X is for Xenoestrogens

sugar skull

X- is also for X-ray. Here’s a fancy skull for you.

I knew “X” would be a difficult letter. I know very few words that start with “X” never mind words that have to do with mental health. I settled on xenoestrogens. I’ve been seeing this term pop up  more frequently lately and I didn’t know much about it, so I thought I would educate myself at the same time. There are plant and fungal-derived xenoestrogens, but the ones I’m referring to are the synthetic, industrial kind. You are probably familiar with some of them; polychlorinated bipehenol (PCBs), bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates.

Why am I talking about xenoestrogens when I’m writing a mental health blog? High levels of xenoestrogens (causing estrogen dominance) cause symptoms similar to depression. Whenever I see a new doctor, they want to check my thyroid to make sure that’s not the cause of depression. No one has ever wanted to test my estrogen levels before. Here are some of the symptoms high levels of xenoestrogens share with depression;

  • Anxiety
  • decreased sex drive
  • weight changes
  • fatigue
  • migraines
  • headaches
  • insomnia
  • irratability
  • memory loss

Hmm,  maybe I should get my estrogen levels checked.

Xenoestrogens are similar in structure to the estrogen produced by our endocrine system. They mimic the function of estrogen in our bodies, except they are more potent. The Endocrine Society views xenoestrogens as environmental hazards to humans and wildlife. They interfere with natural hormonal signalling causing precocious puberty in children and complications of the reproductive system (example: cancer) in adults. They act as free radicals turning on genes and causing hormonal imbalances that contribute to conditions like cancer and estrogen dominance.

The impact of xenoestrogens is becoming a great concern in first world countries. Estrogen levels in individuals living in America are incredibly high compared to those living in undeveloped countries. This is because in developed countries, we contact these compounds everyday. They are used in agriculture to fatten animals up and in fertilizers to ensure good crops. This means you’ll find them in all non-organic produce. They are also used in water, plastics, household cleaners and cosmetics/toiletries. I use all of these on a daily basis and I’ve never really considered what’s in them. My strategy for buying products is what works best and costs the least. I think that’s a strategy a lot of people use. I know it’s better to buy organic meat, fresh, raw vegetables and avoid processed foods. I’ve also heard about food absorbing xenoestrogens from the plastic containers or saran wrap they are stored in and I know not to microwave food in plastic, but what I didn’t know was the threat posed by cosmeticstoiletries. This includes not only make-up, but lotions, soaps, sunscreens and your plastic toothbrush. I admit I don’t pay attention to what’s in my cosmetics/toiletries. I buy whatever has SPF in it and is not tested on animals. Xenoestrogens are 10 times more potent when absorbed through the skin! Eek! Reading this sent me to the bathroom to read the ingredients on all my make-up! The results were not good. Here’s a good website to learn about what is in your cosmetics/toiletries and how harmful they are: http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/

I wonder if I ate organic and eliminated xenoestrogens from my diet and household products, would it make a difference in my mental health? Does anyone do this? Have you noticed a difference? I would love to hear from you!


Skin Deep

Olga’s Whole Life

Center for Brain

Better Nutrition Magazine

Natural Remedies for Depression

Marilyn Manson sang the lyrics “I don’t like the drugs, but the drugs like me”. He wasn’t talking about anti-depressants, but that is often how I feel about them. I wish I weren’t taking them, but my body does better on them. Emotionally, I feel better on them and they help with the pains and lack of energy.  I did try going off antidepressants once. I was off for almost 8 months. It was a scary 8 months, let’s just put it that way.

home remediesOften drugs just mask the symptoms of depression. They don’t get to the root of the problem. The experts say the best way to treat depression is with psychological work and inner reflection. You need to focus on your self-esteem, healing wounds and psychological growth. This takes a long time. People usually take to antidepressants to start to feel better in the short-term. If you are against medication or haven’t been able to find one that works there are some natural remedies you can try. Here are some of them.



Acupuncture has become more popular, but it is still treated with suspicion. How can treating the body help the mind? With Eastern Medicine, the mind and body are seen as one hollistic system, treatment of one affects the other. Studies have shown that acupuncture works best as part of a treatment regiment along with diet and psyhcotherapy. A 2013 study compared three groups of people with moderate depression receiving different treatments. One group got acupuncture, the second group had pyschotherapy and the third was given the usual care you would get from your family doctor. After 3 months, those in the acupuncture and psychotherapy groups were neck and neck with improvement. Approximately 30% of the people in each group reduced their depressive symptoms by 50%. After 12 months, all three groups had shown the same amount of improvement. What does this tell us? Time heals all wounds, but acupuncture and/or psychotherapy may give you a jump-start.


  • St. John’s Wort – This a common ingredient in herbal teas. Studies have proven it’s potency as a mood improver. You have to be careful when taking it though, it has been known to interfere with the effectiveness of other prescription medications. Also, if taken with certain anti-depressants, it can lead to life threatening increases in serotonin. It’s best to talk to your doctor before trying this one.
  • Valerian Root – Many drugs are synthetic versions of compounds found in herbs. Valerian root is one of these, used to make Valium. It has been used for centuries to relieve insomnia. People often put it in their baths to help them relax. More recently, it has also been used to treat muscle/joint pain, mild tremors, chronic fatigue syndrome and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. It acts as a central nervous system sedative and has been shown to be safe in short-term use. The results of long-term use are still unknown. One of the side effects is feeling sluggish the morning after taking it. It’s not recommended to take other CNS depressants (alcohol, Xanax, Benzodiazepines) while taking valerian root.


What you put in your body can have an effect on your mood in the short-term and the long-term. A poor diet can create chemical imbalances which can worsen the symptoms of depression. Cutting out harmful foods can make a difference in the short-term. This is hard for some people (like me) who find comfort in eating. Comfort eating leads to weight gain which just perpetuates the depression cycle. Sugary carbs are bad for serotonin levels too. It’s recommended to stick with whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. Looking in the mirror and seeing a healthier you will give you more confidence.

Studies show that people with depression have low levels of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These are synthesized from omega-3 fatty acids and are important in brain functions. Omega-3s are essential fatty acids, meaning they are needed by our bodies but can only be obtained from diet. Studies show that consuming more fish raises levels of EPA and DHA relieving moderate to severe depression symptoms. Apparently adding omega-3s to your diet doesn’t work as well for those with milder forms of depression.

Natural Remedies to Avoid

  • Marijuana – Many people have told me to just smoke a joint and I’ll feel better. Many people self-medicate with marijuana because the initial high is relaxing allowing them to forget their troubles. Marijuana however, is a depressant and over the long term leads to a greater chemical imbalance in the brain and a deeper depression.
  • Alcohol – This is also a CNS depressant and will have the same effect as marijuana in the long-term.

Does any of this really work?

There are enough scientific studies to suggest these remedies do help some, but it is recommended that they be used in conjunction with other therapies and not on their own. I haven’t tried acupuncture. The thought of needles gives me the heebie-geebies. I wouldn’t mind trying the valerian root in a bath because it wouldn’t interact with my medications that way. That would involve actually taking a bath. I’m a shower person, I don’t think I’ve taken a bath since I was young enough to bring my little pony in the tub with me. Actually, my apartment doesn’t even have a tub.

I have been trying to change my diet. I’ve been eating a lot more veggies, sticking to lean protein and having salmon more often. I do feel better when I eat cleaner. It’s the dessert that is hard for me to give up. Today someone recommended that I try giving up wheat. They said it improves their mood. I think I’ll give that a try next.

If there is something you have tried that worked for you? I’d love to hear about it!


WebMDMacPherson et al., 2013
National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine

H is for Horrid Headaches

H is for horrid headaches. Do I get more points for using two H words? Originally, I had planned to talk about hope for H. I’m having a bit of a down spell though and I’m not feeling too hopeful. What I am definitely feeling is headachey!


Depression comes with physical symptoms too. For me, one of the big ones is headaches. I’ve been having a lot of them lately. Thankfully, they aren’t migraines. Those are pretty miserable. I’ve been getting a lot of those Ibuprofen-resistant headaches. Taking something never helps and the dull ache is just enough to make it hard to function. Usually the only thing to make it go away is sleep. That’s not always an option though. I’ve come up with a battery of things that I try when I can’t just go to sleep.

  • Anti-inflammatory. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen are the quickest fixes if they work. It’s rare that they work for me, but if they do work, relief is usually pretty quick. I usually use Ibuprofen. I read somewhere that taking acetaminophen with my medication isn’t the best idea.
  • Water. More often than not, those dull headaches are because I’m dehydrated. So I get a nice big glass of water and sip it while doing whatever it is that I am doing. Gulping it down never works. Only sipping it works for some reason.
  • Coffee. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know I’m a coffee drinker. Not having coffee, if it’s something you are used to, can trigger a headache. If I haven’t had my daily dose that’s probably the reason. Even if I have had my morning coffee, another cup can sometimes quell the headache. Caffeine constricts blood vessels which can decrease pain. It also acts as a brain stimulant which can help you work through the thought fog that often accompanies these headaches.
  • Food. Sometimes I get working on a project and I forget to eat. I am usually reminded of this when my head starts to ache. Eating something healthy sometimes sends the headache on its way. Having something sugary usually results in a recurrence a little while later.
  • Ice. Some headaches are caused by inflammation of the dura, the lining of the brain. The artery that supplies blood to the dura is right behind the fragile bone that covers your temple. Putting ice on that area slows the blood flow which decreases the sensation of pain.
  • Stretching. The source of a headache can sometimes be neck pain, so stretch your neck. Relax your shoulders and face your head forward. Then bring your ear towards your shoulder without shrugging your shoulder up. Let the weight of your head stretch the opposite side of your neck.
  • Peppermint. I get a lot of stress headaches. They are usually caused by holding the muscles around my forehead too tight.headache2 The menthol is peppermint first stimulates and then relaxes muscles. I usually use lip balm or peppermint tea. Peppermint oil or lotion works best though. You can massage it into your forehead for relief.
  • Dim the lights. Complete darkness would be ideal, but you can’t keep doing what needs to get done if you can’t see. Dimming the lights is a good compromise. This usually doesn’t cure it, but it makes the headache more tolerable.
  • Ear plugs. Sometimes all I need is quiet, or to dull the noise a bit. Certain voices bother me a lot when I have a headache, like really loud conversation voices (my sister) or really high pitched voices (my mother-in-law). I love them to death, but I sometimes need to wear earplugs to take the edge off. If I wear the fleshy coloured ones or leave my hair down, they usually don’t notice either.   🙂
  • Pressure. Digging the heels of my hands into my forehead feels pretty good when I have a headache. If I’m lucky and I’m wearing one of those belted sweaters that tie around the waist, I take the belt off and tie it tightly around my head. I look like I’m trying to be a samurai or something, but it really works! I’m sitting here now with the belt from my bathrobe wrapped twice around my head and tied. Hands free pressure!
  • Sleep. When all else fails, to hell with your to-do list, sometimes sleep is the only answer.

I hope you learned something new by reading this. How do you work with or get rid of your headaches?


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