Our nutrition expert Tess Ström is a fully qualified Nutritional Therapist with a functional medicine outlook. In this guest blog post, she discusses how nutritional therapy and functional medicine can address hormonal imbalances:
Do you ever suffer from mood swings or low energy particularly around your menstrual cycle? Or have you perhaps passed the age of 40 and all of a sudden you have started to suffer from night sweats, hot flushes and weight gain around your middle? These are all symptoms that potentially indicate hormonal imbalances.
Hormone issues can affect women of any age from puberty and onwards. However, it is often menopause and the time leading up to menopause, also known as peri-menopause, that tend to be more difficult to manage. This often happens between the ages of 40 and 55.
As I discussed in our #FitClinic Workshop talk at The Clinic in February, there are many ways in which nutritional therapy and functional medicine can be used in addressing hormonal imbalances on a biochemical level.
However, there are also simple steps that you can take yourself to address some of the underlying causes:
Tackle blood sugar imbalances
These can increase insulin levels, and lead to low-grade inflammation and issues with reproductive hormone imbalances. This issue is very common in all forms of pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) and plays a main feature in polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which is also strongly linked to insulin resistance and high testosterone levels. To improve blood sugar imbalance, ditch processed foods, particularly refined foods such as bread, pasta and cakes. You should also keep your intake of sugary foods down and replace them with plenty of non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumber, courgette, tomatoes, peppers, asparagus, sprouts, fresh herbs and mushrooms. The fibre in these foods helps to slow down the uptake of sugar into the blood. Consume starchy foods such as potatoes, butternut squash, brown rice and quinoa in smaller amounts. The idea here is to eat the rainbow! Aim to eat something green, yellow, red, orange, white, blue / purple every day. This will enable you to consume a good amount of fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, all of which are important for hormonal health.
Make sure that you consume protein with every single meal and snack you have. With this I mean animal protein such as fish, egg, chicken, seafood or red meat or plant based proteins such as beans, lentils, peas, nuts and seeds – the choice is yours.
Look at your alcohol and caffeine consumption
Both alcohol and caffeine can adversely affect your sleep, which has a negative knock-on effect on hormones, so if you are suffering from any hormonal imbalance symptoms you should consider your intake.
Be aware of endocrine disruptors
Certain chemicals in our environment act as endocrine disruptors, which means they can alter the normal functioning of our hormones. Xenoestrogens are a sub-category of these endocrine disruptors. They mimick the effect of our natural oestrogen and can block and bind our hormone receptors – thereby increasing our own oestrogen levels and potentially leading to oestrogen dominance. Build-up of xenoestrogens has been indicated in many conditions including breast, prostate and testicular cancer, obesity, infertility, endometriosis, early onset puberty, miscarriages and diabetes. We are exposed to these xenoestrogens in the environment and via man-made products and foods on a daily basis. However, by being more aware you can reduce the amount that you are subjected to. For instance, consider choosing skincare products that are free of parabens, phthalates and sodium lauryl, avoid wrapping foods in plastic and avoid using aluminium for cooking and wrapping foods. Choosing organic food where availability and budget allows also helps, as it will reduce your intake of pesticides and herbicides – both of which are xenoestrogens. It may be useful to know that, for plants, if they have thick skin which you can peel (such as bananas, pineapple and avocado), there is less need for going organic. If you cannot find and / or afford organic plants, then either peeling them or cleaning them properly can help to at least reduce the amount of toxins you are subjected to. You can purchase vegetable cleaning liquid from a health store or alternatively use a couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in clean water. However, for more fragile plants such as leafy greens and berries which are more difficult to clean, I would recommend going organic wherever availability and affordability allows.
Look after your liver
The liver is the organ that breaks up excess hormones before they are eliminated through the digestive system. For this reason it is important to make sure you have a bowel movement at least once a day and that you supply your liver with the nutrients it needs to function properly. You will find many of these nutrients in leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables (such as cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli) and in most other plants, herbs and spices.
Deal with constipation
If you are suffering from constipation, consider the amount of fluid that you consume. Bear in mind that coffee, normal tea, soft drinks and alcohol are all dehydrating. Make sure to consume at least two litres of fluid per day, and more if you do vigorous exercise. Also ensure you get plenty of fibre in your diet in the form of vegetables in particular.
Don’t ignore stress
The final major factor that has an influence on hormone health is stress. When we are stressed the body is pushed to favour stress hormone production at the expense of progesterone. This can then lead to a relative oestrogen dominance with subsequent trouble sleeping, heavier and more painful periods, breast tenderness and inability to deal with stress. Make sure you take time out for yourself, be it doing five minutes of guided meditation, prioritising your weekly yoga class or even relaxing in a tub of Epsom bath salts at the end of a busy day! Find what works for you and when you do find it, stick with it!
Implement these seven steps for a month or two, and see how you feel. If you still have issues after that, you may benefit from seeing me to investigate and deal with other potential underlying causes.
Many thanks to Tess for this informative guest post! To find out more about Tess’s 12-Week Health Coaching Programme, click here: 12-Week Health Coaching Programme or contact us at The Clinic in any of the usual ways.