by Murika Shaw
Ever feel like your hormones are out of control? Our mood, skin, productivity, appetite, mental and physical energy, and digestion can all reflect the state of our hormones, and when something is off, the effects can take a real toll.
Which hormones are we talking about?
Our primary female sex hormones, progesterone and oestrogen, although insulin (the hormone that helps us regulate our blood sugar) and cortisol (one of the hormones that helps us respond to stress) are also very much at play.
What might be a clue that our hormones are out of sync?
Wild PMS, cyclical migraines, very heavy menstrual bleeds, sore boobs, intense cravings, mood swings, and skin changes, are some of signs that it might be time to give your hormones some attention. Whilst some conditions involving these hormone imbalances may require medical treatment and some may not, our food choices and lifestyle can always play a massive part in helping us feel our best. When it comes to nutrition, there are a few things we can be mindful of to keep our hormones harmonising well. Here is a snapshot of a few basics I start with in clinic to get my clients on their way:
STABILISE THAT BLOOD SUGAR
Ever been on a roller coaster? The ups and downs can leave us dizzy and out of sorts. It's same with our blood sugar. Big spikes and dips in our blood sugar not only can give us the shakes or bring on fatigue, they can also wreak havoc on our hormonal health. Starting the day with a cup of coffee, skipping breakfast, and reaching for the biscuit tin at 11? You are setting yourself up for a blood sugar roller coaster. A few tools we can use to keep things steady:
- Break up our daily food intake into satisfying meals (average of 3) throughout the day with nice breaks in between. This will allow our gastrointestinal tract to rest and the breaks also help to keep our gut functioning well. If you do have a snack, go for something with protein and fibre (like veg and hummus/egg)
- Ensure our breakfast always includes a source of protein. This is a must in every meal, but especially important at breakfast! Go for something like eggs and avocado on toast, a smoothie with a quality protein powder or hemp and chia seeds, or some leftovers from last night’s dinner.
- Don't be afraid of fat! Healthy fats from foods like olive oil, wild-caught salmon, and avocados help us to create healthy hormones, and will support a stable blood sugar by keeping us satisfied (so less likely to reach for sugary snacks).
- Watch our sugar intake. This one can be especially hard if the cravings are intense. A diet high in sugary foods like biscuits, cakes, wine and fizzy drinks can make our blood sugar sky-rocket, contributing to further cravings, inflammation, and insulin issues, which may have a knock on effect on our sex hormones.
This doesn't mean these foods are off-limits, absolutely enjoy that birthday cake and a glass of vino now and again! What can be more of an issue is the mindless, habitual routine of consuming lots of sugary foods/drinks daily (which we all know how easily we can fall into this!) or using sugary foods/drinks to cope with stress.
GIVE YOUR LIVER SOME TLC
Our livers do so much for us, so it's important to give them some support when we can. They are one of the hardest working organs in the body and play a vital role in processing our hormones to make them ready to be excreted through the bowel. How can we support our livers?
- Limit alcohol intake
- Enjoy bitter foods like rocket and chicory
- Load up on the veg, particularly cruciferous veg like broccoli, kale, and cauliflower, as they have special compounds that help the liver process our oestrogen
KEEP YOUR DIGESTION ON POINT
Pooping is important. Especially for hormone health. After our liver prepares our oestrogen to be excreted through our bowel, it sits in the colon ready to be excreted. If we are constipated, this oestrogen can re-circulate back into our system, so aim to have a healthy bowel movement once a day minimum.
How to do this? There can be many factors that impact our digestive health but enjoying lots of fibre-rich foods and staying well hydrated is a good place to start. Good sources of fibre?
- A nice variety of fruit and veg
- Seeds like chia seeds and flax seeds
- Legumes like beans, chickpeas, and lentils
- Wholegrains like brown rice and buckwheat
- Potatoes (with the skin!)
Granted, stress isn't exactly 'on your plate' but stress management is a critical factor in hormone health. Stress isn't always a bad thing, it can help us in a crisis situation or give us the boost we need to run for that bus.
However, when we are constantly stressed or in a state of chronic stress, the body is so busy pumping out cortisol (one of our stress hormone), that it's not as focused on creating other hormones like progesterone, one of our very necessary sex hormones. Not only that, chronic stress can also contribute to inflammation which can drive hormone imbalance symptoms.
What to do?
Managing stress can be difficult because for many of us simply because life is hectic in ways that are sometimes out of our control. In my clinic, we start with the small things we can control like eating slowly, proper deep breaths, and limiting caffeine, and then work towards addressing any major stressors, putting extra support in place where we can.
ARE YOUR HORMONAL SYMPTOMS FEELING OUT OF CONTROL?
If you experience very disruptive hormonal symptoms (with or without an official
diagnosis), thinking about attempting a new way of eating can be overwhelming. If this is you, I hear you. I struggled for years with painful endometriosis symptoms and I understand how hopeless it can feel, especially if you are attempting a healthy lifestyle and not finding relief. Alongside whatever medical treatment you may be undergoing, it's worth considering some more intensive nutrition and lifestyle support to address whatever may be driving the hormone imbalance and aid in symptom relief. This was a game-changer for me when my endometriosis was at its worst, and the benefits I experienced are ultimately what inspired me to do what I do today.
GET BACK TO BASICS
As is the way with all nutrition advice, it is MUCH easier said than done!
My advice? Get back to basics. Tune into your body. Lean into your hunger queues and build a plate that will nourish you well until the next meal, always including good quality protein, healthy fats, fibrous foods and plenty of veg. By enjoying nourishing meals made from whole foods, you are giving your body lots of fantastic nutrients that it needs to support hormone harmony.
That being said, it's not all about the food! Stress, sleep, movement, environment and community all have their own role to play in keeping our hormones balanced and serving us well, but if you need somewhere to start? Why not start with your plate?
Murika Shaw is an accredited Nutritional Therapist. Visit her website for more information or to book a consultation www.murikanutrition.com
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