I just returned from travelling for close to three weeks to promote my new book, Is It Me or My Hormones? and the PBS special I made on the same topic. I went to cities I'd never set foot in before, met some wonderful people, and learned a lot about the state of health in our country.
What was so shocking to me was learning that many of our most challenging medical problems stem from a lack of good information. For one thing, there's new diet every week. And it's typically showcased on the cover of a magazine with a delicious dessert! I've heard so many people say "I just don't know what to do" -- and so they don't do anything. Here's some of what I learned during my travels and some conclusions that might help us get back on track.
Even very intelligent people are still baffled about how to be healthy. With the media focused on selling advertising with controversial stories rather than real information, we now have people who are very invested in their health but are still confused about which habits and foods are considered "healthy." I had people on the front lines of PBS production asking questions about food, vitamins, and what to do about their health. It was exciting to see so many people interested in a subject I care dearly for, but very clear that many were mixed up. One of the biggest problems is that we've forgotten to simply check in with how we feel each day. We scour magazines and the Internet to find the newest health trend and try it. Then when it doesn't work, we trudge on, resigned to the popular wisdom that we might feel tired or sick because we're just getting old. My alternative? We can start stepping out of this pattern by taking a close look at how what we're eating and doing on a daily basis might be contributing to how we feel. This is the best place to start: How do you feel today?
The general population doesn't understand how many hormones we have, that they are integrally linked to each other, and that they are crucial to our health. Did you know you have over 100 hormones in your body, mostly derived from cholesterol? And did you know that the most well known hormones like estrogen and testosterone are not even considered major hormones? If you answered "no" to these questions, you are not alone. The most influential hormones in the human body are insulin and cortisol. These hormones are directly influenced by what you eat (both insulin and cortisol affect blood sugar) and the amount of stress in your life (cortisol is the major stress hormone). So it makes sense that eating well and reducing stress are at the root of all good health. Cortisol and insulin can then positively affect our sex hormones and the entire endocrine system. That's why my book, Is It Me or My Hormones?, is so focused on food as a solution for hormonal imbalance. It may seem odd to think that the French fries you ate at lunch might cause your PMS or your menopause symptoms, but it's true. It's not just about calories -- it's the kind of calories. One hundred calories of broccoli will send different messages to your body than 100 calories of sugar.
Simple is better. For a long time I've been so eager to give my patients, members of Women to Women's personal program, and my readers as much good information as possible. During my travels, it hit me that it's taken years for me to acquire the knowledge that I have about functional medicine and natural health. How can I expect people to swallow loads of information all at once and retain any of it? We need options for making changes in our lives, small steps and then, when we're ready, bigger steps. Of course the advice I gave to people on my PBS tour was based on their individual situations. For some, a great first step was to stop eating and drinking sugar. That's it. Just taking that one step can make a world of difference for some people. For others, I suggested removing gluten or dairy. For some, it was to start taking a multivitamin every day, or to take a walk. There are so many ways to set out on the road to health and I learned that giving too much information at the get-go is just overwhelming. When we're learning to walk, we take baby steps, right? When we're learning to take care of our bodies, it's the same thing.
No matter where I go in the country, people are wonderful, funny, and hungry for information about their health. There are so many misperceptions that so called "healthy" people make about so called "unhealthy" people. What I realized in talking to people across the country is that most of us are genuinely doing our best to maintain our health. Men and women of all shapes and sizes want to know more about the right kinds of foods to eat, the benefits of exercise, and the use of herbs to balance hormones. We are all on this quest to be healthy together, and I'm learning how to spread the knowledge to help people feel good, no matter what their starting points are.
Though the concepts of how to stay healthy haven't changed much, there are a few universal truths that bubble to the top of the list: Eat an organic, mostly plant-based diet. Cook from scratch if you can, and remember that food is information for our bodies. Our genes are not our destiny.
If you've been thinking about making changes to improve your health, take a look at our website, www.wometowomen.com or read my book, Is It Me or My Hormones?, which is loaded with easy-to-follow health tips and delicious healthy recipes. Maybe on my next tour, I'll see you on the road!
For more by Marcelle Pick, OB-GYN, NP, click here.
For more on diet and nutrition, click here.