Do you sometimes feel like you’ve lost control of your body, especially when it comes to your hormones? Every month feels like you’re running the gauntlet of PMS – irritability, low mood, cramps, bloating, sore boobs – the list goes on. Or maybe you’ve been diagnosed with PCOS, endometriosis or fibroids and are struggling to manage your condition and the symptoms it brings. This can leave you feeling positively miserable – like day-to-day life is a massive effort and you have no control over how your body reacts. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Did you know that the food you eat can make all the difference?
What you eat can help you to improve PMS, PCOS and balance your hormones, naturally.
This blog post will show you ways to take back some control over your hormones and your body, so you can feel more like yourself again. Are you ready to soothe those hellish hormones with food? Let’s get stuck in.
Swapping sugar and refined carbohydrates for less processed options
Eating a variety of fats
Keeping your liver in good working order
Filling up on fibre for a healthy gut
Making sure you're eating enough
Why taking The Pill to “regulate” your periods might not be working for you.
Doctors, while very knowledgeable and well-intentioned, tend to prescribe the pill to “regulate periods” and reduce hormonal symptoms. The pill prevents ovulation by shutting off your natural hormone production - something I wish I knew before taking it for 15+ years. So while it might well reduce your symptoms, it’s really just masking the underlying imbalance that is driving them in the first place and once you stop taking it, it’s very likely that they will return shortly after.
"hormonal birth control works by shutting down your ovaries and switching off your hormones"
- Lara Briden, Period Repair Manual
Why ditching excess sugar and refined carbs can make a huge difference to your hormones
If you were to ask me what the number one thing in your diet that makes symptoms of PMS, PCOS and general hormone imbalances worse, it would have to be sugar.
When I say sugar, I don’t just mean the white stuff that comes in bags or that you find in sweets and cakes. Any carbohydrate that is highly processed (think white and fluffy – bread, pasta, rice etc), whereby the bran and husk (i.e., the fibre and nutrients) are removed, will be rapidly broken down in the body and absorbed as glucose. These have the same effect on blood sugar levels as a spoon of table sugar.
The body works really hard to keep our blood sugar levels within a very tight range. When we eat sugar or refined carbs, this sends our blood sugars skyrocketing and the body needs to produce insulin, whose job it is to reduce the amount of glucose in the blood. After the high, comes the low which makes the body screams for more sugar, in the form of easily digested carbs to give it the energy boost it thinks it needs. This rollercoaster can leave us feeling tired and irritable. Over time, if our blood sugars are constantly up and down, and we’re always pumping out high amounts of insulin to clear our blood of glucose, the cells in the body can become desensitised to the effects of insulin.
This is known as insulin resistance and it means that the body is less effective at controlling blood sugar levels.
Ultimately this means the body has high amounts of both glucose and insulin floating around. Too much sugar in the blood can drive inflammation (which I’ll talk about further down), but too much insulin can directly affect the production of sex hormones. High insulin levels trigger the theca cells in the ovary to produce more androgens (like testosterone). Higher androgens (and insulin resistance) are strongly associated with PCOS. Insulin also stimulates an enzyme called aromatase, which is responsible for the production of oestrogen. More aromatase equals more oestrogen, which can lead to an excess of oestrogen when compared to the amount of progesterone you are producing.
This can contribute to PMS-type symptoms like irregular or heavy periods, breast tenderness, fluid retention, anxiety or irritability. Too much oestrogen can also affect endometriosis and fibroids as these are tissues are highly oestrogen sensitive.
Before all carbs get tarred with the same brush, it’s important to clarify that choosing high-fibre, complex carbohydrates like whole grains, pulses and starchy vegetables helps to slow the release of sugar. This helps to maintain better blood sugar balance – reducing the amount of insulin needed and improving insulin resistance. They’re also massively supportive of healthy ovulation and are needed for calming the nervous system too. So it’s not that carbs are the devil – it’s just about knowing which ones to choose.
How fat can help to quench the flames of your hormonal hell
When it comes to hormones and reproductive health, fats are vital. Cholesterol is used as the raw material to produce oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone (among others). Low-fat and low cholesterol diets leave the body short on materials, reducing its ability to make enough hormones.
Over time, this can manifest in symptoms like low libido, low mood, irritability and increased fat storage and may also be a contributing factor for conditions like endometriosis, fibroids and PCOS.
Like most things to do with nutrition, when it comes to fats, it’s all about balance. It’s important to ensure that you are including sources of each type of fat in your diet. A typical Western diet tends to have plenty of saturated fat from things like meat, dairy and butter. Both saturated fat and Omega 6 from highly processed foods can drive inflammation in the body. Inflammation stimulates aromatase - that oestrogen producing enzyme again - contributing to higher levels of oestrogen than we’d like. Omega 3s (and Omega 6s from plant foods like seeds and vegetables) have anti-inflammatory properties and help to regulate the body’s overall inflammatory response, supporting better hormone balance. Monounsaturated fats from things like olives, olive oil and avocado help to improve insulin sensitivity, supporting better blood sugar balance.
Love your liver to conquer your hormone demons
If detoxing conjures up visions of juice diets, caffeine withdrawals and feeling hungry, worry not. I’m talking about something our body does everyday thanks mainly to our liver. Its primary job is to rid the body of all the toxins we take in – from food, the air, cosmetics etc. It also prepares used up oestrogen to be eliminated through the kidneys and bowel.
But to do this effectively, it needs a constant supply of nutrients that act as fuel for these detox processes. If your liver isn’t functioning optimally, these used up hormones can linger in the body and contribute to
symptoms of hormone imbalance like irregular or heavy periods, breast tenderness, fluid retention, anxiety or irritability.
Getting plenty of protein, iron, B vitamins, vitamin C and a wide range of antioxidants from fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices is essential. Starting with your 5 a day is a good foundation to work from.
Why loving your gut can give you back the power over your hellish hormones
A healthy gut is crucial for almost every aspect of health and never is this more true than for happy, healthy hormones. Fibre has 2 vital roles in the bowel. Firstly, it’s essential for bulking out the stool and helping it to move through easily. Constipation is the enemy of hormone balance – if you’re not going to the toilet every day, it increases the possibility of oestrogen being reabsorbed into the blood, contributing to an excess of oestrogen over progesterone. How does this happen? This brings me to the other role of fibre, which is to feed the beneficial strains of bacteria (the good guys) and keep them thriving. Low fibre diets allow for more pathogenic (not so nice) strains of bacteria to take over. Some of these strains release an enzyme (called beta-glucuronidase – quite a mouthful!) that can undo the job the liver did to package up oestrogen for excretion and allow it to be reabsorbed and recirculate.
Getting plenty of fibre, mainly from vegetables, and keeping your bowel moving regularly are good places to start when addressing any hormone imbalance.
How eating enough can be the key to nourishing your hormones back to health
As I’ve already mentioned, nutrient dense food provides the raw materials for everything from hormone production, liver detoxification, gut health and managing inflammation among many others. Many women with hormone imbalances also struggle with weight loss – hormones and weight management are massively intertwined – and are on low-fat, low carb or low calorie diets to help them shift those unwanted pounds.
However, it’s a delicate balance and if the calorie deficit is too large, or the amount of fat or carbohydrate is too low, this can contribute to things like irregular periods or complete loss of periods (amenorrhoea). If you’re struggling with an irregular cycle, this can be something to look at and be sure you are giving your hormones the fuel they need.
Hormone imbalances and related conditions like PCOS and endometriosis can hugely affect your ability to enjoy doing the things you love. Hopefully I’ve been able to show you how daily food choices can be used to help better manage your symptoms.
If you’d like some help to put all these pieces together to support your hormones, click the button below to book a chat with me to see if we’re a good fit. It’s completely free, with zero commitment, so book now – you’ll be glad you did.