Category Archives for Adrenal Fatigue

Your Guide to Non-Hormonal Birth Control Part 1: The Copper IUD

 

In last week’s blog post, I talked about the downside of hormonal birth control, specifically the pill. While the pill provides awesome sexual freedom, it does not come without its consequences and side effects. Finding a good form of non-hormonal birth control can be challenging. And sometimes it feel like there are tons of options out there. One form of non-hormonal contraception that has been gaining a lot of popularity these days is the copper IUD.

 

What is the Copper IUD?

 

The Copper IUD is an intrauterine device that is inserted by a doctor into the uterus. A copper wire is wound around the stem of the t-shaped device. The device can stay in place for up to 10 years and has an effectiveness of 99.8%.

 

How Does the Copper IUD work?

 

The copper that is woven into the device interferes with sperm movement and prevents the sperm from fertilizing copper IUDthe egg. The IUD increases the amount of copper ions, prostaglandins and white blood cells in the uterus which interferes with fertilization. If fertilization cannot happen then pregnancy cannot happen.

 

The copper also affects the transport of the egg out of the Fallopian tube and the copper that leaches out of the IUD makes the uterus less suitable for implantation and pregnancy.

 

The IUD does not protect against sexually transmitted infections.

 

What are the Contraindications?

 

The following are a list of contraindications for the use of any IUD:

  • Uterus distortion
  • Active pelvic infection
  • Known or suspected pregnancy
  • Wilson’s disease or copper allergy
  • Undiagnosed abnormal uterine bleeding
  • Current or previous breast cancer
  • Dysmenorrhea or menorrhagia (for copper IUD only)
  • Have a bleeding disorder or take blood thinners
  • Have had a STD

 

 

The Positives of the Copper IUD

 

  • Once inserted nothing needs to be done except a monthly self-check to make sure that the strings are in place and that the device has not shifted.
  • It is 99.8% effective against pregnancy. Less than 1 in 100 women a year get pregnant using the copper IUD.
  • You can take it out whenever you want by just visiting your doctor.

 

The Negatives of the Copper IUD

 

  • Ovarian Cysts. There is some evidence that suggest the copper IUD may increase your risk of developing ovarian cysts.
  • Heavier & More Painful Period The increase in prostaglandins (which are pro-inflammatory) can dramatically increase inflammation during menstruation. This means that a women may experience increased menstrual cramping and heavier bleeding during her period. This is one of the main reasons women decide to remove their IUD. It can cause a lot of discomfort. But for many women this subsides after 3-6 months with the IUD.
  • In some cases the copper IUD can spontaneously expel itself from the uterus. Expulsion rates vary from 2.2 – 11.4 % depending on how long she has had the device in her body.

 

  • Irregular bleeding can occur as well as spotting between periods. This occurs more frequently during the first 3-6 months and less frequently thereafter.

 

  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. This is a bacterial infection that may lead to infertility, chronic pelvic pain and ectopic pregnancy. The good news is that the risk is small and only exists within the first 21 days of insertion. The risk is likely related to the presence of pre-existing gonorrhea and chlamydia at the time of insertion.

 

  • In rare cases, the IUD can move through the wall of the uterus and damage other internal organs. Sometimes surgery is needed to remove it. The risk is very low, about 1 in 1000 insertions, and is usually related to the skill of the doctor performing it.

 

  • Although pregnancy is rare on the copper IUD, if it does occur, the risk of ectopic pregnancy is high. This occurs when the embryo implants somewhere other than the uterus, such as the fallopian tubes. In the case of an ectopic pregnancy, the embryo has little chance of surviving.

 

The Copper IUD and Copper Toxicity

 

This is one aspect of the copper IUD that is not often discussed among the medical community. As a nutrition practitioner who has run many Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis’ on women using this form of contraception, I have seen excessively high copper levels in many women using the copper IUD.

 

The copper IUD may not cause copper toxicity in itself but if you are also exposed to copper from other sources then it can build up and cause an excess in your system. Other sources that can contribute to copper toxicity include: public swimming pools. copper pipes, copper cookware, inorganic mineral supplements, dental crowns, beer and a vegan/vegetarian diet that is high in copper containing foods.

 

If your liver is congested or struggling to deal with other toxins, it may be inefficient at removing excess copper from the body. This can lead to a buildup of copper.

 

While copper is needed in certain amounts it can cause negative symptoms if it builds up.

 

 

Symptoms of Copper Toxicity Include:

 

  • Feelings of doom
  • Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Headaches
  • Moodiness
  • Cold hands and/or feet
  • Bone and joint disturbance
  • Anemia
  • Neurologic impairment

 

Another way that too much copper can affect the body has to do with zinc. Zinc and copper compete for absorption in the body. Too much zinc can drive copper down and too much copper can cause zinc deficiency. Zinc is a crucial nutrient needed for immune system function, cell division, cell growth and the healing of wounds. Zinc deficiency can cause weak immunity, diarrhea, acne, leaky gut and thinning hair. Excess copper can also lower iron levels, increase vitamin A levels, aggregate B vitamin metabolism and increase estrogen levels. High estrogen levels can also cause the body to retain copper.

 

How to Prevent Copper Excess

 

  • Improve Liver Clearance. Give your liver some love so that it can better deal with excess copper in the body. Eat liver friendly foods like asparagus, watercress, turmeric, grapefruit and dandelion. You may also want to take a liver support supplement like milk thistle.

 

  • Increase your Consumption of Zinc. Foods that are high in zinc include grass-fed beef, pumpkin seeds, shellfish, lamb and cashews. You might also want to consider a high quality zinc supplement, especially when digestion is an issue. Choose a chelated form for best absorption like zinc gluconate.

 

  • Reduce your Exposure to environmental copper like copper pipes, cookware, swimming pools and high copper foods.

 

  • Reconsider your Vegan Diet. Meat products are full of zinc and little copper and plant foods, especially soy, beans and legumes, are full of copper and little zinc. While using the copper IUD it may be a good idea to include more animal products in your diet and cut down on high copper containing foods.

 

  • Get your Mineral Levels Checked. After 3-6 months on the copper IUD, I recommend running a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis to detect early build-up of copper.

 

  • Get your Hormones Checked. If your estrogen is too high, then there is a high possibility that your body is retaining copper rather than eliminating it. You may also want to see if the copper is driving up your estrogen and causing estrogen dominance.

 

  • Improve Stress Levels. Chronic stress uses up the body’s zinc stores quickly. By improving your stress levels you can increase your zinc and reduce copper toxicity issues.

 

Final Thoughts

 

While the risks are small with the copper IUD, these are still risks that need to be considered. The chances are you will have a relatively good experience with this form of contraception. But the bottom line is that any small changes to your delicate hormone balance can cause symptoms.

 

The important thing is to be aware of any new symptoms that pop up. While many doctors will tell you there are no emotional symptoms involved (since the copper IUD does not emit hormones), this is not true. There are many stories of women who experience feelings of doom, depression and moodiness while using the copper IUD.

 

If you do decide to use the copper IUD, take steps to improve your nutrition, prevent copper toxicity and improve your zinc status.

 

And more importantly, make an informed decision and decide whether the risks are worth the benefits. And if you have any experiences using the copper IUD, please feel free to share them below!

The Downside of Hormonal Birth Control

 

Oral contraceptive (OC) pills have become one of the main forms of birth control being used today. According to a National Canadian Contraception survey, 66.6% of women aged 15-19, 58.3% of women aged 20-29, 31.5 % of women aged 30-40 and 17.1% of women over 40 are using oral contraceptives to prevent pregnancy.

 

In the United States, 12 million women are using the pill as their main form of pregnancy prevention.

 

While OC can be an excellent way to prevent becoming pregnant (up to 99.9% effective when used correctly), many women are using the pill for other reasons than preventing pregnancy.

 

According to a 2011 study by the Guttmacher Institute, based on US government data from the National Survey of Family Growth, 58% of women using the pill are using it for reasons other than birth control.

 

  • 31% use it to reduce menstrual cramps
  • 28% use it to prevent migraines and other painful side effects of menstruation
  • 14% use it to treat acne
  • 4% use it to treat endometriosis

 

 

The problem is that OC does not actually cure any of these problems. The pill simply manipulates hormone levels so that the user no longer experiences the symptom. This means the root cause of the hormonal issue continues despite oral contraceptive use.

 

So while you go about your life, symptom free, your underlying issue continues and gets worse without your knowledge.

 

The majority of women do not want to be on the pill long term. Most women, at some point, decide to become pregnant and go off the pill. Many women will find that it’s not as easy as they thought to become pregnant. This is because the hormonal issues they originally attempted to “cure” by using the pill, have now been going on for a long time (maybe over a decade or more for some women) and have never been addressed.

 

The longer these problem has been going on for, the more difficult it is to deal with. Unfortunately, many women who go off OC in their 30’s hoping to become pregnant find themselves struggling to conceive against the ticking internal clock.

 

How Does the Pill Work?

 

A women’s cycle is ruled by the falling and rising of progesterone and estrogen. The first day of your period is day one of your cycle. This is called the Follicular Phase. It lasts until ovulation starts. The length of this phase will be different for every women. In a 28 day cycle, this will last from day 1-14.

 

The menstrual cycle is characterized by the shedding of the uterine wall. It’s usually lasts 3-7 days. During this phase, the pituitary gland secretes the Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) which causes the follicle to ripen an egg. Estrogen is at its highest during this time.

 

At ovulation, the egg is released. As the level of estrogen rises in the body, it will eventually cause the release of the Luteinizing Hormone (LH). LH causes the follicle to rupture and releases the egg down the Fallopian tube.

 

This is the time in a women’s cycle when she is able to become pregnant. She will be fertile the first day of ovulation and for 24 hours afterwards. Keep in mind that sperm can survive for up 4-6 days in a woman’s body which means that she is fertile on the first day of ovulation and for those 4-6 days before hand.

 

The egg eventually becomes the corpus luteum which results in a huge release of progesterone. The progesterone maintains the lining of the uterus and prepares for implantation. This phase is call the Luteal phase. Estrogen and progesterone are strongest at this time.

 

If fertilization does not occur than the corpus luteum degrades and breaks down. Progesterone and estrogen begin to decrease. Decreasing hormone levels mean that the lining of the uterus cannot be maintained. When the two hormones are at their lowest, the lining begins to shed which marks the beginning of a women’s period.

 

When a women takes OC, estrogen and/or progesterone levels are kept high which “tricks” her body into thinking she’s pregnant. This mean that pregnancy cannot occur because ovulation will not occur.

 

Some pills work differently. Some pills prevent ovulation all together while others prevent implantation of the egg into the uterine wall or make the cervical mucus so thick that a sperm cannot make it through.

 

What are the Risks of Taking Oral Contraceptives Long Term?

 

The problem is that the pill has many side effects that are not discussed with women upon prescription. I can attest to this. I began taking the pill when I was 16 years old. I was not having sex at that point. But I was thinking about it and my doctor encouraged me to go on it “just in case.”

The result was me taking OC for a year and a half for absolutely no reason. I had no idea that what I was doing was affecting my health. Other than an increased risk of clots, no other risk was discussed with me.

Taking the pill for contraception is an individual choice. But I believe that in order to make an well informed choice, a woman needs to have all the proper information in their hands.

Here is a list of side effects your doctor may not have told you about.

 

1. Nutrition deficiencies

 

In order for the liver to metabolize birth control pills properly, it needs extra amounts of nutrients including B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc.With this increased need, a women is susceptible to becoming deficient in these important nutrients. Nutritional deficiencies can lead to weight gain, fluid retention, mood changes, depression and heart disease.

 

This  study showed the decrease in 6 nutrients including riboflavin, pyridoxine, folacin, vitamin B12, ascorbic acid and zinc, in women who were using oral contraception. B-vitamins, for example are critical for every energy reaction in your body. A deficiency in B vitamins can cause a wide range of issues including anemia, chronic fatigue, acne, depression and fatigue

 

Zinc, on the other hand, controls many of the reactions of the immune system. This means that a zinc deficiency can cause immune system dysfunction leading to excess inflammation.

 

Magnesium is important for over 300 different enzymatic reactions in the body. For example, magnesium is a precursor for your happy hormone, serotonin. It also aids in the digestion of fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Without enough magnesium you are susceptible to depression, insomnia, anxiety and panic attacks.

 

2. Yeast Overgrowth

 

As humans, we have 10 times as many bacterial cells in our body than we do actual human cells. Cutting edge research has found that the microflora in our body is important not only for digestion but for brain health, immune health and hormone balance.

 

The pill devastates gut microflora. Studies have shown that women who take long term OC have altered gut flora. According to digestive health expert Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, “The effect of contraceptive pills on the composition of bacteria in the gut is devastating.  The longer the lady is on the contraceptive pill, the deeper will be the damage on her gut flora.”

 

Candida Albicans is a yeast that naturally lives in your large intestine. When a woman’s body is healthy, her gut flora colonies keep this opportunistic yeast in check. Once gut flora is impacted by OC, Candida, which can be aggressive if the opportunity arises, can spread from the large intestine to other places in the body.

 

According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, up to 75% of women will experience Candida overgrowth in their lifetime. Women often experience this as yeast infections. But yeast can affect the body in a number of other ways.

 

This includes: headaches, sugar cravings, weight gain, hyperactivity, chronic fatigue and digestive dysfunction. Inappropriate gut flora can also lead to bacterial and parasitic infection.

 

This study and this study link oral contraceptive use to yeast overgrowth.

 

3. Risk of Breast Cancer

 

In The Breast Cancer Prevention Program, Sam Epstein, MD, writes,

more than 20 well-controlled studies have demonstrated the clear risk of premenopausal breast cancer with the use of oral contraceptives. These estimates indicate that a young woman who uses oral contraceptives has up to ten times the risk for developing breast cancer as does a non-user, particularly if she uses the Pill during her teens or early twenties; if she uses the Pill for two years or more; if she uses the Pill before her first full-term pregnancy; if she has a family history of breast cancer.”

The World Health Organization has been classifying oral contraceptives as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1) since 2005.

 

4. Poor Mate Selection

 

Human and animal studies have shown that a group of genes called the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) can influence odor. In general, females prefer the odor of mates with a dissimilar MHC. This means that naturally, we are meant to be attracted to men that are the least genetically similar to us.

 

Obviously this is a positive advantage on an evolutionary standpoint. When we choose partners that are the least genetically similar to us, we increase the likelihood or creating healthy, strong offspring.

 

A study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, however, suggests that women on the pill tend to prefer mates who are more genetically similar to them. Basically the pill makes women choose mates who are more like a brother than a partner.

 

There are many stories of women who choose a partner while taking OC, get married and then go off OC to become pregnant. Suddenly they find themselves no longer attracted to their husbands.

 

5. Shrinking Clitoris & Low Sex Drive

 

The vagina is a hormone dependent organ – meaning it needs adequate amounts of hormones to function and grow. Studies have shown that taking the pill for just 2 years has the ability to shrink the size of your clitoris. According to women’s health expert, Dr. Sara Gottfried, taking the pill can shrink your clitoris up to 20%. Um whaaaaat?

 

Since taking the pill will decrease your free testosterone, which controls sexual function in women, taking the pill can not only result in a shrunken clitoris but has the ability to completely squash your sex drive as well.

 

Many women take oral contraceptives so they can have sex more freely, but after a couple of years of being on the pill, they may have little desire to have sex anymore.

 

Final Thoughts

 

Taking the pill is not a decision to be taken lightly. It should take some serious thought that involves weighing the pros against the cons. Unfortunately, some doctors readily prescribe the pill to teenage girls, who have little ability make informed decisions.

 

The pill can be a wonderful thing that allows women to have sex without the fear of becoming pregnant. But truth be told, the freedom of the pill does not come without consequences. I believe that women should know what they are getting themselves into.

 

Should You Take the Pill?

 

This is something you will have to decide for yourself. While providing sexual freedom, it does not come without its side effects. And these side effects may have far reaching consequences that can seriously affect your life in the future.

 

Something to important to remember is that the pill will not fix your hormonal issues. So if you are considering taking OC to reduce nasty symptoms, understand that you are likely only making your symptoms worse in the long term.

 

If you do decide to take oral contraceptives, take steps to reduce some of the side effects. Supplement with magnesium, zinc, B vitamins and Vitamin C. Take a high quality probiotic, digestive enzymes and increase your consumption of homemade fermented foods.

 

And if you are considering getting married to your partner while taking OC, go off it for a while to make sure you are making a good choice.

Why Hormone Imbalance is Not Normal

Girl in painFor as long as I can remember I have had menstrual cramps. Periods were always incredibly painful. I had to miss school and work on a regular basis. And I always had to load up on Tylenol and Ibuprofen.

 

I thought that was just the way it was. All the girls around me were also struggling with menstrual cramps or other PMS symptoms like mood swings, bloating and cravings. As far as I could tell, it was normal and there wasn’t much to be done about it.

 

My cramps were so bad that I asked my doctor about it. She put me on birth control pills. This didn’t help with the cramps but it helped me feel “normal” since all my friends were on birth control pills too.

 

Many women would agree with me, that PMS is normal, and there isn’t much to be done about it.

 

This is wrong.

 

Just because something is common, does not mean that it is normal. Hormones are meant to be balanced. They don’t go all crazy and out of whack on their own.

 

When you experience the symptoms of PMS or menopause, you are experiencing a hormone imbalance. And that hormone imbalance is a symptoms of some deeper malfunction in the body.

 

Let me explain.

 

It really comes down to your adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are two pyramid shaped glands that sit above each kidney. They produce your sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone). The ovaries produce sex hormones as well.

 

The adrenal glands also manufacture the stress hormones, like cortisol. Cortisol, while a stress hormone, is also needed in certain amounts every single day. It is meant to be highest in the morning and the lowest at night. Having cortisol in proper amounts is crucial to having motivation, energy and happiness.

 

When you are stressed, cortisol will be produced in increased amounts. The excess of cortisol is what allows you to react quickly in times of danger. Elevated cortisol is what gives people super human strength to survive emergency situations. Cortisol is a survival hormone.

 

So because cortisol is a survival hormone, when there is stress, cortisol always gets made first, at the expense of your other hormones.

 

That means when stress is acute or short duration, it isn’t a big deal. Once the stress is over, your adrenal glands go back to producing your much needed sex hormones. The problem is that many of us are chronically stressed. Chronic stress means stress is ongoing and this means that cortisol gets made first. Your sex hormones get put on the back burner.

 

See what I’m saying? Hormone imbalance is a generally a symptom of chronic stress.

 

Let’s talk about stress. What is stress? When we talk about stress most people default to talking about mental and emotional stress. But this is only a small piece of the puzzle. Stress can be anything that disrupts homeostasis or equilibrium in the body.

 

Stress can be a food intolerance, liver congestion, gut dysbiosis, leaky gut, inflammation, a biomechanical alignment issue or Candida overgrowth. Stress can be a lot of things and often times we don’t always know about it. The stress is hidden in the body.

 

So the key to unwinding hormone imbalance is to start removing each and every stress from the body so that the adrenal glands no longer need to constantly make cortisol.

 

The interesting thing is that women in underdeveloped and primitive societies do not suffer the way Western women do when it comes to PMS and menopause. In many primitive societies women have easy child birth, painless menstrual cycles and smooth transitions through menopause.

 

So what’s going on in the West?

 

Western women have a lot of stress, both mental and emotional and also an excess of hidden stress.

 

Poor diet and nutritional deficiencies play a large role in the development of hormone imbalance. Poor liver function can also lead to excess hormones in the blood which can bring on hormone imbalance. Additionally, we are exposed to chemicals daily which disrupt our endocrine system and mimic human estrogen.

 

We have a lot of challenges.

 

How do you know you have a hormone imbalance? Here are some of the most common symptoms:

  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Mood swings
  • Headaches
  • Acne
  • Brain fog
  • Cravings
  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia

 

Since hormones are the chemical messengers of the cells, when hormones get depleted and unbalanced, sh*t goes sideways. The cells are no longer getting the message about what to do. And this is why you can end up with so many different types of symptoms.

 

I believe that there is a lot we can do to balance our hormones. And it all starts with having the proper information.

 

5 things you can do now to improve your hormone balance

 

 1. Eat Real Food

Eating a healthy diet is truly the foundation of any healing protocol. Before you do anything, take a good look at your diet. The most important thing is to remove processed and refined foods and sugar and eat as many whole foods as possible.

 

2. Ditch Chemical Skin Care

Statistics say that women put up to 515 different chemicals on their bodies before they even leave their house in the morning. And unfortunately, many of these chemicals contain synthetic estrogens and endocrine disruptors. Switch to organic skin care products of make your own in your kitchen

 

3. Meditate

Learning how to deep breathe is critical to managing your stress. When you are overwhelmed, angry or running late you can signal to your brain that danger is near. When this happens cortisol increases and the brain shuts down digestion and detoxification, two crucial bodily functions. By breathing deeply when your stressed out, you can signal to your brain that the stress has passed. This means you can get back to those important rest and digest functions.

 

4. Eat Your Fat

Dietary fat is one of the building blocks of hormones. If you don’t enough, your body will struggle to make hormones. We have been fed a lot of lies about fat. The result is that many of us are eating low-fat diets. Don’t be afraid of healthy fat. I often recommend that my clients eat 2 tablespoons of fat with every meal. Healthy fats include coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, grass-fed butter, red palm oil, tallow and lard.

 

5. Get Enough Sleep

Sleep is so important for not only health but also for hormones. Not getting enough sleep not only affects you energy levels but generally leads to poor food choices and inactivity. Make sure to get to bed before 10:30pm each night. Implementing a no screens rule after 8:30pm can help wind your body down for sleep.