Some of the most troubling health problems have a surprising solution. Weight problems, infertility, menstrual cramps, diabetes, thyroid problems, acne, hot flashes, and many others are related to the foods you eat. In each case, whether you know it or not, foods are changing your hormones, making you feel great or terrible, vigorous or lethargic, pain-free or miserable.
The key is this: You can control your hormones—and the problems they cause—by the food choices you make every day. It is surprisingly easy, and I will show you how to do it.
Like many women, Robin had menstrual cramps that were off the scale for a day or two every month, until she learned of a straightforward dietary shift that eased her pain and allowed her to function again.
Elsa had given up on raising a family, until she found that her fertility had been affected by what she had been eating. After tuning up their diet, she and her husband now have three children.
Ray had assumed that erectile dysfunction was his new normal, until an easy diet change gave him back his sex life. Nancy’s thyroid gland was underperforming, keeping her overweight and fatigued, until she learned a new way of getting back in balance—all based on a menu change.
Kim was chronically down in the dumps with a serious and unremitting depression, but was finally able to lift the black cloud hanging over her when she learned the connection between food and mood.
Twin sisters Nina and Randa were embarrassed about their severe acne, until a nutritional adjustment tackled it nearly overnight. Nutrition was the surprising answer to Tony’s prostate cancer, Katherine’s endometriosis, Mike’s thyroid problems, Bob’s diabetes, and Mary-Ann’s menstrual misery.
All of these people have something in common: Their hormonal systems had been chronically malfunctioning. Yours may be, too.
So let me encourage you to run—do not walk—to a healthier way of eating. I’ll show you how foods cause hormones to go haywire and how the right foods can fix that.
Your body’s hormones direct how your organs work. Like a conductor directing a symphony orchestra—quicken the tempo or slow it down, more violin, less bass—your hormones turn your metabolism up or down, alter your moods, control your reproductive function, and affect how you store body fat and how you burn it.
The people I described above all suffered from hormone haywire. They had no idea what was wrong, much less how to fix it.
Their answer was in foods. Yours may be, too. Your hormonal systems respond to changes in your diet, and the range of health problems that are caused by hormones—and that can be successfully treated by using foods in a smarter way—is truly surprising. Equally surprising is how fast things can improve with a menu adjustment: Cramps gone in the very first month after a diet change. Fertility restored within a few months. Diabetes starting to improve in a matter of days. While everyone’s experience is different, these are all things we have seen routinely.
Estrogens and testosterone—the female and male hormones—can be ratcheted up or down based on the foods you eat. In turn, that affects fertility for both men and women, as well as a woman’s monthly cycle, menopausal symptoms, and the risk of certain cancers.
Insulin is the hormone that is off-kilter in diabetes, and it also struggles to do its job in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. With the right foods, insulin works much better.
Research also shows that foods can influence thyroid function—which affects weight, mood, the resilience of your skin and hair, and many other aspects of health. We are now coming to understand how to change the diet to get the thyroid gland in balance.
If you thought that erectile dysfunction was caused by performance anxiety, I will show you the real cause and the easy, healthful solution that has nothing to do with pills or gadgets and all to do with what you had for breakfast.
Some of the most serious conditions we face—weight problems, diabetes, and cancer of the breast, ovary, uterus, or prostate—are related to foods that are causing hormone haywire. And for less serious conditions—the
health of your skin and whether you keep a full head of hair— hormones play a key role, too. Foods turn the dials on virtually every biological function.
Why Didn’t My Doctor Tell Me?
If you were hoping to learn about these effects from your personal physician, you may end up frustrated. Much of the information we will present in this book is a new scientific frontier. It is possible that your doctor may not have heard of it or may not realize the extent to which problems can be solved with nutritional adjustments.
In other areas, solid research was published long ago but has been ignored by most doctors. Let’s face it: A focus on nutrition takes doctors out of their comfort zone. Part of the blame goes to the chronic lack of nutrition education in medical schools. Another part goes to the fact that most continuing medical education programs are sponsored by drug companies, which have pushed to the sidelines anything that is not sold at the pharmacy counter. This is not a problem just for cramps and fertility, but also for diabetes, heart disease, cancer, migraine, and inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, where a diet change can be powerful, even lifesaving.
Sometimes doctors are unduly skeptical about whether their patients are really interested in improving their eating habits— even when their patients tell them loudly and clearly that, yes, they would much rather improve their diets than take drugs for the rest of their lives. Many doctors are much more comfortable with a prescription pad than with a knife and fork.
At the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit organization that I founded in 1985, we are working to change that. Our research is teasing apart the relationships between foods and health and giving doctors and patients new and powerful tools. Our continuing medical education courses, conferences, mobile apps, and books give doctors the nutrition knowledge they need. More and more health professionals are using this knowledge to empower their patients.
It should be said that all the health issues covered in this book are still under active exploration. There are many areas where our scientific journey is far from over. I will share with you what we know now and will also give you a glimpse into the new possibilities that are being tested.
How to Use This Book
Looking at the table of contents, you may be tempted to go straight to the chapter that describes your most pressing health issue. Feel free to do that. But I would encourage you also to read this book from cover to cover—including
sections on conditions that may not be yours at the moment—because, as you will see, certain themes emerge again and again. The same nutritional solutions that help cramps or infertility can also have a powerful influence on thyroid problems or even cancer.
My hope is that, with guidance from this book, you will achieve a whole new level of vitality. I also hope that you will pass this information along to family members, friends, and others who can benefit from it.
I wish you the very best of health.
"In Your Body in Balance, Dr. Neal Barnard distills the latest nutritional science down to bite-sized truths that will quickly transform nearly any life plagued by hormone dependent illness into one of vibrant wellness. Whether it's cramps, cancer, infertility, impotence, moodiness or menopause, Dr. Barnard masterfully navigates a clear path to your healthiest self."—Kristi Funk, MD, FACS, breast cancer surgeon, co-founder of Pink Lotus Breast Center, and bestselling author of Breasts: The Owner's Manual