Did you know that your diet has a PROFOUND effect on your hormones? Symptoms of hormonal imbalances include period pain, PMS, acne, weight gain, sugar cravings, moodiness and irritability, anger, depression, anxiety, facial hair growth (in females), fuzzy thinking, head hair loss, reduced libido, bloating, irregular menstrual cycles and more.
First of all it is important to understand that our bodies are constantly creating and getting rid of hormones, in order to maintain balance. Our hormones are made in certain tissues – such as our ovaries, brain, bone, vascular endothelium (blood vessels), breast and endometrium – and are later detoxified primarily by our liver and then excreted through our bowels and kidneys when we go to the toilet. Hence, compromised liver or digestive function both influence the status of our hormones.
Aside from hormone imbalances, other signs of an under-functioning liver include:
- No appetite on waking
- Insomnia (esp. between 1am-3am)
- Floating or pale coloured stools (poo)
- Tiredness after eating
- High cholesterol
- Fat soluble vitamin deficiency – i.e. vitamin D deficiency
- Use of the oral contraceptive pill
- Use of other medications i.e. non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (e.g neurofen), Roaccutane
- Smoking or recreational drug use
- Excessive caffeine or alcohol consumption
There are many ways to modulate our hormone levels through our diet and lifestyle:
- Cruciferous vegetables – a compound called indole-3-carbinole found in the Cruciferous/Brassica family of vegetables (i.e. broccoli, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, radish, cabbage, bok choy and kohlrabi) assists in the detoxification of oestrogen in the liver in order to help balance hormones.
- Fibre – increasing soluble fibre (found in oats, lentils, chickpeas, beans, psyllium husks, fruits and vegetables) increases something called sex-hormone-binding-globulin (SHBG) which reduces the amount of free hormones circulating in our blood. Fibre also helps bind to hormones in our digestive system so that they can be excreted through our bowels. If excretion through the bowels does not occur (if we are constipated) then toxins and hormones sit in our intestines and are reabsorbed through out intestinal lining and back into our bloodstream (this is known as enterohepatic recirculation) and hormonal imbalances occur.
- Water – similarly, it is essential to drink enough water (2-3 litres per day) to ensure flushing of hormones and waste through our digestive tract. This is especially important when increasing our intake of fibre, as constipation can commonly occur when fibre is increased without increasing water as well.
- Methionine is an amino acid (a type of protein) which also assists in the breakdown of oestrogen. Methionine is found in large amounts in eggs, fish, beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, seeds, onion and garlic; adequate protein is essential for liver detoxification of hormones.
- B vitamins such as vitamin B1 and vitamin B6 are required for liver clearance of hormones – eat lots of walnuts, brown rice, oatmeal, lentils and chickpeas.
- Saturated fats increase an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase which causes reabsorption of oestrogen from the bowel back in to circulation, preventing it from being cleared through the body. Avoid overconsumption of foods high in saturated fats, however monounsaturated fats such as those found in avocado and olive oil are essential for hormone health.
- Probiotics – imbalanced gut bacteria can also change the metabolism of oestrogen, and this can cause reabsorption of oestrogen which contributes to oestrogen excess. Hence, healthy gut bacteria is essential for healthy hormones. Fermented foods such as organic miso, tempeh, natto, kimchi and sauerkraut are all excellent sources of probiotics. Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, chicory root, onion and garlic contain prebiotics, which act like fuel for the probiotics.
- Exercise – often overlooked when it comes to hormonal health, but exercise facilitates metabolism and excretion of hormones through our intestinal tract as well as lung and skin elimination! Exercise also helps reduce adipose (fat) tissue, which is a site of excess oestrogen production.
- Avoid xenoestrogens. Xenoestrogens are man-made, chemical compounds with a chemical structure similar to our bodies natural oestrogen, and therefore they have the ability to bind to our bodies oestrogen receptors. Xenoestrogens are far more potent than our own biological oestrogen and include substances such as Bisphenol-A (BPA) – a chemical found in plastics including drink bottles, tupperware and glad wrap. BPA is a known endocrine (hormone) disruptor and carcinogen (cancer causer). Dioxins are another source of xenoestrogens, commonly found in tampons. Choose organic tampons such as TOM organic which are made from 100% organic cotton, rather than pesticides and other harsh chemicals.