Hormonal imbalances lie at the root of a host of common health concerns that affect many, if not most, women at various stages of life. Whether it is teenage (or adult) acne, PMS, fertility issues, fibroids, weight gain, fatigue, mood swings, blood sugar imbalances, osteoporosis, premature ageing, insomnia, loss of libido, most women have experienced at least one or more of these symptoms of hormonal imbalance.
Fortunately there are many ways to support hormonal balance naturally and take back control of your health, your life and your sanity. There is no quick fix and neither will you ever be “done”: as your body, the environment and your circumstances keep changing, so does your need to adjust and course -correct.
But despite these caveats, achieving hormonal balance is within reach. If you are ready to do what it takes, make targeted diet and lifestyle changes, use some good quality natural supplements, work on optimising your digestive health, you can be well on your way to feeling better and resolving many of your hormone -related health concerns.
In this article I will discuss some common root causes that contribute to hormonal imbalance and share some essential nutrition and lifestyle tips that can help restore balance and resolve symptoms.
The wondrous world of hormones
Hormones are chemical messengers, secreted by the endocrine glands that govern most bodily functions. The role of the endocrine system is ultimately to maintain balance and to regulate important processes such as growth, reproduction and development.
The way this system works is truly amazing. It depends on an intricately complex communication and feedback system and can be compared to an orchestra with a conductor and many musicians, who need to be finely tuned into one another in order to create that perfect symphony.
Many things influence that delicate balance but there are 4 areas that can be considered of prime importance when it comes to building a strong foundation for hormonal health.
- Adrenal function
Our adrenal glands are the tiny glands atop our kidneys responsible for regulating the stress response in our bodies through the synthesis of a number of different hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol. The adrenal glands are, in a way, the fuel tank of our bodies. Designed to respond to a sudden stressful situation they release (amongst other things) adrenalin and cortisol, which get the body ready with increased levels of energy and focus so you can “fight” or “flight” from the stressor you encountered. When the situation has resolved, you adapt and your body recovers so that you can go on with non-emergency functions such as digestion, repair, reproduction etc.
However, sometimes life is an ongoing chain of stressful events. You might be facing deadlines at work, eating a not-so-healthy diet, entertaining often with alcohol and late nights, dealing with relationship issues or worrying about the health of a relative. Maybe you live in a big city and have to deal with traffic, pollution or a long commute to work.
There are so many different things that cause us stress and when there is no time for the body to recover and adapt the adrenals pump out high levels of cortisol continuously thereby not only affecting essential functions in the body but also disrupting hormonal balance. Thyroid issues, and steroid hormone imbalance often happen as a result of continuously elevated cortisol levels.
As you can see it is very important to address the stress in your life: mental/emotional stress but also the “internal” stress caused by a poor diet, nutrient deficiencies, infections, or toxicity.
- Blood sugar balance
When we eat carbohydrates they get broken down into simple sugars, which are then absorbed into the blood stream causing blood sugar levels to rise. This triggers the release of the hormone insulin by the pancreas, which signals cells to pull glucose out of the blood stream and into storage. This mechanism helps to keep blood sugar levels in a normal range.
When we are continuously flooding our system with high sugar foods it can eventually cause that system to falter leading to blood sugar highs and lows, insulin resistance, and eventually continuously high blood sugar levels.
This in turn can affect the body and brain in several negative ways. Blood sugar imbalances become an additional “stressor” on the already taxed adrenal glands contributing to the whole cascade of hormonal imbalances.
A first step to better blood sugar balance is to modify your diet and reduce carbohydrate consumption, most importantly refined sugar and high sugar foods. Eating healthy whole foods and including healthy fats, fibre and protein in every meal further helps to regulate blood sugar levels.
- Gut health
All (hormonal) health begins in the gut. For every hormone that is created or detoxified in our body we need certain minerals or vitamins. A healthy and well functioning digestive system results in the efficient breakdown and absorption of these vital nutrients. Additionally, our gut microbiome (the trillions of micro-organisms that reside in our gut) is directly involved in the regulation of many hormones, including estrogen, thyroid hormones, melatonin and hormones involved in metabolic processes.
Diet is critical in supporting gut health and a healthy gut microbiome. Removing foods that contribute to intestinal inflammation, and including foods that support digestive function are vital. Make sure to include fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, yoghurt, kefir in your diet as well as a variety of colourful fibre -rich plant -based foods that help feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut. This will all help build a strong and healthy gut and support hormonal health.
- Liver function
We know the liver as the body’s main detox organ, responsible for breaking down and eliminating harmful toxins but some of its other important functions include the detoxification of excess hormones, conversion of thyroid hormones into their free and usable forms, the production of serum proteins that act as hormone carriers and the regulation of sex hormones.
You can see how a compromised liver function can have a ripple effect on your hormonal balance and how important it is to support your liver function. Eating a clean diet, restricting alcohol, sugar, nicotine, reducing your environmental toxic load, and supporting toxin elimination with adequate hydration, a fibre rich diet, and exercise can enhance the body’s natural detoxification pathways. Vitamin -C rich foods, turmeric, beetroot and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, onion, kale and radish are wonderful to help support liver function.
5. Diet first
When it comes to building good health there is not just one thing that is going to do the trick. Finding the right diet for your unique body and circumstances is essential but so is movement, sleep, eliminating toxins, enjoying good relationships, spiritual wellbeing, stress management and having a purpose.
Even though all these areas need to be addressed, adjusting your diet helps to build a strong foundation. Eating a healthy whole -food diet that is right for you will ensure that your body and mind are getting the right building blocks in the form of macro and micronutrients.
Everybody is unique and I work with my clients to identify their root core imbalances as well as their unique requirements in terms of nutrition but there are a few principles that apply to everyone, no matter what the circumstances are:
- Eat real food: unrefined, unprocessed, traditional and wholesome, preferably seasonal and local.
- Bump up your rainbow coloured vegetable intake to increase the nutrients and fibre in your diet.
- Eliminate inflammatory foods such as sugar, GMO foods and unhealthy fats such as trans fats and refined vegetable seed oils.
- Avoid overeating and unlimited snacking and eat with awareness, chewing properly to support your digestion.
These principles, even though very simple and straightforward, can be very powerful in building a strong foundation for health in general and hormonal health in particular.
If you focus on supporting the four areas I covered in this article and you apply these four diet principles in your life, you will start seeing a difference in the way you feel and in the symptoms that are related to your hormonal balance. If you feel you need more help, get in touch with me on my website to set up a free Nutrition Breakthrough session!
Monique Jhingon is a Functional Nutrition & Lifestyle Practitioner who offers select private coaching to expats whose health and digestion has been compromised as a result of transitioning into new environments, cultures, climates and foods.
You can read more on her website and sign up for a free Nutrition Breakthrough Session here: www.moniquejhingon.com