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