March 06, 2015

Naturopathy

A picture of a tattooed woman holding vitamin pills in her hand

I visited a Naturopath for the first time a couple weeks ago. It's something I knew I wanted to do if I didn't see the improvements I hoped for with my skin after 6 months off the pill. I definitely had high expectations, especially as my skin didn't start breaking out until October. I had to admit I needed some guidance.

There's no definitive timescale (that I can find) for how long it takes for the pill to leave your system and I'm sure we all experience different symptoms. Many women suffer with post-pill amenorrhea (absence of menstruation) when stopping the pill, I've heard it taking anything between 6 - 18 months before periods return. It can take a long time to stabilise hormones and recover fully from the effects of the pill, it's not simply a case of the synthetic hormones leaving your body and everything going straight back to it's optimum state.

One of the reasons many of us suffer with post-pill amenorrhea is because the pill switches off the hypothalamus, which then tells the pituitary gland that there is sufficient levels of progesterone and oestrogen in the body (from the synthetic versions the pill is made up of), this stops the pituitary producing the hormones that occur in a normal menstrual cycle and stimulate the ovaries, leading to ovulation. Ovulation can't occur when those hormones aren't produced by the pituitary. When we take the pill for a length of time, those high blood levels of oestrogen and progesterone can persist even after stopping, so the pituitary stops producing the hormones, in turn hindering ovulation. Without ovulation, a period won't occur. I really tried to simplify that and put it into my own words. You can google 'post pill amenorrhea' or read about it in more detail here!

I wasn't expecting my period to return (which it didn't the first time I attempted to stop for 6 months, leading me to go back on it, wrongly thinking it regulated my periods - it doesn't ) so began taking supplements 2-3 months before I stopped taking the pill at the end of August 2014. My reasons for supplementing were to increase my levels of vitamins and minerals, which I believe the pill can prevent absorption of, as well as taking specific supplements (women's multivitamin, omega 3, probiotic) to regulate hormones and promote gut health. There's a lot of information out there explaining how the pill can impact on the healthy bacteria in the gut and many conditions are cited as being caused by an imbalance of the gut - candida, autoimmune disorders, acne... There's differing opinions, but reading any woman's account of healing herself after taking the pill and my own experience helps me in making my mind up about that.

If you've read my first post about the pill, you'll know my period returned exactly a month after my last pill withdrawal bleed. I could have danced. I probably did. Comparing the experience with the unsuccessful attempt a few years ago, the only thing I was doing differently was taking the supplements and eating better - healthy fats, vegetables. I should add I was/am in a happy, stable relationship and was practising yoga almost daily, so my stress levels were probably better managed (despite everything that happened last year!). Stress wreaks havoc with hormones. So, my only issue now is acne, which is what I went to the Naturopath to discuss.

Supplements

It turned out that I was on the right lines with what I had "self-prescribed" and the only thing my Naturopath added was Evening Primrose Oil. We also decided I wouldn't take Agnus Castus. I didn't feel it was helping and worried it could affect my regular cycles. This is what I'm currently taking:

500mg Evening Primrose Oil - 2 x soft gels per day. My Naturopath ordered these via her supplier and they are hypoallergenic. I'm going to talk about it further down.

1360mg Omega 3 DHA EPA Fish Oil - 1 per day. Omega 3 can help balance hormones and reduce acne inflammation. I originally took a vegan omega 3, but felt I needed the real thing for the greater good.

25mg Zinc Picolinate - 2 x coated tablets per day. I take Picolinate because it's apparently absorbed easier. Research shows people with acne have lower levels of zinc than people with clear skin. Supplementing with zinc can help reduce acne up to 50% (source).

20mcg Vitamin D3 - 1-2 capsules per day. These were prescribed by my GP as my blood test showed I was deficient. Vitamin D is responsible for a lot of important functions and I think it's helped with my low moods.

210mg Ferrous Fumerate (Iron) - 1 per day. Again, prescribed by my GP as I'm anaemic. Iron is vital for red blood cell function. Since taking it I feel less heavy and fatigued. I also don't get out of breath anymore from doing minimal activity.

1000mcg Vitamin B12 - 1 tablet every few days, initially daily. I read a few accounts of B12 contributing to acne so decided to lower my dose to see if it has an effect. I take it to increase my energy amongst other things. B12 deficiency can cause a lot of problems (source).

Acidophilus (probiotic) - I'm switching to Lactobacillus for a while as my Naturopath explained I should be rotating with different types of probiotic in order to optimise the benefits and get a variety. Gut health is really important in healing acne.

Multivitamin - 1 per day. I switched to this from Vitabiotic's Wellwoman after comparing the range/dose of vitamins within. I think this one is more potent. It has all the usual vitamins to help with immunity and hormonal regulation. 

* I've linked to the ones I can, so just click on where the text is bold. Just a note, when a supplement label recommends more than one tablet a day, make sure you space the dose out and, for example, take one with breakfast, one with tea ('tea' is dinner for Northern folks - felt I had to clarify that. Writing dinner doesn't feel right!). This aids proper absorption as opposed to double dropping.

Benefits of Evening Primrose Oil

I honestly feel like I've been seeing an improvement since taking the EPO (and Zinc actually) so wanted to get more in depth about it. The most relevant benefit for me is that EPO is high in GLA/LA (Gamma-linolenic acid and Linolenic acid) an Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) which can help reduce inflammation. LA is needed for prostaglandin E and ELA is important for the synthesis of prostaglandin. Prostaglandins help regulate hormones and promote proper cell growth. I don't want to get too scientific. People take EPO to help relieve symptoms from a whole range of issues, including;

PMS - my boobs weren't as painful this last period, usually even somebody brushing past me hurts and doubles me over. My whole body gets super sensitive. I've also read that it can help relieve cramps, but I can't vouch for that because the first two days of mine were pretty intense this time. I can be lax with remembering to take 2 a day, but have been more consistent. Keen to see if it helps the cramps next month.

Rosacea - the EFA's reduce inflammation and help produce prostaglandin which play a part in simulation the contraction of blood vessels.

Acne - as well as the anti-inflammatory properties, EPO works to dilute, or reduce, excess sebum production, in turn helping to prevent clogged pores and "lesions".

Other things it's used for (which I've not read about extensively) are;

High cholesterol
Heart disease
Chronic Fatigue
Eczema
Menopause
General nail, hair & skin health
Fertility.

Diet

As mentioned, I'm vegetarian and have been since I was 17. Before this, I only ate chicken and the occasional piece of fish, which I don't even like. I've never been big on meat. I was vegan for a couple years. I do feel that I lack in certain nutrients because of my diet and I'm sure some veggies will find that admission annoying - I'm not saying we're all malnourished, but I have to be really careful otherwise I lose weight, catch every cold going and have terrible skin. I'm not the best eater, I'm one of those who eats to live. I don't especially enjoy cooking or 'fussy' food. Working on improving that.

My Naturopath advised me to cut out dairy, which is regularly recommended for people looking to fix skin conditions. I was already working on cutting it down by limiting cheese and having dairy-fee milk (which I always have in cereal anyway). Milk in my tea is automatically cut out because I've been cutting down on caffeine. I haven't had a 'real' cuppa for almost a month now. Pretty incredible for me - the withdrawal headache was quite something for the first few days. I've been drinking hot water with lemon and ginger, peppermint tea and green tea - green tea does contain a small amount of caffeine, but comes with a lot of benefits and has been cited as blocking androgen, which is a hormone that can contribute to acne. Dianette and Yamsin both work on acne by 'blocking' androgens.

She also advised I limit wheat, but if I must have it, keep it to a single, small serving on that day. I've had wholegrain pasta twice and some sourdough bread, but have really tried to keep away from it to see if it helps.

She instructed me to eat more in general because apparently two meals a day isn't good enough, whoops. Keeping blood sugar levels in check is an important factor in treating acne (and mood swings!). It's all about regular meals and snacks to sustain me - 3 square meals and 2-3 snacks. I was also told to eat increase protein. My breakfast is usually porridge made with oat milk, with a mix of berries, pumpkin/sunflower seeds, cashew nuts, walnuts and brazil nuts. Lunch is a fresh, vegetable rich soup with a side of raw carrots, peppers and hummus. For dinner we've been having things like stir fries with lots of colourful veg, tofu (sometimes cashews as I try to limit soya protein) and brown rice, or chilli made with lots of beans and pulses. I snack on oat cakes, apples and bananas with a side of nut butter and drink at least 1 litre of water a day on top of the teas.

A result of the diet change is that sugar is automatically cut down on, as I don't snack on chocolate or biscuits. I've been exploring something called the Candida cleanse, but feel a bit overwhelmed by it at the moment. I've had the occasional treat (a full bar of dark chocolate on day 2 of my period, whoops again), but for the most part I'm eating better than ever. Healing acne is never a case of putting a harsh cream on your face, it starts from within. I plan to get a bit more adventurous as it becomes easier to eat this way.

Sleep

She advised me to get to bed and aim to sleep before 11. I was having trouble falling asleep and was waking up late on a morning, leaving me totally unrefreshed with huuuuge dark circles. I think stress played a part in messing my routine up in the first place. Studies have shown that its best to sleep before 11 to get the most 'meaningful' sleep. Cortisol (stress hormone!) can kick in after 11pm, giving us that 'second wind' feeling where you just can't shut off despite feeling exhausted. I try and have a warm bath instead of a quick shower before bed to wind down and I've stopped looking at my phone and reading on the iPad in bed. I've so many books to read at the moment as I'm starting my own business, no excuses now. I've been much better and getting a full 8-9 hours is making all the difference. Making bed a space just for relaxing and sleeping has really helped both of our sleep patterns. It also comes with other bonuses...

Progress

It's been almost 3 weeks since my appointment and I can't say 100% for certain that I'm noticing a difference, but I do think the Zinc and Evening Primrose are having an effect, along with the other supplements, and a cleaner diet is obviously beneficial for a range of reasons. Josh said my skin looks better and I have had less breakouts when I think about it. I'm trying not to dwell on it or get stressed when it's looking bad. As well as all of the above, I've been fitting more yoga in and using a totally natural skincare regime. I'm going for a follow up in two weeks to see where I'm at and to explore the options of some tests to check for intolerances/presence of Candida etc. If my skin doesn't improve with diet, we may try a supplement called DMT. That's for another blog post!

It may be too soon to see definite results, but I wanted to share what I'm doing in case it can be helpful to anybody else suffering with acne or hormonal imbalances. Even the smallest changes can be beneficial and starting with diet is probably the most accessible factor here. I know not everybody can afford to see a Naturopath - trust me, as somebody with less than £200 to last them until the end of April, I understand. The initial appointment was £60 and we spent 90 minutes going over my food diary, medical history and symptoms. I asked questions and got clear, reassuring answers. It was a whole different experience to a 10 minute GP appointment. I came away with confidence that I was on the right path, knowing I had understanding and support, rather than just been told to get back on the pill.

Let me know if you have any questions or input by leaving a comment below! I'd love to her about your Naturopathy experience!


** I feel like I need to add that if you're pregnant, breastfeeding or have chronic illnesses etc., please don't do any of the above without consulting your own doctor/naturopath. Remember that this is a personalised treatment plan for me based on things such as my lifestyle, weight, diet and symptoms and I'm sharing my personal experience. What works for me may not necessarily be best for you **
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