Top 5 Tips for Hormonal Health
8th March marked International Women’s Day – a time to show solidarity and support for women around the world in recognition of the struggles and inequalities they face. And speaking of struggles…women certainly got a rough biological deal when it comes to our hormones! These tiny chemical messengers (which control everything from energy and metabolism, to sleep, immune function and reproduction) are especially complex in women. Given the stresses of modern life, it’s no wonder our hormones can get out of balance sometimes. This year’s International Women’s Day campaign is #BeBoldForChange, so here are 5 simple changes you can make to be bold and take back control of your hormonal health.
Look after your Liver
With any female hormonal problem, its important to make sure the liver is functioning optimally. This often-overlooked organ is responsible for deactivating and eliminating hormones from the body. When we don’t look after it, old hormones can be recycled back into the blood stream, causing imbalances.
The brassica family of vegetables contains compounds called glucosinolates, which can increase the activity of liver enzymes involved in hormone detoxification. This promotes the elimination of old hormones from the body and can help protect against hormone-related cancers.
Brassica veg include: broccoli, cauliflower, sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, turnips, collard greens, mustard greens, watercress and cabbage.
- Aim to eat at least 2 portions a day.
- As boiling and microwaving can break down the active compounds, cook these vegetables by gently steaming.
- Sprouted broccoli and cauliflower seeds are particularly high in glucosinolates, containing up to 10-100 times more than the mature plant*. Adding these to sandwiches, salads and stir-fries is a really great way to support the liver.
Remember your B Vitamins
Also important for liver detoxification are the B vitamins – B6, B9 (also known as folate) and B12. These nutrients are essential to a process called methylation, which is one of the primary ways the liver deactivates oestrogen.
- Folate-rich foods include dark, leafy green vegetables such as spinach, beans and legumes, especially mung beans, adzuki beans, chickpeas, and lentils, as well as liver, asparagus and avocado. Folate can be easily destroyed in the cooking process, so try to eat some raw leafy greens every day in salads or smoothies.
- Vitamin B6 rich foods include nuts, garlic, whole grains, seeds, legumes and prunes. A number of studies have shown that increasing B6 intake can be especially beneficial for women who suffer from PMS.
- As vitamin B12 is predominantly found in animal sources such as meat, fish and eggs, vegetarians and vegans should consider supplementation.
Balance your Blood Sugars
When we eat a meal that is high in sugar or refined carbohydrates, the pancreas releases insulin in response. However, regularly high insulin levels in the blood can lead to increased levels of both oestrogen and testosterone. Increased levels of these hormones are implicated in a number of female health conditions such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, PMS and fibroids.
Elevated insulin levels can also lead to increased fat accumulation (especially around the waist). What many people don’t realise is that fat cells stimulate the production of more oestrogen. Excess weight can therefore be a big driver for hormonal imbalances.
So what can we do to ensure healthy blood sugar balance?
- Eat little and often. Aim for 3 small meals and 2 snacks a day.
- Ensure all meals contain a source of good quality protein such as chickpeas, legumes, beans, tofu, organic meat, fish or eggs.
- Switch to complex wholegrain carbohydrates (eg. brown rice, oats, wholegrain pasta) in place of white refined products.
- Lay off the sugary snacks and instead opt for alternatives that are high in fibre and protein. Try fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, hummus and oatcakes.
Include Phytoestrogens in your Diet
Phytoestrogens (plant-oestrogens) are naturally occurring substances found in certain foods, which can have a balancing effect on our hormones. They have adaptogenic properties, meaning they are able to increase the effects of oestrogen when levels in the body are low, for example during menopause. Additionally they decrease the effects of oestrogen when levels are too high, for example in endometriosis or fibroids.
Phytoestrogens are found in most fruit and vegetables but are especially high in legumes such as lentils, beans, chickpeas and wholebean soya products. They are also high in flaxseeds, so adding a big spoonful to your morning porridge or smoothie is a great way to incorporate phytoestrogens into your diet.
Look After Your Gut
Impaired gut function can interfere with hormones in several different ways. Parasites, fungal overgrowth or unbeneficial bacteria in the gut (known as dysbiosis) can cause inflammation, which interferes with hormone production. Insufficient beneficial bacteria can also increase the activity of beta-glucuronidase, an enzyme that can prevent the elimination of oestrogen from the body. This has been shown to increase the risk of oestrogen-driven conditions and cancers. Looking after our gut and promoting a healthy bacterial balance is therefore vital to hormonal health.
- Probiotic foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso paste, probiotic yoghurt, kefir and kombucha promote gut health. Try incorporating some of these foods into your diet each day.
The above are just a few of the changes you can make to help promote hormonal health. Nutrition and lifestyle factors play a huge role. So if you suffer from, or have a family history of, hormone-related conditions, consider seeing a Nutritional Therapist for personalised advice.
Remember, whilst it can sometimes feel like our hormones are conspiring against us, when they’re in balance they allow women to do amazing things, making us the wonderful beings that we are. So #BeBoldForChange and celebrate women this month by taking back control of your hormonal health.
Where can I find the products mentioned?
All food items mentioned in this article can be bought in store. We recommend trying to sprout food at home using a kit from BioSnacky. Alternatively, pick up a box of grab and go sprouts in the produce section. Better Food have a large organic produce selection, a variety or tinned and dried beans and pulses, as well as tofu from brands like Taifun and meat from Well Hung Meat Co. among others. If you need help in finding any of the aforementioned items, ask one of our friendly staff and they’ll be happy to help you.
Try and experiment with these ingredients if they are new to you. Hannah shared one of her favourite ways to use lentils and sprouts here. So why not do the same and share your creations on Twitter or via email.
Hannah Braye is a registered nutritional therapist providing evidence-based nutrition advice from a naturopathic, person-centred approach. She offers 1-1 consultations, personalised nutrition and lifestyle recommendations, meal plans and recipes. And she offers continuing support to help you meet your health goals.
Hannah is also a member of the World Health Heroes, a network of health and well-being practitioners, promoting affordable health and well-being across local communities. She is an Assistant Clinical Supervisor at the College of Naturopathic Medicine. And Hannah works part-time for the Soil Association.