Hormones work synergistically and when one is out of balance others can be affected. For instance, when our stress hormones are high, it can affect our thyroid gland, our digestive system, our sex hormones and the way our body handles sugar. Hormones can affect us at any stage of life bringing on a host of symptoms like PMS, headache, mood swings, weight gain, insomnia and the list goes on. The good news is a few tweaks to our food choices and lifestyle can help support and bring us back in balance:
1. Keep your blood sugar levels balanced – Do you eat a lot of processed, refined, sugary foods and consume high alcoholic and soft drinks? If yes, then it is likely your hormones that affect blood sugar levels are out of balance. The peaks and troughs you get after eating these foods and drinks leave you feeling sluggish and fatigued. Diets high in sugar and refined carbs have been shown to drive insulin resistance. An imbalance of hormones can also lead to cravings, weight issues, low mood, brain fog and poor sleep. Eating complex carbohydrates such as wholegrains – brown rice, quinoa, lentils and sweet potato are ideal as these foods are rich in nutrients and release their sugars slowly into our blood stream having a positive difference to your overall health.
2. Eat good quality fats – healthy fats are essential to hormonal, cellular, heart, and brain health. We need nutritious fats to help us absorb key vitamins A, D, E and K. However, not all fats are created equally – highly processed and baked cakes, pastries, and vegetables oils such as sunflower oil can be damaging to our health and interfere with our hormones therefore, are best avoided. My favourite sources include olive oil, coconut oil, ghee, oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, avocado, walnuts and flaxseeds.
3. Eat Hormone Balancing foods – pumpkin, sunflower, sesame and flaxseeds are rich in phytoestrogens which can regulate levels of oestrogen in the body. They can be extremely helpful in reducing menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes as well as PMS. Seeds are also high in healthy fats and magnesium otherwise known as ‘natures relaxant’ which is important to keep the stress hormone cortisol in check. You can sprinkle these on salads, porridge and add them to your smoothies.
4. Eat fresh brightly coloured vegetables daily – include plenty of seasonal vegetables to each meal. Try adding cruciferous vegetables to your meals such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, turnip, bok choy, rocket, radish and kale. These nutrient-rich vegetables contain special plant compounds which help promote detoxification and metabolism of certain hormones in the body, particularly oestrogen balance.
5. Eat fruit in moderation – enjoy 2-3 pieces of fruit a day as part of a balanced meal – whole fruits are packed with fibre, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. To prevent blood sugar and hormonal imbalances, consume a piece of fruit alongside some protein. Protein influences the release of hormones that control appetite. My favourite ‘go to’ treat these days is a small bowl of yogurt topped with pistachios, pomegranate seeds and a dusting of cinnamon.
6. Go Organic – organic food is more nutrient dense as it has been grown in fertile soil. Hormones need vitamins and minerals for us to produce, transport and store them in the body. Organic food has less pesticides which is good news as pesticides have been shown to potentially disrupt our hormone function.
7. Support your liver – liver health is crucial to healthy hormones and detoxification. Assist your liver to break down excess oestrogen effectively and eliminate unwanted toxins by increasing brassica vegetables. Brassicas such as broccoli, cabbage, kale and cauliflower are powerhouses of nutrients including vitamin C, vitamin K and B vitamins – ideally gently steam these prior to eating.
8. Keep hydrated – as well as many other functions, the body needs water to function at a cellular level; to control body temperature; to keep our bowels moving ‘smoothly’ and to eliminate harmful substances such as toxins and excess hormones. To avoid dehydration, include infused water or herbal teas as a healthy addition to your daily water intake of 1.5-2 litres. You may like to try antioxidant rich green tea or rooibos tea, which have been linked to lowering insulin levels in individuals with metabolic disorders.
9. Stress less – chronic stress can trigger and exacerbate a hormonal imbalance in the body causing high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, anxiety and weight concerns. Engaging in stress-reduction techniques that work for you can help balance the stress hormone cortisol. Try to devote at least 10-15 minutes per day to ‘stress less’ activities – here are some that you may wish to try – meditation (I like the Headspace and Calm app), 4-7-8 breathing, massage, yoga, Epsom salt bath, a walk in nature or listening to your favourite music.
10. Prioritise your sleep – inadequate or poor-quality sleep has been linked to imbalanced hormones, including insulin, cortisol, leptin, ghrelin and growth hormones. An imbalance of these hormones can increase hunger, stress, pain and much more. Adopt a bedtime routine to help you unwind and relax after a busy day. Something that has worked well for me is setting a timer on my phone 90 minutes before I retire to bed. My relaxing ritual includes a cup of chamomile, ginger or peppermint tea followed by some light reading in a peaceful environment.