A little over two years ago, I began transitioning to veganism. It was a time when I was exploring several options to improve my skin (breakout city). Although I was starting to focus more on my diet, I was still seeing a dermatologist. A part of me was resigned to endure any combination of prescription treatments—no matter how harsh or involved.
Indeed, I was prepared for my derm to put me on birth control and accutane. Instead, she said I should try spironolactone—a medication for high blood pressure that also happens to flush excess androgens (male hormones) from the body. I wasn’t sure what either of those things had to do with my impossible face, but she explained that too many free male hormones are one cause of hormonal acne. Since topical treatments were a waste on me, she figured my acne was a sign of androgen imbalance.
It turns out she was right—when no cream or pill could improve my skin, spironolactone completely cleared my skin in two weeks. Although I currently don’t take it, I still consider it a miracle pill. Aside from feeling more comfortable in my own skin, seeing the results from this medication finally gave me some answers by isolating the main cause of my seemingly endless skin woes. As I learned, androgens prompt increased sebum (oil) production that clogs the pores from the inside–meaning no amount of special products can nip it in the bud–the best they can do is damage control. Of course, “spiro” wasn’t the perfect solution—in exchange for clearness, my skin became rather dry and itchy, but for a while I was more than okay with the trade off.)
But before getting into all of that, let’s get one thing straight: being androgen-dominant doesn’t mean you’re any less womanly, and it doesn’t necessarily effect your gender-identity. My fiancé jokes that for having a tendency for too much testosterone, I’m the most feminine person he knows.
It does mean, however, that you could be suffering from the following symptoms:
acne – particularly around the chin and jaw line
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
male-pattern hair growth (hirutism)
increased risk of diabetes and heart disease
Like me, you may only manifest one of these symptoms, but sometimes just one symptom can really affect the quality of your life–as anyone with chronic acne can attest. Less visible symptoms–like being at risk for diabetes–go beyond vanity (not that I have anything wrong with a little healthy vanity). In other words, my acne made me aware of something that involves my whole health. In a way, it was a blessing.
How to Treat Hyper-Androgenism
Medications like spironolactone and birth control can certainly get you through a rough patch, but they’re only temporary masks of a larger problem. Having taken spironolactone for several months, I know how valuable a mask it can be. There are certainly times in our lives when we need a little external help! Most of the time, however, I want to address the problem at its root—without prescription medication.
If you’re not taking medication, the largest player in androgen management is probably your diet.
Fortunately, avoiding meat is already a step in the right direction—vegetarians naturally have lower levels of androgen than their omnivorous counterparts. This may be due to vegetarians’ lower intake of saturated fats. High fat intake increases the circulation of androgens.
Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels is also key in reducing excess androgen. People with excess androgen are likely to be insulin-resistant as well. Here’s why: Eating a meal raises our blood sugar (how much depends on the type of meal–white bread spikes blood sugar faster than kale), and to balance this spike, the pancreas releases insulin to balance the blood sugar. If the body is insulin-resistant, however, it will not effectively respond to the insulin, allowing the blood sugar to go unchecked, prompting the body to produce even more insulin. High levels of insulin stimulate the ovaries to produce more androgens. This post explains in greater detail the connection between sugar, androgens, and acne.
You may also consider incorporating anti-androgenic foods and herbs in your diet:
Whole, unfermented soy (like tofu, soy nuts)
**Whole, organic foods, while not specifically anti-androgenic, are important for maintaining steady blood sugar levels and providing the body with valuable antioxidants, nutrients, and fiber (we all know fiber is essential for healthy elimination–this includes the elimination of excess hormones!)
Practice clean living by avoiding unnecessary toxins in your cosmetics, foods (go organic!), and household supplies. By reducing the chemical load on your body, you’re taking good care of your liver, kidneys, and adrenal glands (a.k.a. your detox powerhouses). The healthier these organs are (i.e. the less taxed they are by environmental—and emotional—stressors), the better they’ll be at helping you maintain hormonal balance. The liver, for example, is partly responsible for removing excess hormones. Check out our beauty section for natural product recommendations.
Exercise! Moderate aerobic exercises like walking, yoga, and ballet support your hormone-balancing organs by increasing blood circulation to them. Exercise also reduces blood-sugar (blood glucose is burned) and improves insulin-sensitivity (regular activity improves cells’ ability to use insulin).
Also in Skin care: Deeper Than Skin – Acne Sugar Connection
Photos: Classic Cinema via Flickr, Mary Hood, Peaceful Dumpling