Since it was introduced in the 1960s, hormonal birth control has empowered women to plan (and avoid) pregnancies. Additionally, its hormonal side effects help reduce breakouts, painful periods, and cramps for some users. But, hormonal contraception affects every woman differently, and all varieties come with potential negative side effects. "Birth control pills suppress hormone production, meaning taking them, 20-year-olds will have hormonal levels of menopausal women. Their estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone levels would be similar to a 50-year-old," says New York City-based physician Erika Schwartz, MD.
Poor Sleep Habits
Yeah, sleep is important, you know that. But, it's not just to keep dark circles at bay and avoid accidental office nod-offs. Logging a good seven to eight hours can also keep you slimmer around the middle. "Cortisol, the hormone typically associated with stress, also controls fat and sugar metabolism. It peaks in the morning, once again around dinner time, and then falls around 11 p.m. to 12 a.m.," says Ava Port, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "If you're not getting enough sleep, you will delay the fall of cortisol, meaning it will reach its peak later in the evening, increasing appetite and cravings for sweets and fats."
Too Much Sugar
We've been battling this sweet demon for a while, but here's one more good reason to cut back on consumption. "When sugar enters the bloodstream, it stimulates the pancreas to make insulin, the hormone that helps take the sugar out and into other organs, so it can be used for energy," says Toronto-based naturopathic physician Natasha Turner, ND. "But, if you are constantly overloading the body with sugar, your body releases more insulin to keep up, and, over time, loses the ability to react to it.”
We're big proponents of moving. It's basically free medicine: You'll score clearer skin, a lower risk for disease, a boosted mood, even an improved sex life. But, hitting the gym like crazy can rebound on your body. "You will be overproducing adrenaline and endorphins," says Dr. Schwartz. "Having just enough of these hormones gives us that perked-up feeling after working out, but too much and they'll go overboard, acting like extreme painkillers, which can make you prone to ignoring injuries."
Soy is the Jennifer Aniston of food; it has its devout fans among us as well as plenty of haters. Studies have linked soy consumption with irregular periods, gastrointestinal problems, and even increased risk of breast cancer in some women — issues stemming from the fact that soy is structurally similar to estrogen and can potentially interfere with the endocrine system. But, most experts agree it depends on what kind of soy you're chowing down. "Asian studies of women who eat whole and fermented soy show reduced symptoms of low estrogen, such as fewer hot flashes and lower rates of osteoporosis and breast cancer," Dr. Gottfried says. She goes on to add that "studies of soy intake in Western women have shown conflicting results. Scientists hypothesize that the paradox relates to Asian women’s higher consumption of whole soy."
Deadlines, meetings, Buzzfeed quizzes...there are a ton of things that can cause us to delay meal time or forget it all together. It's no biggie if you skip a meal once in a while. But, if you make a regular habit of ditching breakfast or pushing lunch back to 4 p.m., Dr. Port would urge you to reconsider. "You'll be messing with your appetite hormones, leptin and ghrelin, which control fullness and hunger, respectively," she says. "If this happens over time, your body won't be able to register its hunger and fullness signals properly.
A Toxic Environment
If you've been in tune with the health buzz lately, you've probably heard that toxins are practically everywhere: BPA in some water bottles, added hormones in dairy and livestock, and possible additives (such as parabens and phthalates) in your favorite mascara or shampoo. These chemicals alone aren't necessary lethal, but even in small doses they do make a difference. "These compounds are endocrine disruptors and also considered xenoestrogens, because they act like estrogen when they're in the body," says Dr. Turner. Ingestion, contact, or even airborne exposure (depending on the product) can cause the "endocrine disruptors to either mimic the hormone, block its function, or interfere with the gland production of hormones," Dr. Port adds.