experimenting with this....jury is still out, but I have seen improvement. Your thoughts are intriguing and line up to what I was considering in a lot of ways.

                        Long time ago my monthlies were horrible, long cycles, major pain and side effects (along with a laundry list of other medical issues)

                        Low carb then primal for several years = better cycles, but still not great but at least I can survive each cycle

                        Back in the summer I was working out a lot more, being consistently primal had me bouncing off the walls with energy (crossfit 2-3 days a week, hiking 2 plus days, trail running, etc), lots of IF'ing, so on. I have never worked out to that level.

                        I started to fall apart....gained weight (not muscle), my cycles crashed, I was having all sorts of crazy pains and side effects mid cycle, and I started to get days of major lethargy (been years since I had that issue). I had my thyroid checked (normal), had an ultrasound...no issues.

                        I think I stressed out my adrenals which messed with my hormones big time...my guess anyways.

                        I slowed down, reduced and then eliminated crossfit (sad face), went to just walks and staying moving instead of trail running or 6 mile hikes, I stopped fasting, and in general I tried to keep my carbs low but not super low.

                        Fast forward four plus months later, and I am doing TONS better. All the mid month issues have disappeared, and my cycles are getting shorter which they needed to. Lost weight and have actually toned up a bit....while working out a fraction of what I was before.

                        So I am currently going with adrenal stress as the cause at this point, and I am going to keep up what I am doing now. I also dropped dairy on Jan 1 to test if that helps as well. We are in the early stages of trying to start a family, so hopefully this improvement bodes well for the future
                        This is what I think I'm currently dealing with as well - cycle disruption (ie disappearance) due to andreal fatigue. I don't have any hormonal issues indicating a problem like PCOS or anything. But I was in a really bad cycle of under eating and over exercising (chronic cardio AND heavy lifting on low low calories), lots of caffeine, Ephedrine HCL use, fasting, low fat and low carbing(green veggies only). Even though I wasn't super lean (19% BF), the abuse to my body took it's toll. I've stopped exercising and gained weight. I'm back up at the weight I was prior to losing my cycle. I've given up caffeine almost completely (I still have 1 cup a day) and I'm getting good quality sleep (for the first time in what feels like forever).

                        Up until this week I was still fasting, but after reading Mal's comment(THANK YOU!) about fasting not being a good idea for anyone with "issues" I did some digging and found that fasting really isn't great for people with potential adrenal issues. So I've given up fasting and I'm hoping that with time my cycle will return. It's been absent for 2 years...

                        ETA: Also, for the first time in 2 years, my body fat distribution has changed. I went from being a pear, to a ruler, to an apple and now, after 2 months of mostly primal eating am back to being a pear. I used to curse my pear figure and for the first time I am loving my "saddle bags" and booty because to me they are a sign of a healthier hormonal profile.
                        Last edited by NDF; 01-27-2011, 05:52 AM.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by marcadav View Post
                          Dragonfly, I had all symptoms marked with a (+). However, testing showed undetectable levels of estradiol and normal levels of progesterone.
                          Did you do saliva testing?

                          Of course many of these symptoms can and do have other causes.
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                          • #14
                            Some of what follows I've posted on the menopause thread as well.

                            I've been delving further into the endocrinology side of things (totally fascinating but it does rather eat hours and hours or your day!).

                            A lot of the hormones involved seem to be affected by stress. Stress of course can be deliberately employed as in physcial training or of course environmental/social/psychological but the body just perceives 'stress' and acts accordingly with cortisol etc, etc. Progesterone as already mentioned breaks down to cortisol via aldosterone which is associated with water retention and this whole 'stress response' cascade lowers levels of dopamine and dopamine is the hormone which regulates prolactin levels ... this is what I've found about prolactin ...

                            "Excess Prolactin Some women with PMS have abnormally elevated amounts of prolactin. Prolactin, a hormone naturally produced when we breast-feed, also increases with stress (stress depletes dopamine and dopamine keeps prolactin in check) or with a prolactin-secreting tumor. High prolactin causes infertility, menstrual abnormalities and PMS symptoms including breast tenderness and swelling, anxiety and irritability."
                            In fact from all I can ascertain without dopamine you get higher and higher levels of prolactin.

                            This all makes sense at an evolutionary level because the body will respond to stress signals as a priority down rating other bodily functions in order to deal with imminent danger. It's fascinating that cortisol can be manufacturered from another hormone which is clearly subsidary in the heirarchy of necessities. After all maintaining an 'ideal' environment for pregnancy is hardly necessary if you've just been consumed by a predator for lack of cortisol to initiate the flight response cascade.

                            Equally we must have brain function before all else so where the fuel supply in low carb eaters includes mainly ketones one assumes the brain has priority over those for fuel rather than for synthesis of other 'non-essential' functions, including progesterone production.
                            We know the brain will use glucose if it is available as a preferred fuel source so as I inferred originally by providing the system with a little more glucose during the luteal phase when we need a good supply of progesterone, which is built with ketones and cholesterol, seems to make logcial sense.

                            As an aside I find it interesting to note that progesterone is essential for successful conception and maintenance of a pregnancy and cholesterol is required for its synthesis. Very low body fat and obese females often have trouble conceiving. In both instances there are serious fat issues (not enough, or completely locked down due to insulin resistance) so I presume it would mean progresterone production was disrupted and without it fertility issues raise their head.

                            My take here would be we are living a lifestyle which is deliberately reducing stress through eating and moving appropriately and reducing outside stresses where possible. I also think there is a great sense of well being (and that is anti-stress in itself) about living Primal. If all the factors lower stress it is reasonable to assume they increase dopamine and therefore control prolactin which appears to be associated with a number of PMS symptoms (and menopausal are similar especially via lowered progesterone which when depleted is associated with PMS and is lowered by stress).

                            Another fascinating hypothesis I came across is one that states that we (as a species) moved to higher dopamine function as a result of higher meat eating - what does Primal promote - more meat eating - so it would appear to fit quite nicely that we are actually eating in accordance with an evolved higher dopamine system. Might explain why I functioned very poorly as a vegetarian and spent much time in mania (bipolar disorder). Actually jesting aside I've been reading some cutting edge research about the effect on dopamine/seratonin in relation to the Insulin pathway both being up and down regulated inappropriately where the insulin pathway is overstressed (ie with high carb load eating and insulin resistance). Both dopamine and seratonin are highly associative with mood disorders and mood is most certainly associated with PMS and Menopause. I was getting a double whammy in both directions eating a high carb athlete vegetarian diet!

                            All in all I'd say we are happier bunnies being Primal :-) but we may need to tweak through our cycles.

                            Looking at my last four weeks I spent a week around mid cycle playing with fasted training (my overall food consumption was the same but I trained fasted often not eating till after lunch) and upped my trainning volumes the following week, it worked well for the training side of things but may be doing this during my luteal phase created too much of stress load and competed with the progesterone because I had more PMS than usual. I also found I was eating much more during the following week and was more tired than usual.

                            This week I've taken pretty much off training because I haven't felt motivated to do any and feel I need some recovery time and I bled quite heavily with some cramping so time to have a rethink on the training and eating!

                            So, in summary I think generally speaking the improvements that seem to occur through Primal eating in terms of PMS and menopausal symptoms is wholy consistant with the effect of lowered stress and a system running as evolved with much lower insulin requirements allowing for normal levels of dopamine and other hormones but there is a fine line for some in terms of the amount of carbohydrate (glucose) during the luteal phase combined with the amount of deliberate stressing through exercise we are applying.

                            Fascinating stuff. I shall see how the next cycle goes and it's been a timely reminder that less is more with training. When I actually look at what I did in the last block I have crept back into the chronic training zone (not chronic cardio) but more than my body can deal with successfully I think. And my sleep has suffered! The last few nights I've slept a lot better :-)

                            A work in progress!
                            Seeking the natural way in a modern world ...

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Shelli View Post
                              This is good info. We have a daughter who lives on bread and fast food and she has downright scary PMS. I wish I could influence her eating decisions but husband and I are "the enemy" right now and she's not open to discussion.
                              Yes, I have a friend in the same boat as you Shelli, scary PMS and scary amounts of high carb food (typical 18 year old vegetarian knows everthing!). Equally problematic relationship with her mother making it impossible to relate sensibly.

                              My experience (also mother of a nearly 19 year old daughter who jumped ship from the family home July 09 with no warning quitting school and disappeared) - don't push it.

                              Just understand why it is happening. I now know from all my research that a high carb diet was responsible for my bipolar, particularly my mania and disordered thinking. I know this is the problem with my friend's daughter but it is rather a catch 22 position because until you can get the diet sorted you won't have a person who is rational to speak with but you won't get the nutrition right until you can speak to her rationally!

                              Short of a lock-down over several days and only feeding her what you know to be good for her there is little you can do.

                              Sorry, this probably isn't very helpful other than to know you are not alone!

                              My daughter, when I finally tracked her down (she'd travelled 600 miles to be with a lad she'd met over the internet) has actually had to cope with the reality of earning and living and keeping a roof over your head and that has certainly knocked some sense into her! However, she was relying on a poor high carb diet and gained 11 kgs since leaving here. November 10 we made better contact again and she asked about Primal (I'd sent her the book earlier in the year), she wanted help in how to stay on track - I gave her as much info as I could and suggested ways to stay motivated (this was all by email and text - we hardly ever actually speak alas!). Anyway she text this week and is now 10 kg lighter, still Primal, has lost the depression, is feeling happy and positive, chucked out the no good boyfriend and has held down her full time job throughout the adjustment. There is hope!

                              She is still working well below her ability, but we rejoice, she's working, she's paying her way and she's well again.

                              Sometimes time is all you can give the situation, that and good information.
                              Seeking the natural way in a modern world ...

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