Every person’s hormone health is highly individual and depends on many factors. In this article, however, I will highlight what women can do to create an environment in which optimal hormone health is possible at any age. 

Let’s start by looking at the root causes of hormone imbalance: 

  • The stress you might put on your body if you don’t deal with any food sensitivities you may have, such as gluten intolerance;
  • Strains that cause gut permeability (‘leaky gut’) issues;
  • Nutrient deficiencies;
  • Lack of sleep or not sleeping well;
  • Environmental toxins;
  • Relationship (personal and/ or work-related) tensions;
  • Refined carb-heavy diet (sugar, pasta, refined flour foods).

Some of the symptoms of hormone imbalance can be:

  • Hair loss;
  • Unexplained weight gain;
  • Mood swings;
  • Fatigue.

The two biggest culprits of hormonal imbalance are cortisol and insulin, says one of my favourite experts on hormone health, Dr. Anna Cabeca:

“What happens when our other important hormones are impacted by cortisol and insulin?

1. Adrenal insufficiency: Initially, the body begins to metabolise proteins from the muscles, which causes fatigue, weakness and muscle pain. This also causes many women to start having cravings and to experience unhealthy weight gain around the middle.

2. Adrenal insufficiency – the second phase: We see worsening menopause symptoms because the adrenals are now impacting the balance of other minor hormones (such as oestrogen, progesterone and pregnenolone) in favour of creating more cortisol. We may see thyroid hormone fluctuations – in particular, a slowing of thyroid hormone production. a slowing of thyroid hormone production.

We also may see gut permeability issues, sleep issues, moodiness and isolating behaviours, hair loss, inflammation (a lot of joint pain), decreased immunity and a lack of libido (coupled with sexual dysfunction). Yuck to all that! In addition, we’ll likely experience blood sugar issues, since our bodies are keeping themselves in this state of preparation for a non-existent, yet ever-threatening emergency.

3. Adrenal hypofunction: Over time, the adrenals will no longer pump out the needed level of cortisol. Why? Because our brain has decided to shut down cortisol production altogether, to protect itself from these high cortisol outputs. Through this feedback system, the adrenals decrease cortisol output as a defensive measure. Gradually, our bodies will then become quite acidic and suffer from increased inflammation, which further compromises our immune system. We can gauge this by measuring the levels of secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA), an antibody, in our saliva or blood.” 

You can read more about hormone health in Dr. Anna Cabeca’s latest book ‘The Hormone Fix’.

Manage your cortisol levels:

Maintaining control over your cortisol levels will support your body by regulating your other hormones in a healthier fashion. Here are a few important tips:

Embrace an alkaline diet for hormone health

Research has shown that eating an acid-heavy diet (one made up of carbs, sugars and processed foods) elevates cortisol (and insulin). There is a strong connection between dietary acid load and the conditions of bone health, obesity, cardiovascular disease and overall well-being.

 Eating and living alkaline is the solution. (Note that when cortisol is up, urine pH is low and more acidic, proving that measuring urine pH can tell us much more than how what you are eating is affecting you). Eating and living alkaline not only helps restore cortisol and insulin to healthy levels, but also helps reset our daily circadian rhythm, boosts mood, decreases joint pain, promotes better sleeping habits and helps lose the pounds. An alkaline diet has also been shown to help reduce bone loss, improve muscle mass and do so much more.

The good news is an alkaline diet is relatively easy to adhere to. In general, vegetables are the most-alkaline foods, due to their mineral content. On the other hand, processed foods, meat, poultry, dairy and most vices (alcohol, sugar and caffeine) are acidic – sorry! I recommend trying to follow an 80/20 rule, with a diet that is 80 per cent alkaline and 20 per cent healthy, clean (i.e., organic and pasture raised) protein and healthy fats.

Eat/drink natural adrenal adaptogens

Support your adrenal health with an adrenal adaptogen like maca. Research has shown that maca has adaptogenic properties, which means it can help nourish and balance your adrenals and hormones and also help your body deal with chronic stressors. Quality maca can also help address menopausal symptoms.

Pursue a healthy lifestyle

Improving your stress management: Try and include a sweaty, or at the very least heart rate increasing exercise every day). Meditation, Yoga and other regular mindful movement-exercise-techniques can radically reduce stress levels. There are some very simple meditation practices available that ere easy to incorporate into even the busiest of lives. I love Emily Fletcher’s simple meditation technique. You can learn more by reading her book ‘Stress Less, Accomplish More’.

Reducing toxins in your environment: Look carefully at the foods you purchase/ consume for unnecessary additives and preservatives, avoid pesticides by buying organic where possible, or washing and peeling fruits where needed. Use only natural body and beauty products, avoiding hormone disrupting chemicals such as parabens, phthalates etc, etc!

Getting better sleep: Follow a strict bed-time routine to restore your circadian rhythm. Avoid caffeine after 12h00 as well as over-stimulating screen time before in the hour before bedtime. Dim lights once the sun has gone down and consider using blue-light blocking glasses to wear at night – especially when watching television.

Maintaining healthy bowel movements: Eat lots of vegetables and drink plenty of purified water daily, consider adding ground flaxseed powder to smoothies, porridge and soup. Aim to eat at least five to seven portions of vegetables per day.

Heal your gut by removing food sensitivities and adding lots of veggie fibre and fermented foods. Every vegetable consumed has fibre that is ‘undigestible’ (prebiotic fibre) which ends up in your large intestine, fermenting there. As a result it populates your gut with unique bacteria which have unique benefits to the body. In other words the more variety of vegetables we consume the more diverse our gut bacteria and the ways they can serve our health.

Manage your insulin levels

Choose a low-carb diet high in healthy fats. Refined and high carb foods have a high glycaemic index. The glycaemic index (GI) is a scale that measures a specific food’s capacity to raise blood sugar. Glycaemic load takes into account a food’s glycaemic index, as well as the amount of digestible carbs contained in a serving.

Several studies have compared foods with different glycaemic loads to see if they affected insulin levels differently. They found that eating a high-glycaemic load food raises your levels more than eating the same portion of a low-glycaemic load food, even if the carb contents of the two foods are similar. Choose fibre-rich vegetables over white rice, pasta and bread, but make sure that even these starches are consumed in small amounts.

Replace a high refined carb diet with plenty of eggs, nuts and seeds (and nut and seed butters), olive oil, macadamia oil, coconut oil, avocadoes, lean+clean animal protein and plenty of watery vegetables: Peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, onions, cabbage, tomatoes, spinach, eggplant and courgettes are excellent choices. Adding healthy fats to vegetables means you keep hunger and blood sugar spikes at bay. Some simple examples would be adding lots of cold pressed olive oil to your lunch time salad, nut butters to your smoothies, or an avocado with your lean protein and veggies for supper.

I hope the above nutrition and stress management tips can help you to create an environment in which your body can naturally restore and balance itself for your best health.

Yoga Kitchen Maca Smoothie

  • 1 tablespoon of black maca
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of ground flaxseed powder
  • 1 small banana
  • 1 tablespoon of cashew or almond butter
  • 200ml of nut milk or purified water
  • A drizzle of raw honey if needed, and/ or a pinch of cinnamon

Simply add all the above ingredients to your blender and whizz until you have a smooth consistency.

This smoothie is hormone balancing with the active ingredient maca, as well as being rich in fibre and omega 3, making it gut-healthy and nourishing.

Words by Marlien Wright

Marlien Wright is a nutritional therapy coach, healing-retreat facilitator and the author of two cookbooks; The Yoga Kitchen and The Mandala Kitchen. You can get in touch with her and learn more about her food and meal plans and workshops via www.yogakitchen.co.za

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