Updated: 7 days ago
Hormones, we all have them and to some extent we are all ruled by them! They have a huge impact on our mental and physical wellbeing. We are affected by our hormones at all stages of life, however some stages of life seem to be particularly more challenging than others when it comes to our sex hormones. For women, oestrogen and progesterone are part of a group of hormones that play key roles in our physical and mental wellbeing. These two very important hormones want to be in a balanced ratio and it is when they become imbalanced that we begin to experience a whole plethora of problems!
What do these hormones do?
Progesterone plays an important role for the preparation and maintenance of pregnancy. Progesterone also helps to maintains sex drive, regulates sleep, prevents anxiety and burns body fat.
Oestrogen is needed by our body in balanced amounts. It is the hormones that creates our female body shape, causing body fat to be laid down on the hips, the breasts and thighs. Balanced oestrogen levels play a very important role in conception and pregnancy, causing a thickening of the uterus lining, with the drop in oestrogen during the monthly fall and rise causing the shedding of the lining and menstruation.
Oestrogen has important roles in physical and mental wellbeing, from aiding strong bones and repair to causing a surge in serotonin, the feel-good happy hormone. Oestrogen also has an impact on the texture, elasticity and visibility of our skin, with low levels associated with decreased collagen production.
Most women experience symptoms of hormonal imbalance at some point during their lives.
In fact recent research suggested that 75% of women experience some form of menopausal symptoms for an average of four years.
- hot flushes, insomnia, anxiety, low energy and stamina, bone loss, neck and shoulder tension, increased incidence of urinary tract infections, vaginal dryness, mood swings and weight gain.
Whilst a natural decline in oestrogen as we enter peri-menopause (average age 46yrs) through to menopause (average age 51yrs) is perfectly natural, the suffering millions of women experience during this period of their lives is not inevitable. There is much we can do to balance our hormones!
Why are our hormones so out of balance?!
Our hormones are being disrupted at an increasingly earlier age. Young girls in developed countries are entering puberty and beginning menstruation as early as nine year old. Women in their teenage years through to their forties experience heavy periods, poly cystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis, unexplained fertility issues and other symptoms related to hormonal imbalance.
This is largely driven to high levels of oestrogen and low levels of progesterone. The imbalance of these two hormones driving many issues in women, from stubborn weight gain, breast tenderness, mood swings, skin problems, anaemia due to heavy blood loss, anxiety and sleep issues.
Why do oestrogen levels increase in this age group?
Oestrogen and progesterone want to remain in perfect balance, however, oestrogen dominance and low progesterone is a common problem for many women, why?
Oestrogen is produced by the ovaries and broken down by the liver. If the liver is not able to breakdown oestrogen then there is excessive amounts of circulating oestrogen.
When the liver is fatty or congested, oestrogen is less effectively broken down, creating higher levels of oestrogen.
Our high carb, high sugar diets contribute to our congested, fatty liver, as does alcohol and certain medications.
Our high sugar, high carb diets also drive visceral fat (belly fat) to be laid down. This type of fat produces oestrogen, again adding to the high levels of oestrogen. High levels of oestrogen deplete our body of zinc, an incredibly important trace mineral responsible for aiding stomach acidity needed to absorb nutrients, it is essential for healing, skin health and healthy immune function.
Our body is also exposed to a whole host of chemicals that mimic oestrogen, attaching to oestrogen receptors in our body and driving oestrogen dominance. These toxic compounds are found in our food chain as well as in our cleaning products, clothes and household products.
These oestrogen mimicking chemicals are encountered as a by-product of petrochemical industry. They are found in plastic containers heated in the microwave, water from plastic bottles and pesticides and herbicides in food.
Low progesterone…why does this happen?
Low progesterone is a result of stress…we have an in-built destress system in the body (fight or flight), regulated by our adrenal glands. This system is activated when the body in under stress, nutritional stress, emotional stress or the physical stress of an illness or excessive exercise.
When the fight or flight system is switched on excessively (very common in our modern day living!) then excessive amounts of stress hormone cortisol is produced. This brings with it a whole host of symptoms such as excessive thinking, anxiety, insomnia and weight gain. IT also depletes the body of progesterone because the adrenal glands favour producing cortisol over progesterone production, leaving progesterone levels low.
So what happens at peri-menopause and menopause?
At around the age of 46 years oestrogen levels begin to drop, with a steep decline a year before cessation of our last period (average age 51 years).
It is this steep decline in oestrogen from the high levels of oestrogen dominance that can cause so many problems and symptoms in women.
Oestrogen levels should easing off us into a smooth transition of peri-menopause to menopause. Due to our low levels of progesterone and high levels of oestrogen plummeting down, this smooth transition is rarely the case for many women.
What can we do?
Balancing hormones really is a ‘Three System Approach’
Improving the stress balancing system- the Adrenals
Improving nutritional habits and digestive function
Improving liver function and detoxification
In Part One of Healthy Female Hormones we will be looking at improving nutritional habits and digestive function. Improved nutrition is a very effective way of improving hormonal balance.
Maintaining good dietary choices is a daily process, requiring an ongoing commitment to positive change, it is not a one off diet, but a lifestyle change that supports our hormonal balance.
What does a healthy hormone diet look like?
Curb your carbs
A high carbohydrate, sugar-heavy diet is going to cause a spike in our cortisol levels, inadvertently depleting the body of progesterone. High carbohydrate intake leads to a rise in blood glucose and a rise in insulin levels. This leads to a spike in the stress hormone cortisol. Long-term heavy carbohydrate consumption leads to increased fat storage around the organs, belly and in the liver due to excess glucose being converted to fat.
The liver then becomes congested making oestrogen breakdown less efficient and visceral fat, the inflammatory fat laid down around the organs and belly, secretes oestrogen, adding to the hormonal imbalance.
Reduce inflammatory Foods
Certain foods provoke an inflammatory response in the body. This inflammatory response sees the body in a state of stress. When certain foods are consumed, the inflammatory effect is exerted on the body, creating a cascade of inflammatory proteins.
Which foods are inflammatory?
Gluten and grains are inflammatory foods. Gluten in the protein found in wheat, it is an indigestible protein that irritates the delicate gut lining and can cause inflammatory reactions such as aches and pains in the joints, headaches, anxiety and other symptoms of systemic inflammation. High sugar and carbohydrate foods increase the inflammatory cascade.
Inflammatory fats- these include fats high in pro-inflammatory fatty acids omega-6. Oils such as rapeseed, sunflower seed and vegetable oils are inflammatory. A diet rich in healthy fats such as extra virgin cold pressed olive oil, avocado oil, macadamia nut oil and fatty fish is essential for healthy, balanced hormones, why?
Your sex hormones are made by fats. All of the cells in your body require fat to make the fatty membrane that protects the cell. Your brain and nervous system require healthy fats….they are essential. In fact they are called essential because you cannot make them yourself, you need essential fatty acids to thrive! Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid needed for healthy hormone balance as well as healthy, supple, moisturised skin, a well-functioning immune system and optimum brain function. Omega-3 are anti-inflammatory and help balance out the high ratio of omega-6 present in our diet.
Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include oily fish such as mackerel, sardines and salmon (wild tinned fish is a great option if you don’t have access to fresh). Free-range organic eggs and algae oil for a plat-based options. Wild, Alaskan, high potency fish oils, e.g Wiley's Finest, are also a fantastic way of ensuring your omega-3 fats consistently remain at optimum levels.
Bone broth is packed with minerals, vitamins, collagen, elastin, hyaluronic acid and amino acids, essential for making hormones, building strong bones, skin, hair and nails and repairing tissue. You can make your own bone broth boiling up the bones of organically reared beef or chicken bones, or you can buy fresh broth by a high quality company such as Borough broth company or Spring Broth. Alternatively you can add bone broth powder such as Planet Paleo Powdered Bone Broth, to enrich meals, or make your own broth.
Fermented food is essential for great gut bacteria balance and to improve overall functioning of the gut and nutrient absorption. You are only as healthy as the nutrients you absorb! Zinc deficiency, as with oestrogen dominance, creates a lack of acidity in the stomach, leading to acid reflux, bloating, indigestion, a lack of iron absorption (leading to anaemia), a lack of B12 absorption and poor wound healing).
Sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir and live yoghurt are great ways of adding good gut bacteria to your daily diet.
Supplements for hormonal support- Oestrogen Dominance
Oestrogen dominance is more likely up until your mid-forties, then it will begin to decline.
Pre-menstrual breast tenderness, weight gain around the hips and thighs, mood swings, skin issues, PCOS, endometriosis and heavy periods are all symptoms of oestrogen dominance.
Peak EPA Omega-3 Wiley’s Finest
Organic Kelp- Viridian
Zinc complex- TerraNova
D3 supplement (especially in the winter)
Lions Mane Mushroom powder for reducing anxiety and irritability
Bone Broth Powder- minerals, bone and skin building nutrient.
Supplements for hormonal support- Low oestrogen
Dry skin, vaginal dryness, low moods, anxiety, low energy, low libido, emotional instability
Vitamin E and Vitamin E-rich foods for reducing hot flushes
Orange Burst (with omega-7) for vaginal dryness
Peak EPA omega-3 Wiley’s Finest
Cordyceps mushroom powder for increased libido and energy
Lions Mane mushroom powder for reducing anxiety and irritability with some research showing improvements with hot flushes.
Bone broth powder for supporting healthy bones, skin and muscle.
We have created three bundles to help you on your healthy hormones journey:
· A copy of Primal Living in a Modern World, learn how to optimise your diet to stabilise your hormones, liver function and digestive health
· Easy swallow Wiley’s Finest Wild Alaskan Fish oils
Cost: £39.95 (saving £13.50 as a bundle buy!)
A great stater kit for those looking to reduce oestrogen dominance.
· Organic Kelp- Viridian
· Zinc Complex- TerraNova
· 60 Peak EPA Wild Alaskan Fish Oils
(saving £19.50 when you buy as a bundle!)
· D3- 2000ug - TerrNova
· Zinc complex- TerraNova
· Potassium Magnesium Citrate- Viridian
· Peak EPA Wild Alaskan Fish Oils- Wiley's Finest
(saving £27.15 when you buy as a bundle!)
For improving Progesterone levels, improving adrenal gland function and minimising stress is KEY. We will cover this in Part 2.