Hitting your 30s could be the ultimate dream, as we’ve all dreamt of being thirty, flirty, and thriving just like Jenna Rink did on “13 Going on 30”. Although we’re all thrilled to walk up to this fabulous place we all refer to as the third floor of our lives, many changes could occur, especially within our bodies.
With this in mind, we all start wondering why our bodies decide to change once we enter our 30s. From gaining weight out of nowhere to hair loss and more. For instance, I am one to never break out and thought I was legit going through puberty, as I began experiencing minimal breakouts on my upper cheekbones between the ages of 31 and 32. After having multiple conversations with a variety of women in their 30s like myself, I talked with Herbalist Olivia Amitrano, known as Organic Olivia. She discussed her journey with me, as she recently turned 30, and I learned how we could spearhead all of these changes we encounter.
“In my late twenties, I struggled with insulin resistance – my fasting insulin and blood sugar levels were far too high, skewing my testosterone and creating metabolic dysfunction. I found it more and more difficult to tolerate exercise, I kept gaining weight, I was always fatigued (especially after eating, when I should have been energized!) and my menstrual cycle was getting longer due to the effects of dysregulated testosterone and insulin,” said Amitrano. “There are also some other hormones (not sex or metabolic hormones, but appetite hormones) that were off for me, specifically leptin, a hormone secreted from fat cells that helps to regulate body weight and appetite.”
Amitrano felt that her appetite was insatiable and continued putting on pounds even when it didn’t seem like she was doing much different from her peers. She believed this to happen to all women as they reached their 30s.
“The good news was that it was very much in my control… I just had to make some serious changes and get honest with myself about working hard in the gym (harder than what was comfortable, and my overall nutrition such as being extremely diligent about filling up on protein and vegetables so that I wasn’t snacking all the time, and my emotional relationship with food,” she said. “Growing up, I was never exposed to drugs and alcohol, but my family coped with food – a habit that I picked up and utilized for emotional regulation well into adulthood.”
She explained that the emotional soothing she derived from food served her when she needed it and didn’t have other tools in her toolbox. To regulate her leptin levels, Amitrano had to get to the root of her overeating / binge eating. She worked on this a lot with her therapist and practitioners who taught her breathwork, journaling, and emotional release techniques. She even reset her appetite hormones by reducing processed, hyper-palatable foods, which were the foods consisting of a combination of sugar, salt, and fat she relied on for pleasure and regulation.
“It took me about a year, but with a combination of a high protein diet with a slight caloric deficit, 2-3x weekly weight training, herbal botanicals to help lower my insulin and blood sugar levels (a formula I made called GlucoBitters), as well as abstaining from hyper-palatable foods until my brain-derived pleasure and satiation from plain, whole foods, my hormones were completely in balance,” she said. “I ended up losing 30 pounds while adding lean muscle to my frame, and my blood sugar, insulin, and testosterone levels are completely normal.”
She mentioned it can feel like our metabolism is totally slowing down as we approach 30 and on, but usually, it’s that we’re simply far more sedentary, losing muscle mass instead of building it, eating more, and becoming less sensitive to insulin due to all of the above. With lifestyle and diet changes, we can have the metabolism of our teens well into our 30s and 40s.
For starters, Amitrano became a herbalist because she had a variety of health issues that hit a peak in her teenage years, all the way from struggling with severe Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) as well as relying on antispasmodic medications to make it through the day.
“I also had cystic acne and struggled with anxiety that deeply affected my quality of life,” said Amitrano. “I began to notice that whenever I had an IBS flare, I’d also see an increase in breakouts and anxiousness – and vice versa: when I’d take an antibiotic for my acne, suddenly my digestion and mental health would improve.”
She stated the above is what is referred to as ‘holistic’ health nowadays; the notion that all systems of the body are interconnected, and seemingly unrelated symptoms can be traced to a deeper root cause. After being told by specialists that there was no way her symptoms were connected and that food had nothing to do with her digestive complaints, Amitrano reached a breaking point and became determined to understand what her body was trying to tell her.
“There had to be an answer, a reason why I struggled with a picture of symptoms that my peers did not, why my body seemed to be far more sensitive and reactive than those around me,” she said.
She desperately drove to an acupuncturist/herbalist, which she passed every day on her way to school, who told her to stick out her tongue, and while shocked, she obliged. Somehow, this acupuncturist/herbalist was able to tell her every issue she was experiencing without her having to say a word.
“He sent me home with pungent capsules and earth-flavored potions I had never heard of, and within two weeks my stomach pain, cystic acne lesions, and mood improved more than with any intervention before – despite the countless medications I had tried,” explained Amitrano. “From that day on, I set out to learn about nutrition, herbs, gentler ways to support my body, and how on earth this man was able to read my tongue!”
As a result, Amitrano completed a three-year clinical program at Arbor Vitae School of Traditional Herbalism and now gets to help others with gut, skin, hormone issues, and more.
As we continue delving into women and their 30s, Amitrano stated the 30s are the perfect time to test your hormones and understand where you are. Although this is the case, she believes testing your hormones earlier is better because you’ll be much more knowledgeable about your hormonal picture in your 30s.
“The more you’re set up for the future when it may come time to replace certain hormones (think: menopause) with something like bioidentical hormone therapy, you’ll have a record of the baseline ‘youthful’ ranges that are right for your exact body, and can work with your doctor to hone them in based on your labs from this point in your life,” explained Amitrano. “This means not just sex hormones, but thyroid hormones too!”
When women hit age 35, Amitrano explained that we often see changes in our progesterone levels, which can lead to shorter (yet heavier) cycles, more mood swings, heightened anxiety, and even sleep disturbances. Testosterone also starts declining 1-2% per year starting in your 30s, and this can affect our confidence, sex drive, and especially our muscle tissue such as loss of muscle mass or less of a muscle response to resistance training.
“If you’re in your 30s and are struggling with weight loss, insulin may also be out of whack for you, which relates to that muscle mass and response,” she said. “Luckily, there’s so much you can do, and most of it involves lifestyle changes.”
When it comes to progesterone, such as sleep/anxiety issues, nutrition is key. Eating adequate zinc-rich food such as animal protein and even oysters is on point, as zinc increases the production of Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH) which in turn supports ovulation and leads to the production of progesterone. For those who are deficient in progesterone in comparison to estrogen, a condition known as estrogen dominance, Vitamin B6 can be immensely helpful, whether it’s coming from Vitamin B6-rich foods such as tuna, salmon, and liver, or a supplement.
“Research has shown that women who have higher levels of vitamin B6 in their blood have reduced miscarriage rates by 50%, so this nutrient is key for women who are aiming to conceive in their 20s,” said Amitrano. “Vitamin C can also increase progesterone levels with one study showing that those who took 750mg of vitamin C per day increased their progesterone levels by 77%!”
This vitamin can be found in bell peppers, citrus fruits, broccoli, and more. And, if nutritional interventions aren’t enough, herbal therapies such as Chaste Tree Berry (Vitex) can help to correct declining levels and the ensuing cycle/mood complaints. Vitex acts directly on the HPAOT axis, supporting the P (pituitary) from the top down, helping the O (ovaries) to produce healthy, normal levels of progesterone and estrogen.
“In the lens of testosterone and insulin levels changing in our 30s, there’s one important fix to focus on: muscle tissue,” she said. “Building lots of it, and keeping it on our frame with an emphasis on a high protein diet.”
Amitrano continued, “Not only can resistance training such as lifting weights to build muscle increase our declining testosterone levels and keep our libido high, but muscle is also the most insulin-sensitive tissue on the body and helps us to manage weight and the metabolic changes many women experience at this age.”
As for hormonal acne, and acne in general, Amitrano said it can come about at any age – not just when our hormones are changing throughout puberty. It completely depends on the individual and the specific presentation of acne, so it’s hard to pinpoint one cause across the board for all individuals.
“If you’re experiencing deep, cystic nodules along the face, jaw, neck, chest, and/or back, this could very well be androgen (testosterone) related acne, which we see in women with PCOS,” she said. “PCOS tends to get worse in our 30s because of the metabolic factors mentioned above: we become more sedentary, we lose muscle (our most insulin sensitive tissue), and insulin resistance/metabolic dysfunction throws off not just our testosterone levels but our progesterone, too, as ovulation is affected.”
If you’re experiencing cheek or forehead acne right around ovulation, which is when estrogen surges, or the week before your period, this type of acne can be related to estrogen dominance and a lack of progesterone in relation to estrogen. Amitrano said you’ll want to follow the tips above for boosting progesterone naturally with key nutrients, a healthy diet, and perhaps herbs like Vitex. In addition, you’ll also want to support your body’s detoxification pathways in eliminating and metabolizing estrogen.
“As we covered above, cruciferous veggies and omegas are key for estrogen metabolism, and improving actual estrogen clearance requires two things: liver support and fiber,” she explained. “You want to focus on liver-detox-pathway supporting herbs like Burdock Root, Dandelion, and Milk Thistle (found in my Liver Juice formula), which work even better if they’re taken right before a meal that contains a hefty dose of fiber (beans, veggies).”
As liver-supporting herbs encourage your body to release more bile, which contains not just excess estrogen but excess toxins as well, fiber will ‘mop up’ the bile and usher this hormone-and-toxin-containing substance out of your body via your stool. Whenever someone is dealing with estrogen dominance and pre-cycle acne, upping fiber (both dietary via beans, and supplemental via inulin or psyllium husk) is one of the first things Amitrano looks to in combination with liver support.
Overall, our 30s are still here for us to thrive because as Amitrano stated, we are all in control of ourselves.