There are several things that you can do from a lifestyle perspective that can help you balance out of whack androgens.
Weight Loss – In many cases women who have an excess of androgens (especially those with PCOS) also carry excess weight on their bodies. Weight loss reduces insulin resistance, normalizes androgens, corrects irregular periods and improves cardiovascular risk factors.
Exercise – Not only does regular exercise help reduce weight, it helps improve cardiovascular health, reduces stress, increases overall fitness and helps to reduce excess androgen levels. Exercise does not have to be strenuous or 6 days a week. Even 30 minutes of moderate exercise 4 days a week will help improve hormone levels and reduce weight. If you haven’t been active, start with a 20-30 minute walk 3 or 4 days a week. If you are diabetic, a heart patient or have some other type of serious health condition, PLEASE check with your doctor before starting ANY form of exercise. You may have to start at 5-10 minutes walking 3 times a week. It really doesn’t matter. Exercise frequency and intensity is based on your health and experience.
Yoga – There are many forms of yoga, from very gentle to very strenuous. It is important with yoga, as with all forms of exercise that you start off slowly if you do not have a lot of experience with it. Again … you must go at your own pace and while it is good to push yourself, please do not do so at the expense of your health. It defeats the purpose. The exciting news is that yoga has been shown to be more effective than other forms of exercise at improving insulin resistance in PCOS. And you don’t even have to participate in hot yoga to do it! Think about how much more flexible you’ll be after practicing yoga for a few months.
Acupuncture – A traditional Chinese practice utilizing extremely thin needles can help balance hormone levels circulating in the bloodstream. This can reduce excess androgens produced by the pituitary gland, release endorphins and create an overall feeling of wellbeing. Acupuncture has been shown to induce regular ovulation in some women indicating that this might be a better alternative than metformin or clomiphene. But you will want to find an experienced acupuncturist.
Reduce your exposure to BPA – As you may know, BPA is a plastic found in thermal print receipt paper, the plastic lining in most canned foods and some retardants. Women with PCOS tend to have higher levels of BPA and the amount correlates with both androgen level and insulin resistance.
Increase sleep to reduce stress and cortisol levels – Generally speaking 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night is the recommended amount of sleep. Your hormones work on a schedule. Cortisol, the primary “stress hormone”, is regulated at midnight. Therefore, people who go to bed late never truly get a break from their sympathetic flight/fight stress response. A lack of sleep or disturbing your natural circadian rhythm can be one of the worst habits contributing to a hormone imbalance.
A lack of sleep, long-term use of corticosteroids and chronic stress are three of the biggest contributors to high cortisol levels. Stress can lead to changes in the many hormone levels.
Sleep helps keep stress hormones balanced, builds energy and allows the body to recover properly. Excessive stress and poor sleep are linked with higher levels of morning cortisol, decreased immunity, trouble with work performance, and a higher susceptibility to anxiety, weight gain and depression. To maximize hormone function, ideally try to get to bed by 10 p.m and stick with a regular sleep-wake-cycle as much as possible. I know this is a tough one to follow for many of us. I ran on 5 ½ – 6 hours sleep for years and had the unbalanced hormone levels to prove it. Since I’ve been getting 7 – 7 ½ hours sleep, I’m not as stressed, not relying on caffeine as much and I’m generally happier.
As you can see, just a few simple tweaks to your daily routine can make a big difference. So I encourage you to eat healthy, whole foods, exercise regularly, get lots of sleep whenever possible (or at the very least stay consistent with your times), limit caffeine and alcohol and drink plenty of water. And if you need a little extra help, I’ve given you some supplement suggestions as well.
Of course if you have questions or need my help, my door is always open and you can find me here.
Yours in health,