These days it seems that everyone knows someone who suffers from imbalanced hormones. Conditions such as PMS, irregular or no periods, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis and infertility are so common these days, as is bloating, fluid retention, weight gain and period pain. You can balance your hormones naturally through lifestyle changes and specific foods, nutrients and herbs. You can’t balance your hormones overnight but even small changes implemented over a long period of time will see your symptoms improve.
I have mixed views on your morning coffee. For some people, I think one good cup of organic coffee a couple of times a week is perfectly reasonable, whereas others need to avoid it completely. If you suffer from PMS, period pain or any hormonal imbalances then it is best to avoid coffee. In a nutshell, here’s why:
- Caffeine raises cortisol levels as soon as it enters the body.
- The production of cortisol stimulates more cortisol to be produced. Cortisol basically stops fat burning and can pack fat onto your midsection.
- Cortisol competes with progesterone to latch on to the same receptor sites and surprise surprise, cortisol will always win! Progesterone is the hormone responsible for holding onto pregnancies (think pro – gestation) and we need a nice ratio of progesterone to oestrogen to help reduce those symptoms of PMS, endometriosis and painful periods among other imbalances.
Instead of your morning coffee try a dandelion, chai or a good old green tea. Even decaffeinated coffee can disrupt your hormones as apart from the caffeine, there are other alkaloids that can cause issues. If you do want to drink decaf, go for an organic brand that decaffeinates using water and not chemical solvents. Toby’s Estate does a great decaf blend. If you must have coffee, have one good cup a week. Sip it slowly and enjoy every second!
Eliminate sugar from your diet as much as possible
Sugar encourages weight (fat) gain, and fat cells manufacture oestrogen, creating an oestrogen overload in your body. A high sugar diet also contributes towards inflammation in the body (which can cause those highly undesirable symptoms of PMS and worsen sugar cravings), dampens the immune system (some research shows endometriosis is linked to immune dysfunction) and leeches important nutrients from your body (such as B vitamins – crucial for happy hormones, happy mood, happy weight balance, happy digestion, among other things!)
These are foods that contain natural oestrogen-like substances and can have a significant hormone-balancing effect on a woman’s body. Try have 1-3 servings of phytoestrogens each day. These include miso, tempeh (check that miso/tempeh is organic, non-GMO and isolate free) kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas, licorice (not the confectionary – try the tea or chew the root), flaxseed oil or flaxmeal, sesame and sunflower seeds, alfalfa, celery, citrus fruits, hops, oats, runner beans, mung beans, beansprouts, rye bread (try a sourdough rye), hazelnuts, peanuts, sage, fennel and parsley. Phytoestrogens reduce the toxic oestrogens in your body and stimulate your liver to produce sex-hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), which controls how much oestrogen and testosterone circulates in your blood.
Look after your gut
Many symptoms of female hormonal imbalances, such as anxiety, depression, fatigue, achy joints, fluid retention, weight gain, bloating, sugar cravings and irritability, can be attributed to digestive issues. Hormones are made by the body using amino acids (or proteins) taken from the food we eat. The gut is one of our major endocrine glands, producing many hormones that affect our sleep, mood, appetite, digestion, energy and reproductive health. If you supply your body with sugary, refined, processed and calorie-dense, nutrient-deficient foods then your low mood, fatigue, anxiety and insomnia makes perfect sense. You need to be eating foods that your body appreciates, foods that are clean, organic where possible and nutrient-dense, so that you help your digestive system and improve your body’s ability to cleanse itself of toxins. If you feel lethargic, sluggish and bloated constantly, then it’s possible you’re allergic or intolerant to certain foods. Lets work out which foods, avoid them and watch your health improve! Nutrients and herbs that help digestion and help heal and seal your gut include glutamine, zinc, slippery elm, B6, aloe vera, marshmallow root, goldenseal and manuka. If you suffer from candida or thrush then take a course of anti-microbial herbs to help cleanse your gut and replenish the good bacteria with varying strains of probiotics.
Eat lots of Cruciferous vegetables
A high consumption of Cruciferous vegetables (from the Brassica family) is associated with a decreased risk of cancer. This is in part due to the presence of a phytochemical called glucosinolates which has potent anti-carcinogenic activities. Brassica vegetables are also really high in fibre and improve liver detoxification. These vegetables are best eaten slightly steamed or stir-fried as if eaten raw they can inhibit thyroid function due to the glucosinolates acting as goitrogens (or anti-nutrients). Do not boil them though you will lose all or most of the beneficial nutrients. Here is an extended list of the Cruciferous vegetables:
- Bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
- Chinese cabbage
- Collard greens
- Daikon radish
- Mustard greens
Eat lots of fibre
The fibre naturally contained in whole grains (e.g. brown rice, quinoa, spelt, amaranth, oats, buckwheat), fruits and vegetables helps to prevent your body re-absorbing recycled oestrogenic chemicals (such as plastics and pesticides) and encourages the swift elimination of toxins and old hormones out of your bowels.
Avoid hormone disrupters
Environmental factors also play a large role in hormonal balance. There are hundreds of thousands of synthetic chemicals that are either put directly into food, used as pesticides, added into packaging or food processing or just accumulated through the food chain. Some we even take as medicine. Many of these act like hormones and can disrupt a fragile endocrine system. They often mimic the role of oestrogen and can stimulate oestrogen-sensitive tissue. They are classified as xenoestrogens (meaning oestrogenic compounds from outside rather than inside our bodies). Essentially, they confuse the hormonal messages sent around our bodies and can change our sexual and reproductive health and development.
Follow these tips to protect, maintain and improve your health:
- Avoid buying food in plastic containers, wrapping food in cling-film or heating food in plastic (or a microwave, but that’s a whole separate issue for another time!).
- Avoid drinking water out of plastic bottles. Howard’s Storage sells great chemical-fee reusable water bottles!
- Avoid storing fatty foods in plastic such as cheese, butter or chocolate. Wrap them in a paper bag instead.
- As much as possible, try eat organic food and use organic or at least certified natural skin care, body care, hair care and household cleaning items, even detergent and dishwasher tablets.
Know which herbs you can use
As much as nutritional medicine and food as medicine is the starting point for living with balanced hormones, there is so much that herbal medicine can do that nutrients can’t. Herbs have been used for centuries and with good reason. Some of my favourite herbs for balancing hormones and reducing female hormonal/reproductive issues include Shatavari, Peony, Licorice, Chaste Tree, Dong Quai, Black Cohosh, Blue Cohosh, Lady’s Mantle, False Unicorn Root and True Unicorn Root, Vervain, Sage, Schisandra and Wild Yam. These are best used when prescribed by a naturopath or herbalist as while they’re all generally regarded as incredibly safe, hormones are complicated little guys and it’s not really responsible to self-prescribe.
Cassie Mendoza-Jones is a naturopath, nutritionist and herbalist who believes in the healing power of nature. Cassie founded Elevate Vitality, a boutique naturopathic clinic in the heart of Bondi Beach, to help people reach their optimal state of health.
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