Ten Keys to Optimal Women s Health

Ten Keys to Optimal Women’s Health BY Dr. Shawna Darou 10 Keys to Optimal Women’s Health Content © Dr Shawna Darou 2013, all rights reserved Tab...
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Ten Keys to Optimal Women’s Health

BY

Dr. Shawna Darou

10 Keys to Optimal Women’s Health Content © Dr Shawna Darou 2013, all rights reserved

Table of Contents Introduction

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Part 1: Be Your Own Detective: Create a health timeline . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Part 2: Tired and Wired: Stress is the most common cause of illness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Part 3: The Hormone Network: All of your hormones are interconnected . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 Part 4: Too Much or Too Little: How to strike the right balance with exercise . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 Part 5: A Gut Feeling: How food intolerances weaken your immune system . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29 Part 6: Keeping Your Gut Flora in Balance: Happy colonies; happy life . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37 Part 7: Sugar Woes: Insulin resistance and diabetes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45 Part 8: Feeding your Endocrine System: Optimal nutrition for hormonal health . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54 Part 9: Are You Toxic? How toxins affect our health . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65 Part 10: A Symptom is a Message from the Body . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77 Conclusion

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Medical disclaimer

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Resources

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TIRED AND WIRED Stress is the Most Common Cause of Illness 02:

..................................................................... When I first started practicing as a naturopathic doctor 10 years ago, I had no idea that the number one condition I would be treating would be stress. Most of my patients are women between the ages of 25 and 45, who are highly educated, health conscious working professionals. As such, most are faced with the competing demands of school, careers, and family life. I also practice in a large city (Toronto, ON), where the frantic pace of life, weather extremes, the high cost of living, commuting, and a number of other factors create additional stress. I have experienced all of these stresses myself as a student, a naturopath with a new practice and a young child, a wife, and now a parent of two juggling the demands of a thriving, specialized naturopathic practice and family life. What I have learned is that without addressing stress directly, health will not improve. The organs that help your body manage stress are called the adrenal glands. They are two small organs that sit on top of the kidneys, and they produce hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol, and DHEA. All of these hormones mobilize energy to help you to deal with stress appropriately. Conventional Western medicine tends to ignore these organs, except in cases of two serious autoimmune diseases: Cushing’s disease or syndrome (in which there are extremely high cortisol levels) and Addison’s disease (in which there are extremely low cortisol levels). Unfortunately, the conventional Western medical system does not recognize or address the countless cases of adrenal fatigue experienced by women (and men) from chronic high stress, in spite of the tremendous impact that adrenal fatigue has on health and wellness.

Approximately 85 per cent of patients, who come to see me for a variety of other issues, suffer from stress-related adrenal symptoms.

Adrenal fatigue: Tired and overwhelmed Adrenal fatigue occurs after a prolonged period of high stress, which results in underactive adrenal glands. The main complaint that patients report when they have adrenal fatigue, is tiredness.

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Other symptoms of adrenal fatigue are: ·· poor tolerance to stress, which means that everyday stresses become overwhelming ·· symptoms of low thyroid function (such as weight gain, fatigue, feeling cold, hair loss, and constipation) ·· hypoglycemia (i.e. low blood sugar between meals creating irritability, fatigue, and shakiness) ·· feeling un-rested after sufficient hours of sleep ·· feeling dizzy or lightheaded from standing up quickly ·· depression or feeling low ·· experiencing greater pre-menstrual syndrome symptoms ·· having no or low libido ·· having difficulty conceiving ·· being more susceptible to colds and infections ·· being easily affected by caffeine

Case Study: Miriam is a 45 year old patient, who has been extremely fit for most of her

adult life. She is finding lately that her body is not responding well to her workouts – she is gaining weight and losing muscle tone in spite of a consistent training schedule. Miriam has also gone through many changes at work over the past year and has been working too much overtime. She is feeling low and waking up very tired in the mornings. On top of all of this, her periods have become more difficult with intense PMS irritability, breast swelling and bloating lasting for more than a week. My first impression on meeting Miriam was that she looked exhausted. I explained to her that what she was feeling was not all in her head, and I tested her adrenal function with a saliva panel called the Adrenal Stress Index Test, which confirmed her consistently low cortisol. My approach in treating Miriam was to support her to support and repair her tired adrenal glands through nutrition, supplements and stress reduction. The good news is that after three months on her treatment plan of optimal nutrition focusing on regular protein intake, supplements for adrenal repair, more downtime booked into her week, and reduced exercise load, she is already feeling significantly better!

Adrenal overdrive: Tired and wired On the other side, chronic high stress and cortisol levels can cause adrenal overdrive. The most common symptoms of adrenal overdrive are: ·· fatigue ·· poor tolerance to stress 10

·· anxiety, depression, irritability, and mood swings ·· having difficulty falling asleep or having poor sleep quality ·· craving alcohol in the evening to unwind ·· craving high carbohydrate foods and sugar ·· gaining weight (especially around the middle abdomen) ·· skin breakouts (acne) ·· hair loss ·· high blood pressure ·· changes in menstrual period (irregularity) periods ·· experiencing greater pre-menstrual syndrome symptoms ·· having difficulty conceiving

Case Study: Julia is a recent patient, who has come for support for infertility. She is 31 years old and has been trying to conceive for more than one year now without success. She is looking for natural options to support her fertility. She does not believe that she requires invasive medical intervention like in-vitro fertilization (IVF) given her age and overall good health.

During her first visit, we discussed Julia’s high workload – she runs her own business and puts in many hours in evenings and weekends. She finds her work stressful and has trouble setting boundaries between work and home life. Julia’s history and physical complaints suggested adrenal overdrive. She had experienced recent weight gain around the central abdomen, had developed acne on her face and shoulders, had anxiety, and was having difficulty falling and staying asleep. With respect to Julia’s fertility, I found that Julia’s menstrual cycles were short (ranging between 24 and 26 days) and she had low progesterone levels (a hormone produced in the second half of the menstrual cycle, which is essential for fertility), both of which can be related to high cortisol, and can impact fertility. Testing confirmed high cortisol levels throughout the day and even the night. Julia’s treatment included the use of supplements to lower stress hormones, stopping all caffeine consumption, and discussing ways to manage stress and prioritize regular down-time. Over time, Julia’s menstrual cycle lengthened, her progesterone levels rose, and she conceived after a relaxing two-week vacation.

In many cases simply recognizing that stress is impacting your health will cause you to prioritize better self-care.

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More detective work: Adrenal fatigue or adrenal overdrive? As you can see, there is a big overlap in symptoms between underactive and overactive adrenal gland function, so it is essential to test both cortisol and DHEA levels to identify whether the adrenals are underactive or overactive and to treat stress effectively. In some cases, adrenal fatigue happens after a relatively short duration of stress, and in others the state of high cortisol can last for many years!

How can you find out? I offer four-point cortisol rhythm lab tests in my practice and online. I prefer this test, because it can help to identify whether a patient is suffering from under- or overactive adrenals, and it identifies imbalances in the normal rhythm of cortisol production.

The cortisol rhythm should look like this: • High cortisol levels in the morning • Decreased levels during the daytime • Lowest levels at night Sometimes adrenal symptoms occur when the cortisol rhythm is off (e.g. if cortisol levels are high at night, they will cause insomnia and fatigue). You can order the Adrenal Stress Index Test on my website.

Your turn: Are your symptoms stress-related? Complete the following checklist. If you circle “Yes” to three or more of these questions, you should consider testing your adrenals (cortisol levels) and prioritizing stress management. 1. Are you always tired, but your blood work for thyroid, iron and vitamin B12 are normal? This can be a sign of low or high cortisol.

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2. Have you experienced a high level of stress in the past five years, or have you been exposed to high stress in the distant past, and your health has changed since then? This includes emotional stress, family stress, job stress, and big life changes (e.g. marriage, death in the family, moving).

3. Do you have symptoms of thyroid disorder (e.g. fatigue, weight gain, feeling cold, hair loss, dry skin, constipation, or frequent colds), but your blood tests are still normal? Common symptoms of adrenal fatigue

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4. Do you wake up tired, even after sufficient hours of sleep (i.e. at least seven hours)? Signs of low or high cortisol

5. Do you feel “tired but wired”? Usually high cortisol

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6. Has your menstrual cycle changed (e.g. heavier flow, lighter flow, more frequent, less frequent, or less regular), especially if this follows a prolonged period of stress?

7. Do you have chronic pain of any type (e.g. injury, migraine, menstrual, joint, etc.)? All of which are body stresses that affect the adrenals

8. Have you had trouble getting pregnant, and doctors have called it unexplained.

9. Do you have anxiety and/ or panic attacks? Anxiety can both cause adrenal stress and be an effect of high or low cortisol.

10. Are your eyes sensitive to light? A symptom of low cortisol 11. Do you experience dizziness when you stand up quickly? A sign of low cortisol

12. Do you find that your tolerance for stress is very low, meaning that you overreact to small stresses? Can be high or low cortisol

13. Do you have weight gain around the middle of your abdomen? Caused by prolonged periods of high cortisol

14. Do you have difficulty falling or staying asleep at night? High night-time cortisol may be the cause.

15. Do you have premature menopause symptoms (before age 45), including hot flashes, night sweats, or changes in your menstrual cycle?

16. If you are past menopause, have your symptoms lasted for more than five years without relief? A common symptom of adrenal fatigue

17. Do you workout too much? Exercising the point of exhaustion, or training intensely without scheduled breaks? Over-exercising can cause high cortisol.

If you experience three or more of these symptoms regularly, and you have been exposed to high levels of stress or chronic pain or illness, you likely need support for your adrenal glands.

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Health challenge: Take charge. Get help. And rest up. Take these steps if you suspect that your adrenal gland function is underlying your current health issues: 1. Test your adrenal hormones, preferably with a four-point cortisol rhythm (most conveniently tested as a saliva panel). An optimal panel would also include DHEA levels (your adrenal reserve), as well as insulin (a hormone related to blood sugar levels, and a marker of insulin resistance). Visit www.drshawnadarou.com for more information or order the Adrenal Stress Index Test. 2. Work on lowering your stress! Find ways to push ‘pause’ in your life. For some women, this may be regular exercise, and for others it may be yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises. Try to find what works for you. It may simply be gaining perspective on your life and stress and making different choices. Your body needs regular breaks and rest-time, especially when the pace of life is high. It is essential to prioritize this. It’s just as important as good nutrition and regular exercise. 3. Treat adrenal hormone imbalance with the advice of a naturopathic doctor, who can show you how to rebalance your adrenal gland function. Treatment may include recommendations for relaxation exercises, supplements to support adrenal balance (to raise or lower cortisol) or adaptogen herbs to help your body adapt to stress better, sleep and exercise recommendations, and nutrition advice to support adrenal gland repair. Book an appointment online for my Toronto naturopathic clinic.

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