Hormonal problems are often viewed as a part of getting older, or a burden that women must accept a few days every month. In this blog post, I will discuss how maintaining proper digestion, choosing nutrient dense foods, and managing stress (real or perceived) is the best way to avoid and remedy a host of hormonal symptoms you may be experiencing.
How many people do you know that either suffer from digestive problems or are extremely stressed out?
Exactly. It is no wonder then, why hormonal problems are rampant in today’s society.
The most common hormonal symptoms include:
- Mood swings
- Night sweats/ hot flashes
- Decreased libido
- Post-partum depression
- Morning sickness
- Insomnia/ poor sleep patters
- Loss of muscle mass/ belly fat gain
- Cystic acne
It is my opinion that symptoms like the ones listed above are indicators that the hormones in the body are out of balance - and not something that you must accept as part of being a woman. If hormonal balance is restored, a significant decrease or complete elimination of these symptoms will often occur.
How is hormonal balance achieved?
The answer to this question is very specific to each individual. However, addressing diet, stress management, mineral deficiencies, essential fatty acid deficiency and digestion are the keys to making sure your hormones are being produced regularly, in the proper amounts for your age, sex, activity level, etc.
Since this series is focused on digestion, lets first look at some of the ways that the digestive organs are paramount in healthy hormone production.
The stomach must have the proper level of acidity (HCl) to digest the amino acids, fats, and carbohydrates that are essential to healthy hormone production. For example, thyroid hormones are derived from amino acids; amino acids are produced when protein molecules are sufficiently broken down by HCl, pepsin and digestive enzymes. Leaky gut also causes a host of hormonal problems by raising cortisol (the stress-regulating hormone produced by the adrenal glands). High cortisol triggers the suppression of the immune system in the gut, decreasing gut immunity, leading to more leaky gut. We’ll get into why this stress response is so important in a second.
Essential fatty acids must be properly digested to not only form cholesterol (precursor to hormones) but to produce anti-inflammatory properties before menstruation (without this key component, think extreme menstrual cramps, PMS).
The liver is one of the most important digestive organs, specifically in terms of hormonal regulation. This is because the liver deactivates hormones that are in excess and no longer functional in the body. When cortisol is elevated (either from leaky gut, a poor diet, or a stress response) the liver's ability to effectively remove excess hormones is highly decreased.
The small intestine is where a majority of the nutrients you eat are absorbed and utilized by the body to create and sustain healthy hormone levels. This includes proteins, fats and carbs as I mentioned before, but also vitamins and minerals that are essential to hormonal health like iodine, zinc, manganese chromium, selenium and copper. All hormones run on nutrients, which is why the digestion of these nutrients is vital.
The discussion of healthy hormones cannot be complete without talking about stress. Stressors not only include things that you perceive as stressful (running from a predator, traffic, deadlines) but also things that your body perceives as stress:
The combination of impaired digestion and stress results in chronic output of cortisol by the body, which can lead to a host of hormonal problems:
Decreased liver function
Abnormal progesterone/estrogen ratio
So what can I eat to ensure proper hormone balance?
Make sure you are getting a sufficient amount of essential fatty acids (coconut oil, cold water fish, grass fed meats, poultry, avocado, egg yolk, etc). EFA’s and cholesterol are the substrate that hormones are made from, therefore a lack of EFA’s (or insufficient digestion of them) will easily lead to hormonal imbalance
Intake of green vegetables and cruciferous vegetables which help the liver detoxify extra estrogen out of the body
Be aware of phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are a group of plant- derived compounds that are similar in structure and function to the estrogens made in the body. Most people (men included) have more than enough estrogen in the body as it is. If you are someone with a diagnosed hormonal imbalance or suffer from things like breast tenderness/cysts, uterine fibroids, or endometriosis, it is even more important that you limit phytoestrogens.
Here is a list of foods with highest phytoestrogen content:
- Soy (tofu, edamame, tempeh,soy protein isolate)
- Flax seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Oats, barley, rice
- Beans and lentils
Also, focus on gut healing! I give lots of tips here, here and here.
Relax! Here are a few of my favorite ways to relax:
Talk to a friend
Remove any unnecessary stressors from your life (social media, watching the news, allergens, caffeine, alcohol, etc)