Category Archives: Hormone Balance

Homemade Sauerkraut: Improve Digestion, Prevent Cancer

There is a farm at my children’s school, and every Thursday afternoon they host a farm stand where parents and students can buy fresh veggies, goat milk products, and homemade goodies. A few weeks ago, I stopped by the stand and encountered some truly amazing produce–a head of cabbage so giant I thought I was back in Alaska. I passed on buying it, not knowing what I’d actually do with the beast, but I went home and thought about it all night, came up with a plan, and the next day headed back to the farm to see if there were more. The farmer generously took me out to the field and found me this beauty. I brought this leafy 15-pounder home and started shredding.IMG_1105

Making Sauerkraut:
It turns out making sauerkraut is a relatively simple process: it requires cabbage, salt, and a good vessel for storage. I bought a large crock for making vinegar a few years ago so I decided to use this. I would recommend using something nonreactive and not plastic, so crockery or glass are good options. According to Alton Brown, my go-to resource for all cooking projects that seem a bit more like chemistry, for every 5lbs of cabbage, use 3Tbsp pickling salt (I used kosher salt and doubled the amount). He also uses 1 Tbsp of juniper berries and 2 tsp caraway, but that is optional. After shredding and mixing the cabbage with salt, pack it firmly into your sanitized fermentation vessel of choice. Place a plate on top of the cabbage, then lay a quart-sized glass jar full of water over the plate (sanitize these too).
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After a couple days, a liquid brine should form to cover the top of the cabbage, if not, add enough water to cover the cabbage. Check it every couple of days and skim the scum off the top if necessary. The sauerkraut should be ready in 10 days to 4 weeks-just take a bit out and taste it! When it is finished, pack it into sanitized quart jars and cover with brine (the spigot at the bottom of my vinegar crock was handy for this). It should keep in the refrigerator for a few months.IMG_1177

Why Sauerkraut?

In addition to being a good source of Vitamin C, B6, and iron, there are two primary health benefits to eating sauerkraut: improved digestion and cancer prevention. The digestive benefits are twofold: there are many strains of probiotic bacteria (including lactobacillus) that work together to eat the sugars in the cabbage and produce this fermented food. Eating raw sauerkraut will help to repopulate the large intestine with beneficial bacteria, which can improve digestion, relieve inflammation, and increase the strength of the immune system overall. Green cabbage is also a good source of glutamine, which is an amino acid that is the preferred food for the lining of the digestive tract. This can also help to repair damaged cells and improve the integrity of the large intestine. One word of caution; the process of fermentation can create a trisaccharide that, when consumed by the bacteria that live in the digestive tract, can cause gas for some people. The addition of caraway and juniper (as advised by Alton Brown’s recipe) can help to dispel that gas and maximize the digestive benefit of the sauerkraut.

Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) is the primary chemical present in sauerkraut that has been associated with cancer prevention. I3C can be found in all members of the cabbage (brassica) family, but particularly high levels have been found in cabbage that has been fermented for 7-9 days. After this length of time, I3C levels continue to remain elevated but will taper off over time. I3C has been shown to reduce proliferation (growth) of several types of cancer, including colon, prostate, breast, and leukemia. I3C has been discussed particularly in reference to prevention of breast and cervical cancers because it helps to metabolize and remove estrogens from the system. These types of cancer are frequently (though not always) dependent upon estrogen as a growth promoter. However, I3C also can help to initiate natural cell death (called apoptosis) and protect the liver against cancer-causing chemicals which is why benefit has been found for non-estrogen dependent cancers as well.

Making sauerkraut is a little adventure that yields a delicious, health promoting, and cost-saving product with flavor unrivaled by the canned store-bought types. You can purchase raw sauerkraut at many health food stores, but the cost can be upwards of $20/quart. Making it at home requires only the cost of the cabbage–mine cost about $1.30/quart, plus the glory of figuring out what to do with a cabbage the size of my torso.

Enjoy and be well!

BPA: Minimize Exposure to Optimize Reproductive Health

I was recently reading a New York Times article entitled “In Plastics and Cans, a Threat to Women,” (1) which talked about some of the more recent research that has been showing the reproductive effects of Bisphenol A, or BPA. The studies quoted in this article show that BPA restricts development of healthy eggs in animal models. Exposure to BPA at any time of life: in the womb, in childhood, and in adulthood all will have a negative effect on female fertility. In a study conducted on discarded eggs from an IVF clinic, they found “Higher levels of BPA were linked to stunted human oocytes, as well as indications of chromosomal damage.” Higher serum levels of BPA have also been linked to greater risk of miscarriage.(2) Studies have also found BPA to have a negative impact on male reproductive function, most profoundly when exposure occurs in utero. Effects on male fetuses included, among other issues, feminization and testicular atrophe. (3)

Although reproductive problems are only one of the ways in which BPA can affect human health (it has also been associated with diabetes, heart disease, thyroid problems and weight gain), this issue is particularly alarming because of the profound impact it can have on our and our children’s quality of life. Infertility is a huge issue in the United States, and it is important for us to look to the future to protect the reproductive health of our children. The choices we make for our children during pregnancy and in their early years can profoundly influence their overall health and reproductive capability in the future. So how can we minimize exposure to and negative effects from BPA?

BPA is an extremely common compound; 5-6 billion tons are produced annually worldwide. The CDC estimates that 93% of people in this country have detectable levels of BPA in their bloodstream, so most of us are coming into contact with it on a regular basis. It can be found in:
Protective layers of canned food containers
wine vat linings
lining water pipes
plastic food storage containers
epoxy resin based paints
floorings
dental composites and sealants
CDs
automobile parts
baby bottles
plastic dinnerware
eyeglass lenses
toys
thermal receipts
impact resistant safety equipment
Some PVC plastics (4)
A recent study found that people who had extensive contact with BPA-coated receipts (such as grocery store checkers) did not have significant elevation in their blood levels of BPA. (5) So coming into skin contact with BPA is probably of less concern to most of us. For most people, the primary route of entry into the body is by ingesting food that has been in contact with BPA. For this reason, the primary way to avoid BPA exposure is to be conscientious about how your food is stored.

The good news is that many companies have switched to BPA-free plastics for food storage. Most baby bottles, water bottles, and many storage containers produced in the past 2-3 years will now be BPA free. In general, it is a good idea to avoid any food or water containers made of plastic with a number 7 on the bottom. This is not a guarantee that the plastic contains BPA, but it could. Rubbermaid has switched their storage containers to be BPA-free as well. However, even plastics that are BPA-free may contain other less-studied substances that can also influence the function of the endocrine (hormone) systems, so moving towards glass and ceramic storage containers is generally a good idea.

Another way to avoid BPA is to eat more fresh, homemade foods. There are many companies that have started switching the lining of their cans to be BPA-free (here’s a nice list of these companies)(6), but in addition to all the other health promoting reasons it is a good idea to make your food yourself, you will be minimizing the risk of exposure from BPA-lined cans.

While minimizing exposure to BPA is obviously a primary goal, it is clear that most of us will come into contact with it in our daily lives. Assuming that most of us have BPA in our system, the final question is how we can mitigate its effects. While there is less research so far in this area, one thing we know is that at least some of its negative effects result from oxidative damage to cells or DNA. It stands to reason then to look to some of our natural antioxidants to counteract the oxidative effects of BPA. In one in vitro study, oxidative damage to red blood cells was reversed using green tea.(7) Another study showed that the effects of oxidation by BPA were reduced in young women by consumption of wheat sprout juice. (8)

BPA is an extremely common substance: most of us come into contact with it on a daily basis, and almost all of us have it in our bodies. While we must live in our world and not spend our time worrying about every detail, it makes sense to minimize exposure to BPA, especially during pregnancy and childhood. The best way to do this is to focus on eating fresh, home-prepared foods, store our foods in glass and ceramic containers, and eat plant foods that are rich in antioxidants. This will help us to maintain good health and preserve the reproductive health of our children.
1.http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/08/28/in-plastics-and-cans-a-threat-to-women/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_php=true&_type=blogs&ref=health&_r=1
2. Lathi RB1, Liebert CA2, Brookfield KF3, et al. Conjugated bisphenol A in maternal serum in relation to miscarriage risk.Fertil Steril. 2014 Jul;102(1):123-8.
3.Manfo FP1, Jubendradass R, Nantia EA et al. Adverse effects of bisphenol A on male reproductive function.Rev Environ Contam Toxicol. 2014;228:57-82. ,
4. http://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/BisphenolA_BiomonitoringSummary.html
5. Porras SP1, Heinälä M2, Santonen T2. Bisphenol A exposure via thermal paper receipts.Toxicol Lett. 2014 Aug 28. pii: S0378-4274(14)01310-1.
6. http://www.inspirationgreen.com/bpa-lined-cans.html
7.Suthar H, Verma RJ, Patel S, Jasrai YT. Green tea potentially ameliorates bisphenol a-induced oxidative stress: an in vitro and in silico study. Biochem Res Int. 2014;2014:259763. Epub 2014 Aug 10.
8.Yi B1, Kasai H, Lee HS, et al.Inhibition by wheat sprout (Triticum aestivum) juice of bisphenol A-induced oxidative stress in young women. Mutat Res. 2011 Sep 18;724(1-2):64-8.

Hormone Testing

In my practice, I often see patients with a variety of symptoms that may seem unrelated but may all be somehow connected to either the reproductive (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone), stress (cortisol and adrenalin) or thyroid hormones. Some of the issues that are often related to hormone imbalance include menstrual problems, insomnia, migraines, anxiety, weight gain, fatigue, and menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and low libido. As a woman approaches menopause, the production of the reproductive hormones (estrogen and progesterone) will shift from the ovaries to the adrenal glands, which also produce our stress hormones. If the adrenals are already fatigued from a lifetime of other stressors, giving them this extra job can make this transition particularly uncomfortable. Additionally, shifts in the reproductive or stress hormones can also throw the thyroid out of balance.
Usually, just getting some good objective information is the best first step towards resolving the issue. Most of these hormones can be evaluated using a simple saliva test, with the exception of thyroid hormone which is best evaluated through the blood. Once we know which hormones are out of balance, either in excess or deficiency, then we have many natural options to help bring things back into balance and get you feeling better. Please feel free to call or email me if you have questions regarding hormone testing!

Kale and Hormone Balance

This piece was written as a contribution to Chef Lilly Allison Steirer’s weekly newsletter “In Season”

I think of kale as an amazing vegetable, primarily because of its hardiness in my garden. Kale is one of the very first vegetables in my garden ready for eating in mid-to-late April; it weathers the heat of the summer and stays hardy all the way through late November when we till everything up for the winter. Frankly, if we didn’t so get many feet of snow each year I think it could go year-round. Given the wide variety of temperatures and weather here in Colorado I think of this as nothing short of remarkable.
One of the interesting aspects of the vegetables in the cabbage (also called crucifer) family is their affect on the endocrine, or hormone, system. All of the members of this family including kale contain some amount of indole-3-carbinol, a chemical that has been getting a lot of press lately. Indole-3-carbinol helps the body to metabolize our most potent estrogens into a less active form, which can be quite useful therapeutically for those who would benefit from reduced estrogen levels. This can include problems with uterine fibroids, menopausal symptoms due to high estrogen and low progesterone, fibrocystic breast disease, and prevention of breast cancer. Although this chemical can be found in an isolated form in a nutritional supplement, eating whole foods from the crucifer family will give you the added benefit of fiber, B vitamins, minerals, and chlorophyll.
On the flip side, cruciferous vegetables also can inhibit absorption of iodine which will decrease production of thyroid hormone. This can be of some use to those with hyperthyroidism, but people with low thyroid should be wary of consuming these too frequently. That said, many sources note that heat destroys the component of kale that inhibits the absorption of iodine so if you prefer your kale cooked, this should not be too big of a problem.