Guest post from local Nutritional Therapist Sarah Gale
When most women hear the word “hormones” it conjures up images of periods, PMS, mood swings and perhaps the menopause. It is very well known that our hormones are intimately involved in puberty, monthly menstrual cycles and the menopause, but it isn’t often considered beyond that what other jobs our hormonesplay a part in.
From the moment we are born, our hormones have a say in our brain function, appetite, sleep patterns, how we respond to stress, skin health, digestion, our libido and much much more. Hormones are most often talked about in a negative sense because they can, and do for many women make life a misery.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Did you know that oestrogen can make your facial features more attractive, increase your skin’s collagen production (making it plump and bouncy) and improve the natural smell of your body odour? This is because oestrogen peaks just before ovulation when we are at our most fertile. Your body wants you to get pregnant each cycle so by making you more attractive is its way of increasing the chances.
Higher oestrogen levels are also responsible for an increase in memory capacity during the first half of your cycle and that's why forgetfulness can be a common symptom during the menopause as oestrogen levels fall.
Hormones can be your very own super power which is why it is so important for women of every age to get a hold on their hormones.
It doesn’t have to be hard either, just start with these 9 healthy habits.
All your hormones cue off from one another, so if one is out of balance, it can cause others to go out of whack. Insulin is a hormone that we have control over every meal of the day and working to keep insulin levels balanced can help to keep the other hormones in check. Opting for a handful of nuts mid-afternoon instead of a sugary treat is a great way to do this as the protein and fat content help to stabilise blood sugar levels which can often dip in the afternoon. The healthy fats also provide the building blocks for hormone production as well as helping to reduce inflammation in the body.
The body is made up of mostly water so any dip in hydration the body will see as a threat, switching on the stress response. The body will prioritise producing stress hormones over other hormones as this is an in-built survival mechanism, which can result in hormonal chaos elsewhere in the body. Aim to sip water throughout the day away from meals, rather than drinking a big glass in one go which can dilute digestive juices impacting the quality of digestion. 2 litres is a good amount to aim for as a general rule.
Sleep works to regulate the stress response as well as regulating the release of other hormones such as luteinising hormone, oestrogen and progesterone. You can view sleep as your daily natural reset for your hormones. Creating a regular bedtime routine, just the same as you would for a child (bath, book, bed) can help to train your body to expect sleep and improve sleep quality. Try to set the same sleep and wake times each day, and include calming activities before bed such as reading a book, yoga, drinking a sleep tea or enjoying a hot bath with lavender oil.
Getting acquainted with food labels can sometimes seem like trying to learn a new language, but starting to familiarise yourself is a great way to screen what you are eating. Packaged or processed foods can contain artificial colourings, flavours and preservatives which can cause hormone disruption by mimicking the action of your own naturally produced hormones. Get into the habit of reading the ingredient list of all packaged foods before buying them. As a general rule, if you can’t pronounce something in the ingredient list, or it doesn’t sound like food, put it back.
Caffeine raises cortisol levels which puts an additional strain on the adrenal glands and signals to the body that it is under stress. Tea and coffee can also deplete some important micronutrients such as B vitamins and magnesium which are vital for hormone production. If you are a tea or coffee lover, work to reduce your consumption and opt for decaf instead. Make sure to opt for organic brands as decaf alternatives can often be laden with toxins. If you can make the leap to non-caffeinated herbal alternatives, even better, and you may well find you feel more energetic too - it might just take a few days to adjust!
Chewing is a greatly underestimated part of digestion but is vital for the optimal breakdown of food. Breaking down food into small particles increases nutrient absorption, and these nutrients are vital for the production and utilisation of hormones in the body. Healthy digestion is also important for converting some hormones into their active forms as well as packaging up used hormones to be eliminated. There is not necessarily a need to count how many times you chew, but instead try to be more conscious of how formed the food is before swallowing. We want to be breaking food down into the smallest possible pieces, and if you spat the food back out it shouldn’t be recognisable as to what went in.
Regular exercise or movement can help to improve your hormone health by reducing cortisol, improving blood circulation to your pelvic organs and reducing chronic inflammation. Walking is a great activity that most of us have available to us, but consistency and repetition is important here, so if walking doesn’t take your fancy, pick some other form of gentle movement that you enjoy and can get in daily.
Take a load off the liver by reducing your exposure to pesticides, herbicides, synthetic hormones and antibiotics found in non-organic foods. The liver is the primary detox organ, and all toxins, external chemicals and hormones need to go through the liver before being eliminated. The liver will prioritise external toxins over our naturally produced hormones, so if it is backed up or over worked, this can lead to hormonal imbalances. Prioritise organic produce as much as your budget and availability allows. The dirty dozen list produced each year by the Pesticide Action Network UK is a great resource for knowing which fruit and vegetables to prioritise.
Flaxseeds are rich in phytoestrogens which are plant-based oestrogens. These compounds can help to balance out both high or low oestrogen levels, as well as improving bowel movements to help eliminate any used hormones in the stool. Flaxseeds are difficult to break down, so make sure to opt for ground flaxseed to get the phytoestrogen benefits. Always store flaxseeds in the fridge as they can oxidise easily, and even better would be to opt for freshly ground flaxseed to prevent the oils from going rancid which can happen over time.
Sarah Gale is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Clinical Nutritionist DipION mBANT and hormone expert and helps women who just can’t lose weight break free of the diet cycle, rebalance their hormones and feel confident in their own skin again.
After a lifetime a hating her body and chronic yo-yo dieting, Sarah realised that yo-yo diets didn’t have the answers and by balancing her hormones, fixing her metabolism and working on her mindset she could finally lose the weight and get her self-confidence back.
Get in touch with Sarah if you would like to discuss your hormone function in more detail.