Ancestral Wisdom for Female Hormonal Health, Part 1 by Goodhealth

Ancestral Wisdom for Female Hormonal Health, Part 1

May 1, 2024

Female reproductive hormone health plays a crucial role in maintaining overall health. Our reproductive hormones affect our energy levels, our body composition and strength, our mood, brain function, and sleep, and even our digestion and metabolism. Our metabolisms and microbiomes certainly affect our reproductive health. So, if our hormones, metabolism, and/or microbiomes are out of balance, not only might we experience menstrual issues, but we may also feel an all over sense of blah, and that is no fun.

Research has shown that humans who are still living an ancestral, hunter/gatherer lifestyle, do not experience the plethora of afflictions associated with reproductive dysfunction or menopause in the developed world, most probably due to relatively healthy metabolisms. When thinking about what would support our hormones, and metabolism, at any age or stage, we might consider the differences in our diets and lifestyles. So, while we might not want to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” and go back to living without so many of our wonderful technological advances, we can still look to how our human and hominid ancestors lived (and those that still do) for clues on how to prevent some of the degenerative conditions that are increasing in modernised humans. This is a big one, in 2 parts, so hang on and let the games begin!

Ancestrally Living Humans

There are pockets of traditional humans left on earth, living and eating as they have for thousands of years. While they do not have access our modern advances and healthcare in more immediate situations, they have very little degenerative disease or need for long-term pharmaceutical medications. Studies have shown that they have diverse and healthy microbiomes, and well-functioning reproductive systems. They appear to achieve this by consuming a nutrient-dense diet; experiencing deep connection to the earth and each other; having supportive social networks, little to no exposure to EMFs, chemicals, or air pollution; remaining active with lower overall stress; and daily exposure to natural light from the sun and fire, and regular exposure to cold or heat. These lifestyle practices have been shown in scientific research to support human circadian rhythms, healthy metabolisms, balanced hormonal and reproductive function, sound sleep, redox potential, stress management, and naturally high “feel-good” hormones.

Part 1 – Light, Diet, and Connection

Light

Exposure to natural light is one the most important factors when considering hormonal health. We evolved outside, in natural light and ancestrally living humans still spend the bulk of their time outdoors. Safe, natural light exposure, particularly through our eyes, is key to the balance of our hormones and neurotransmitters, and our circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is the 24-hour, internal clock that regulates our sleep/wake cycle through hormones like melatonin (sleep) and cortisol (wake). Hormonal and circadian disruption has negative consequences that are linked to chronic disease, especially metabolic dysfunction – blood sugar balance, etc. At any life stage it can manifest as poor sleep, low mood, irritability, and worry-mind, and during perimenopause these things can worsen, along with the addition of internal temperature fluctuations, joint stiffness, brain fog, etc.

Sunlight stimulates cellular melatonin and feel-good hormones, and photoproducts that support immune health, body comfort, and energy, and helps to manage nitric oxide levels, which is important for your cardiovascular system. Sunlight helps the body balance deuterium (heavy hydrogen) levels, the body’s microbiome, and blood sugar, among so much more. Research has found that low levels of lifetime sun exposure are linked to experiencing a younger menopausal transition and more intense symptoms. These and many other studies show that we are not getting enough natural light from the sun, especially in the early morning, and too much artificial light, from our modern lightbulbs and device screens, after dark. Sleep is key to health and getting the right cues from the sun supports melatonin production and sound sleep.

  • Watch the sunrise and spend time outside in the early morning UVA light (before UVB appears), even if it’s cloudy. If it’s raining, you might just want to have a quick look in the direction of the sun.
  • If the sun isn’t up when you awaken, use the same protocols as if it were the evening and then get outside when the sun rises.
  • Take light breaks outside, regularly, and open windows where you can, esp. if you work indoors.
  • Watch the sunset and limit/avoid artificial light exposure after dark to decrease cortisol and promote melatonin. Try blue light blocking glasses, amber lightbulbs, or candlelight, and use Iris or Nightshift software on your screens.
  • Stop screen use 1-2 hours before sleep. The content on your device also raises cortisol.
  • Spend as much time outdoors as you can, safely – dependent on skin tone.
  • The winter is a great time to get outside because the sun stays safely lower in the sky.
  • Get some vitamin D from safe midday sun exposure in the summer, supporting progesterone production.

N.B., the sun is fierce in New Zealand and Australia, so be sensible and, when in doubt, cover up, get in the shade (you’ll still be in natural light), or use a strong, natural sunscreen on exposed skin.

Focused wisdom for:

  • Teens and puberty: Help them build a sensible relationship with natural light. Limit their screen time at night and guide them to shift their sleep time earlier in the evening so that they do not build a habit of sleeping in and missing that valuable morning light.
  • Reproductive age and fertility: Healthy sunlight exposure is linked to healthy fertility. Get into the habit of getting that early morning infrared and UVA light for hormone balance.
  • Pregnancy: Sun exposure during pregnancy is associated with healthier babies and less preterm births. Use light clothing for protection in summer, but do not fear the sun – the pregnant belly lets in the appropriate spectrums of sunlight for each stage of the pregnancy.
  • Menopause: Consider light therapy. Red and infrared light has been shown to support mood, sleep, hormones, joints, skin health, circulation, and relaxation. But there really is no substitute for the complete spectrums in sunlight…and it’s free! Sunrise, early morning UVA, and blue light blocking after dark will be your best friends.

Diet

Diet also plays a massive role in our health. When thinking about what constitutes a healthy diet, we might want to move away from the diet wars and dogma, into simply thinking about what we need to nourish, protect, and energise our bodies. We would want to get amino acids (proteins), essential fats, minerals, vitamins, energy substrates (fat/carbs) and co-factors from real foods as much as possible. We might want to learn to prepare these foods in traditional ways to maximise bioavailability. We might wish to eat according to our ancestry and what sort of environment our ancestors lived in. We might want to watch our metabolic health and liver and thyroid function and consider getting guidance if we have metabolic issues. Our metabolic health simply refers to the biochemical process of turning food into fuel for the body and how our mitochondria are functioning.

Humans, from around the world, living an ancestral lifestyle have the following diet practices in common (all backed by scientific research…):

  • They eat locally and seasonally.
  • They do not eat refined, denatured, and ultra-processed foods.
  • They prioritise nutrient–dense animal foods, including things like organ meats, animal fats, eggs, raw dairy, shellfish, fish liver oils, and fish eggs. These contain building blocks and bioavailable micronutrients that are so crucial to reproductive hormone and metabolic health.
  • They eat some animal food raw and cook or ferment most plant foods.
  • They eat lacto-fermented condiments and beverages. Ferments outshine fibre for microbiome diversity and balance.
  • They eat animal fats for the essential fat-soluble vitamins (A, D3, K2, and E), cholesterol, DHA, EPA, arachidonic acid, and other healthy fatty acids. Plant fats can reduce these nutrients and cause an imbalance of omegas.
  • They do not use seed/vegetable oils or refined sugars, which are so damaging to human metabolism and hormonal health.
  • They make liberal use of unrefined, whole salt, usually a sea salt. Low salt (sodium) intake is linked to premenstrual and pregnancy issues, oestrogen dominance, water retention, low energy, and more.
  • They make gelatinous bone and connective tissue broths for soups, stews, gravy, and sauces.
  • Not many of them regularly eat plant seeds – grains, beans, seeds, and nuts – but if they do, they take the time to soak and ferment them to minimise anti-nutrients and enhance digestibility.

Interestingly, recent research into the hunting habits of traditional human groups has uncovered that in nearly 80% of those societies, women engage in intentional hunting practices. In groups where hunting is the main method of obtaining food, women hunt 100% of the time. They have “tool kits” and favourite weapons. The grandmas are often the most skilled hunters and teachers of hunting and trapping. Scientists have dismissed prehistoric female hunting prowess, even when they find plenty of historical evidence to the contrary – females buried with hunting weapons, etc. Another recent study concluded that prehistoric hunting, even for big game and megafauna, was a gender-neutral process.

Focused wisdom for:

  • Teens and puberty – Traditional humans focus on animal fats for the omegas, fat-soluble vitamins, and cholesterol (precursor to sex hormones). They would also give their children a taste for fermented foods. If you are worried about animal fats, don’t be… See “Fats are either saturated or unsaturated. Know the difference?” for the skinny on fats. All minerals are important; however, iodine intake (and thyroid health) becomes a focus at puberty.
  • Reproductive years – Traditional humans limit alcohol and prioritise liver health so that hormones are metabolised correctly. Eating a nutritious breakfast, with proteins and fats, is a secondary circadian signal of abundance for your brain, thyroid, and hormones – regularly skipping breakfast can lead to a slowing of metabolism and weight gain. Eating animal protein supports progesterone production. At the other end of the day, stop eating 3-4 hours before bed for sound sleep. See Good Health Cycle Balance for herbal hormone support or Good Health Pro Flora Care for genitourinary microbiome support.
  • Fertility – Traditional diets emphasise an even more nourishing diet containing nutrient rich offal, particularly liver, and/or seafood – fish roe is a reproductive powerhouse, and animal fats prior to conception, for both males and females, and during pregnancy.
  • Menopause – Traditional humans prioritise protein and collagen-rich foods like bone broth to support bone strength, connective tissue health, and blood sugar balance; and animal fats for the brain, hormones, heart, joints, and skin. Bone health is not just about calcium intake – bones can be well-mineralised (dense) but brittle due to loss of collagen (protein) structure, so animal proteins are favoured along with minerals. Make sure digestion is optimised to facilitate absorption and that metabolism is healthy, as metabolic health appears to affect perimenopausal symptomology. If you haven’t already, getting rid of seed/vegetable oils from your diet will be a big help. Animal fats have been shown in research to support and protect liver function, so important for hormonal health. See Good Health Peri-Meno+ for herbal perimenopausal support.

Connection

We know the importance of having a connection to loved ones, self-love and mana (respect), and a strong social and familial support network for overall health. These things can also support our reproductive lifecycle. Our connection to ourselves and others has been shown to support hormone balance. Our thoughts are known to influence our physiology and so thinking well is key. Research has found a role for social interaction and emotional support in managing cortisol. Practicing inner bonding (loving and caring for yourself) and establishing social, and strengthening familial, bonds may support female hormone balance throughout the reproductive years and help women get through menopause in a much smoother way. We can even create energy and support our feel-good chemicals by having a regular loving and caring practice for oneself.

There is also evidence to suggest that our connection to the earth and nature is important for our health. There are traditional humans who still walk barefoot on the earth, or use natural materials for footwear, and live within the natural environment. Research shows that regular barefoot grounding, or earthing, can support our circadian rhythm and biological clock, which supports our female hormones. Grounding and being in nature have also been shown to benefit the human microbiome, as well as our mood, immune health, and hormones, because we can become exposed to all sorts of microbes and experience a sense of calm when we walk in the bush or forest. Swimming in natural bodies of water is the ultimate in grounding and it gets you outside and into some cool or cold water.

Focused wisdom for:

  • Teens and puberty – self-love is one of the strongest predictors of health. Teach them self-love and self-respect and you will set them up for life.
  • All ages and stages can benefit from learning self-love techniques like inner bonding.
  • All ages and stages may find benefit from walking barefoot on grass or the beach for just 30-60 minutes a day.
  • The more adventurous might wish to combine cold water plunging, or forest bathing, and early morning sunlight exposure with being grounded.

If you are at all concerned with any part of your reproductive and/or hormonal life, please see your GP or connect with a natural health professional to personalise your diet, lifestyle, and herbal supplements.

See Ancestral Wisdom for Female Hormonal Health, Part 2

And for the rest of the Women’s Health Series:

The 3 Ms and the Female Hormonal Life Cycle, Part 1 – Menarche

The 3 Ms and the Female Hormonal Life Cycle, Part 2 – Menstruation

The 3 Ms and the Female Hormonal Life Cycle, Part 3 – Menopause

The Female Microbiome

TAPS No: 2522


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