Perhaps it’s TMI…but this past summer after weaning my son, my hormones went bonkers. Not just for a month or two. For a while. And it drove me INSANE. Per usual, frustrating experiences with my health cause me to dig my feet into the ground a little harder and push like a bull-headed Taurus (which I am) to find information and natural remedies to help my body. The experience catapulted my understanding about several female hormones and how we can help them normalize.
Upon opening up about my own experiences, I discovered a trove of women dealing with equally pesky ups and downs with female hormones. And not all of them were moms who had recently stopped breastfeeding. Some of these women were trying to conceive and others were simply adjusting to new norms as they inched closer to 40 or 50 years old. Still others were feeling the uncomfortable symptoms of severe menstrual cramps, bloating and acne every month, or extremely long and heavy menstrual cycles. All of these women, in different walks of life, made me realize that very few of us actually know how to help our bodies find hormonal balance and wellness. While it’s true that we can’t control every aspect of our hormones, there’s still a lot we can do to take over the reigns. (Frequently, this kind of holistic advice isn’t readily available or discussed. We have to go hunting for it.)
So, here are the three hormones that can cause us woes and foods we can eat to help them find balance in our bodies:
These hormones play a major role “in a wide range of body functions such as the contraction and relaxation of smooth muscle, the dilation and constriction of blood vessels, control of blood pressure, and modulation of inflammation.” Prostaglandins are also involved in the start of labor for pregnant women, causing the uterus to contract. In fact, semen contains a lot of prostaglandins in it and may be one of the reasons that sex around the timing of one’s due date is said to jump start labor for some women. Forgive me, I had to throw out that weird but interesting factoid. Lastly, prostaglandins play a major role in inflammation in the pelvic region, especially. An imbalance of the different types of prostaglandins (PgE1, Pg E2 & PgE3) can lead to increased local inflammation and heavy menstrual cramps.
Prostaglandins can become out of balance and cause pesky, painful PMS symptoms when fatty acid supplies are too low. Essential fatty acids include both Omega-6 fatty acids and Omega-3 fatty acids, and they operate best in our bodies when they’re in balance with one another. When fatty acids are available within the body, The Center of Genetics, Nutrition and Health (based in Washington, DC) has found additional benefits for the reduction of breast cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and asthma! This is pretty mind-blowing and awesome (to me). So, even if your menstrual cycles are pain free and regular, there are still many benefits to eating a diet with plenty of fatty acids of both kinds. But note: Most people are deficient in Omega-3s and need to eat more foods chocked full of them. This begs the next question; Where can we find these foods?
- Flaxseed oil, flaxseeds, flaxseed meal
- Hempseed oil, hempseeds
- Grapeseed oil
- Seeds such pumpkin seeds and raw sunflower seeds
- Nuts, including pignolia (pine) nuts and pistachios
- Borage oil, evening primrose oil, black currant see oil
- Cottonseed oil
- Salmon Fish Oil and Alaskan Salmon (wild-caught)
- Cod Liver Oil
- Chia Seeds
- Ground Flaxseeds
- Albacore Tuna
- Hemp Seeds
- White Fish
- Egg Yolks
If you’re hesitant about adding any of these important Omega-3 foods to your grocery list then you can check out one of two convenient options for an Omega-3 boost to your system:
- Oatmega – a protein/snack bar full of fish oils that comes in a variety of flavors (don’t worry, you can’t taste the fish oil)
- Daily Harvest – a monthly, smoothie-delivery company that has creative, delicious and healthy ingredients, and several smoothie flavors that include omega-rich foods (I’m debating stocking my freezer full of these yum-yums)
For a long time women have naturally assumed that the aging process is accompanied by a precipitous decline in estrogen as we creep towards menopause (or sometimes fall headfirst into it). We hear that the older we get the less estrogen we have. In fact, by about 50 years old, women have approximately 35% less estrogen than they did in their “younger years.” But that’s not the full picture of what’s happening in our bodies…
As the female aging process begins around 35 years old (i.e., when fertility shifts due to changing hormones), women experience a much more dramatic dip in progesterone than estrogen. Progesterone actually drops by approximately 75% (!!!!!!) in the same amount of time that estrogen drops by 35%. This creates an imbalance in the two hormones that unfortunately leads to estrogen dominance. And “ED” isn’t any fun. Trust me, after weaning my son my hormones swung hard one direction (low estrogen) and then right back the other way (high estrogen). Both ends of the spectrum feel pretty crappy. Let’s just be honest.
You see, estrogen is kept in check by progesterone, especially in the latter half of our menstrual cycles. When estrogen is allowed to “run rampant” it likes to take our bodies on a wild ride. Large spikes in estrogen (both right before ovulation and a handful of days after) can leave us experiencing all sorts of uncomfortable symptoms.
*Some* Signs of Estrogen Dominance:
- Hot Flashes
- Decreased libido
- Increased weight gain, especially around the middle
- Menstrual cramps
- Excessive/heavy/long menstruation
- Thyroid problems
- Insomnia or sleep disturbances
*Other Conditions That Science Suggests May Be Caused (in part) by Estrogen Dominance: Endometriosis, Fibroids, Fibrocystic Breasts, Cervical Dysplasia, Breast/Uterine/Ovarian Cancer.
(*remember, this is typically the opposite of what people need)
- Farm-raised, non-organic eggs, meat, fish and dairy products
- Sugary and processed foods – caloric overload in our diets increases fat mass in the body which leads to estrogen overload (same applies to overeating any foods but sugar and processed foods often have “empty calories” that add up quickly)
- Produce that has been sprayed with heavy pesticides
- Soy products, especially when processed
- Drinking from plastic water bottles – a recent widespread study was conducted investigating major brands like Aquafina, Dasani and Nestle, and found on average 15 free-floating plastic particles in each bottle (I don’t want to drink plastic! If only I could find a crying emoji to put in here…)
For foods that help keep estrogen in check, read on to the next section…
If you read the section about estrogen, it becomes glaringly apparent why progesterone is so important for women’s health. You’ll also remember that we discussed how much progesterone drops at a ridiculous rate as we women age. Why must every stage of life be complicated as a woman? Seriously. But the good news is that there are LOTS of foods that can help boost progesterone – and they come with a plethora of other health benefits, too.
Please note that progesterone can be too high for some women, although this is a bit less common than estrogen dominance which afflicts many women who are overweight, over-stressed and/or between the ages of 35-60.
A few signs of progesterone dominance include:
- Weight fluctuations
- Feelings of sadness or anxiety
- Waking up feeling groggy
- Not feeling like you
Foods that Boost Progesterone:
*Note: None of these foods contain progesterone per say, but they have the nutrients required for supporting the hormone’s production in the body, and many of us could use MORE of this particular hormone.
- Red Meat
- Olive oil & olives
- Coconut oil or butter
- Avocado – also on fruit list
- Brussels sprouts
- Leafy greens
- Collard greens
- Swiss chard
- Sweet potatoes
- Russet potatoes
Nuts, Legumes & Seeds:
- Black beans
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Brown rice
I hope this is helpful information for you whether you’re a woman hoping to be expecting some day or a woman trying to understand the yo-yo of hormones that IS perimenopause. Godspeed to us all!
Yours in health and wellness,