Hormonal imbalance is a term that we hear quite often associated with skin and reproductive issues or elevated stress, but it’s hard to understand hormones importance as it’s not something that we can physically see. Just imagine them as little messengers that travel around the body to control a huge variety of functions, ranging from metabolism and hunger to reproductive health and even mood, emotions and energy. When in balance, you don’t feel them but when they’re not, they can create a series of negative symptoms and lead to conditions that can be harmful for our health.
Luckily, one of the ways we can support and promote their optimal function is through nourishing our bodies with foods that contain beneficial nutrients.
These are five of our favourite ones.
- DIETARY FATS
aka AVOCADO, COCONUT, NUTS, SEEDS, OLIVES, EGGS + FISH
Essential fatty acids are the building blocks of your cell membranes that are essential for cell structure, communication and controlling which substances enter and exit the cells, hormones included. You also need fats to regulate the production of sex and adrenal hormones like oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA and cortisol.
And omega-3 fatty acids are the base to make a group of hormones called eicosanoids, which the body uses to deal with inflammatory responses and as inflammation can be one of the main cause of hormonal imbalances, we need a good balance of both omega 3s and 6s.
Plus, fats tend to have a low glycemic index and low insulin response which is very helpful to maintain another essential hormone called insulin stable. Insulin release is needed to transport glucose into our muscles for energy but when too much of this hormone is circulating, it can cause elevated blood glucose levels, high cortisol (stress hormone) levels and possible increase in fat storage. A balanced plate should always include a source of beneficial fats.
- BRASSICA VEGGIES
aka BROCOLLI, CABBAGE, CAULI, BOK CHOY, ROCKET, BRUSSELS SRPROUTS, KALE, COLLARD, WATERCRESS, TURNIPS, KOHLRABI + HORSERADISH)
Brassica vegetables are essential for hormonal balance as they contain substances that support and promote liver function.
The liver constantly processes and metabolises toxins and hormones, making them safe to be eliminated from the body. But to function at its best, it needs certain nutrients to help the different detoxification pathways.
This family of vegetables contain certain compounds called glucosinolates. When glucosinolates are broken down through chewing, chopping, blending and digestion, a certain enzyme gets activated and converts them into indole-3-carbinol which is the substance that promotes liver’s detoxification process. Excess toxins and hormones can then be eliminated so that they don’t get reabsorbed causing problems such as excess or low oestrogen levels, PMS, infertility, heavy periods or migraines.
You may have not heard of lignans but you definitely have eaten foods that contain them. These chemical compounds are found in plant based foods including flaxseeds, sesame, pumpkin seeds and rye. When you consume these foods certain gut bacteria convert the “plant” lignans into compounds that the body can utilise, called phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are substances that can “mimic” the effect of estrogen in the body meaning that if you tend to have higher estrogen levels, the “oestrogens” from lignans may bind to some of the estrogen’s receptor sites, reducing estrogen activity while if your levels are low, lignans intake may increase its amount to restore balance.
Including these foods into your diet can be very beneficial in conditions that are driven by sex hormones imbalances and in balancing your menstrual cycle rhythm.
- PROBIOTIC FOODS
We usually think of foods like sauerkrauts, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, pickled or fermented vegetables as beneficial for our gut health and digestion. But the health of our gut structure and bacteria composition is also essential for hormonal health.
Certain gut bacteria help to metabolise oestrogen and eliminate harmful and excessive oestrogen plus part of the conversion from the inactive form of thyroid hormone T4 to the more active T3 form, occurs in your gut and can become compromised if gut health is not optimal negatively impacting our metabolism.
Our intestinal bacteria are also involved in the production of serotonin, the so called “happiness” hormone and melatonin, which regulates our sleep cycle. And a predominance of harmful gut bacteria can cause an imbalance between the levels of the appetite regulating hormones ghrerlin (the one that signals hunger) and leptin (which signals satiety). So make sure to have a bit of probiotic rich foods daily.
There are even more reasons to top your porridge, granola or yogurt bowl with berries as all of them (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, goji) are rich in fibre and low glycemic. This is great to help balance blood sugar levels, keeping insulin controlled and maintaining cortisol levelled which avoids increased stress in the body. In fact, red and purple coloured fruits like berries contain compounds called anthocyanins that have a beneficial effect on the pancreas, the organ that is involved in blood sugar regulation by producing insulin.
Plus, they contain concentrated levels of antioxidants that aid the reduction oxidation in the body protecting the skin and cells from free radicals effects and lowering inflammation.