Ancestral Wisdom for Female Hormonal Health, Part 2 by Goodhealth

Ancestral Wisdom for Female Hormonal Health, Part 2

May 1, 2024

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, microbiome, 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 for clues on how to prevent some of the degenerative conditions that are increasing in modernised humans. This is a big one, 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 2 – Exercise, Thermal Practices, EMFs and Pollution, and Stress

Exercise

We are at that point now, with so much research to back it up, to say that some type of exercise in your day is essential at any age. Studies show that regular exercise supports the reduction of reproductive and hormonal issues, microbiome and hormone balance, and menopausal manifestations like temperature fluctuations and erratic mood.  Muscle is now being looked at as a longevity organ and is linked to metabolic, heart, and bone health. Three physiological changes after menopause are the loss of skeletal muscle and bone density, and the gain of adipose tissue, particularly unhealthy visceral fat. There is a type of subcutaneous fat, called brown fat, that is metabolically healthy. Traditional humans remain active and gain plenty of lean muscle mass, even if they have added subcutaneous fat tissue. This has been found in recent research to be healthier than having poor musculature and little to no body fat. A preventative strategy would be for women to focus on building and maintaining muscular power.  There are all sorts of ways to achieve this. The younger you start, the better; however, any age is a good age to start resistance training, etc., and to see the benefits.

Another focus might be on exercise that decreases cortisol and other stress hormones. Just 20-30 minutes walking is enough to significantly drop cortisol levels. Traditional humans tend to do a lot of walking and getting 10,000-12,000 steps per day of walking is linked to healthy weight and cardiovascular function. Pilates, yoga, qi gong, thai chi, or other gentle movement can also be very useful in relieving stress. A movement regimen that consists of a bit of endurance (cardio), or HIIT, and balance and yoga-type exercises, with strength training, might just do the trick. While you’re at it, exercise outdoors and spend time barefoot on grass or sand, or swimming in the sea/lake/river, to get the benefits of natural light and being grounded to the earth.

Focused wisdom for:

  • Teens and puberty: Any activity they like to engage in is good to focus on. Not everyone is super athletic, but we can all find some kind of “play” or exercise regimes we enjoy doing.
  • Reproductive age: Exercise to create strength, flexibility, lean muscle mass, and balanced hormones.
  • Fertility: More of a focus on relieving stress in all areas but fairly similar to normal routine.
  • Pregnancy: Research says pregnant women who remain active experience fewer issues with pregnancy and birth. Avoid contact sports and rough activities, of course!
  • Menopause: Focus on safely keeping or building muscle mass for bone density and strength, and doing activities that are joyful and playful to help with stress relief. Taking short walks after meals can support healthy weight.

Thermal Practices

Traditional humans are exposed to extremes of heat and cold on a regular basis. We evolved “shock” proteins that are released in response to the stress of the extreme heat or cold, which trigger a cascade of ultimately beneficial processes. This is known as hormetic stress, or “that which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”. A growing body of research is finding a link between cold or heat exposure and healthier reproductive function and smoother menopause. Research tells us that separate cold plunges, in very cold water (under 10°C – Celsius) totaling 11 minutes per week and separate saunas totaling around 60 minutes per week is enough to see benefits in metabolism and fat composition.

It might seem counter-intuitive to get in a sauna when you are experiencing hot flushes, but multiple research studies show saunas to be beneficial during perimenopause. Dry sauna and infrared sauna have been shown to support internal temperature and sweat management, sound sleep, cardiovascular and joint comfort, healthy libido and weight, stress management, and a balanced mood in menopausal women. Sauna is generally thought of as higher than 75°C (approximately 170°F – Fahrenheit). Steam saunas do not appear to convey the same benefits.

On the cold end of the spectrum, emerging evidence suggests that regular cold plunging, or cryotherapy, may be supportive for hormone and reproductive function, stress and mood management, joint comfort, blood circulation, and to increase the amount of healthy “brown” fat and decrease the formation of damaging visceral fat. What constitutes “cold” water is generally taken to mean temperatures less than 15°C (approx. 60°F), even as low as 2-3°C, that result in a variety of hormetic stress responses in our bodies during and post emersion. A caveat would be that because these practices do release stress hormones and an immune response, it would be wise to check with a health practitioner before starting as to whether it would be suitable for you to engage in any type of thermal therapy.

Focused wisdom for:

  • Teens and puberty: Sauna and cold plunging might not be de rigueur for our teens but they probably experience cold water swimming at times.
  • Reproductive age: Avoid cold plunging during ovulation and just prior to and during menstruation. Sauna during this time would be great.
  • Fertility: Again, more of a focus on relieving stress, so limit cold plunging; perhaps more sauna.
  • Pregnancy: If you already have a habit of thermal therapies, do what feels right without stress. Studies show sauna is safe during uncomplicated pregnancies. If you haven’t tried them before, perhaps it is not the best time to introduce it. Talk to your health provider if you’re keen.
  • Menopause: Go for it! Watch for any signs of additional stress and if you have any health conditions, particularly with your heart or immune health, check with a health professional first.

EMFs and pollution

Traditional humans tend to live in areas where there is no pollution, chemical or in the air, and where there are little to no non-native electromagnetic frequencies, from cell towers, etc. Some tribes have started to use cell phones, so things are changing for them now. But, for all intents and purposes, these things have had little influence on their physiology and health, to date. Research shows us that air pollution is detrimental to our metabolism and hormones. Chemical exposure can alter physiological function and affect our hormones, as well.

Studies are more mixed on the effect of EMFs; however, much of the research showing no adverse effects is done by vested interest and many studies showing the opposite are not widely seen. On a cellular level, EMF exposure can cause cells to accumulate calcium and decrease in exclusion zone water, affecting their ability to make energy. It is probably wise to use caution with cell phones and laptops, etc., when fertility and pregnancy are desired.  Plastics are another thing that traditional people would have little contact with. Plastics, perfumes, and other chemical-containing products are well-known to contain endocrine disruptors, so limiting their use, especially when pregnant or prior to conception, may also be wise.

Focused wisdom for:

  • All ages and stages benefit from an awareness of where toxic substances can be found and how to mitigate exposure. This can be an effortful and time-consuming endeavour, so maybe address these things when stress is low.
  • Grounding and sunlight exposure can support the body and its cells cope better with exposure to toxicity, as can diet and stress management techniques.

Stress

We left the biggest until last… Stress, chiefly emotional stress, is a huge factor in hormonal health. In our modern lifestyle we are consistently in stressful situations – driving a car, working in an unnatural environment, pressure at work, economic pressure, multi-tasking, relationship problems, physical stress from poor diets, and more. Not often do we get a chance to “decompress”. The permanent state of the resulting fight-or-flight response without recovery periods, results in hormonal imbalances and metabolic dysfunction, among many other negative physiological changes.

Many hunter/gatherer-type people, living their traditional lives, when questioned about stress, speak of not worrying about things. Their focus is finding food and connecting with each other, and this does not generally create stress among the tribespeople. At least, those things are not perceived as stressful. Humans, and indeed other animals, are designed to be able to cope with stressful situations in short bursts – running from a threat or fighting. This changes our physiology, dramatically, but then we return to normal relatively quickly.  The trick is to learn to perceive daily events as simply just happening. Letting go of attachment to outcomes or seeing the harmless reality of a given situation takes practice but has been shown to be very effective. Meditation and breathing techniques are 2 examples of stress management practices. Sometimes just being in nature can be very calming.

Focused wisdom for:

  • Teens and puberty: Research has shown young people benefit greatly from creating daily meditation and breathing practices. Set them up for life by guiding them with this.
  • Reproductive age: Expanding things on a metaphysical level, perhaps. There are many types of stress-relief techniques. Find the one/s that work for you.
  • Fertility: More of a focus on relieving stress to facilitate conception. Most women say they found it easier to conceive when stress was low. Deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation are big stress relievers.
  • Pregnancy: Do whatever you have the time and energy for. Simple breathing exercises may be your best friend.
  • Menopause: During perimenopause, oestrogen production decreases and cortisol rises. The rise in cortisol can contribute to weight gain, hormonal disruption, and cardiovascular and blood sugar imbalances. Meditation has been shown in research to support healthy cortisol levels.

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 1

And 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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