Posts Tagged ‘hormones’
I really never used to wear sunscreen. I told everyone that I drank enough carrot juice to protect my skin! And then one day something clicked… I think it was turning 27 and realizing that I was nearing the down-slide to 30 and middle-adulthood. It was like a hazard light went off in my brain: I AM AGING. Obviously this seems overly dramatic, but I have a mother who has always been obsessed with skincare and it was just a matter of time until I joined in the compulsion.
For me it’s not just about finding the MOST effective products, but also finding the LEAST toxic ones. Many active ingredients (like glycolic & salicylic acids) have been found to be potentially hazardous, but they give great results. Just like any effective medication, there could be some side effects… it’s just a matter of how much you are willing to compromise.
One things that kill me are parabens. These are simply chemical preservatives added to products to make them last longer on the store shelves. They have been linked to cancer, neurotoxicity, mutations, and they are an endocrine disruptor (ie. they mess with your thyroid & hormones). So why are cosmetic companies still adding these harmful preservatives to everything from makeup to shampoo to lotions? We know they’re bad and many “natural” companies have abandoned them… there’s really no excuse.
And onto the hottly debated topic of Sunscreen. Studies have linked certain UV filters to the transsexualization of male fish, hormone disrupting activity and low birth weights in infant girls. One of these culprit chemicals is oxybenzone, which is common in many sunscreens. To lower the toxicity of sunscreens look for physical and not chemical blockers (ie. zinc oxide) in their non-nano form. This means that the particles are large enough to sit on the surface of the skin. The downside to this is the dreaded pasty-ghost-white film… but many products are getting better. A way around this is to use a tinted moisturizer with spf on your face.
The cosmetics database from the Environmental Working Group, a DC-based nonprofit, has 1,000′s of products rated on their safety levels. It’s a wonderful resource to lookup your favorite products and see their toxicity level. I used to buy Aveeno’s Positively Radiant facial sunscreen until I looked it up a couple of years ago. Today we are so bombarded with environmental pollutants and toxins from every angle (food, water, air, homes, etc.) that it is no wonder that an alarmingly high number of us have some kind of hormone, auto-immune, endrocrine (thyroid) or adrenal problem! One of the easiest things we can control is what we put onto my body.
Here’s the 2009 Guide to Sunscreens. Now, I’m off to enjoy the nice weather!
Also check out: Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
Let me start by saying, of course this is a complicated issue with no black and white solution. I honestly think it will take me a number of posts to say what I would like to.
Both the pro and anti oral contraception crowds have some data to backup their claims. It’s easy to find female athletes across the spectrum: from those who are able to perform fine on the pill; to those who recognized that they couldn’t achieve their athletic potential while taking the hormones; to women who simply couldn’t function on any form of oral contraception.
The truth is that the studies are extremely limited, and the ones using actual athletes are even more so. Like many issues in women’s health, the lack of data is extremely frustrating.
Though some distance runners begin taking the pill for other reasons – such as acne, birth control, ovarian cysts, etc. – many are urged to start taking it because they are amenorrheic, meaning their menstrual cycles have stopped. There is documented evidence that women who are amenorrheic in young adulthood fail to build the optimal amount of bone and may suffer from low bone density later in life. There is even some data to suggest that a certain extent of this loss may be irreversible.
While the link between estrogen and bone density seems to be established, the logic that birth control pills will protect bone density has not been thoroughly tested. This approach to amenorrhea in young women is actually based on the treatment of post-menopausal women with low bone density using hormone replacement therapy.
There are many reasons that a woman can experience amenorrhea, and by extension thought to be low estrogen. My theory is that our bodies can only handle so much stress and that they need a certain level of homeostasis to function properly. Our stress levels are affected by our diet, activity level, emotional health, and environmental pollutants. Any combination of these assaults can contribute to a stress load that is too much for our system to function normally. When this happens the body goes into crisis mode and decides to stop menstruating.
The reality is that there are a number of highly trained, extremely lean competitive athletes who have normal menstrual cycles. There are also many non-athletic, average weight young women who are amenhorreic. Body-fat and training-level don’t necessarily tell the whole story.
One of the side effects of oral contraceptives that I find very troubling is the increased incidence of depression and mood disorders. The altered brain activity is largely contributed to interference of serotonin uptake and absorption of B-vitamins. This can be extremely detrimental for athletes and anyone suffering from disordered eating. In addition to helping the body handle and process stress, B-vitamins also play an important role in carbohydrate metabolism.
Another consideration is that the hormones in birth control pills, estrogen and progesterone, help feed the overgrowth of yeasts in the female body. Systemic yeast imbalance can result in a variety of very serious conditions including many digestive problems, food sensitivities, allergies, yeast infections, UTIs, skin conditions like acne and eczema, infertility problems, weight gain, and various other ailments.
The latest study about birth control pills reducing a women’s chance of gaining lean muscle mass is really disturbing for athletes. Running, especially, is all about strength to weight ratio.
Again, there isn’t an easy answer to the question of whether birth control pills are good for female distance runners (or athletes in general). There are a number of reasons why I think they aren’t a good idea for everyone. I don’t agree with the blanket prescription policy that is currently in place in most health institutions. Obviously birth control pills can be appropriate for some individuals, but that doesn’t mean that they should be prescribed out so quickly as the solution to every female problem.
I am not a medical doctor, but in my experience, health and athletic performance are best fostered when we look at the whole person. I also feel that a discussion of oral contraceptives in female distance runners or other athletes is incomplete without a further discussion of eating disorders, but I’ll reserve that for another post.
If you are wondering whether you should be taking the birth control pill, I urge you to weigh the positives and negatives and research the subject for yourself. Most doctors see a variety of patients, don’t specialize in treating athletes, and don’t necessarily keep up on the latest research. You have to be your own advocate. If you are you only taking the pill for birth control and are a serious athlete, it might really be worth taking the time to evaluate the trade-offs.
*A side note about Ortho Tricyclen…. My theory is that this company gives a lot free samples and kickbacks to Doctor’s offices because they always prescribe patients on this pill first. According to doctors, they start women on a tri-phasal pill (meaning three different levels of hormones) because it mimics the normal phases of the female’s cycle. The flaw in this logic, as far as I’m concerned, is that when you’re talking about girls who are amenorehic, they don’t have a cycle… so this artificial phasing is very difficult on their systems.
I feel that my situation was pretty typical of what a number of female athletes go through. I was prescribed Ortho Tri Cyclen* when I was 17 because I hadn’t had a period for more than two years. Not wanting to put anything artificial in my body and being scared about the hormones, I didn’t actually start taking the pills until I sustained a stress fracture in my foot during my freshman cross-country season at college.
After the fracture, a doctor convinced me that it occurred because my bone density was low. He said my bones were suffering because I didn’t have periods. This was the case because the absence of menses meant that my body didn’t have enough estrogen… and estrogen was the key to calcium being absorbed by my bones. He told me that my estrogen was low because I ran so much. And he said all this could be corrected by taking the birth control pill because it would supply my body with artificial estrogen that would keep my bones strong.
The Female Athlete Triad- of disordered eating, amenorrhea, and osteoporosis- was a relatively new buzzword ten years ago and doctors, trainers, and coaches were quick to jump to the conclusion that the birth control pill was the easiest, quickest-fix band-aid solution to the most bothersome part of it. I wish that I could say that as a community, sports medicine has made tremendous progress – that doctors, coaches, and trainers know a great deal more about how to address these situations with their athletes, but I don’t really believe it’s much better. Birth control pills are more than ever being prescribed to young athletes (and non-athletes alike) as a quick-fix solution to problems that require a much deeper and more comprehensive look at the whole system.
When I look back at my own situation, I realize that the Doctor made a lot of assumptions in his hypothesis. First, he assumed that my stress fracture was due to having low bone density, though he never measured the density of my bones. In reality it was my training that changed significantly – I had gone from running maybe 40 miles per week on dirt roads in high school in Colorado to running 70+ miles per week in college mostly on pavement.
The other reality about my situation was that running or body fat percentage wasn’t the cause of my amenorrhea. I was always a very active teenager and a “late bloomer.” I played 3-4 varsity level sports during high school. I only had a couple “regular periods” when I was 15 years old and they ceased when I left to be an exchange student in southern Brazil. In Brazil I wasn’t allowed outside of the house alone. It was, by far, the most sedentary I have ever been at any time in my life. And like all exchange students, I gained a few pounds. And yet this is the time in my life when my periods stopped. When I returned from Brazil, I embarked on a 30-day wilderness education course backpacking across Colorado’s San Juan Range. But still my cycle didn’t return.
Over the years I stopped taking birth control twice for several months at time to see if my period would return on its own. Each time I noticed a marked improvement in my mood and digestion, but each time a friend or doctor encouraged me to go back on the pill because I needed it for my bones. I remained on a mono-phasal birth control pill until the age of 25. At that point, my digestive problems and allergies were so bad that I wanted to try anything to alleviate the situation. I read as much as I could find on the subject, scheduled a bone density scan that came back on the low side of normal, and quit the pill for good. It was a liberating feeling!
Eventually, about 7 months later, my cycle returned naturally for the first time in over 10 years. For the first year or two it was not consistent- some months it wouldn’t come, some months it would only last a day. However, the overall trend was one of progress.
Acupuncture has been the single most helpful tool for me in finding hormonal balance and regulating my periods. I highly recommend it!
Birth control pills have always been a subject of much debate for female athletes. It seems like it is the modern-day doctor’s answer to any irregularity in the menstrual cycle. They want you to go on the pill for everything, you bleed too much, your cycle is too short, too long, non-existent… or hey, you have acne? No problem… take this pill. It only gives you a constant supply of synthetic hormones. (!)
Popping a pill is a much easier solution than trying to look into the root cause of the hormonal problem in the first place. What really upsets me is the lack of studies that have been done on the long term side effects of being on the pill and the real lack of studies actually done on athletes.
This latest study finds that women on the pill are “less likely to build muscle” than those not taking it. “You can still gain muscle on the pill, you just have to work harder.” The reason for this is because the pill drops levels of circulating testosterone. For the collegiate athlete, or the competitive athlete this is a serious issue.
My favorite part is at the end of the video:
Q: Should you reconsider taking the pill in light of this study?
A: Probably not unless you are a competitive athlete or body builder.
I guess this is the time of year when people when people get sick. For some reason this year it seems like everyone in Portland has been sick in the last month or 6-weeks. I am actually finally feeling better after two weeks of achy-tired-yuckiness. Did I say tired? I meant exhausted. It took me a week to realize that I was actually sick, and not just suffering from some strange sudden-onset of chronic fatigue syndrome.
That all being said. The lack of energy inspired me to think about my thyroid again…. and I started surfing to see what I could find. This was my big discovery:
Wow. I love the idea that doctors need to start treating the symptoms again and not just the lab results. I do think most of us are under-medicated when it comes to the thyroid. (I keep holding out hope that the celiac disease has caused my elevated thyroid antibodies… and that if enough time goes by on my gluten-free diet, my thyroid will magically be better again! but that is beside the point)
Hypo-thyroid patients used to receive enough medication so that their symptoms were alleviated. Now, as most of us know, doctors shoot for our TSH to be in a targeted range. The problem is that where you feel your best can be at different places within that range. It turns out TSH is pretty individual.
One thing is certain: Doctors like tests. They like hard “science” and measurable data. They like numbers they can monitor. (kind of like cholesterol, but that is another can of worms entirely)
I would love to find a good ND to compliment the treatment I already get. It is an avenue that I haven’t really explored, but one that seems like it might be very beneficial.