Using the Glycemic Index to Balance Hormones

The next Hormone Weight Loss Principle I’d like to discuss is Eat Right. More specifically, how we can use the glycemic index to balance our hormones.

The speed in which carbohydrates are converted into blood sugar is one of the determinants for whether or not a food promotes hormone balance or imbalance and whether the food increases or decreases the risk for disease. The glycemic index is a system of measuring the conversion speed of individual carbohydrate foods and the rate at which they increase your blood sugar.

The more rapidly a food is absorbed and converts to glucose, the faster and higher it raises the level of blood glucose. Foods ranking low on the GI index do the best job of keeping blood sugar level stable, but that doesn’t mean you can never eat foods with a higher GI ranking. You can lessen the impact of eating a high GI food, like pasta, by combining it with low GI foods like vegetables, protein, fat and fiber, since those all slow down the body’s absorption of the sugar from the pasta.

Here is a list of some popular foods and where they fall on the GI Index:

• Most vegetables are almost 0 GI
• Root vegetables, except potatoes, are usually low to medium GI
• Potatoes generally have high GI
• Fruits from northern and Mediterranean climates are low GI
• Fruits from tropical climates tend to be medium GI
• White and whole wheat breads are both high GI in any form
• Sourdough breads have a low GI because acidity slows down digestion
• Dense breads made with whole grains other than wheat and dough made with spelt flour have a low or medium GI
• Acidic ingredients, such as balsamic vinegar used to dip bread, will reduce the GI
• Nuts and seeds are low GI
• Brown and white rice are high GI
• Basmati rice is medium GI
• Quinoa and pearled barley are low GI
• Sweetened sodas and sugary drinks are high GI
• Beans and legumes, such as lentils and peas, are very low GI

Spring Fruits and Veggies I Can’t Get Enough Of

One of the reasons I love springtime is because of the variety of fruits and vegetables that are at their peak. It’s a perfect time to spring clean your diet. The weather is getting warmer so we can start moving away from those heavy stews and casseroles we turn to for comfort in the cold winter. We can start eating cleaner, lighter meals that are chock full of these gorgeous and nutritious fruits and vegetables.

The list below describes many of my springtime favorites. They can usually be found in many stores year-round. However, when they are at their season’s peak, they reap the most nutritional benefits and are more economical as well.

Artichokes – Low in calories, artichokes are also high in fiber, iron, potassium, magnesium, folate and vitamin C.

Asparagus – At their peak from March through June, asparagus is high in fiber and a good source of iron, B vitamins, and Vitamin C. To retain freshness and nutrition place them in cool storage, but the soonest you eat them after buying, the better. I love to roast asparagus in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil and sodium-free lemon pepper.

Blueberries – The typical harvest season for blueberries begins in May. Blueberries pack a potent bunch of antioxidants, fiber and vitamin C while low in calories. Try to go for organic since blueberries are the Dirty Dozen list of fruits and vegetables with the most pesticides.

Peas – English, sugar snap and snow peas are all at their peak from April through July. Like most legumes, peas are high in fiber and are a good source of plant protein. Nutritional benefits vary depending on variety, with English peas providing more B vitamins and zinc, while snow and snap peas offer more vitamin C. Peas make a great side dish, but are also great in salads, stir frys, even dips.

Radishes – An excellent accoutrement to salads, radishes are low in calories but pack a vitamin C punch.

Strawberries – these juicy berries are an ideal mid-morning snack or guiltless dessert as they are packed with fiber and just 1 cup meets 100% of your daily Vitamin C needs. Also on the Dirty Dozen list, it’s worth picking up organic strawberries.

Mediterranean Chicken with Tzatziki Sauce

1 lb. chicken breast, preferably organic, cut into strips
½ tsp dried oregano
¼ cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves, divided
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
½ cup grated cucumber, squeeze out access water
Juice of half a lemon
Freshly ground black pepper and Kosher salt to season

Mix the oregano, olive oil, vinegar, and one garlic clove (minced or passed through a garlic press) together. Pour over the chicken and marinade for at least one hour. Then cook by either grilling or broiling in the oven.

In a bowl, add the remaining garlic clove (I like to grate it), the yogurt, cucumber, lemon juice and salt and pepper. Mix well.

You could serve just the chicken with the sauce or you could stuff in a whole grain pita with lettuce, tomato and red onion.

Steps to Improve Sleep

One of the most common symptoms of hormone imbalance is trouble sleeping, and stress is probably the number one culprit because it sets off a chain reaction starting with increased cortisol to insulin resistance and adrenal fatigue, which then affects our sleep. We’ve talked about the two hormones that are related to sleep and weight gain in a previous issue, so today I’d like to focus on the steps you can take to improve sleep.

Making sure your sleeping conditions promote a good night’s sleep is the first step. This includes having a quiet room because if you’re woken up by sound it will disrupt your sleep cycle and make it difficult to fall back to sleep. If you live in a noisy city, consider earplugs or a sound machine. Set your thermostat to an appropriate temperature, not too hot or too cold. Keep your room as dark as possible since any light will disturb the production of melatonin, your sleep hormone. Lastly, make sure your room is comfortable and inviting.

One of the most important things about getting a good night’s sleep is making sure your blood sugar level stays stable throughout the night. If your blood sugar level drops during the night, your body interprets that as stress and releases cortisol, which wakes you up and then you have trouble falling back to sleep. Avoid eating refined sugars or drinking caffeine, especially close to bedtime. Despite popular belief that alcohol helps you fall asleep, it actually creates a drop in blood sugar during the middle of the night.

Set yourself up right by doing something relaxing before bed like reading a book, meditating or taking a warm bath. If you get up frequently in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, monitor how much you’re drinking in the evening. If it isn’t that much, speak to your physician because it could be a bladder issue or diabetes.

Finally, if you’ve followed all of the steps and you’re still having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, there are a few supplements out there you can take – 5-HTP, GABA, Inositol, Magnesium glycinate or Melatonin. I suggest checking with your physician to see if any of these are a good fit for you.

Reader Question About DHEA and Energy Levels

A male reader recently wrote Dr. Stanton for advice on DHEA and how to help his energy levels.

Q. I’ve started taking DHEA. I used to take 7 keto DHEA and it helped me get rid of ice cold feet…so I figured it helped my thyroid. I don’t feel the energy effects of co enzyme q 10 anymore. What could be my problem? Also brisk 20 minute walks are not helping my energy anymore, do you have any suggestions that would be helpful thru your newsletters for men?

A. The 7-keto DHEA you have been taking may be helping you by supporting your adrenal glands. Your adrenal glands produce DHEA and cortisol which are part of your “fight or flight” response. I you have had stressors of any kind (emotional, physical such as an injury or surgery, food allergy, etc) it can tax your adrenal glands. This can produce fatigue, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, low libido and a number of other symptoms. Your adrenal and thyroid glands are closely connected so, by supporting your adrenals, you may have helped your thyroid which would have improved your cold feet.

The reason the CoQ10 and brisk walks may no longer be “working” is that your adrenals may need even more support. I would encourage you to continue the CoQ10 and walks. However, you may want to consider hormone testing to evaluate your adrenals (www.ZRTLab.com) and see if they need more support.

Sincerely,
Alicia Stanton, MD

Keeping Your Home Toxic-Free During the Holidays

We come into contact with environmental toxins in our everyday lives, but the holiday season can bring additional toxins that can further wreak havoc on our hormones. Many of these toxins can mimic other hormones like estrogen and thyroid which lead to an imbalance with other hormones. Some toxins can accumulate in tissues of glands, which inhibits our hormone production.

Toxins can be found in some holiday decorations and products. Synthetic scents from holiday air fresheners and scented candles contain phthalates and parabens that can disrupt hormones. Instead, light candles made from soy or beeswax. They burn clean and don’t emit dangerous chemicals. Excess Christmas tree trim and cinnamon sticks also work well to make your house smell like the holidays.

Fake trees – especially older ones – decorations and gift wrap can contain lead. Instead of using artificial decorations, create centerpieces and holiday accents by placing poinsettias around your house and filling baskets and vases with natural ingredients like pinecones, whole walnuts and chestnuts, artichokes, cranberries, cinnamon sticks, organic pumpkins, squash and apples. If you prefer a fake tree, try to use a newer one as they generally contain lower levels of lead and make sure to wash your hands well after assembling and decorating.

I hope these tips have helped so you can protect your home and your health this holiday season with decorations that are both beautiful and healthful.

The Hormone Harmony Diet Plan

The connection between our diet and hormones is significant, yet widely ignored, even though our hormones directly impact our health. The most basic link between diet and hormones is this: consuming too much refined flour and sugar disrupts hormonal balance. It is imperative to keep blood sugar stable in order to balance hormones. How do we do this? By eating every few hours, managing carbohydrates, consuming helpful fats and avoiding harmful ones, sticking with high-quality foods and avoiding too much processed foods.

Eat small meals every 2-3 hours that consist of a lean protein – chicken, turkey, fish, nuts – and a complex carbohydrate – a vegetable or high-fiber fruit. Consume carbohydrates that rate low on the glycemic index such as vegetables, nuts and seeds, milk and plain yogurt, barley and quinoa, beans and legumes, sourdough bread and fruits from Northern and Mediterranean climates.

When you eat small portions of low-GI foods every three hours or so, it is more effective in keeping blood sugar stable. When your body isn’t in starvation mode, you can make more rational and healthy food choices and keep portions small, rather than overeating on bad choices. Small, frequent meals or snacks of low-GI foods provide a steady stream of energy, reduce stress and result in fuel going to muscles rather than fat, leading to a leaner body.

When you start to eat more nutritious foods, you’ll see food doing what it should do to restore and maintain harmony among hormones:

  • Keep blood-sugar levels stable
  • Decrease inflammation
  • Provide sustained energy
  • Help reduce body fat
  • Help maintain a healthy weight
  • Contribute to overall health and well-being
  • Reduce risk for chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis
  • Keep taste buds happy

How Poor Sleep Effects Our Health, Hormones and Weight

In this country, it is normal for us to work at least 10 hours a day, try to exercise a few hours a week and try to get by on 5-6 hours of sleep a night. We use alarm clocks, coffee, chocolate, soda, energy drinks and many other tricks to help us “push through” the fatigue and get on with our day. Does this sound like you?

What you don’t know is how exceedingly important sleep is and how not getting enough sleep can cause us to gain weight. Just one or two nights of missed or inadequate sleep are enough to make you as insulin resistant as a Type II diabetic! While adequate diet and exercise can help, your physiology will never be normal without enough sleep. At the end of the day, neglected sleep or poor sleep quality is a significant stressor to your body. It compromises your immune system, reduces your memory and makes you gain weight.

In addition to insulin, two other important hormones related to sleep and weight gain are melatonin and prolactin. Known as the “hormone of darkness,” melatonin is secreted in darkness, at night and tells the body it is time to sleep. Prolactin is critical to our immune systems and one of our first lines of cancer defense. Research shows that longer periods of sleep with increased melatonin production enhanced immunity. Long nights also produced higher levels of prolactin. If we get less sleep at night, more prolactin is produced during the day. And if prolactin is secreted during the day, it leads to autoimmunity and carbohydrate craving.

If you put together the imbalance between insulin, cortisol, prolactin and melatonin, you have a recipe for disaster. The biggest problem with short night sleep is that insulin will stay higher in the dark when it should be flat and cortisol falls so late it will come up normally in the morning. This is the reversal of your normal hormone rhythms. You’re supposed to wake up with high cortisol in the morning to deal with the stress of the day and a low insulin so you’re hungry. However, with reversed hormone rhythms it is easy to skip breakfast because your insulin is high and you’re not hungry. The reversal also causes melatonin and prolactin to be too high in the morning and throughout the daylight hours making it difficult to concentrate. By 3:00 in the afternoon you crave carbohydrates, get inpatient and have even more trouble concentrating.

Now do you see why getting enough sleep is so important? It’s more than just resting. It recharges your body, controls appetite, supports the immune system, balances hormones and improves concentration.

What is the Connection Between Hormones and Breast Cancer?

There is a great deal of confusion regarding the connection between hormones and breast cancer. I believe that breast cancer can be related to an imbalance between hormones such as estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. As I have said before, many things can lead to these imbalances such as stress, poor diet, lack of exercise and toxin exposure.  One of the interesting experiences I have had since my breast cancer diagnosis is wondering what I “did wrong” to develop breast cancer. I have realized that it is an exercise in futility to beat yourself up over “how” you get something like this; you just move forward and optimize as many parts of your life as you can.

Another interesting thing about breast cancers is that there are different types. Breast cancers are typed by what hormone receptors they express. Some breast cancers express estrogen receptors (known as estrogen receptor positive). These are the breast cancers that are sensitive to estrogens and women with these types of cancer should reduce their estrogen exposure. Other breast cancers express receptors to the hormone progesterone and to HER2 receptors. In normal, healthy breast cells, HER2 receptors receive signals that stimulate their growth. With too many HER2 receptors, however, breast cancer cells grow and divide too quickly. Depending on the receptors expressed, the breast cancers can be classified as positive or negative for estrogen, progesterone and HER2. Treatment options are based on which receptors are positive on the breast cancer cells.

Approximately 10-20 percent of breast cancers do not express any of these receptors. They are known as triple negative breast cancers (TNBC). This is the type of breast cancer I have. It is not hormonally sensitive (so I could take hormones if I needed them). These types of breast cancers tend to occur in younger women (under the age of 40 or 50), black and Hispanic women and women with genetic mutations such as BRACA 1 and 2. Some of the main issues with triple negative breast cancers are that they are harder to treat and more aggressive. However, there are many therapies that show promise in treating TNBC and it is a very hot area of cancer research. I have an amazing team in my corner and am positive that I will overcome this challenge and be around to share information with you for decades to come.

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