5 Tips for Hormonal Balance for Women
The following is an excerpt from The Paleo Miracle 2: Women of Strength by Joseph Salama and Adam Farrah (with a foreword by Sarah Fragoso and contribution by Kathryn Haldiman).
Hormonal imbalance is an epidemic in our modern society that can wreak havoc on women in a multitude of ways. Hormones are chemical messengers that are produced by endocrine glands and they act to regulate several critical processes in the body, including metabolism, growth and development, mood, sexual function, and reproduction.
All hormones work together in a complex system of delicate, interconnected relationships, much like a symphony. In an orchestra, if just one instrument is out of tune, not functioning, or overpowers others, it can compromise the entire performance. Hormones that are not finely balanced in the body result in suboptimal health and reduced quality of life, as well as a wide variety of symptoms and conditions that may include:
• Mood Swings
• Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
• Weight Gain
• Acne and Other Skin Concerns
• Headaches/ Migraines
• Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
• Infertility and Reproductive Issues
• Low Libido
• Mood Swings
• Depression/ Anxiety
• Thyroid Disease
• Insulin Resistance/ Metabolic Syndrome/ Type II Diabetes Mellitus
The conventional medical approach to dealing with the various manifestations of hormonal imbalance involves treating the symptom or individual condition, usually with medication. Hormone replacement therapy, including birth control pills, may be recommended when symptoms are specific to the female hormones.
With symptoms of hormone imbalance that the conventional medical community views as being benign, such as PMS and low libido, women may have their symptoms brushed off as being a “normal” part of the female experience. In the holistic health community, “bioidentical” hormone replacement therapy is touted as being a safer, more natural option.
Unfortunately, these medical approaches do not address the root causes of hormonal imbalance in the body and they do not recognize the complex relationships that exist within the endocrine system. The following tips will allow you to understand the root cause of hormonal imbalance in the body and set you on a path to achieving better overall health.
1. Eat a Real Food, Nutrient-dense Diet (Also Known as Paleo):
The building blocks that makeup hormones include amino acids, lipids, and cholesterol. These components are derived directly from the foods that you eat. In order to produce healthy hormones, you should consume high-quality sources of proteins and fats.
Hormone-healthy sources of protein include pastured beef, chicken, eggs, and pork and wild-caught fish. The sex hormones are particularly dependent upon healthy sources of saturated fats and cholesterol, which include pastured lard, butter, and tallow, coconut oil, wild-caught fish, and pastured eggs.
The normal production and balance of hormones also rely upon numerous minerals and vitamins. A nutrient-dense Paleo template that includes a wide variety of vegetables, high-quality proteins and fats, and a moderate amount of fruit can ensure that you are adequately meeting your vitamin and mineral needs for healthy hormone production. Organ meats are a particularly concentrated source of nutrients and they should be incorporated into the diet in order to ensure hormonal balance.
2. Control the Blood Sugar:
In the intricate act of balancing the body’s blood sugar, insulin is a hormone that shuttles glucose (a type of sugar) out of the bloodstream into the cells where it can be used as fuel. Insulin works synergistically with many other hormones in the body.
Consuming a large number of carbohydrates, especially in the context of a low-fat diet, leads to blood sugar swings in which the blood sugar rises quickly and then drops rapidly. When the blood sugar falls too low, the stress response is activated in order to increase the blood sugar to a safe level. The stress response is modulated by the hormone cortisol, which affects every single system in the body and can lead to overall inflammation and hormonal imbalance.
Consistently elevated levels of insulin can also impact hormonal health in other ways as well. When a large amount of sugar from refined carbohydrates or too many carbohydrates, in general, is consumed, increased levels of insulin are produced in order to keep the blood sugar regulated. One of the effects of increased insulin is a decreased production of sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG).
In the female body, SHBG attaches to estrogen and turns it into an inactive form that can be excreted safely from the body. Without enough SHBG to bind to it, too much estrogen stays in the bloodstream leading to a condition known as estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance is often responsible for many of the symptoms of hormone imbalance specific to women’s health concerns.
To balance the blood sugar, eliminate refined carbohydrates, added sugars, grains, and legumes from the diet. These foods cause spikes in blood sugar and can perpetuate the inflammatory cycle. Instead, consume a Paleo diet that includes healthy carbohydrates in the form of vegetables and fruits. To slow the absorption of carbohydrates into the bloodstream, eat balanced meals that include healthy fats and protein.
A Paleo diet will be naturally lower in carbohydrates than the Standard American Diet (SAD), but there is still a wide range of carbohydrate consumption that can occur within a Paleo template. In general, consuming too many carbohydrates, even if they are from healthy sources, can be problematic for women dealing with hormonal health concerns because over-consumption of even healthy carbohydrates can still lead to blood sugar imbalances.
However, not eating enough carbohydrates can also potentiate female hormonal imbalance. Intermittent fasting and nutritional ketosis may not be the best choice for those struggling with hormonal issues. Each woman is unique and you may need to experiment to find the right amount of carbohydrates to suit your body’s needs.
3. Avoid Foods With Phytoestrogens:
Phytoestrogens are naturally-occurring estrogenic compounds found in plant foods, including legumes, nuts, and seeds. These compounds mimic estrogen and they can be harmful to women with either estrogen dominance or too little estrogen. The actions of phytoestrogens in the body are complex, but they can lead to either the up-regulation or down-regulation of natural estrogen production. If a woman is already struggling with hormonal health concerns, this can be detrimental.
Soy and flax contain the highest amounts of phytoestrogens and they should be avoided for healthy hormone balance. Nuts and seeds are usually included in a nutrient-dense Paleo template; however, if a female is demonstrating symptoms of estrogen dominance and other reproductive health concerns, it is recommended that nut and seed consumption be minimized or avoided. Consuming too many nuts and seeds can also influence fatty acid balance in the body, which does affect hormone balance.
4. Increase the Consumption of Fruits and Vegetables:
Fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of numerous vitamins and minerals. These nutrients are important to the production of hormones throughout the body. In addition to vitamins and minerals, fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants and enzymes, all of which are necessary for optimal liver function.
The liver is an organ that bears the primary responsibility of detoxifying the body and breaking down hormones to be recycled or excreted. If the liver is not functioning at an optimal level, hormone balance can be significantly impacted.
As part of a nutrient-dense Paleo diet, fruits and vegetables are also a critical source of fiber in the diet. Low fiber diets are associated with hormonal imbalance in women, which may be due to the role of the digestive system in promoting healthy hormone function. Although many hormones are processed by the liver, the digestive tract is where the hormones are excreted.
If there is poor mobility or an imbalance of gut flora in the digestive tract, hormones may be reabsorbed and allowed to reenter the blood circulation. Fiber acts to increase the production of SHBG, which binds to sex hormones to prevent reabsorption. It also improves motility to keep waste moving through the digestive system and helps to feed the gut flora, which plays its own important role in healthy hormonal balance.
5. Balance Gut Flora:
The digestive tract is home to 100 trillion microorganisms, known as the gut flora. The gut flora plays a number of roles that are vital to human survival and modern science is only just beginning to skim the surface of the complex ways in which the gut flora influence the health of the entire body.
One of the roles of gut flora is to assist with the metabolism and processing of hormones. Gut flora breaks down and recycles some hormones. In the case of the thyroid hormones, the gut flora assists in converting inactive T4 to the active form of the thyroid hormone, T3.
Eating a nutrient-dense, real food diet can go a long way in helping to promote healthy gut flora. Consuming fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, fermented vegetables, and kombucha tea ensure the introduction of healthy probiotics into the digestive system. In cases of severe gut dysbiosis, probiotic supplementation and deeper gut healing may be necessary.
About the book: The Paleo Miracle 2: Women of Strength is about women finding their primal urge to be vital, healthy, strong, and in control of their own lives and destiny.
The women in these pages have each created a revolution in their lives and each woman’s revolution has been different, unique, and highly personal. But each has included a return to natural foods and the avoidance of newer, modern, and industrialized foods – a paleo diet. And, each has carved her own path in the modern world as a strong, independent, modern woman.
A third of all proceeds for the Paleo Miracle 2: Women of Strength are donated to the non-profit Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.