Spend time hanging around alternative health spaces, and you’ll undoubtedly come across seed cycling. This popular protocol aims “balance women’s hormones” and help with all sorts of issues related to sex hormones and the menstrual cycle. Proponents use seed cycling for everything from PMS symptoms, dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation), and irregular cycles to PCOS, infertility, ovarian cysts, and menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats.
Testimonials abound from women who credit seed cycling with changing their lives. No shortage of holistic doctors, naturopaths, dietitians, and bloggers promote it as a helpful tool, or even a miracle cure, for women. There are also plenty of skeptics.
When you think about perimenopause and menopause, you probably think of hot flashes (aka hot flushes), night sweats, trouble sleeping, perhaps weight gain. These are the most well-known symptoms, but there are many others that your doctor and your mother probably never told you about.
Research shows that most women, and even many medical professionals, don’t know how to recognize the signs of perimenopause. This is partly due to a lack of education and understanding about what perimenopause entails, but it is also because the signs and symptoms of perimenopause and menopause can be ambiguous.
Perimenopause and menopause comes with a complex web of physical, psychological, and social symptoms.
The treatment usually prescribed by doctors, hormone therapy (HT), is controversial and not appropriate for some women. I won’t get into the HT debate here—Mark did a great job covering the pros and cons recently. Suffice it to say that HT isn’t the answer for everyone, and it’s not a panacea by any means.
Whether or not they choose to go the HT route, many women desire additional support during perimenopause and beyond. For the sake of keeping this post from becoming a novella, I’m going to focus on mind-body therapies today.
From time to time, my wife Carrie pops in to answer questions from readers requesting a Primal woman’s perspective. Today, we’re updating a post she a while back regarding hot flashes and menopause. This topic continues to generate a lot of interest, so we wanted to ensure that the info here is up to date. Enjoy!
Hi, everyone! Thanks for the opportunity to offer my perspective on living Primal. I love this community and always enjoy contributing!
Every “keto for women” forum abounds with stories about menstrual cycles gone haywire in the first few months of keto. Common complaints include:
Irregular menstrual cycles
Sudden changes in menstrual cycle length, especially periods lasting much longer than normal
Keto critics love to cite these stories as evidence that keto isn’t good for women. After all, for premenopausal women, menstrual cycle activity acts as a barometer for overall health. Menstrual cycle disruptions are usually a sign that your body is under some kind of stress.
The relationship between dairy consumption, insulin, and our health can be confusing. It’s easy to see why: The most common types of dairy undeniably spike our insulin levels, and elevated insulin has been linked to dozens of diseases—most diseases, in fact. When insulin is high, your body holds onto body fat. And insulin resistance, which is when your body doesn’t respond to insulin and must release large amounts of the hormone, makes it harder to lose body fat and is the precipitating factor in a host of degenerative diseases.
So, dairy is bad, right? No. The opposite, in fact.
Insulin is an old, old hormone. Evolution has preserved its structure across hundreds of millions of years and hundreds of thousands of species. Fish, insects, reptiles, birds, and mammals all secrete insulin with fairly similar amino acid arrangements (insulin from certain species of fish has even been clinically effective in humans), so, clearly, it is a vital hormone required by life to flourish and prosper.
Serotonin is a funny one. Although the prevailing sentiment is that we want to “increase serotonin,” it’s not that simple. There’s no indication that more serotonin is necessarily better in every situation, or even generally. The link between serotonin and “happiness” or “mood” isn’t so clear-cut as the experts would have you believe, either. So while I am going to tell you how to “boost” serotonin levels because serotonin is a vital neurotransmitter, I plan on sticking to foods, supplements, and behaviors that promote physiological levels of serotonin. Boosting serotonin beyond what the body is designed for may not help you, and it may have unpleasant and unwanted effects. Is Serotonin a Mood Booster? Yes and no. For evidence, I submit two items. The first is clinical research and the second is pure anecdote, albeit personal anecdote. Everyone has heard of SSRIs, or selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors. The most common form of antidepressants, their purported mode of action is to reduce the re-absorption of serotonin by neurons which increases the circulating concentration of serotonin in the brain. They increase brain levels of serotonin so it’s able to act longer. The evidence in favor of SSRIs in treating depression is mixed. Not everyone benefits, and it often takes several months to take effect. But they do help some people. In recent years, depression studies have pitted SSRIs against another drug—tianeptine—that does the opposite: increases the absorption of serotonin by neurons and decreases the concentration of serotonin the brain. If the “serotonin=happy” hypothesis is correct, tianeptine shouldn’t improve depression. It should worsen it. But that’s not what happens. Both tianeptine, which lowers brain serotonin, and SSRIs, which increase it, have been shown to improve depression symptoms in patients with clinical depression. If anything, tianeptine might even be more effective. This doesn’t mean that serotonin has nothing to do with depression, or that it’s bad for depression. It just means that the story is a little more complicated than we thought. Now the anecdote. Back when I was doing some research for a new probiotic supplement, I tried one that had been shown to increase serotonin levels: B. infantis. This is how I do things usually. Most all my products are created to solve a problem in my own life. I figure that if something appeals to me or fixes an issue affecting me, it will help others too. So this time, I added the powder to a smoothie and down the hatch it went. About half an hour later, I got the distinct sense of what I can only describe as emotional numbness. There was just this big blank emptiness in my heart and mind. I felt robotic, except I was a robot who had memories of what it was like to feel. It was a very uncanny, unnerving feeling that I don’t ever want to feel again. Maybe the dosage was too high. Maybe I shouldn’t have been taking a probiotic strain meant for human infants (B. infantis is present in infant guts … Continue reading “12 Ways to Boost Your Serotonin”
Today we’re taking a peek under the hood and looking at some of the hormones involved in hunger and satiety, a.k.a. appetite hormones.
You might think of hunger as a gnawing feeling in your stomach and satiety as that feeling of fullness when you’ve eaten enough… or maybe too much. That’s how we experience the feelings we call hunger and satiety, true; but I’m talking today about the physiological drives to eat or stop eating that is driven by hormones.
Eating behavior is coordinated mostly in the brain by the hypothalamus, which acts as the control center for appetite. Hunger and satiety hormones deliver information from the body about how much energy you are taking in and whether you need more. The overarching goal here is energy homeostasis—balancing the energy coming in (via food) with the energy needed for the everyday functions of being alive.
When you have sufficient energy, your body is free to invest in growth, repair, and reproduction. Taking in more energy than you need can lead to excess fat storage and issues like hyperinsulinemia, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome. Energy deficits result in adaptations designed to conserve energy. In the long run, energy deficits might increase longevity, but they can also seriously undermine health and, for example, impair fertility.
Today I’m going to cover some of the key hormones that are involved in this delicate dance. This is by no means a complete list. Let me know in the comments if you have a burning desire to learn more about one of the hormones not covered here.
At this point, intermittent fasting isn’t a new concept, nor is it a difficult one. You take in all of your calories for the day within a limited window of time, and the rest of the day, you stick with water, maybe a cup of coffee, or tea in the morning if you feel so inclined. The idea is that giving your body a period of time “off” from digesting food allows your cells to heal and renew in other ways.
A Practice Born Because Calorie Restriction is Unpleasant
Intermittent fasting became popular because calorie restriction was found to contribute to healthy aging. A few mouse and worm studies seem to show that drastic reductions in food intake over a long period of time could prolong your life.
Inflammation is your body’s response to infection and injury. When something triggers an inflammatory response, the immune system kicks into gear, isolating the area, removing harmful or damaged tissue, and beginning the healing process. “Inflammation” refers to both the immune processes happening under the surface and the outward signs of an inflammatory response—symptoms like pain, swelling, or fever. Inflammation gets a bad rap in the alternative health world: “The root of all chronic illness!” This is true to some extent. Name a disease, and inflammation is involved. Crohn’s disease, major depression, heart disease, arthritis—all inflammatory. Every autoimmune disease—inflammatory, involving an inflammatory response directed at your own tissues. Even obesity is inflammatory, with fat cells literally secreting inflammatory cytokines. Yes, but the story is more complicated than that. Inflammation is, after all, a natural process developed through millions of years of evolution. It can’t be wholly negative. Just like our bodies didn’t evolve to manufacture cholesterol to give us heart disease, inflammation isn’t there to give us degenerative diseases. The popular refrain that “inflammation is bad” misses the fact that inflammation is necessary and beneficial in certain circumstances and in the right amounts. Where we run into problems is when there is too much for too long, as is so often the case. So how do you know when the line between helpful and harmful has been crossed? What Causes Inflammation? In order to understand what causes inflammation, we first need to distinguish between acute inflammation and chronic inflammation: Acute Vs. Chronic Inflammation Acute inflammation Acute inflammation is the body’s relatively brief response (lasting several days or less) to a specific injury or illness. All sorts of things can cause an acute inflammatory response, including Trauma or injury, whether serious (car accident, stabbing, broken bone) or trivial (paper cut) Infection by bacterial or viral pathogens Burn (including from the sun) Chemical irritant Allergic reaction When an injury or invasion occurs, the body launches a defense involving the vascular system (veins, arteries, capillaries), immune system, and cells local to the injury. As a result, you’ll likely experience one or more of the five signs that an acute inflammatory response is underway: heat, redness, swelling, pain, or a loss of function. Heat, redness, and swelling signal that leukocytes (white blood cells) have arrived to clean up the injury site, mop up pathogens, and oversee the inflammatory process. Pain and immobilization remind you—or force you—to proceed with caution, lest you re-injure the area. Although annoying, these symptoms are only temporary. And they’re a small price to pay. Without acute inflammatory processes, we would quickly succumb to even minor illnesses and injuries. But not all acute inflammation is the result of something harmful. Some things that cause acute inflammation are actually good for us. Sun exposure is one example. Exercise is another. Immediately after a single hard workout, inflammatory markers go up because exercise stresses the body—but in a beneficial way. The short-term damage that exercise induces allows us to be stronger, fitter, … Continue reading “The Definitive Guide to Inflammation”