How to rebalance hormones with top tips from our newest resident Nutritionist at Shine, N16, Gill Dalton.
I have lost count of the times I have heard “oh I’m just feeling all hormonal” from women in my life over the years. Many who suffer regularly from a range of physical and mental symptoms ‘at the time of the month’.
PMS, heavy, irregular or painful periods, low energy, mood swings, loss of hair, tender breasts – to name but a few, are common complaints and have been normalised. When these are seen as unavoidable and permanent, women can suffer for years.
Taking care of our hormones and taking control of our cycles is an important part of looking after our bodies. Hormone imbalances can present in many conditions that I see in my practice, including infertility, thyroid conditions, PCOS, anxiety, hormonal bloating and weight gain.
What are hormones and how do we keep them balanced?
Hormones are chemical messengers within the body that carry messages from various glands to communicate with our cells, tissues and organs. Essentially telling them what to do. Hormones have endless functions, including controlling our body temperature, waking us up, fertility, metabolism and growth.
All body systems and hormones impact on one another and work best when they’re in harmony, just like everything within us and in life in general. Food is just one of the major factors that keeps our hormones happy. Our environment, stress levels, digestive and liver health all play important parts in the big balancing act.
When we dig deeper into hormonal issues, I like to see what is happening ‘upstream’. Our sex hormones are derived from cholesterol and are on the same pathway as cortisol – our bodies master hormone. Cortisol has many beneficial essential functions: regulating metabolism, reducing inflammation and controlling blood sugar levels. Cortisol is also our bodies primary stress hormone.
Why is this important?
When we’re stressed, the rise in cortisol puts our body into fight and flight mode and we can feel anxious and our heart pounding. We live in a stressful world and never more so than the present. Our bodies recognise stress today the same way we responded to running from a lion thousands of years ago, but these days it’s being late for work, getting the kids ready in the morning or looking after a sick family member. If it stresses you out mentally your body will feel it and respond to deal with it.
Our fight and flight response activates our adrenal glands to release cortisol into our bloodstream to help our body cope. Functions that are not immediately essential, like our immune system, digestion and reproduction take a back seat and are shut down to some degree.
When we are in rest and digest mode, we restore balance in our bodies systems. When we are in a state of calm, we can relax and repair. This improves our digestion, as enzymes are released and we conserve energy. When our body is in homeostasis, our sex hormones can maintain healthy levels, which are necessary for mood, energy and fertility.
Other non-obvious factors contribute to stressors on our bodies: over exercising, not eating enough calories and lack of sleep can all knock the hormonal balance as stress takes over.
Stress impacts the adrenal hormone pathway, the thyroid hormone pathway and the sex hormone pathway so it is fundamental to explore the impact of stress in our life when looking at supporting our hormones.
What about oestrogen?
Hormone imbalance could be down to excess oestrogen (or oestrogen dominance as its commonly called). Too much oestrogen is linked to many female conditions:
· Heavy periods
· Breast tenderness
· Skin issues such as acne and rashes
· Oestrogen-receptor related cancers: breast, ovarian and uterine
Oestrogen is a very important hormone, for women especially. It helps wound healing, keeps our bones strong, boosts our sex drive and keeps us feeling feminine. It’s also essential for the menstrual cycle as it’s needed to build up the uterine wall to prepare for pregnancy – hence why too much of it can promote cell proliferation (excess cell growth).
Certain oestrogens have cell damaging effects and it’s our liver’s job to metabolise our hormones, just like it does with toxins, alcohol and medications. In order for the liver to break down oestrogen effectively, we need to support this wonderful organ with food and lifestyle choices and sometimes supplementation.
What causes all the excess oestrogen?
Our environment can have a huge impact on the amount of circulating oestrogen in our body. We are exposed to hundreds of chemicals everyday and some synthetic compounds in our environment have a similar chemical structure to natural oestrogen. These ‘xenoestrogens’ or endocrine disruptors, have the potential to block or mimic our bodies natural hormone action – this is especially damaging in pregnancy or planned conception as it can disrupt normal foetal development (1).
Top 5 xenoestrogens
1. Plastics! Are everywhere and contain BPA and phthalates.
2. Pesticides/insecticides – in everything we eat including fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds.
3. Tap water – much of our water is contaminated with the synthetic hormones used in the contraceptive pill and HRT as millions of women flush it down the toilet and it ends up re-circulating around our bodies.
4. Parabens – in personal care products. We absorb almost everything into our skin without passing our digestive/liver breakdown so they are not filtered out. It is possible to absorb hundreds of chemicals a day from morning to evening with all the body care, make up, deodorant, shower products etc.
5. Heavy metals and air pollution – released from car fumes, cigarettes, road tar and industrial poisons that are circulating in our environment.
The hormone – digestion connection
After oestrogen is circulated around the body where required, it is then broken down by the liver, then passed through the intestines and eventually excreted out in your stools. Our microbiome plays an important role in regulating how much oestrogen circulates in the bloodstream. It does this through an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase.
If our gut bacteria are disrupted (from an infection, parasite, stress, poor diet or a course of antibiotics) then we can produce too much beta-glucuronidase. This is problematic as it causes oestrogen to be reabsorbed into the bloodstream and recirculated around the body = oestrogen dominance!
Addressing gut health can be central to solving the puzzle of hormone dysfunction as we need good liver function and digestion to detoxify and excrete circulating oestrogen.
What can we do?
We unfortunately can’t avoid all these chemicals in our environment completely, but we can limit our exposure and eat plenty of foods that support the liver:
· Avoid heavily processed foods, especially intensively reared meat and dairy produce – they are contaminated with growth hormone, antibiotics and expose us to oestrogen. Reduce consumption and choose high welfare, organic, grass-fed meats. Always choose organic dairy or consider dairy alternatives to reduce your animal hormone exposure.
· Choose organic fruit and veg where possible, especially the ‘dirty dozen’ list to reduce pesticide and insecticide residues.
· Eat your broccoli! Cruciferous vegetables contain sulforaphane, which activates enzymes in the liver to convert oestrogens down a healthy pathway to be metabolised. This supports female hormone health by down regulating potential harmful oestrogen pathways that can promote oestrogen dominance and DNA mutations that can lead to hormonal cancers (2). In a nutshell cruciferous veg (also cabbage, kale, rocket, cauliflower) really help your liver with detoxification.
· Avoid skin contact with chemicals in cleaning products and switch to paraben-free skin and haircare products, make up and aluminium-free deodorant.
Shine use Paraben free Dermalogica, Comfort Zone and Davines products. See our Sustainability page to find out more.
· Avoid disposable menstrual products that contain fragrance, rayon and potential dioxins (a class of contaminants that are linked to endocrine disruption and cancer). Studies are limited (3) but to reduce the chemical load on our already overwhelmed bodies it is best to switch to natural brands or try a moon cup.
With hormonal health it’s crucial to look at the bigger picture as everyone has different diet and lifestyle factors, family medical history and genetics. Hormonal tests and genetic testing can be very useful, but not always necessary. Using the Functional Medicine approach to find the underlying causes of hormone imbalance, I like to dig deeper into my clients health history. To work towards improving digestion, supporting the liver and addressing lifestyle influences, which can all make a huge difference when it comes to our hormones.
For August 2021, Gill is offering her Nutritional Programmes at a reduced cost:
Bespoke nutrition package – £175 (usually £195 )
Conception and pregnancy package – £350 (usually £420)
Pregnancy and new mum package – £250 (usually £295)Email Gill to find out more