Environmental Factors that Wreck Libido with Dr. Jolene Brighten

by | Jun 5, 2024

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In this episode of The Modern Vital Podcast, Dr. Ben Reebs discusses with Dr. Jolene Brighten the effects of environmental toxins on hormone balance, fertility, and libido. Dr. Brighten, a hormone expert, emphasizes the importance of fertility as a health indicator and the detrimental impact of toxins like BPA on ovarian function. They explore the historical neglect of women’s health in research and the need for awareness of toxins’ effects on female sexual health. The practical discussion involves reducing toxin exposure, such as avoiding fragrances and ventilating homes.

Be sure to visit Dr. Brighten’s website for more resources and information. Follow her on Instagram @drjolenebrighten.

Don’t miss the video version—watch it here.


If you’re looking to dive deeper into understanding the intricacies of chronic disease and its impact on your overall well-being, consider checking out Dr. Reebs’ book, “The Serpent & The Butterfly: The Seven Laws of Healing.” In this book, he discusses the laws of healing essential to resolving chronic disease and much more to help you on your journey to optimal wellness. Click here to purchase your copy.

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Complete Transcript of Episode 15182003

Environmental Factors that Wreck Libido with Dr. Jolene Brighten

Dr. Jolene Brighten: Fertility is a marker of vitality. If you are in your reproductive years, we want you to be fertile because that is a sign that your ovaries are functioning optimally and you are reaping all of the benefits of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone production. If you are encountering things even as simple as receipts with BPA, or how they try to lie to you and scam you off the BPA-free plastic bottles, these things are associated with primary ovarian insufficiency. So the ovaries quit too soon. So before 45, your doctor might be like you’re in menopause. No, no, there’s something else going on. They can cause your ovaries to age quickly.

[Show Intro] Welcome to the Modern Vital podcast, where we delve into the dynamic interplay between environmental factors and human health. I’m your host, Dr. Ben Reebs, founder of Portland Clinic of Natural Health, guiding you through a journey that merges ancient wisdom with the latest in scientific understanding. Each week, I’ll discuss topics of interest in health, offering insights to optimize your well-being and prevent chronic disease through naturopathic and functional medicine approaches.

Dr. Ben Reebs: On today’s episode of the Modern Vital podcast, we’re going to talk a little bit about environmental toxins and how they can wreck your libido. And today’s special guest is Dr. Jolene Brighten, hormone expert, nutrition scientist, and thought leader in women’s medicine. She’s board-certified in Naturopathic Endocrinology and trained in clinical sexology. And Dr. Jolene Brighten is the author of “Is This Normal?” A non-judgmental guide to creating hormone balance, eliminating unwanted symptoms, and building the sexual desire that you crave. A fierce patient advocate and completely dedicated to uncovering the root cause of hormone imbalance. Dr. Jolene Brighten empowers women worldwide to take control of their health and their hormones. Welcome to the show, Dr. Jolene Brighten.

Dr. Jolene Brighten: Hey there. Thanks so much for having me.

Dr. Ben Reebs: It’s great to have you. So as far as this topic goes, I mean, the theme of this podcast is how environmental factors, environmental toxins, you know, can make us sick and drive or mediate chronic disease. And obviously, you spend a lot of time looking at hormones and all the factors that can throw them off, you know, starting with oral contraceptive pills. And of course, we have so many factors that can play a role in that. What’s an area that you’re seeing, really impacted when it comes to this?

Dr. Jolene Brighten: Fertility. I think this is the conversation we all need to start having now in a real way. I think it has been dampened for far too long. I think it has been something that we’ve been called conspiracy theorists been called were crazy fear-mongering, if you will. If you talk about the concern for environmental toxins in the future of our species, that is the reality of what we are talking about. We were talking about the future of our species. We understand from the latest research that men have roughly 50% of the sperm that their grandfathers had. Now, this is very medicine. You know, this is the way medicine goes. you know, this way of thinking of like, let’s always put men at the center, and this is when we sound the alarm, when, oh my goodness, men’s fertility is being affected. However, we have had data for a very long time showing that some of our favorite anti-aging creams or anti-aging cosmetics are causing premature ovarian aging.

Dr. Ben Reebs: Wow. That’s incredible. Yeah. I mean, looking at the data, I mean, you talked about this. It was International Women’s Day just a moment ago, and it’s like 2024 is now when we’re just seeing, you know, gender equality or at least an attempt to have some gender equality in research and studies. I mean, everything is based on men and men’s bodies. And then, of course, when we look at libido, we’re talking about men. And even the word libido was coined by, you know, Sigmund Freud in like 1894, like 130 years ago. And like, where do women fit in the equation here?

Dr. Jolene Brighten: Yeah, I love that. Freud, as I talk about this normal is literally the worst thing that ever happened to women’s medicine, women’s health, and women’s sex drive. Like it’s the worst. and, you know, you’re absolutely right. That was something that on Women’s International Day, you know, everybody was celebrating all of these great things. And I’m like, let me just sober you up for a second, because it wasn’t until the late 90s that they were like, hey, we you know what? If you’re doing a drug trial, you need to include women in this. Before then, we weren’t, which is why we have side effects from drugs. They affect us differently. We experience heart attacks differently. I outlined in “Is This Normal?” all of the different conditions where our pain is dismissed, not just an IUD placement, not just childbirth, but also having a heart attack, having a severe like appendicitis, having a stroke, having these severe medical conditions that are an emergency are often ignored in women are sent home told that they’re having anxiety, that they just need to sleep more. By the way, as we speak about research, the research on how much we need to sleep is done on men, and as in my clinical experience and as other research suggests, women actually need more sleep than men.

But we live in a society that, once again, is built on the male archetype. And, you know, it’s, I like to say, like men are like the sun. Their hormone rhythm is 24 hours and women are like the moon. It’s going to happen roughly over a month that our hormones are going to shift. Yet the moon is constantly being compared to the sun and being like, why don’t you act just like the sun? So, you know, where do women fit in terms of this conversation? Is libido, libido? Women have a libido and many factors influence it. As I talk about in the book, there’s this really interesting model called the dual control model. Two researchers, Bancroft and Janssen. They were looking at men and they were like, okay, let’s try to understand, like what affects men’s desire for sex. What was so interesting about that research that came up with this analogy of gas pedal and brakes is they found that the same stuff affects women. But as I talk about it, is this normal? We have a whole other layer in that if you are cycling and where your hormones are at, that can play an impact.

But to the conversation of environmental toxins if you’ve got. And so maybe you’re listening to this and you’re like, I don’t care about fertility, I don’t want to have a baby friend. Fertility is a marker of vitality. If you are fertile in your in your fertile years, okay. Once you’re post-menopausal, you’re not supposed to be fertile. I’m not talking about you. If you are in your reproductive years, we want you to be fertile because that is a sign that your ovaries are functioning optimally and you’re reaping all of the benefits of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone production. If you encounter encountering things even as simple as receipts with BPA, or how they try to lie to you and scam you, if the BPA-free plastic bottles, all these things are associated with primary ovarian insufficiency, so the ovaries quit too soon. So before 45, your doctor might be like you’re in menopause. No, no, there’s something else going on. They can cause your ovaries to age quicker, which means less time of you bathing in these awesome hormones, which we know you.

Having access to your hormones reduces all-cause mortality. It improves your brain health. It improves your heart health. It keeps diabetes at bay. It’s one of the things that we can have in place to protect us. And these chemicals that are coming into contact with you disrupt not only your ovaries, your thyroid hormone, your cortisol, and how the brain is signaling. And so there really big deal. We have to be talking about them.

Dr. Ben Reebs: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we we run a lot of toxicology screenings in my practice being an environmental medicine specialist. And it’s amazing how often, you know, high BPA comes up or high parabens or even high, pesticides and herbicides like glyphosate or atrazine, which also are known to be endocrine disruptors. And all these factors, you know, can throw off the hormones through various mechanisms. But it’s amazing how probably 90% of the time, the higher that toxic body burden is, the more. Or, you know, I’m seeing an inverse correlation with low libido. And then as we get that burden down a little bit, get that oxidative stress down, the smoke from the fire of the inflammation, get their organs of elimination working a little bit, then libido starts to maybe come back online a bit. I’m curious what you see. You know, being a woman. Absolutely.

Dr. Jolene Brighten: Oh my God, I’m so excited that you bring this up because almost nobody ever brings up the environmental talks in connection to how it’s impacting our sexual desire. So yes, we are seeing more men with low testosterone. So a decade ago I may have been prescribing and by the way, I primarily treat women, but if they like to have a man they vouch for, I will treat him. I and I will say also my friends who are, you know, working in men’s health. It’s like if you are prescribing testosterone to someone in their early 40s, like a decade ago, you were like, wow, that’s kind of young. Now we’re seeing more men in their 30s, even their late 20s being low in testosterone.

So testosterone is always what we think about for libido. Why? Because men? Because we think about men. But in women, estrogen is actually so, so important. So estrogen is going to be why we fantasize. We think about sex more. So if you’re someone who never thinks about sex but likes having sex, you are totally normal. If you’re somebody who’s like, you know, I’m in the grocery and I see a magazine and it’s so weird, like suddenly I’m fantasizing. I’m like, you’re probably about to ovulate because that’s when estrogen is highest. Estrogen is also correlated with correct vaginal health. And what do I mean by correct? We have to have optimal lactobacilli. So in the gut, we always talk about diversity. We want so much diversity. We want zero diversity when it comes to the reproductive tract. And women we want to see 90% or more Lactobacillus species. One of the ways that we get that is by estrogen feeding those cells, plumping up those cells so that they produce glycogen, a sugar that then feeds the lactobacilli, and then they produce the acid that keeps the pH right.

If the pH is right, then we don’t have as much discomfort with sex. We’re not at risk of BV, or STIs altogether. Also developing yeast infections. And in addition, estrogen is why those tissues are plump and lubricated. So there’s the desire for sex. And then there’s the act of sex. And if at any point sex is painful, the body starts to learn like, this is not fun. We don’t want to do this. So as we’re talking about environmental toxins, we can’t skip over things like endometriosis. One of the most common symptoms is pain with sex. Endometriosis is absolutely influenced by environmental toxins. It is an estrogen-dependent disease, so it’s very complex. As I said, 2024 is just the first time that like Biden administration was like, maybe we should actually fund research because it turns out that, like, ovaries are a little bit different. I’m like, you’re so late to the game. Like, I feel like I’m like, thank you, sir, for the crumbs. And also I hate you for like just now deciding that like, like you could have done that like you were with Obama. Like, why don’t you get in his ear about that? Like what is going on there? But anyhow, I digress. Like the times I get political, it’s like when it’s like, why are you not funding women’s research? But what we want to understand about endometriosis is that those. So if people don’t know what that is, you have a lining of your uterus called the endometrium. That’s what is influenced by estrogen and progesterone. It proliferates. It grows. When those hormones drop, you bleed. You have a period. Now there’s tissues that are like it in that they respond to these hormones in endometriosis and they’re everywhere. They can be in your shoulder, they can be in your brain, they can be in your lungs. But most commonly they’re going to be in the pelvic region, sometimes around the bowels, the bladder, and they’re going to respond in the same way. And that can lead to pain with sex. And environmental toxins like xeno estrogens can also stimulate these receptors. It’s important to understand when it comes to environmental toxins.

They can stimulate the receptors of your hormones, they can block the receptors of your hormones, or they can affect the endocrine gland. So it doesn’t even make hormones to begin with. This is also why the research has been kind of muddy for so long. And people have been like, oh, well, do they don’t they cause problems because they were only looking at like, well what? How did the hormones change without, you know, actually looking at the whole picture? And thankfully more of that research is being done.

Dr. Ben Reebs: Wow. So so what are what are a couple that you’re seeing? you know, the most in your practice, like impacting women.

Dr. Jolene Brighten: Oh my God. All of them. Oh my God, all of them. I was just out today. I like to post on Instagram before 8 a.m. I had 10,000 steps in. I went out walking with my friend, but then we were walking by a golf course and here came this machine. And I saw this, like, tractor like, you know, flip down what looked like a row of spray. And I was like, girl, run! And we like, start running. And she’s like, what’s wrong? Like she’s like, is there like something going to get us? And I was like, yes, glyphosate. Like, I will not be hanging out by here. and so definitely we’ve got so let me say this like I can say like it’s scary, right? When I’m like, everything. Here are three things that I tell people that they get absolutely today that will dramatically they do these today will dramatically shift their environmental toxin load and it will improve their hormones. And it is super easy. Number one is do not wear your outdoor shoes in your house. You want house slippers, you get house slippers. Those house slippers don’t go outside your sock in the house person. You do not walk outside in your socks. As a madre I will tell you that you do not go outside in your socks. So take off your shoes. You are tracking everything in so there’s dog poop. Gross. But there was also antifreeze that was in the parking lot where you were unloading your groceries. Like there are all of these chemicals.

So number one, take off your shoes. Number two, if it has fragrance or it says fragrance-free, that doesn’t necessarily mean it has no fragrance. If there’s any fragrance throw it out. Yankee Candle season, I hate you. I see so many people coming in with migraines feeling awful. Can they start breaking out? There are signs of this liver burden that they have when they are burning Yankee candles in their house non-stop. So people who love Febreeze Glade plug-ins, I’m sorry, get some essential oils and essential oils. You know, it’s true that if you’re doing high amounts of lavender that could have endocrine-disrupting properties as well, but you don’t have to do high amounts. You can have an essential oil diffuser. You can do that. I love to simmer in pots. Simmer pots are like some people are bringing back sourdough bread, which I love this homemade-trend because you’re avoiding bromine. And that’s really great for your thyroid. So make your bread at home, friends I love that trend. Can we bring back this simmer pot trend? Because when you are simmering things like thyme eucalyptus you know some people do. I’m not I’m not that fan. I’m more of like culinary herbs, like thyme, oregano, orange slices, and cinnamon sticks. Those are also antimicrobial. And they’re one of the great ways to keep your air in the winter. Like, I feel like I’m speaking to you because you’re in Portland and I’m like, I know your house is cold right now, but a great way to, like, help your respiratory health as well. So number one, no shoes in the house. Number two, get rid of fragrance. Your personal care products I get it is so hard. Like I have curly hair I get it. So you look at that label, if you know it’s on there, the countdown has begun. When you run out of that bottle, you’re not buying it again.

So buy yourself some time right now as you’re phasing out that product to do your research and find something different. So number three is open up your windows, open up your windows. So especially if you’ve been burning your scented candles, open up your windows. If you’ve got incense going, open up your windows. If it’s a religious practice I get it. Also, it is like very high burden on your body to be burning those. So we’re going to take off our shoes, we’re going to get rid of fragrance and we’re going to open up our windows once a week. You know, when I was living in Paris, they even did this in the dead of winter once a week, all of the windows were open. Everything’s getting aired out, partly because these are really old, stagnant buildings. But also I was like, this is brilliant. This is what we all should be doing. So by cleaning up your home environment and just starting, that’s immediate action today. You can change your hormones tomorrow and it can happen that quickly.

Now, is there a ton more things that we could be doing? Absolutely. But when the conversation about environmental toxins comes up, it is the most overwhelming and scary thing, especially if you have children. Sometimes I’m like petrified in bed at night, being like forever chemicals and plastics in our fashion like it’s. And it feels so overwhelming with the most important thing you can do take care of your home environment and take care of your detox system in your body.

Dr. Ben Reebs: Well, I love that you know. Thanks, Dr. Jolene Brighten, where can people find you online?

Dr. Jolene Brighten: Yeah, so you can find me at drbrighten.com. That is my main hub. You will find information about environmental toxins, but also lots of things to take care of your hormones. And then I’m all over social media at @drjolenebrighten.

Dr. Ben Reebs: Awesome. Well, we’ll make sure to link to all that in the show notes. That concludes today’s episode of the Modern Vital Podcast. We’d love to hear from you. We value your feedback.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please email me at ben@modernvital.com, and also please leave us a review if you enjoyed this episode. We look forward to having you join us next week for another exciting episode of The Modern Vital Podcast.

[Show Outro] And that’s a wrap for today’s episode of The Modern Vital Podcast. Your support fuels our mission to empower you on your quest for optimal health. Remember, our Modern Vital Store offers supplements to guide you on your path to wellness. And don’t forget to subscribe, leave a review, and share our podcast. Until next time, stay proactive on your health and wellness journey.


About Me

Dr. Ben Reebs, ND, is an award-winning, naturopathic physician with a focus in environmental medicine, which looks at how environmental factors can cause chronic disease. He specializes in chronic infections, autoimmune disease, and digestive health.

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