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Diet and lifestyle for hormone balance

Kate Dimmer Nutritional TherapistKate Dimmer practices in general Nutritional Therapy but she has a particular interest in gut and digestive health, stress management and hormone balance. Services include nutrition coaching, nutrition programmes, recipes, help sheets, computer dietary analysis, support with behaviour change, practical support during busy or stressful times, shopping and cooking advice, supplement protocols and functional testing.

Her approach is based on Functional Medicine, which supports the root of a problem holistically. Holistically means looking at supporting the body as a whole rather than focusing on one symptom.

Hormones act as chemical messengers and have numerous functions and around the body and brain. Our hormones fluctuate throughout the monthly cycle and imbalance can occur at any life stage. This imbalance may follow puberty, post-partum, perimenopause, menopause or times of trauma, and can affect mood, weight management, digestion, fertility, sleep, brain function, libido, hair loss and the condition of our skin. Diet and lifestyle are extremely influential on our hormones, so adopting some positive habits may support keeping hormones more balanced.

blueberriesFirst consider factors that might be promoting imbalance in your system. This may be an inflammatory diet containing fried foods, refined carbohydrates, sugar, artificial sweeteners, processed foods and alcohol. Reducing some of these foods can make a real difference. Include anti-inflammatory nutrients daily into your meals. For example, omega 3 from oily fish (like mackerel, salmon and sardines) or from chia seeds, flax seeds and walnuts. Include antioxidants from dark coloured fruits like blueberries and cherries, and spices and herbs like turmeric, ginger, dill and parsley. If you regularly drink alcohol, try swapping to low alcohol versions and find alternative ways to relax.

root vegetablesGood blood glucose control is important for hormone balance (as well as other areas of health). If this is out of equilibrium you may experience mood swings and energy slumps. High GI foods (food with a high glycaemic index) such as those made from refined flour and sugar, cause our blood glucose levels to spike and then drop down again. During a spike, insulin is produced to remove glucose from the blood into cells to be used for energy or it’s stored in the body as fat. This spiking in insulin lowers a hormone called sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) and as a result, may raise levels of oestrogen and testosterone, disrupting hormone levels. This may worsen mood disorders, anxiety and promote weight-gain. To support this, replace refined carbohydrates like bread and biscuits with more complex, whole foods such as whole grain rice, root vegetables and whole, unprocessed fruit. Just making one small change here could help. If you regularly eat crisps or baked snacks, consider swapping these a couple of times a week for something less processed like a piece of fresh fruit, some raw veg with hummus or some nuts.

herbal teaEffective detoxification is essential for hormone balance. The liver can be overburdened with toxins from the environment, e.g. pollution, chemicals in cleaning products and toiletries, and those in foods and drinks like caffeine, alcohol, pesticides and preservatives. If detoxification is not effective, this can lead to recycling of hormones such as oestrogen, throwing it out of balance. Eating cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, sprouts, cauliflower, kale, rocket and watercress is a great way to support your liver’s detox system and regulate your hormones. Caffeine is a stimulant and requires detoxification by the liver. If liver function is not optimal, it may take longer to process the caffeine leaving us feeling jittery, irritable, anxious and with disturbed sleep. I encourage my clients to swap some caffeinated drinks for relaxing herb teas such as tulsi, camomile and lime flower to aid feelings of tension and to help promote a good night’s sleep. Think about making some swaps around the home so that you’re not as exposed to chemicals. Try using a water filter, more eco-friendly cleaning and beauty products, and using stainless steel not Teflon cookware.

We are learning so much about the importance of good gut health and again this is important for optimal hormone balance. The gut also plays a role in the detoxification process, helping to eliminate waste. Gut bacteria play an important part in producing and absorbing essential nutrients and plays a role in how oestrogen is metabolised. Our gut loves fibrous foods so include plenty of fibre from unprocessed vegetables, salads, fruits, nuts, seeds, pulses and whole grains. These fibrous foods will help feed the good bacteria and help to support going to the toilet regularly. Including probiotic foods into the diet will also promote optimum gut health by encouraging the good species of bacteria. Examples are fermented foods like sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), kimchi, miso, tempeh, kefir and kombucha (fermented tea). Gut bacteria love diversity so getting outdoors in nature is another way of supporting it.

For ideal hormone health we need to make sure we are getting all the essential nutrients needed by the body from whole foods. Healthy fats such as those found in oily fish, seeds, nuts, quality meat, free range eggs, avocados, olives and olive oil are important for hormone production and nerve function so include a variety in your meals each day. Protein is essential for amino acids which have numerous roles including cell production and repair, bone strength, and keeps us feeling full, which is helpful for blood glucose control. Good whole food sources of protein include beans, lentils, chickpeas, nuts, eggs, fish, quality meat, seafood, hemp and quinoa. As a guide, try to include healthy fats, quality protein and vegetables (or fruit) in every meal.

face yoga exercise massage classLastly, in terms of lifestyle, lack of exercise, over exercising, and stress will have a negative impact on your hormones, including the thyroid hormones. It can be difficult to make time for physical activity, but it doesn’t have to be a workout at the gym. Find something that you enjoy doing such as dancing, riding your bike or gardening. Lack of sleep and feelings of stress will undo the benefits of any good diet, so it is important to support the root of the issue. Meditation and yoga have been shown in studies to improve feelings of stress and anxiety and are easily accessible via YouTube and Apps. Allow time for relaxation in your day and build in a good bedtime routine. Keep lights dimmed low in the evening, avoid blue light from screens, write a to-do list and allow yourself time to unwind before you go to sleep. There are lots of ways in which diet and lifestyle may affect hormone balance but just choose one or two realistic changes that are achievable for you and start there.