Claudia Welch, author of Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life: Achieving Optimal Health and Wellness through Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine and Western Science discusses how to lower your stress levels and find a sense of balance.
Commitmentnow.com: What role do hormones play in the body, and how can they positively or negatively affect our health?
Welch, MSOM: In Balance Your Hormones,
Balance Your Life, I focus on two groups of hormones: a woman’s stress
hormones and her sex hormones.
Stress hormones speed us up, dry us out, and motivate us. Sex hormones nourish, lubricate and ground us. These two groups represent the dynamic relationship between opposite forces that are constantly at play in our bodies and minds.
We can see examples of this balance in nature too. For example, either too much rain and cool weather or too much sunny, hot, dry weather are inhospitable to healthy plant growth. Similarly, if a woman has either too much sex or stress hormones, in relation to the other, a fundamental state of balance is disturbed which can lead to the body cultivating disease of one sort or another.
In our fast-paced, stress-filled society, what can women do to lower their
stress levels and find a better sense of balance?
· Slow things down. Taking a few deep breaths and moving slightly slower will create a sense of calm, reducing the amount of stress hormones the body is creating.
· Take a walk. A 30-minute brisk walk only three times a week has been shown to be as effective as taking an antidepressant if done regularly.
· Skip that end of day drink. While alcohol temporarily blunts the effects of stress hormones, once the effects of the alcohol wear off, depression and other symptoms of having excess stress hormones in the body generally become worse than before.
Commitmentnow.com: How would you define a 'healthy lifestyle' and what are five ways a woman can create for herself a healthy lifestyle?
Claudia: Eastern medicine considers each person’s individual constitution when determining what a healthy lifestyle is. What is appropriate for one woman may be detrimental to another.
There are, however, a few
things that every woman can do:
· She can develop a daily routine where she does the
same basic things at the same time every day: waking and going to bed at the
same time each day, eating at the same times, meditating, exercising, etc.
· She can eat whole, mostly freshly cooked grains,
beans, and vegetables every day.
· She can take regular retreats to engage in self-introspection. This could be 15 minutes a day, 1 day or weekend a month or a week or two every year.
Commitmentnow.com: How can food help us to be healthier and keep our hormones in balance? What foods do you recommend, and what type of foods can lead us to feeling more stressed and out of balance?
Claudia: What we eat can affect hormone balance in a many ways. Here are two of them:
If we eat a lot
of refined sugar, drink too much caffeine, or eat too little, we can develop
anxiety, depression, or a predisposition to increased stress hormones. This can
contribute to women’s health problems like osteoporosis or heart disease.
· If we eat too much of the wrong things, or drink too much alcohol, we can gain weight, get depressed, and develop signs of what is commonly called “Estrogen dominance,” which is associated with symptoms like heavy bleeding, breast lumps and uterine fibroids.
Ayurveda teaches that how we eat and live is also important. For example, if we eat on the go or while we are nervous digestion will be adversely affected (resulting in poorly digested food). We may then lack nourishment to support a healthy menstrual cycle, leading to scanty or absent periods. Too much exercise or too little food can lead to the same results.
Commitmentnow.com: If a woman has difficult menstrual cycles, what do you recommend?
Claudia: There are many reasons for difficult menstrual cycles and many different disorders that could be associated. A woman could have scanty periods, absence of periods, heavy bleeding, bleeding in between cycles, painful cycles or mood disorders associated with them, just to name a few. For example, a woman experiencing scanty periods should do only gentle to moderate exercise and should increase her intake of blood-nourishing herbs, while a woman experiencing a heavy or painful period might benefit from some targeted acupuncture and a regimen of castor oil packs.
Commitmentnow.com: Do you have any advice for women experiencing infertility? What foods, lifestyle choices and other factors can help them get pregnant?
Claudia: There are many possible causes for infertility. It is important to check with your doctor to determine if there is a mechanical factor that is causing the problem.
One common cause of infertility is insufficient nourishment. If you don’t eat enough, don’t eat enough healthy foods, or exercise or work too much, you can wind up with insufficient nourishment to allow the body to produce a healthy period. The body prioritizes survival over reproduction. If there isn’t enough material for both, the body will send whatever nourishment is available, to your vital organs. There may not be enough left over to be able to support reproductive health.
If you are quite thin, this profile may apply to you. In that case, you may benefit from substituting some more vigorous exercise with some gentle yoga, tai qi or gentle breathing techniques. Be sure to get enough sleep and three square meals including the good food we talked about above. It is especially good to have nourishing, cooked foods like mashed yams, cooked tofu with onions and ginger, stew, whole grains and casseroles made from fresh vegetables, grains, and dairy.
Commitmentnow.com: What can help prevent breast cancer and increase breast health?
Claudia: Well, having babies and nursing them for at least a year has been shown to reduce the chance of breast cancer, while smoking and alcohol use are both related to significant increases in breast cancer risk.
I also believe that increasing the circulation of qi (energy) through the chest and breast tissue is helpful to support good breast health. To do this, we can remember to breathe deeply throughout the day, avoid wearing underwire bras, and massage our breasts regularly. It is also important to avoid non-organic coffee entirely and too much coffee in general, even if it is organic.
Commitmentnow.com: What are your best five tips for those who want to live a healthy and energized life?
As a friend of
mine likes to announce, “remain calm.” Don’t panic. Panic stimulates the
release of stress hormones, which throw off our hormonal balance.
Be aware of how
you feel, physically and emotionally after eating or after other experiences.
Avoid what makes you feel lethargic, panicked, anxiety-ridden, or makes your
heart race. Favor foods, drinks, thoughts and experiences that make you feel focused,
grounded, light and cheerful.
less. Give your full attention to one thing at a time. This is a calmer
approach to life. It taxes the nervous system less, so we stimulate less stress
hormones and it’s easier to maintain hormonal balance.
chemical pollutants in your environment and diet as much as possible. Avoid
storing or eating hot food or drinks in plastic containers, avoid nasty
chemical smells in your environment, coloring in your food and for your lawn
and plant care. These are “endocrine disruptors,” so called because they
disrupt the healthy function of the endocrine system, which governs hormone
production and secretion.
· Laugh. It reduces levels of circulating stress hormones, increases your immunity and it is fun.
About the Author: Claudia Welch is a Doctor of Oriental Medicine and a practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine. She is an author of Eastern medicine and philosophy. She regularly lectures on Women's Health, and Oriental and Ayurvedic medicines internationally and brings a depth of knowledge and a sense of joy to her presentations.
Spring 2011 marks the release of Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life, Dr. Welch's new book, that combines Eastern medical theory with Western science to provide uncommon insights into hormones, women's health concerns, lifestyle and diet. It is designed to be accessible for all women, and anyone who wants to understand women's health, whether they are students or practitioners of Western medicine, Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, or simply of life. It is not important to have any background in any medical system to appreciate and grok this book, but it also offers new perspectives to seasoned medical practitioners. For more information, see www.drclaudiawelch.com