I love listening to pod-casts while cooking and while driving all over the Twin Cities. Some of my favorites are Underground Wellness, The Fat Buring Man, Everyday Paleo, and more recently Jimmy Moore's Ask the Low Carb Experts. Over several weeks, I listened to Sean Croxton interview T.S. Wiley (sleep and hormones), Nora Gegaudes (hormones and sleep), Bryan Walsh (adrenal fatigue), and Julie Walsh (PCOS). After every single one I thought, "Holy SHIT! there is seriously something wrong with my hormones!" Not that I didn't think this before, but each one touched on how hormone imbalances can cause major sleep disturbances. Each person stressed the point that if you have chronic sleep issues that will not resolve, you need to test your hormones. If you have had long standing menstrual irregularities including severe PMS, heavy periods, clotting, missing periods, irregular cycles, you need to test your hormones.
So....I sent for a ZRT test kit. The most accurate way to test sex hormones is through saliva. Blood tests only check what are known as bound or inactive hormones, compared to the free or active hormones found in the saliva. The tests confirmed what I thought (no PCOS) but some interesting imbalances. Particularly low progesterone, which is becoming more common among women my age. Older women going through menopause often complain of insomnia, more specifically, they wake up a lot between 2-4am. Sound familiar? Menopause is often thought of as a decrease in estrogen, but it's really more about the decrease in progesterone. Progesterone is the hormone that helps women feel level headed, calm, and aids in proper sleep/wake cycles.
Hmmm....now what? How do I get my ovaries to make more progesterone? I already eat lots of healthy fats. I avoid gluten, and limit dairy, eat lots of veggies, and 90% of our meats are organic/grass fed.
I finally made an appointment with a Naturopath who JUST HAPPENS to work out of my PCP's office. The initial consult was fantastic. Knowing what I know, I could see many of the connections she was making between my past health history and current health complaints. Over the past year I've had the opportunity to do some interesting lab work including: Spectra-cell's micronutrient profile, complete lipid panel with Apo B and Lp(a), and MTHFR genotyping. My primary also ran a full thyroid panel earlier this summer so I was able to compare that with the one I did through ZRT. While my thyroid is mostly normal, my Free T4 and Free T3 were a little on the low side. This type of imbalance can cause other hormone imbalances.
After selling about 10 vials of blood for the most comprehensive blood testing I've ever seen, here's the plan:
- Reverse anemia with high iron foods. Low iron (ferritin) can cause an imbalance in neurotransmitter production leading to mood and sleep issues.
- Keep my blood sugars really well balanced. I'm trying to cut out snacks and just eat three large meals, but I typically need something mid afternoon since lunch is often at 11, and dinner isn't until 6 or 7. I notice that when my blood sugars drop, even if I'm not hungry I tend to get really anxious or have ADD type brain function.
- No more folic acid supplementation. I have the heterozygous MTHFR gene so my body is a little compromised when it comes to activating folic acid, especially if I'm under stress. This can lead to detoxification problems, autoimmune diseases, heart disease (which runs in my family), and mood disorder (which also runs in my family).
- Relax. My cortisol is a little off, and besides keeping my blood sugars balanced the best thing to do is to reduce stress. I'm reading 8 minute meditation and am about 2 weeks into the program.
- Supplement with Vitex to rebalance my progesterone.
- Track hormonal changes that may influence my sleep patterns. I'm using the Kindara app on my phone.
- Cut out inflammatory foods for 8-12 weeks. This is where things get really hairy. After following the previous steps for 1-3 months I just had an Alletess IgG food sensitivity test done. I'm reacting to a lot of foods, especially fermented foods. So what's off my list: All dairy except for Ghee, Gluten, Almonds, Apples, Banana, Green Beans, Cabbage, Cocoa (aka chocolate), COCONUT, Coffee, Chicken Eggs, Garlic, Ginger, Head Lettuce (romaine, iceburg), Mustard, Green Olives+olive oil, pineapple, sesame seeds, summer/winter squash, sunflower seeds, Black tea, tomato, Yeast (wine, soy sauce, vinegar, bread)
If I continue to eat foods that my body is sensitive to, my digestive tract will remain inflamed which in turn will cause continued cortisol issues; this will steals energy needed for making progesterone and blocks thyroid hormone receptors. It's just your basic HPA imbalance.
If you have sleep issues or chronic fatigue and these typical recommendations haven't helped...
1. Get some exercise, but not too much.
2. No screen time 1-2 hours before bed
3. Balance your blood sugar, consider eating a healthy carb + fat before bed.
4. Give up caffeine, even in the morning.
5. Take 5HTP and Magnesium before bed.
6. Learn to relax (meditate, journal, do yoga).
Then start doing some testing. I recommend: Serum Iron/Ferritin, folate, B12, Complete thyroid panel, Sex hormones, cortisol, and vitamin D. Just to get you started.
I'll probably be blogging a little more about how I'm navigating the food restrictions. I've been eating modified paleo for some time now, but now it's serious. I'm calling this plan: Whole90-Autoimmune- minus the coconut.