06/12/2013 12:09 EDT | Updated 08/12/2013 05:12 EDT

Six Shocking Causes of Hormone Disruption

If your cravings are through the roof, your sleep a thing of the past, your memory forgettable, and you have thrown out your skinny jeans, you may just be suffering from a hormone imbalance. However, the six things that can thrown you out of balance -- or keep you from getting solid hormonal ground -- may just surprise you.

You don't pay attention to your cosmetics: Phthalates and parabens are widely used in a range of cosmetics and have been linked to cancer, obesity, diabetes. In fact, a link between phthalates and thyroid hormone levels was confirmed by the University of Michigan in the first large-scale and nationally representative study of phthalates and BPA in relation to thyroid function in humans. As ingestion of these chemicals increased, serum levels of certain thyroid hormone levels decreased. Remember that the products you use on your body or face should be free of methylparabens, propyl parabens, formaldehyde, imidazolidinyl urea, methylisothiazolinone, propylene glycol, paraffin, phthalates, isopropyl alcohol and sodium lauryl sulphate.

You take too many spin classes: Whether we engage in strength training or aerobic activity, cortisol is released during exercise in proportion to the intensity of our effort. Both high-intensity and prolonged exercise cause increases in cortisol, which can remain elevated for hours following a workout.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina have also linked strenuous, fatiguing exercise to higher cortisol and lower thyroid hormones. Remember, thyroid hormones stimulate your metabolism, so depletion is definitely not a desired effect of exercise! The same study found thyroid hormones remained suppressed even 24 hours after recovery, whereas cortisol levels remained high throughout the same period. As you can see, more is not always better. This is why I recommend short, intense, 30-minute strength training sessions 3x along with at least one yoga session.

You take too many unneeded medications: Under normal circumstances, friendly bacteria found in our digestive system live with us in symbiotic harmony. Factors such as poor diet, and medications such as birth control pills, antibiotics and corticosteroids, can however upset this healthy balance and lead to a host of difficulties, including increased body fat storage and reduced insulin sensitivity.

While they are designed to help our health, many medications are also a source of toxins and hormonal disruption. The biggest culprits are antidepressants, birth control pills, synthetic HRT and corticosteroids. A study published in Diabetes Care examined antidepressant medication use as a risk factor for type 2 diabetes and weight gain. Researchers found that more frequent dosages of antidepressants were associated with double the risk of diabetes in participants. The study concluded that ongoing use of antidepressant medication was associated with an increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes. It goes without saying to please consult your health practitioner before considering making any changes to your medications.

You consume too many sweeteners: A not-so-sweet fact is that artificial sweeteners are known to cause increased cravings and weight gain, and may subsequently contribute to pre-diabetes. Psychologists at Purdue University's Ingestive Behavior Research Center reported that relative to rats that ate yogourt sweetened with glucose (sugar), rats given yogourt sweetened with zero-calorie saccharin later consumed more calories, gained more weight and put on more body fat. Another study by researchers at the University of Texas San Antonio found that middle-aged adults who drink diet soft drinks drastically increase their risk of gaining weight later on. When researchers followed up with the participants after eight years, they discovered those who consumed one diet soda a day were 65 per cent more likely to be overweight than those who drank none. My recommendation would be to ditch both the regular -- and the diet soda -- and get your tastebuds used to water naturally sweetened with lemon or fresh cut fruit. For your sweet tooth, choose products with xylitol, stevia, luo han, or opt to include cinnamon or unsweetened cocoa powder (i.e. in your shakes) to add taste.

You are too acidic: You will enjoy the most dramatic results when your body is slightly alkaline -- and your hormones will love you for it. You can test your body fluids (saliva or urine) using litmus paper strips purchased from your local health food store. Test your pH first thing in the morning or one hour before a meal or two hours after eating. Match your strip to the associated colour on the package of pH papers to determine your body pH. If the pH of your saliva stays between 7.0 and 7.4 all day, your body is functioning within a healthy range. If your urinary pH fluctuates between 6.0 to 6.5 in the morning and 6.5 and 7.0 in the evening, your body is within a healthy pH range. First morning urine should be slightly more acidic as you eliminate waste accumulated throughout the night. Continue to measure your pH daily if your values are abnormal, otherwise testing once a week will suffice. Drink water with fresh lemon twice daily to boost your alkalinity and consider adding a greens powder or fresh spinach to your smoothies.

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