Author: Christal Sczebel, C.H.N., Nutritionist in the Kitch
The topic of hormones is a big one, there is so much to know when it comes to the endocrine system, to be honest there’s a lot that’s over my head! However, from my own personal experiences, my education in Nutrition, and my experience from working with many female clients over the years, I’ve realized that what we eat and aspects of our lifestyle. truly does have an impact on our hormonal health.
Throughout a woman’s life, her hormones will go through many fluctuations especially around puberty, pregnancy, and menopause, but in between these times, certain factors can also disrupt hormone balance that can cause unwanted symptoms. Persistent digestive issues, high stress levels, over-exercise, inflammation, and poor diet can all contribute to a hormonal imbalance.
So how do you know if your hormones are out of whack? The most common signs and symptoms are: weight gain water retention, PMS, mood changes, migraines and headaches, tender breasts, overly heavy or light periods, or total lack of a period, breast/uterine lumps and cysts, and fertility issues.
If you suspect that you have a hormonal imbalance, I definitely recommend seeing a Naturopathic Doctor or a GP so that they can do further testing such as blood or saliva tests, but there’s also a few things you can start doing right away to support healthy hormone balance and kick those pesky symptoms to the curb!
HOW TO EAT TO SUPPORT A HEALTHY HORMONE BALANCE:
1. Lessen Stress or Learn to Manage Stress More Effectively:
If you’ve been reading Gorgo Magazine for a while you’ll know I’ve been on here talking about stress before. Chronic high stress is a factor that plays into 99% of health issues, so it’s no wonder I have to address it first for this topic. Stress increases cortisol levels in the body, when this happens persistently it impacts the production of other hormones like progesterone and estrogen. A woman under high stress for long periods of time can be at risk of low progesterone which brings along a host of symptoms including the ones I listed above. When it comes to stress it is important to remember that stress also comes in many forms - emotional/mental, physical, and environmental. How would you rate your stress levels? Do you feel like you are being stretched thin in all areas of life? It’s important that if you suspect you have a hormone imbalance to address this area first and foremost and really take a good look at where you can reduce commitments, take more time for yourself, and even seek out help to learn sustainable stress management techniques.
2. Give Your Digestive System Some Love:
While it wouldn’t seem like digestion and hormones naturally coincide, they do! How well your digestive system functions has a direct impact on your body’s hormonal balance. In fact, women who deal with chronic constipation can be at a risk of estrogen dominance because excess estrogen is eliminated in the stool with regular bowel movements. If you struggle with digestive issues like constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and gas, I recommend a high quality probiotic to help support digestion. Also if your digestive systems are persistent, definitely visit an ND or GP to dig deeper and get the issues resolved.
3. Re-evaluate your Exercise Routine:
As Gorgogirls, I know many of you (myself included) love to stay active and challenge yourselves physically. While exercise has so many positive benefits for overall health, excessive exercise is a stressor that will negatively affect hormone balance. To put it bluntly, exercise itself is stress on the body, but a certain level of stress can be good. Exercise causes stress that pushes the body to adapt, which results in progress in performance, strength, endurance. The problem is when the exercise becomes excessive or there is a lack of recovery time, which does not give the body the ability to heal, repair, and adapt. So how much exercise is too much? While it does depend on your body and your history with exercise, generally speaking more than 2 hours per day without any rest days is pushing the boundaries. Women struggling with hormonal imbalance in particular, are encouraged to do only mild or moderate levels of exercise, not strenuous, to a maximum of 3 days per week.
4. Eat Hormone Balancing Super-Foods:
Ok, now on to the good stuff, the food! There are many foods that support hormone balance in the body through supporting digestion, adrenal health, and liver function (the liver is the main organ that regulates and eliminates hormones in the body), as well as reducing inflammation which is a contributor to hormone imbalance.
• Avocado - a great source of healthy omega rich fatty acids that help to reduce inflammation and increase metabolism.
• Dark Leafy Greens - spinach, kale, and collard all contain phytonutrients that support hormone balance and are also alkalinizing which helps to reduce inflammation in the body.
• Maca Root Powder - this super-food stimulates the hormone regulating parts of the brain and provides nourishment for the pituitary glands responsible for hormone production. Maca has been shown to be beneficial for many hormonal symptoms including acne and fertility issues.
• Broccoli & Other Cruciferous Vegetables - these foods contain a great amount of phytonutrients that specifically support hormone balance through improved liver detoxification.
5. Avoid the Hormone Disrupting Culprit Foods:
While there are foods that support hormone balance listed above, there’s always another side to the coin. Certain foods can actually disrupt natural hormone balance and for women who are struggling with hormone imbalances, these foods can worsen the problem so they are best avoided.
• Dairy - While certain dairy products are not inherently unhealthy foods, when it comes to hormones, dairy products have been shown to worsen symptoms or contribute to hormonal imbalance as dairy can cause inflammation and may also contain artificial growth hormones and antibiotics. It is recommended to limit dairy products if you suspect you have hormonal imbalances and buy only organic dairy products to eat on occasion. For active women this can be a tough change as dairy is a good source of protein. Instead of whey protein, try plant-based protein powders and substitute Greek yogurt with coconut yogurt and stir in plant-based protein powder.
• Refined Sugar & Flours - Refined sugars and flours are known to affect mood and energy, but they can also contribute to hormone imbalances as they disrupt one of the most powerful hormones in the body: insulin. Insulin is closely related to many other hormones in the body including the female hormones and can lead to estrogen dominance issues. Always choose unrefined sweeteners such as honey, stevia, and pure maple syrup and whole grains.
• Caffeine - Caffeine obviously has a potent effect on our bodies which is why so many women reach for it in the morning! Unfortunately caffeine consumption (especially more than 2 cups of coffee or black tea daily) has been shown to cause increases cortisol and epinephrine at rest. This increase results in levels of cortisol that is similar to those experienced during high stress periods, meaning that caffeine intake can re-create stress responses in the body and tax the adrenal glands. As mentioned before, overworked adrenals sets off the delicate of many other hormones in the body. If you struggle with hormone imbalance, I recommend reducing caffeine intake to 1 cup per day maximum and switching from coffee to Matcha green tea which naturally contains L-theanine, an amino acid that supports adrenal function.
At the end of the day, achieving healthy hormone balance requires a close look at your diet, activity levels, and lifestyle. If you find that you could use improvements in all areas, don’t create more stress by trying to tackle it all at once. Start at the top of the list and move your way down, and if you need the extra guidance, a Nutritionist or Naturopathic doctor can help you along the way! I’ve personally dealt with my own hormonal imbalances and while correcting them isn’t a cake-walk, with patience, diligence, and a willing attitude, progress can be made and balanced can be achieved!