The male and female bodies may both be ruled by hormones, but its only us women who have to cope with radical hormonal changes throughout our lives: puberty and starting our periods, pregnancy, postpartum, breastfeeding, peri-menopause, and the grand finale, menopause. A lot of the time these changes go hand in hand with uncomfortable issues and persistent symptoms that need to be addressed, ideally through understanding and rectifying the underlying cause.
Consider your hormones like a symphony, conducted by the endocrine system, which is made up of a number of glands and organs. These include the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, thyroid, pancreas, adrenal glands and the ovaries (in females) , and the testes (in males). They may seem unrelated, but together they communicate and work together, the way different instruments make up an orchestra.
Your glands control important physiological functions by releasing powerful chemical messengers (hormones) in to the blood. The word hormone comes from the Greek word hormon, meaning ‘set in motion’, and thats precisely what your hormones do: they trigger activity in different organs and body parts.
The six main hormones are:
Insulin - The Storage CEO
Progesterone - The Zen Master
Testosterone - The King of Va Va Voom
Oestrogen - The Awkward Triplets
Cortisol - The Life Saver
Thyroid - The Metabolism Queen
So what happens if your hormones are not in balance? All sorts of symptoms can result, her are just a few examples:
- Low progesterone can lead to irregular menstrual cycle, irritability, infertility, miscarriage, insomnia and PMS
- Low testosterone can lead to low self esteem, weight gain, low libido and moodiness
- High testosterone can lead to irritability, weight gain, infertility, anger, facial hair and acne
- Low oestrogen can lead to headaches, panic attacks, low mood and libido, bone loss, vaginal dryness and belly fat
- High oestrogen can cause breast tenderness, PMS, heavy periods, fibroids, endometriosis, cysts and even breast cancer
- Low cortisol makes you feel burnt - out, exhausted and drained, tearful, PMS, taking you from superhero to super cranky
- High cortisol causes that tired, but weird feeling, anxiety, insomnia and belly fat
- Low thyroid can cause brain fog, fatigue, weight gain, constipation, cold hands and feet, thinning hair and miscarriage
- Elevated insulin can lead to that dreaded muffin top, PMS, constant hunger, excess testosterone, elevated cortisol, insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes.
OUR MONTHLY HORMONAL DANCE
When balanced our hormones can create a beautiful, synchronised dance, like a graceful Viennese Waltz. But for many of us, that monthly dance is more like the hokey cokey, using the wrong feet! The purpose of this dance is for our body to prepare itself for possible pregnancy each and every cycle.
The three phases of the cycle look like this:
1. Follicular Phase - Menstruation and the pre-ovulatory phase.
Noticeable Changes include - feeling a relief as menstruation begins, possibly followed by irritability, especially if you experience cramps, dips in energy.
2. Ovulatory Phase - the big event of the cycle! Our follicles produce more oestrogen, preparing the womb lining.
Noticeable Changes include - Energy levels are distinctly higher, and the rise of testosterone enhances sex drive and zest for life. You may feel a dull or sharp pain in your lower abdomen, known as ovulatory pain. Your temperature increases slightly with ovulation.
3. Luteal Phase - The Luteal Phase (post-ovulatory phase) is the longest and usually lasts 12 to 14days
Noticeable Changes include - Progesterone causes our body temperature to remain slightly elevated. In the second half of this phase you may notice a drop in energy, due to the calming effects of progesterone. Unfortunately, this phase often also comes with PMS symptoms such as bloating, sore breasts, insomnia and cravings.
Our modern diet of fast foods full of refined carbohydrates, sugar, artificial sweeteners, high-fructose syrups, caffeine and trans fats places an extra burden on our detoxification pathways, even more so if food has been smothered with pesticides and insecticides. The non-organic meat products we eat come with most of the added extras, such as synthetic hormones and antibiotics.
Eating has become a gratifying pursuit, and cooking merely a hobby. So often, we don’t have time to cook real food. We grab something to microwave (in plastic), a processed, convenience food. But our bodies don’t care how busy we are, they’re still hard wired for food as nature intended:
CLEAN, UNPROCESSED AND WHOLE.
FOODS TO SUPPORT YOUR HORMONES
Fresh, vibrant, light foods make you feel more energised during this phase, when all hormones are at their lowest. Pressed salads, kimchi and sauerkraut, plenty of veggies, lean proteins, sprouted beans and seeds, and dense, energy - sustaining grains.
VEG - Artichoke, Broccoli, Carrot, Courgette, Parsley, Rhubarb
FRUIT - Avocado, Grapefruit, Lemon, Lime, Plum, Pomegranate
GRAINS - Barley, Oat, Rye,Wheat
SEAFOOD - Fresh water clams, soft shell crab, trout
MEAT - Chicken, Eggs
OTHER - Nut Butter, Olives, Pickles, Sauerkraut, Vinegar
Go easy on carbohydrates and stick to lighter grains such as corn and quinoa, fill up on veggies and fruit.
VEG - Aubergine, Asparagus, Pepper, Brussel Sprouts, Chard, Endive, Spinach, Spring Onion
FRUIT - Apricots, Cantaloupe, Coconut, Fig, Raspberry, Strawberry
GRAINS - Corn, Quinoa
SEAFOOD - Salmon, Shrimp, Tuna
MEAT - Lamb
OTHER - Chocolate, Coffee, Turmeric
Choose foods rich in B Vitamins, calcium, magnesium and fibre. They types of foods stave off sugar cravings, leafy greens are essential for mitigating the effects of water retention which can be so problematic for women at this phase. Healthy Natural sugars help with the dip in oestrogen that occurs in the second half of the luteal phase and that can make you feel irritable. One of the best ways to achieve this is by roasting or baking veggies, which increases the concentration of those sugars so the veggies taste sweeter. Complex carbohydrates help stabilise serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain and help prevent mood swings.
VEG - Cabbage, Cauliflower, Celery, Cucumber, Garlic, Ginger, Leek, Onion, Parsnip, Pumpkin, Radish, Squash
FRUIT- Apple, Date, Peach, Pear, Raisin
GRAINS - Brown Rice, Millet
SEAFOOD - Cod, Halibut
MEAT - Beef, Turkey
OTHER - Miso, Salt, Tamari