It may surprise many women to learn that most women’s ‘things’ are simply not inevitable curses of nature.
Almost any hormonally-related health problem – from symptoms that accompany periods to more pronounced conditions such as endometriosis – can be traced back to some degree of hormonal imbalance which can be set straight with the right nutrition and lifestyle habits. Being aware of how dealing with factors such as stress and a deficiency in important nutrients that contribute to hormonal problems can get you on the right track for trouble-free hormonal changes.
Harsh chemical drugs to rectify hormonal imbalance can ravage the body with their side effects. A far healthier option is to restore hormonal balance by nourishing the female endocrine system and reproductive organs with a healthy diet, providing nutrients that facilitate holistic health and healing on a cellular level.
The hormonal balancing act
Our bodily functions are largely controlled by the endocrine system, which releases hormones playing the role of chemical messengers. When our hormones are well regulated, the body is in harmony. But if any hormone is slightly in excess or deficient, an imbalance occurs which can throw the body out of gear, resulting in considerable physical and emotional distress.
The two main female hormones are oestrogen and progesterone. These are called steroid hormones because they are fat-like, originally made from cholesterol which is produced in the liver. Testosterone and the stress-hormone cortisol are also steroid hormones. The body has to balance these according to your needs.
For example, if you are under a lot of stress your body may struggle to produce enough cortisol which is involved in the body’s response to stress, at the expense of the others. This is why sex drive diminishes when you’re stressed, because the body produces less testosterone which, in both men and women, controls sex drive.
An imbalance of oestrogen or progesterone may cause low libido, poor breast health, menstrual disorders, uterine fibroids, weak bones and a host of psychological problems like unwanted anger, irritability, mood swings and anxiety.
There is a tendency to think that reproductive hormone levels are fine until menopause sets in sometime around age 55. In reality, hormone levels in women start to fall off as early as age 30 and accelerate from there, with testosterone levels being the first to fall. Periods become irregular and unpredictable, mood changes, signs of PMS develop, hair begins to thin, and weight gain starts to be a problem. One of the surest signs that testosterone levels are declining is a loss of libido. Sexual activity that used to seem so satisfying can become almost a nuisance. With declining testosterone levels, the vibrant woman that was you begins to disappear.
As the hormonal imbalance accelerates, these symptoms are joined by night sweats, anxiety, depression, fatigue, loss of energy, headaches, loss of focus and attention, poor muscle tone, decreased exercise tolerance, osteoporosis, rising cholesterol levels, cardiac dysfunction, inability to tolerate stress, memory loss and cognitive decline.
Balance Hormones Naturally
Have you ever noticed how when you’re premenstrual, or in the throes of a menopausal episode, you feel pretty stressed out? Progesterone, oestrogen and the adrenal-stress hormones are derived from the same source. Stress knocks your hormonal patterns out of rhythm because there is going to be a greater demand on the raw materials.
Stress also places a greater demand on the body’s nutrient reserves, leaving you tired and in a vicious cycle of feeling less able to cope with stress. You could take all the measures available to try to rebalance your hormones, but while you are stressed you are unlikely to see much difference.
Therefore de-stressing is very important.
WATER & WATER-RICH FOODS
Dehydration, even if it is very mild, causes your stress hormones to increase because the body interprets dehydration as a life-threatening situation. When your stress hormones increase, it causes a cascade of changes to your thyroid and sex hormones, as well as your insulin. Mentally, you may know that you can pour yourself a glass of water anytime you like, but your body still thinks in terms of basic survival. Be sure to have water upon rising and eat water-rich foods throughout the day.
Foods High in Water Content: Most vegetables and fruit especially melons, cucumber, celery, and juicy fruits.
EAT B-VITAMIN RICH FOODS - especially b6
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) may be the "ideal nutrient" for women with PMS, according to Alan Gaby, M.D. In one study, 25 women whose PMS symptoms ranged from moderate to severe took vitamin B6 daily for three months; then they took a placebo (an inactive substance) for three months. Of these women, 84% experienced a far greater improvement in their symptoms with vitamin B6 than with the placebo.
In another study of 70 women with PMS who took vitamin B6, 60% of those who had reported depression with their PMS said they were cured or markedly improved. Among those with headaches, 81% said they felt better; for bloating and swelling, 60%; for irritability, 56%; lethargy, 52%; and breast tenderness, 52%.
A third study involving 434 PMS sufferers showed that taking 25-100 mg of vitamin B6 twice daily (adjusting dosage on an individual basis) contributed to overall symptom relief in 82% of participants.
Increase your intake of vitamins B6, B12, and the entire B complex as deficiencies in these nutrients are associated with high levels of estrogen.
Foods Rich in B6: Banana, Spinach, Bell peppers, Turnip greens, Garlic, Cauliflower, Asparagus, Broccoli, Kale, Brussel sprouts, and Collard greens.
What to Buy: It is important to take B vitamins together as they are synergetic, therefore a B-COMPLEX vitamin is very helpful. I find BREWER'S YEAST to be a food source of quality B vitamins (except B12). A SUBLINGUAL B12 with other B vitamins as well was rated very high.
DETOX THE LIVER
A factor that leads to hormonal imbalance is liver health. When a woman's liver is not functioning properly, it is unable to eliminate the majority of estrogenic chemicals and natural estrogens from the body as it is meant to do. Then both kinds of estrogen end up being reabsorbed through the intestines back into the bloodstream. he body now has more estrogen than it needs, which causes havoc. In our culture, most men and women age 40 and older probably have some degree of liver dysfunction due to the toxicity in the environment.
If the liver's detoxification systems are working properly, then estrogen levels will decline in the ten days before bleeding starts. But if they are not, that means the uterine (and breast) glands continue under estrogen stimulation; this is often further magnified by too little progesterone being produced.
Foods That Help Clean the Liver: Apples, Beets, Garlic, Cruciferous vegetables, Grapefruit, Bitter vegetables such as dandelion greens and mustard greens.
What to Buy: If you would like to buy something specifically for cleansing the liver, NOW sells an excellent LIVER DETOXIFIER. Many people do a simple cleanse through diet that works just as well though.
ELIMINATE ALL PROCESSED SUGAR
Researchers have discovered that eating too much sugar turns off the gene that controls the levels of testosterone and estrogen working inside the body. If too much sugar is consumed, then the liver converts the sugar into fats, otherwise called lipids.
During the course of the study, the researchers used mice as models and also human liver cell cultures. The researchers learned that when lipid is produced in excess, the lipid turns off the SHBG gene, otherwise called the sex hormone binding globulin gene. This gene produces a protein that binds to the sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen and carries them into the bloodstream. Only the hormones that are free and unattached to the protein can enter cells and be active. Hence, if the SHBG gene is shut down and is not releasing any SHBG protein, then greater amounts of estrogen and testosterone are released throughout the body.
The increase of these hormones is responsible for problems like acne, infertility, polycystic ovaries, also uterine cancer, which is particularly a problem in overweight women. Also, when SHBG amounts are low it will disrupt the balance between estrogen and testosterone. The imbalance of these hormones can lead to cardiovascular disease, particularly in women. Easy solution: stop consuming sugar (especially refined).
Probably one of the most insidious processes which is leading increasingly to hormonal imbalance in women is what is known as oestrogen dominance. When the ratio of oestrogen in relation to progesterone rises, the likelihood of hormonally-related problems does too. We are currently exposed to a huge range of substances known as xeno-oestrogens, ie ‘outsider’ oestrogens which act as hormone disruptors. They are largely human-made chemicals found in the pesticides sprayed on our food, plastics, medications (especially hormonal ones), detergents and other chemicals. Such toxins also get stored in fat cells – not just ours but also in animals.
These powerful substances can ‘over-oestrogenise’ a woman, so that the receptor sites on her cells become blocked, which disturbs the carefully tuned rhythm of her normal hormonal messaging.
Consider this – a cow eats grass and feed that have been exposed to chemicals, the cow is given hormones to sustain permanent milk production, the milk which naturally contains fat is made into cheese, we wrap the cheese in plastic film. It’s not difficult to see how easy it is to be exposed to such chemicals in every day life – leaving hormonal messaging in potential chaos.
- Bleached products – whenever possible use unbleached versions, eg teabags, toilet paper, tampons
- Cling film and other plastic food storage – use PVC-free varieties, glass, ceramic or paper instead
- Hormonal medications (ie the Pill or HRT) – only use if absolutely necessary
- Unfiltered tap water – filter water to avoid possible presence of residues of chemicals and hormones
- Dairy products – don’t drink too much milk or have lots of cheese and cream. Where possible, buy organic, free range dairy products.
EAT CRUCIFEROUS VEGETABLES
Cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts contain substances known as glucosinolates. These plant chemicals have been found to help the way in which the liver processes oestrogen for it to be excreted from the body. Cruciferous vegetables are rich in zinc, vitamins A, B, C, D and E and have been regarded for centuries as medicinal foods. Indole-3-Carbinol (I3C) is caused by the breakdown of glucosinolate. It is especially beneficial to estrogen metabolism. When I3C combines with stomach acid it creates 3,3-Diindolylmethane, or DIM. The metabolism of DIM overlaps with estrogen metabolism just so that it promotes healthy estrogen metabolism leading to a favorable ratio of 2-hydroxy to 16-hydroxy.
Cruciferous Vegetables: Kale, Collard greens, Broccoli, Cabbage, Brussel sprout, Kohlrabi, Broccoflower, Cauliflower, Bok choy, Rapini, Turnip root, Rutabaga, Mustard seeds and greens, and Mizuna.
What to Buy: I recommend obtaining these vegetables through food, it's easy and cheap, but if you must obtain them through supplement form, there are a few on the market. Solaray sells the INDOLE-3-CARBINOL and there is CRUCIFEROUS COMPLETE which looks like a quality one, although a bit expensive.
Doctors have recognized the connection between omega 3 and hormones. They recommend these fatty acids to people who suffer from hormonal disorders. Omega-3 fats also play an important role in the production of powerful hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins help regulate many important physiological functions including blood pressure, blood clotting, nerve transmission, the inflammatory and allergic responses, the functions of the kidneys and gastrointestinal tract, and the production of other hormones.Research indicates that omega-3s may be better absorbed from food than supplements.
Foods Rich in Omega 3: Flaxseeds, Chia seeds, Spirulina, Hemp seeds and Walnuts.
What to Buy: Vega has an awesome EFA BLEND with an impressive ingredient list including green tea seed oil, pomegranate seed oil, black cumin seed oil, black raspberry seed oil, cranberry seed oil, hemp seed oil, flax seed oil, pumpkin seed oil and coconut oil. Wow! The only downfall is it's price: $23. If you have the money, go for it. If not, it is less expensive to buy a bag of CHIA SEEDS. 1 lb for $7.50. They are delicious for breakfast and one of the highest sources of EFA's.
GO TO SLEEP WHEN IT'S DARK & GET UP EARLY
We were meant to get up with the light of dawn and to go to sleep at nightfall, our hormone levels adjusting to the rise and fall of daylight around us. In our modern world we fool our hormonal system with artificial light, which has a big impact on our health. Staying up late with bright lights shining in our eyes keeps our stress hormone cortisol high when it should be diminishing, and suppresses our sleep hormone melatonin, when it should be rising, which has an impact on our ability to deal with stress, lose weight, physically and psychologically repair our tissues, feel rested and be ready for the new day. Try to get to sleep in a very dark room by 10pm or earlier, and marvel at how much better you feel.
HIGH CALCIUM & MAGNESIUM FOODS
The importance of balancing calcium with magnesium is noted by Christianne Northrup, MD., who recommends a ratio of 1:1 for PMS symptoms (Northrup, C. MD. Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom. Judy Piatkus Publ. London, England, 1995). Magnesium supplementation has been shown, in double-blind trials, to be effective in relieving premenstrual symptoms. Melvyn R Werbach, MD, believes that even though many nutrients are implicated in the development of PMS, the borderline magnesium levels seen in PMS patients can explain most of the symptoms. He notes that marginal deficiency of magnesium can deplete brain dopamine, impair estrogen metabolism, increase insulin secretion, and cause enlargement of the adrenal cortex (responsible for producing many hormones including sex hormones, stress hormones, and blood-sugar hormones). Magnesium and calcium are both needed to prevent the muscle spasms of menstrual cramps. During menopause, your estrogen levels are starting to decline, which means magnesium levels are also dropping. Therefore, to help with a number of menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats, magnesium can make a huge difference.
Foods Rich in Magnesium: Pumpkin seeds, Spinach, Swiss chard, Sesame seeds, Sunflower seeds, Black beans, Kale, Soybeans, Flaxseeds, and Celery.
Foods Rich in Calcium: Figs, Sesame seeds, Kale, Hijiki seaweed, Almonds, Brazil nuts, Collard greens, Broccoli, Flaxseeds, and Spinach.
What To Buy: If you must buy your vitamins then NOW Foods makes a quality Calcium+Magnesium+D
MOVE THE BODY
Exercise helps to normalize your insulin and blood sugars, helps to moderate your cortisol and stress hormones, and even helps to maintain the proper conversion of your sex hormones. Simply stated, exercise is one of your body's most important tools for hormone self-regulation. Choose a relatively low-key exercise such as yoga, walking or speed walking, martial arts, five tibetan rites, weight lifting, and pilates.
Read More about the 5 TIBETAN RITES.
HORMONE YOGA KUNDALINI
Hormone Yoga is a new form of yoga that positively influences the endocrine hormone system. This form of yoga was created in the 1990s in Brazil by Dinah Rodrigues and so far is mainly popular throughout Brazil and in German speaking countries. In Hormone Yoga, there are different exercises for males and females. According to Rodrigues, women who practice Hormone Yoga daily achieve significant improvements in menopausal and PMS symptoms.
The exercises that Hormone Yoga utilizes come largely from Kundalini Yoga as well as from the developed Mantak Chia Tao-Yoga, Yoga and Energetic Yoga, and Tibetan Energy Exercises and anti-stress exercises.
What to Buy: If you want to find out more there are some great books on the market related to hormone and yoga. One is YOGA FOR A HEALTHY MENSTRUAL CYCLE. Another, HORMONE BALANCE THROUGH YOGA.
VIDEO OF HORMONE YOGA on Youtube.
One of the most respected herbs in Chinese traditional medicine, this herb is used as a women’s tonic to treat PMS and menstrual cramps. It acts as an estrogen modulator, which means that if estrogen levels are low, the herb’s phytoestrogens increase estrogen levels by filling unoccupied receptor sites. When estrogen levels are too high, the phytoestrogens block some of the estrogen by occupying the same receptor sites. Dong Quai is used to promote uterine health by nourishing female organs and to stabilize female hormone levels.
What to Buy: Dong Quai is great in TEA form but if you want a more potent form an EXTRACT will be perfect.
Another very important herb used for female hormone balance is Vitex, also know as Chasteberry, Chaste Tree and Vitex agnus-castus. PMS consists of various physical and emotional symptoms that occur in the second half of the menstrual cycle, after ovulation. The symptoms begin about mid-cycle and are generally the most intense during the last seven days before menstruation. Vitex is probably the most important herb in relation to helping PMS. It works on the pituitary gland and has a balancing effect on the hormones especially in the second half of the cycle which is why it is such an important herb for PMS symptoms. It has historically been used to maintain a healthy menstrual cycle by assisting with restoring a normal estrogen-to-progesterone balance. With prolonged usage, it is possible that it can totally reverse the premenstrual syndrome, which has been linked to abnormally high levels of estrogen, especially if symptoms tend to disappear when menstruation begins. It is specifically used to assist the body to secrete progesterone. appears to increase secretions of LH (luteinizing hormone) and decrease FSH (follicle stimulating hormone), which means progesterone levels are increased and estrogen levels are decreased. This herb is especially helpful in treating PMS symptoms, heavy menstrual bleeding, and perimenopausal symptoms.
What to Buy: FERTILITEA contains a great blend of vitex, green tea, red raspberry, ladies mantle and peppermint in tea form. It's nice to sit down with a hot cup of tea and this blend has received great reviews. Or you can buy VITEX POWDER powder in bulk to make your own tea or add it to food. Or there is the convenience of CAPSULES by Nature's Way for $7 400mg.
READ MORE ABOUT VITEX
PHYTOESTROGENS IN FOOD
Virtually everything we eat -grains, beans, nuts, seeds, seed oils, berries, fruits, vegetables, and roots -contains phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are plant estrogens that act similar to our bodies own estrogens when ingested. Researchers have found that phytoestrogens help prevent bone loss in menopausal women, and that they lessen hot flashes, night sweats, and breast tenderness.
It seems simple -- eat more phytoestrogens, be healthier -- and it is, so long as we restrict ourselves to eating plants. But when the difference between food and medicine is disregarded, when phytoestrogens are isolated and concentrated, sold to us in pills and candy bars, then the equation changes: phytoestrogens become dangerous hormones, quite capable of causing a hormone imbalance.
Foods Rich in Phytoestrogens: Flaxseeds, Soybeans, Sesame seeds, Pomegranates, Hops, Lentils and Wheat.
Alfalfa contains substances such as isoflavones and coumestans, which bind to estrogen receptors in the body. Estrogen binds to these receptors like a key in a lock. If the estrogen level is low and many of these "locks" are empty, the constituents of alfalfa-which resemble estrogen "key's"-bind to them instead and increase estrogenic activity. Alfalfa's estrogenlike "keys," although similar to estrogen, are not nearly as strong. If estrogen levels in the body are too high, the estrogen "keys" fill up some of the locks, denying the space to estrogen, thereby reducing estrogenic activity. Because alfalfa may provide some estrogenic activity when the body's hormone levels are low and may compete for estrogen-binding sites when hormone levels are high, alfalfa is said to be hormone balancing.
What to Buy: Alfalfa sprouts are a great way to take alfalfa. I buy the seeds at my health food store and then sprout them, but you can always buy the sprouts already sprouted. organic ALFALFA POWDER is a convenient way of taking alfalfa. Sprinkle the powder on cereals or put in smoothies.
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