The female body has to work hard everyday to keep all of its many hormones in balance, so that we can live peacefully, healthfully, and reproduce when desired. Not to discredit the many other hormonal cascades occurring in the body with things like DHEA, Testosterone, Cortisol, Thyroid hormone, FSH, LH, GH, etc., but I am going to share about the two main female sex hormones that I focus on supporting when trying to achieve hormonal balance: Estrogen and Progesterone.
All about estrogen
Estrogen has many important functions, including maintaining bone density, lubricating the vagina for intercourse and signaling the body for different stages of the menstrual cycle. Too much estrogen can cause hair loss, acne, weight gain, breast tenderness, mood changes, etc. However, too little isn’t good either; we see these effects when a woman reaches menopause: bone density decreases, increasing the incidence of osteoperosis at this age, “vaginal dryness” is a major thing, and of course, no more periods. My hormonal issues are rooted around an excess of estrogen, which is often associated with low progesterone and is partially the result of increased cortisol.
Estrogens path in the body
Estrogen is primarily metabolized in the liver, detoxified by the bacteria in your intestines, and then excreted from the body through urine & feces. The key is to keep the liver in good working order and to keep elimination and gut health going to prevent reabsorption of estrogen in the colon. When we hold onto too much estrogen or aren’t properly processing it, it causes symptoms of estrogen excess. When I was trying to get on top of my estrogen symptoms, I focused on two things: 1. Liver health and detoxification and 2. Gut health and elimination.
Estrogen friendly foods that I have found benefit in include:
Carrots: At least one raw carrot per day. High in vitamin A and fibre, the one carrot a day rule has long been a happy hormone trick for those suffering from hormonal imbalance.
Bitter greens: Things like arugula, kale, mustard greens, chicory, etc. These contain compounds such as Indole, which help to up-regulate liver detoxification. Among the many nutrients that bitter greens contain, they also contain Vitamin B6 which has been proven to decrease PMS symptoms. They make a nice salad base, but I’ve also just blended them up with water and chugged it down. The closer to the source the better (farmers market), and the spicier the greens, the better.
Cruciferous vegetables: Things like Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Kale, etc. These veggies contain a phytonutrient called DIM (Diindolylmethane) which again, helps to detoxify the liver. These vegetables can be hard to digest when they’re raw, so I like to steam them or roast them. I eat them nearly everyday!
Pumpkin seeds & Ground Flax seed: at least one tablespoon of each per day, mixed into oatmeal, sprinkled on salads, mixed into pancakes, etc. Considering their small size, pumpkin seeds contain a great amount of zinc and vitamin A, as well as phytosterols that decrease cholesterol absorption. Flax seed contains omega-3 fatty acids & fibre and promotes healthy elimination. I buy mine whole, from the natural food fridge section, grind them at home in my coffee grinder, and return them to the fridge. I keep all of my seeds in air tight containers in the fridge so that they don’t go rancid!
Lemon Juice on everythang: I’ve read that citrus fruit is great for decreasing estrogen but to be honest I’m not a huge citrus fan, I wouldn’t be surprised if I have a low-key intolerance to it. However, Lemon juice doesn’t seem to be a bother. I use it as a salad dressing along with olive oil or vinegar, I make a post-run electrolyte drink with it, and I use it on almost everything I cook!
Progesterone is produced by the encapsulation in the ovary called the corpus luteum, which houses the egg before it is expelled for ovulation. Natural Progesterone helps relieve anxiety, promotes calmness, as well as glowing skin & hair. A lifestyle of high stress, not properly nourishing or honouring your body can result in lowered progesterone. When cortisol (the stress hormone) is high, it steals from your progesterone bank. Aside from missing out on the wonderful benefits of progesterone, low progesterone is especially problematic for those trying to get and stay pregnant.
Four years of nursing school hell, transitioned into the graduated life of lack of sleep and code pinks is not helping my progesterone levels, at all. Foods I eat to help promote progesterone include:
Brazil Nuts: A few times a week. They are high in selenium which helps promote healthy progesterone levels and they’re tasty AF.
Meat/Fish/Poultry: 1-2 servings per day. For the Zinc, vitamin D and B vitamins. I generally stick to poultry, white and pink fish and occasionally steak & ground beef. Although I love the idea of being a vegetarian and I have tried it a few times in my life, the fact is that my stressed out, pro-inflammation bodily state benefits from the nutrient synthesis that occurs within an animal. Yes, I could get most of my vitamins & nutrients from plant sources, but in order to get them in the quantity that makes my body feel good and function somewhat normally despite stressful environmental conditions, I’d need to eat an unreasonable amount of vegetables everyday. I always try to get organic meat or fresh fish if possible.
Eggs: Provide a healthy dose of good fat, and contain vitamin B12 and folate. These two nutrients are especially important for me as I have a mutation of the MTHFR gene (most of us do), and my body only benefits from the natural form of folate, not the “folic acid’ that most of our processed foods are fortified with these days. Eggs are also just so easy and affordable!
Sesame & sunflower seeds: As part of seed cycling which I have talked about in other posts, but you can learn about here. One tablespoon per day of each. They contain Selenium which helps promote a health corpus luteum, as well as lignans that help decrease estrogen. Sesame seeds are naturally high in iron, calcium & B-vitamins. Sunflower seeds are a good source of magnesium and help to decrease cholesterol levels.
>> Have you had any success with any of these foods for yourself? What foods have helped bring you a bit more hormonal balance or have positively affected your period experiences?