HEALTHY HORMONE SERIES PART V

HEALTHY HORMONE FOODS 

Written By: Brittani Kolasinski (BHSc Nut, Adv Dip Nut Med) 

“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food” famously quoted by Hippocrates the Father of Modern medicine somewhere back in 400BC. This is most certainly true when it comes to human health, especially when considering hormonal health. It’s a common trend for women to be dieting, restricting or limiting food intake, opting for low calorie and low nutrient foods in an effort to obtain a certain size or frame, unbeknown that they are causing much distress in terms of their hormonal and reproductive health.

Nourishment is the core focus, when the body feels that it is in an underfed state it creates a stress on the body. This stress can lead to increased cortisol, at the expense of oestrogen and progesterone synthesis, which as we’ve previously mentioned can lead to weight gain in and of itself. Not to mention that increased cortisol can lead to the apple shaped figure, with weight stored around the abdomen – this is known as visceral fat and is linked to increased risk of diabetes, cancer, fatty liver and metabolic disease.

Macronutrients are just as important and the micronutrients. Getting the right amount of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, and, from the right source.

Carbohydrates are of importance when it comes to ovulation, the right carbohydrates are slow release carbohydrates that don’t cause a spike in blood sugar levels. Think starchy root vegetables like sweet potato, carrots and parsnip as well as fibre rich grain-like seeds quinoa, millet and amaranth, brown or basmati rice, oats, lentils, legumes, nuts and seeds. Adding ample fats and proteins help to further slow the release of glucose in to the blood stream.

Fats are for hormones, fats give fluidity and structure to cell membranes and cholesterol in particular is needed for our steroid hormones – oestrogen and progesterone. Confused about which fats are the right fats? Choose wholefood sources like avocado, olives, nuts and seeds, fatty cuts off grass fed meats, egg yolks and select minimally processed oils/lipids such as butter, coconut oil, olive oil and avocado oil.

Protein is the foundation when it comes to our structure, both physical and biochemical – including hormones. Amino acids are required for hormone synthesis, like tyrosine for our thyroid hormones T3 and T4. If opting to eat animal products or not, I must encourage you to select pasture raised, free range, grass fed. Not only is it better for the environment, better for the animals but also better for your health. The nutrient content of naturally raised and fed animals is much higher with a better quality of fats, being more anti-inflammatory than inflammatory. Vegetable proteins much be emphasised in a vegan or vego diet, with adequate amounts with each meal and across the day. These include lentils, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds and grains. 

Specific Foods to Include

Foods including oranges, grapes, mushrooms, celery, onion, coriander and fennel have been shown to reduce the production of excess oestrogen by acting on a specific enzyme known as aromatase and inhibiting its function. This is of benefit when considering hormonal conditions that are characterised by high levels of oestrogen.

Cruciferous vegetables which include broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and kale activate specific detoxification pathways in the liver that are responsible for metabolising and clearing out excess hormones.

Magnesium, zinc and B6 work synergistically to create progesterone. Magnesium can be found in leafy green vegetables and cacao (chocolate), zinc in red meat, oysters, nuts and seeds and B6 in foods of animal origin, particularly organ meats and potatoes.

Fibre, a commonly forgotten nutrient is important for promoting bowel clearance, reducing the risk of constipation as well as further promoting the elimination of hormones from the body.

Then we have foods including flaxseeds and soy, which are known as phytoestrogens. What this means is that they act like oestrogen would in the body, they bind to the oestrogen receptors but exert a weaker oestrogenic effect than our natural oestrogen would. They work in two ways.

  1. They help promote levels of oestrogen in cases of oestrogen deficiency or menopause, a time where oestrogen levels fall.

  2. As they are a weaker oestrogen in the body, they can help in cases of oestrogen excess and conditions like endometriosis and even certain cancers as they will compete with the body’s own oestrogen for a receptor but would not provide such a strong reaction as natural oestrogen would.

Soy

There’s been a lot of talk about whether soy is good or bad for you. There has been much concern surrounding its inclusion in the diet with risks of certain cancers and thyroid conditions. Will drinking soy milk cause men to develop breasts? Will eating tofu give you cancer?

The research has produced conflicting results. Studies in animals have found that soy did induce cancer growth and development, but when looking at epidemiological studies in human populations found that soy consumption provided protection against breast cancer risk. In terms of suspected hypothyroid or other conditions involving thyroid function, soy may not be the main concern but rather iodine status.

To break it down further, we have multiple estrogen receptors in the body, with two that have been considered here in isolation:

  • Alpha – exerts proliferative effects

  • Beta – anti-proliferative effects

True oestrogen is a potent stimulator of the alpha receptor and will cause proliferation of those tissues, hence the problem of oestrogen in hormone sensitive cancers. However, soy has been shown to have a negligent effect on the alpha receptor. It’s believed that soy’s effects are cancer-reducing because of its action on the beta receptor.

What is of concern, and should be considered, is the fact the most soy products are highly processed and genetically modified. If opting to eat soy, choose organic, select soy foods like tempeh that are fermented or use soy lecithin in smoothies and warm drinks (goes beautifully in a turmeric latte before bed). Soy milk might not be the best choice to include as a major staple in the diet as naturally occurring soy contains a variety of fatty acids but a higher level of inflammation promoting linoleic acid (omega 6 fatty acid). It’s also worthy to note that common commercially bought soy milks contain added vegetable oils, such as canola and sunflower, further increasing the level of omega 6’s.

Always always always consult a medical professional and work with them in terms of diet and nutritional supplementation if you’re worried about thyroid health or have other hormonal concerns.

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Yours in health,


 

HEALTHY HORMONE SERIES PART IV

NATURAL CONTRACEPTION, EXERCISE & LIFESTYLE 

Written By: Brittani Kolasinski (BHSc Nut, Adv Dip Nut Med) 

Apart from diet and nutritional supplementation, there are some key lifestyle factors that come into effect when considering our hormones. Our hormones are somewhat sensitive to things like stress, inflammation, exercise, increased fat mass, toxin exposure and the use of the OCP, but in our current fast-paced toxic world, these things can be unavoidable for some. So how can we combat the negative effects of each?

Stress and inflammation were discussed already in the last post and is worth reading back over before continuing with this one, so let’s take a more in-depth look at some other suspects causing hormonal distress.

Toxins

These include things like hormone disruptors from cosmetics, plastics, pesticides from foods, medications including antibiotics and the many fragrances we spray, cleaning products, fumes from the traffic around us and so much more than we are unaware of.

Our skin is our largest organ. It absorbs and excretes, meaning that what you put onto your skin will ultimately enter into your body. Traditionally in some cultures, olive oil was used for dry skin but now we are applying lotions containing more than 20 odd ingredients, most of which you wouldn’t identify or even know how to pronounce. What’s more is that an ingredient listed as ‘fragrance’ can contain up to 100 separate ingredients that are considered toxic to the body. Today, the average woman uses at least 15 different products in the home before she’s even left the house – that’s not including the variety of toxins that are in our environment, which is estimated to be about 70,000 NEW toxins and chemicals since World War II.

“Emerging evidence suggests that nutrition can modulate and/or reduce the toxicity of environmental pollutants. Diets high in anti-inflammatory bioactive food components (e.g phytochemicals or polyphenols) are possible strategies for modulating and reducing the disease risks associated with exposure to toxic pollutants in the environment”

– Bernhard Hennig PhD, RD

The liver is the primary organ for metabolising and eliminating environmental toxins and pollutants from the body, and certain foods can help support its processes:

  • Drink green tea

  • Use spices and herbs like parsley and turmeric

  • Consume an abundance of cooked cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and kale

  • Include sulphur rich foods like garlic, leek, and onion

  • Flavour your water with some fresh lemon

  • Ensure that adequate antioxidants from coloured fruits and vegetables are included in the diet – eat the rainbow!

It’s also a wise move to take a complete inventory of your current morning routine – are there certain products you could eliminate, or make a simple switch? There are some great varieties of sulphate and paraben free shampoos and conditioners, as well as soaps and washes. Olive or coconut oil can be used as moisturiser. Cleaning can be done with variations of vinegar, water, essential oils or lemon. Teeth can be brushed with a mix of baking soda, coconut oil, and peppermint essential oil and natural deodorants are quite easy to come by – or you can simply go without. Having a healthy body means you’re free from nasty odours, which are another clear indication that there’s something out balance in your body. Cutting back or making the switch not only does wonders for your hormones and health but also halves the time it takes to get ready each day.

Exercise

Exercise is considered a stress on the body, but more of a hormetic stress than a negative one. What this means is that the stress that’s placed on the body in appropriate doses can induce an adaptive response as the body recovers, it gets stronger, more efficient and more robust. This is generally a good thing. However, there is always too much of a good thing and exercise is certainly no excuse.

For women, its advised that different forms of exercise are better at different points in our cycle, as the fluctuating hormones can require different applications of movement.

The first week of your cycle (days 1-7): A decline in oestrogen can contribute to lowered energy levels, as well as the loss of blood that can further exacerbate the fatigue with the reduction of iron. It’s recommended to take it easy during this time, rest more, enjoy a week of slower paced movements, maybe with some stretching or pilates thrown into the mix.

The follicular phase is where oestrogen picks up, oestrogen is stimulating, oestogren is known for that drive, it’s an anabolic hormone meaning that it’s for building up and creating. This is good news for those who are trying to gain more muscle. This is a time where we can afford to go a little harder with our workouts, with more resistance and weight training.

During ovulation testosterone levels rise, pushing you that little bit harder. This is a time where you can see some great results in your workouts.

The luteal phase we see an increase in progesterone with a reduction in oestrogen. Strength -based training may not be ideal during this time, but rather aerobic exercises or some short bursts of high-intensity training. Think of outdoor runs, swimming, and cycling.

It’s always best to listen to your body, especially in the luteal phase there might be some pre-menstrual symptoms present that can lower your motivation. Take a step back and focus on nourishing, relaxing, and taking things easy – you don’t want to overdo it as this can throw off the hormonal balance. Restricted dieting is popular amongst women when coupled with excessive exercise it can be disastrous for our hormonal health.

Fat Mass

Our fat cells (adipose tissue) are considered part of our endocrine system, as they are known to produce and secret hormones. Fat cells produce oestrogen, a type of oestrogen known as estrone. Too much fat mass can contribute to increased levels of estrone which has been linked with the development of PCOS, and certain cancers including uterine cancer post-menopause.

Oral Contraceptive Pill  

The oral contraceptive pill (OCP) made huge advancements to us and for women as a way to legalise contraception and has also been of great benefit for some women dealing with endometriosis or PCOS, so there are some definite advantages for its creation. The OCP is used by 33.6% of the women who are using contraception, with some women as young as 11 years old, the OCP is given for not just preventing pregnancies but to ‘treat’ a myriad of other problems.

I understand the need girls may have for the OCP when dealing with such debilitating pains, embarrassing breakouts or heavy bleeds that impair their own quality of life, but what I have a problem with is the lack of investigations into why such symptoms are occurring and also the lack of education surrounding the use of the OCP. I know many women now in their late 20-30’s who have been taking the OCP for more than a decade without really knowing how the OCP is working within their body, or really knowing what alternatives they have.

The OCP contains synthetic hormones that act to shut down ovulation, inducing a sort of menopausal state. Yes, a bleed does still occur each month, but this is an anovulatory bleed. What many women don’t know is that there are vast differences between our own natural hormones oestrogen and progesterone and the synthetic varieties used including ethinylestradiol, levonorgestrel, and drospirenone.

Natural Progesterone

  • Promotes embryo implantation and pregnancy

  • Decrease risk of blood clots

  • Promotes hair growth

  • Improves brain health and cognition

Synthetic progesterone

  • Aborts pregnancies

  • Increase risk of fatal blood clots

  • Hair loss

  • Causes depression

Natural Oestrogen

  • Growth of reproductive organs and breasts

  • Promotion of the lengthening of long bones, feminisation of the skeleton

  • Maintenance of structure of skin and blood vessels

  • Protects against cardiovascular disease

Synthetic Oestrogen

  • Mood swings

  • Depression – lowers serotonin levels

  • Low libido

  • Decreases bone density

What’s more, is that when women do decide to transition from taking the OCP towards starting a family, there can be a loss of periods for up to 12 months on average. Not to mention, if there OCP was masking any underlying pathology like endometriosis or PCOS for so long it can be a huge setback and significantly impair their own fertility. The OCP not only shuts down your natural hormones but it’s also linked with a risk of stroke and heart attack, breakthrough bleeding, depression and interacts with common medications including anti-epileptic medications, some antibiotics, asthma medications, paracetamol, antidepressants, and thyroxine.

The OCP and Nutrient Depletion 

Our body’s nutrient demands are increased when taking the OCP, again something that most women are not familiar with.

  • Zinc: Women using the OCP have reduced levels of zinc, thought to be due to changes in absorption.

  • B vitamins: Specifically, B2, B6, and B12 are all depleted by the use of OCP. Deficiency in B2 can lead to migraines and headaches which could be attributed to OCP use. Low levels of B6 can result in low serotonin, leading to low mood/depression. Low B6 increases the risk of thromboembolism.

  • Magnesium: Important for smooth muscle relaxation and energy production. A deficiency can contribute to muscle spasms and pains associated with menses. Low magnesium levels can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, anxiety, and migraines. Low levels also affect the balance between calcium and magnesium.

  • Vitamin E: OCP reduces vitamin E status. Vitamin E is beneficial for cardiovascular health and acts as an antioxidant within the body to help maintain vascular integrity.

  • Vitamin C: levels are lowered in platelets and leukocytes with OCP use. The OCP is thought to increase the metabolism of vitamin C. Hormonal therapies can also increase oxidative stress, increasing the need for antioxidant nutrients, such as vitamin C

  • Selenium: Another important antioxidant, deficiency can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. The OCP can interfere with selenium absorption.

If the OCP is something you wish to continue taking its good to be mindful of possible nutrients that may require supplementation. Always work alongside a trained professional to ensure the appropriate nutrients and doses are prescribed.

The Natural Approach to Contraception

  • Fertility awareness: This requires tracking your cycle and knowing with certainty when you are ovulating. As we’ve already mentioned in previous articles, there is a fertile window for women within their cycle. This method simply means abstaining from intercourse during this window or using other means of protection, like condoms.

  • Condoms: Simple, inexpensive and effective. Condoms also provide protection against sexually transmitted diseases. There are some natural and organic brands around that are better for you and the environment.

  • Diaphragm: a silicon diaphragm that you can insert and remove yourself, you can pick one up from your local pharmacy.

  • Copper IUD: Not suited for everyone, yet a non-hormonal method of contraception that won’t turn off your own natural hormone production, it also lasts up to 10 years and allows your body to return to its normal fertile state once removed. It’s not the best method with regards to your vaginal microbiome and has also been known to cause heavier bleeds, plus it’s much more expensive than other alternatives.

Yours in health,

 

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