I was thrilled to go back to South Africa for 6 weeks over the summer break. It was a spectacular trip filled with my family, beautiful scenery, and incredible eats. But there was one problem – my hormones went crazy on me!
Within 3 weeks I started noticing some interesting symptoms of hormonal imbalance. Insomnia and irritability – rare for me these days – plus physical things like bloating, swollen breasts, puffy face (a sign of fluid retention), and weight gain around my thighs. My weight is typically stable, so I was surprised by the sudden flux. I hadn’t experienced symptoms like this for years, and suddenly I was feeling very out of control in my own body. As nutritionists, we try to diagnose ourselves; with so many things going on I was unsure what to treat first.
There could have been a variety of factors contributing to this hormonal havoc.
- I was feeling slightly more anxious about the year to come. Hello cortisol – a major stress hormone.
- I had changed contraception methods. Perhaps an imbalance of sex hormones, like estrogen and progesterone.
- My iodine levels had come back low in recent lab tests, indicating a possible thyroid complication.
- I was drinking more alcohol than usual, which can cause liver congestion.
When it comes to the endocrine system, imagine an orchestra. If one hormonal system is out of tune, the rest are out of sync. As the conductor, it’s our job to help our hormonal systems work harmoniously.
Key hormonal systems:
-Your adrenals, cortisol and adrenaline
-Your sex hormones – progesterone, estrogen and testosterone
-Thyroid – TSH, T3, T4, RT
-Blood sugar – insulin
An example of this symphonic relationship: progesterone and cortisol. When cortisol is high, progesterone will fall low. Why is this a problem?
According to Dr. Libby Weaver, a nutritional biochemist and one of my wellness inspirations:
Progesterone is a hormone that we all want bucket loads of forever. In our body, its actions are anti-anxiety, anti-depressive, a diuretic (meaning it allows us to excrete excess fluid) and it allows us to burn body fat as an energy source. Women make progesterone from their adrenal glands, which sit just on top of the kidneys, as well as from the corpus luteum, the crater that is left on the surface of the ovary following ovulation.
High cortisol is also directly linked to blood sugar imbalance and insulin resistance.
Another example? High estrogen can impact the thyroid, as estrogen binds to the thyroid receptor and blocks its ability to make thyroid hormones.
So you can see how beautifully intricate this system is.
It’s also important to understand the liver’s function as the organ in charge of excreting hormones. When the liver is clogged, you can imagine what happens; we have a traffic jam of hormones leading to more of a particular hormone than we need/want. This is one of the main reasons why so many women experience estrogen dominance.
So how did I heal myself?
Here, my top natural hormone balancing tips:
Excellent nutrition – of course!
* Greens, greens, greens: enjoy a daily green juice and ensure 50% of your plate is green
* Incorporate plenty of good fats: fish, walnuts, flaxseeds and avocado. Good fats make hormones!
* Drink lots of water to excrete toxins
* Increase fiber intake, which helps sweep out excess estrogen
Support the liver
* Cut caffeine, alcohol, dairy and sugar
* Lots of brassica vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts (must be cooked)
* Supplements: combination of B complex, milk thistle and dandelion. Glutamine and N-acetyl cysteine are also fabulous for liver support. Found in supplement form.
Support adrenal function
* Cut caffeine completely for 2 weeks
* Supplement with 2g vitamin C daily
* Make rest and meditation a must
* Deep belly breathing upon waking and before bed
* For optimal absorption of necessary nutrients for hormonal balance and to put less pressure on the liver (digestive health is linked to liver health)
* Drink warm lemon water each morning
* Take a daily probiotic
* Cut wheat and gluten
* Chew food until liquid
* Eat slowly and in a relaxed environment
Practice yoga and brisk walking
Consider adding these supplements to aide hormone imbalance:
- Fish oil – EPDA/DHA
When adding supplements, always seek the guidance of practitioner.
Heal the mind with spiritual practice
According to Dr. Northrup, thyroid complications result from a belief that we cannot voice how we truly feel to our friends, family and colleagues since the thyroid is situated in the throat chakra. She also links thyroid complications to our tendency to rush. We never give ourselves enough time to do what we want to do and have a hard time being patient; the mentality of “when will it be my turn.”
Author Louise Hay believes that thyroid complications are all about creativity being blocked. She explains that many women feel torn up by the pressure to “be all the things,” and in turn, their creative self gets blocked.
When I sensed these negative shifts in my hormones, I would state the following affirmation by Louise:
I move beyond old limitations and now allow myself to express freely and creatively.
It took some time, effort, and patience with myself and my body, but soon I began to feel like me again. Our bodies truly are wondrous – when we aren’t tending to them properly, they tell us exactly what we need.