How to Keep Your Hormones Balanced with What You Eat
The female endocrine system is an intricate but influential body system. As women, our hormonal health and our overall wellbeing are closely intertwined.
Our hormonal health can determine everything from energy production to mood, menstrual cycles, fertility, libido, weight, skin and even digestive health. It can also, of course, influence specific conditions such as PCOS and diabetes.
The endocrine system doesn’t work alone - it is influenced by our lifestyles, our dietary choices, stress levels and nutritional status. When one of these things is out of whack, it is likely to have a direct impact on your endocrine system, causing it to function incorrectly and sub-optimally.
It may all sound a little complex, but the truth is, balancing your hormones starts in the kitchen - what we eat has a massive impact on our hormonal health. Let us break it down for you.
One of fibre’s roles in the body is to bind to waste and pull it out of the body via the bowels. Research suggests that adequate fibre intake supports healthy overall digestive health, hormonal health and even healthy cholesterol metabolism.
Fibre plays a specific role in the elimination of oestrogen and balancing progesterone. If there is a glitch in this elimination process, rather than being eliminated, free oestrogen can be reabsorbed via the digestive track, wreaking havoc. With this occurring, we see symptoms of PMS, lengthened cycles, hot flushes, mood irritability, weight fluctuations and the worsening of specific conditions such as endometriosis.
Fibre also affects our overall microbiome and intestinal bacteria - research has found that a diet rich in various fibre (insoluble, soluble and resistance starch) can also reduce intestinal β-glucoronidase and therefore reducing the cycle of oestrogen reabsorption.
The Australian daily recommended intake is 30mg/fibre per day, but unfortunately with a western diet, most Australians don’t consume half of their RDI. Dietary sources include fresh vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds (linseeds, chia seeds), legumes, beans and whole grains.
Only 7.5% of Australians eat their recommended daily intake of veggies. Vegetables, fresh herbs and sea vegetables such as seaweed, provide a wide source of phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals – all which is required for our body to thrive!
That means 92.5% of Australians could be feeling more vitalised and need a veggie boost.
While all vegetables are brilliant, there are specific veggies to add in to benefit women’s hormones. The Broccoli oleracea family; broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, kale and collard greens are rich in the phytochemical Sulforaphane.
Sulforaphane plays a role in our liver detoxification pathways and the elimination of oestrogen as well as other hormonal waste. Broccoli sprouts contain even higher levels of sulforaphane! They can be sprinkled into your meals or used as a powder for an extra nutrient boost.
To increase your daily intake, aim for at least 1 – 3 cups of vegetables with each meal. Aim for a variety of different vegetables, using what is in season and organic where possible.
Good news ladies: we need carbs (Yes, need!). Carbohydrates should absolutely not be a feared word as women actually require carbohydrates to ovulate and produce hormones – they are essential.
Note though that not all carbohydrates are created equal. We want to enjoy a small amount of complex carbohydrates from vegetables, whole grains, seeds and nuts rather than refined and processed foods.
We also want to ensure we are adding a little protein and good fat to balance blood glucose levels and the release of insulin – this is key to using carbohydrates for good not evil when it comes to hormonal health.
Protein is the building blocks for our cells which create the foundation for our hormones, it also builds muscular health and cellular integrity which can diminish as we age.
Protein is also key to balancing blood glucose levels – the foundation of overall health and hormonal health. We don’t need much, often less than we think we need, but we do need some daily and with each meal and snack.
Sources of protein include eggs, seafood, fish, red meat, chicken, legumes, beans, nuts and seeds.
Magnesium helps to calm our nervous systems and in turn helps to regulate the HPA axis. The HPA axis is our central stress response system. When it is functioning correctly, our other hormones function correctly as well.
Magnesium also affects the production and metabolism of progestogen, our calming hormone, as well as thyroid functions which affect how our hormones, metabolism, mood and sleep.
Interestingly, several studies have shown that magnesium levels in women experiencing PMS and dysmenorrhea and much lower than women without. Magnesium works by relaxing the smooth muscles of the uterus which in turn reduces associated period pain.
As well as working specifically on hormonal health, magnesium has also been found to support sleep outcomes. Daily use has been found to reduce sleep latency while improving overall sleep quality. When we sleep better our HPA axis is able to function correctly and in turn our overall hormonal picture is happier.
B Vitamins are a cluster of water soluble vitamins: b1,b2, b3, b5, b6, b9, b12, biotin, choline - and each have their unique role on overall wellbeing.
Together, the B-vitamins work to encourage detoxification through the liver, stimulate the production of energy, enhance digestive processes as well as elevate our mood and stabilise them when needed. They are also essential for how the body manufactures and metabolises hormones, and help the body adapt to stress.
Not food - but we can't leave out the role of exercise when it comes to hormones! We need to move our body for so many reasons, it makes us happy (literally). Regular movement supports how the body detoxifies, enhancing elimination via the lungs, skin and even the bowel.
With hormonal health we need to ensure the elimination is supported just as frequently as the building blocks and nutrients enjoyed. Both aspects are required for a healthy hormonal system.
Contributor: Alyce Cimino