Hormones provide chemical messages to parts of the body, influencing numerous processes including sexual function, reproduction, metabolism and mood. Women can experience hormonal imbalance from as early as their first period to later in life during the menopause. Signs of hormone imbalance include acne, cramps, tender breasts, cysts, fibroids, endometriosis, breast cancer, infertility, fatigue, brain fog, reduced libido, insomnia, hair loss, belly fat, cellulite and mood swings. Mood swings can range from irritability to extreme anxiety. It is always recommended that you visit your GP if you have any concerns about your health. However, diet and lifestyle play a significant part in the management of our wellness – including hormonal balance. Here I provide some general nutrition tips to support hormonal balance nutritionally. These may not be suitable for everyone so please seek professional advice.
- Eat well. Eating well can only support your body in achieving optimum health. This means eating less junk and processed foods and more whole foods. Processed food is often full of fillers, preservatives, sugars and refined vegetable oils. Even if the foods do not contain these ingredients, they will have lost nutrients through heating and processing. Try to eat home cooked foods most of the time and allow yourself ready-made sandwiches, takeaways or convenience foods only on occasion.
- Balance blood sugar levels. Foods containing refined flour such as bread, pasta, cakes and biscuits along with other starchy foods like white rice and potatoes cause our blood sugar levels to spike. Insulin is then released from the pancreas, enabling sugar to be used or stored and levels drop down again. This ‘spiking’ may cause mood swings and energy slumps in the short term and could lead to weight gain and type 2 diabetes in the long term. To reduce this, avoid refined carbohydrates, processed foods and sugars, including sugary drinks (this includes fruit juices and smoothies). Instead, choose vegetables, whole fruit, whole-grains, beans and pulses and ensure you have plenty of healthy fats and protein in the diet. Fat is one of the most essential nutrients for hormone function and production. Examples of healthy fats include: olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, walnuts, flax seeds, grass-fed meat, oily fish like salmon, whole milk dairy and free range eggs.
- Support detoxification. When some hormones have done their job they need to be filtered and removed from the body as a waste product. This is carried out by the liver. If the liver isn’t functioning optimally then oestrogen can be recycled back into the system, raising levels out of balance. The liver also detoxifies other compounds including caffeine, alcohol, paracetamol and chemicals in the air, so try to limit caffeine and alcohol. Try swapping a coffee with herbal tea such as fennel or nettle. Detoxification can be supported through a balanced diet including cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, kale, sprouts and cabbage. The liver needs many other nutrients including B vitamins and protein so it is important to eat some good quality meat, fish and eggs. Vegetarians or vegans who get their protein only from plants may need to supplement with extra nutrients such as vitamins B6 and B12. However, please seek professional advice before taking supplements.
- Support gut health. Toxins and waste are also removed with bowel movements so it is important to go to the toilet daily, and address constipation or other digestive issues. Make sure you have plenty of fibre from vegetables, fruit, pulses and whole grains such as oats. Drink plenty of water (approximately 2 litres per day) as this may also help relieve constipation.
- Limit your exposure to chemicals. We are exposed to chemicals all the time: in water, the pollution in the air, the packaging our food comes in, cosmetics and household cleaning products to name a few. These chemicals can mimic the effects of oestrogen in the body, causing disruption. Try to find ways to limit exposure to chemicals such as reducing plastic cookware, using a water filter and introducing some more natural cleaning products into the home.
- Manage your stress. This is one of the most important ways you can balance your hormones, particularly ladies in their mid-thirties onwards. Long-term stress can affect the way our bodies experience menopause and stress can also affect the thyroid and our ability to lose weight. Seek emotional support from friends, family or professionals where possible and try to build some relaxation time into your daily routine. This is not indulgent and managing stress is one of the key ways to look after yourself. Suggestions include a warm bath with lavender oil, 10-15 minutes breathing exercises or a walk in the fresh air. Herbal teas such as chamomile can be relaxing and aid a good night’s sleep.
- Exercise. Exercise is very beneficial in managing our hormones and for supporting general health and well-being. However, this does not need to be a heavy work-out at the gym. In some cases, strenuous exercise can worsen stress. Walking in nature is a valuable way to exercise and Yoga has been shown in studies to reduce anxiety and stress in women. Whatever the exercise may be, it is important that you enjoy it.
If you have any questions or would like further information contact Kate at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07714 340 345 and Kate will call you back. Kate is a registered Nutritional Therapist with a MSc in Nutritional Therapy from University of Worcester.