WHAT ARE FEMALE SEX HORMONES?
Hormones are special chemical messengers in the body that are created in the endocrine glands. The endocrine glands are a system of glands that make up what we call the endocrine system, that are spread across the body in places such as your throat, brain, above your kidneys and in your ovaries and testis.
Hormone imbalances are an epidemic these days. When talking about hormones, I want you to think of a symphony. Each hormone plays a crucial part in the symphony, each interacting with one another systematically, so when one hormone is thrown out of tune, the others quickly follow… There are many key players in this orchestra – melatonin, thyroid, insulin, estrogen, cortisol – but right now, I want to focus your attention on women’s sex hormones.
There are many hormones in the body, but I want to pay particular attention to:
- Estrogen is the main female sex hormone – It causes puberty, prepares the body and uterus for pregnancy, and regulates the menstrual cycle. During menopause, estrogen levels can fluctuate and change, causing many of the uncomfortable symptoms women can experience such as hot flushes, night sweats and mood swings.
- Progesterone is similar to estrogen but is not considered the main sex hormone. Like estrogen, it assists with the menstrual cycle and plays a role in pregnancy.
- Testosterone is the main sex hormone in men. It causes puberty, increases bone density, triggers facial hair growth, and causes muscle mass growth and strength.
WHEN THE SYMPHONY BECOMES A CATASTROPHE….
When our sex hormones become out of balance, we can see a whole host of symptoms begin to manifest. This is because, as noted earlier, if one hormone goes a miss, this can cause the others to fall down – like a domino effect. We have many hormones in the body, each with different characteristics and skill sets! So it is no wonder that there are hundreds of signs and symptoms that can be blamed on hormonal imbalance.
- Loss of Libido
- Irregular Periods
- Weight Loss/Gain
- Mood Swings
- Digestive Issues
- Skin, Hair and Nail changes
- Night Sweats
The list goes on….
CAUSES OF HORMONAL IMBALANCES
There are 100s of factors that can impact our sexual hormone health including diet, toxin overload, menopause/puberty, drastic weight gain or weight loss, stress, nutrient deficiencies, sedentary lifestyle or over-exercising, genetics, lifestyle choices, reproductive hormone disorders and many more…
If you would like to get to the route cause of why you may be suffering from a hormone imbalance, the best route is to discuss this with your GP or consult a nutritionist to discuss this further.
HOW TO BALANCE OUR SEXY HORMONES THROUGH NUTRITION & LIFESTYLE
So now that we know why hormones are important and how we can tell if they are out of balance, here are six ways you can naturally balance your sex hormones…
REBOOT YOUR STRESS RESPONSE
Unfortunately, our bodies aren’t always very good at differentiating major threats from minor stresses and annoyances. With modern life the way it is, our alarms can easily get stuck in “on” mode. When we are stressed and secrete cortisol in response, our bodies “steal” the building blocks we need to make many hormones such as progesterone, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, to make extra cortisol instead. The problem here is that consistently overproducing cortisol leaves little pregnenolone left to produce other essential hormones, thus leading to hormone imbalance.
So we need to all try and chill out a bit.
To help reduce the feeling of stress in the body, I suggest to try:
- Meditating – I use guided meditations by The Honest Guys and The Headspace App
- Exercise – and by exercise I don’t mean hitting the treadmill every day – exercise can be anything you enjoy, that gets your body moving, your adrenalin running and your blood circulating in the body.
Eating a variety of foods high in short, medium and long-chain fatty acids is key to keeping your hormones in check. Your body needs various types of fats to create hormones, including saturated fat and cholesterol. Not only are these essential fats fundamental building blocks for hormone production, but they keep inflammation levels low, boost your metabolism and promote healthy weight loss.
My four favorite sources of anti-inflammatory, healthy fats include:
- Cold pressed coconut oil
- Organic and raw nuts & seeds– especially Pumpkin seeds, Flax seeds, Brazil nuts and Walnuts
- Oily fish such as Salmon, Mackerel and Herring
For a healthy hormone friendly recipe, check out my Sweet Potato Toast Recipe here (pictured to the left).
STABILISE THAT BLOOD SUGAR
While sugar may have a bad rep, every cell in your body runs on glucose, the sugar that we have in our blood.
Maintaining a steady level of glucose in the blood is so important to our survival that our bodies have 4 hormones that can increase blood sugar, but only one that decreases blood sugar (i.e. insulin)!
Here are some pointers on how to stabilise your blood sugar:
- Balance blood sugar by consuming foods alongside healthy fats – fats help slow down the absorption of glucose into the blood and helps prevent sugar highs and crashes. They also help keep us fuller for longer…
- Don’t skip meals – if we skip breakfast our body creates stress hormones to break down muscle not fat, wreaking havoc on our bodies systems. Focus on fat and protein in the morning such as avocado and eggs or yogurt, nuts and berries.
- Make sure to have protein at every meal – protein helps pull sugar into your cells so that it can be used for energy. Include a palm size of protein with every meal e.g. eggs, organic tofu, grass-fed red meat, free-range poultry, legumes, nuts and seeds
- Swap refined sugars for unrefined sugars such as maple syrup, good quality honey, coconut blossom sugar, brown rice syrup – but just because they are unrefined doesn’t mean you can go over the top. Sugar is sugar.
GET MORE SLEEP
I can’t emphasize this one enough! Without adequate sleep, hormones will not be in balance. While you’re sleeping, your body is extremely active removing toxins, recharging the mind, and creating hormones. Skimping on sleep, even for one night, can have a tremendous impact on hormones and even one night of missed or shortened sleep can create the hormone levels of a pre-diabetic person!
We should all aim for a minimum of 7 hours a night of sleep. If you find it difficult to fall asleep, check out my SLEEP HEALTH POST HERE
Harmful chemicals found in pesticides, plastics, household cleaners, and even mattresses can contain hormone-disrupting chemicals that mimic hormones in the body and keep the body from producing real hormones.
For those with a hormone imbalance or who are struggling to get pregnant, avoiding these unnecessary chemicals is very important! Cook in glass or non-coated metal pans (no non-stick or teflon) and avoid heating or storing foods in plastic. Find organic produce and meat whenever possible and don’t use chemical pesticides or cleaners.
I love coffee a lot, but the truth is that too much caffeine can wreak havoc on the endocrine system, especially if there are other hormone stressors involved, like pregnancy, presence of toxins, beneficial fat imbalance or stress.
Studies in humans have shown that caffeine increases cortisol at rest and that levels of cortisol after caffeine consumption are similar to those experienced during an acute stress. Drinking caffeinated drinks, in other words, re-creates stress conditions for the body.
Compounding the problem, people tend to consume more caffeine during stressful periods (as nearly every student during exam season knows well). They add stress to stress, potentially making things even worse.
That’s not to say you need to stop consuming caffeine altogether, but if you feel you suffer from hormonal issues, stress or energy depletion or if you have a reliance of caffeine, then I suggest you consider cutting back. We should all aim to have NO more than 400 milligrams of caffeine per day – which is roughly four espresso shots = 2 x black coffees / 6 cups of black or green tea.
Swap out your third cup of Joe for a cup of herbal non-caffeinated tea such as peppermint or chamomile or a Turmeric latte, my favourite blend is from WunderWorkshop.
If you have any concerns about your female sex hormones, or believe you may be suffering from any hormonal imbalances including conditions such as PCOS, Menopause, lack or irregularity of menstruation, please get in touch with me to discuss how we can work together – here