Have you felt cranky, tired, screamed at your nearest and dearest or become teary without any reason over the last couple of weeks, often for reasons that you cannot explain? Do you find yourself fully aware that you are not able to be the best version of yourself and that even if you really set your mind to it you can’t quite snap out of it? I realised when speaking to other women that they had similar feelings and just assumed they were grumpy for no reason. Nowadays, according to founder and medical director of the UltraWellness Center Dr. Mark Hyman, it has become more and more common to see women and men from an early age experiencing fluctuating hormone levels. We have come to subconsciously accept these behavioural difficulties as something that we have to go through. However, we can actually change this to remove this obstacle to a carefree and thriving daily life by taking a deeper look into why our hormones are out of sync.
As a teenager, I ate a very healthy balanced, vegetarian diet and exercised a lot. Therefore it took me a while to figure out what the culprit behind my unjustified outbursts of crying and self-pitying behaviour was. Once the doctor mentioned that I may be sensitive to oestrogens (estrogen), I realised that it was the pill that had shaken me up. Going off the pill definitely changed my behaviour dramatically, but I discovered there was much more I could do to be able to have a consistently balanced and happy mind-set. I started looking into the effects of oestrogen dominance on our behaviour and general health. It turns out I was seeing it all around me, women of every age suffering from similar symptoms. This neuro-chemical imbalance knows no gender or age; however, many are quick to stamp women as being hormonal or PMSing.
Raised levels of natural oestrogens and environmental oestrogen-like chemicals are known to cause unpleasant symptoms. Among these symptoms are breast tenderness, anxiety, headaches, depression, digestive issues, water retention, and food cravings. These symptoms are however manageable once the underlying cause of imbalance is uncovered¹. Yet, as with many issues we face, there isn’t a simple answer. It is far more complicated than just blaming one hormone, as there are many factors that influence our oestrogen levels.
The hormones in our endocrine system are closely linked and can affect each other’s release dramatically. Hormones linked to stress, such as adrenaline and cortisol, are released from the adrenal glands in everyday situations, more so in a city like London where we are constantly trying to keep up with the fast lifestyle it demands. As women’s health practitioner Marcelle Pick of the Women to Women Clinic states, if we are stressed or sleep deprived we are also automatically influencing our oestrogen and progesterone levels, which shows that imbalances occur through the way we live. On top of this there are three main forms of oestrogen: estradiol, estrone and estriol, all of which play different roles at different stages of a women’s development. Fluctuations in the levels of these are a natural part of our lives; for example estradiol is the most common during reproductive years where as estrone is the most abundant oestrogen during menopause. Each of these have varying affinities (binding strength) to oestrogen receptors and bind to act in slightly different manners at each stage of our lives. Evidently, the potential for fluctuation in to slightly high or low hormone levels is an issue that must be dealt with.
Now whilst this might all sound very complicated, it is still possible to balance these hormone fluctuations and their effects on your body, mind and soul. I believe it is better to try and prevent the symptoms rather than taking anti-depressants, pain killers or other means of lessening the symptoms. There are natural ways to get to the root of the issue. Nutritionist Kate Neil, who draws on the pioneering work of Dr John Lee, states in her book ‘Balancing Hormones Naturally’ that the symptoms we experience when oestrogen levels are higher in relation to our progesterone levels (a natural occurrence when experiencing PMS, and a normal part of the ageing process) are often experienced much stronger than necessary. Our hormones are easily thrown off balance by diet, lifestyle and environmental factors. As Dr Libby Weaver suggests in her book ’The Rushing Women’s Syndrome’, individuals should see the symptoms as signals to make amendments to their status quo. Those lifestyle choices that are particularly to blame include: drinking, smoking, sugar, refined carbs, environmental and skincare toxins, and stress.
Eating to balance your hormones? Some of you might think oh dear another food craze I have to follow in order to be ‘truly healthy’. Gluten-free, vegan, organic food and now also keeping in mind how my hormones are doing? Well, yes sorry it might just be the major issue for all your other health and wellbeing related issues. It isn’t just a craze, it is a necessity as severe diseases such as breast cancer are strongly linked to oestrogen imbalances. It is important to truly understand your body and your mind and finding their connection. The famous statement, “you are what you eat,” might actually be most relevant when it comes to hormone balance.
It is claimed that a diet high in plant based fibres (also Psyllium Husk) and good fats (coconut oil, avocado, olive oil, fish high in omega 3) ; low in bad fats (vegetable oil, peanut oil, margarine, generally all high omega-6 polyunsaturated fats); low in alcohol, caffeine, sugar, refined carbohydrates, dairy, meat and products like tofu and soy milk; and increasing your intake of weak phytoestrogenic (plant based oestrogens) foods such as flaxseeds, apples, organic non-GMO fermented soy, oats, and pomegranates is best.
As mentioned above, we are all unique and there isn’t a cure for all, but for me personally and amongst my friends a balanced diet and the following adaptogens help to reduce hormonally imbalanced symptoms.
- • Agnus Cactus e.g. A. Vogel’s, can be used to reduce cramps, breast pain, irritability, depression, and headaches.
- • Maca – now this is potent, so less is more! It is used by indigenous Peruvians for hormone health.
- • St. John’s Wort – known to treat mild depression and mood swings. However, be aware that St John’s Wort interacts with hormonal contraceptives reducing the effectiveness and increasing the risk of unplanned pregnancy².
- • Magnesium (I would recommend magnesium oil instead of a supplement as this is absorbed better by the body) – this is especially important for the adrenal system.
- • Vitamin D – get that sun in! Vitamin D is wonder for all ailments and especially for your hormones.
- • Furthermore, in Chinese medicine, it is suggested that we should strengthen our digestive system to balance our hormones. There is a lot of research to suggest a healthy gut is crucial for one’s overall health and endocrine system, so adding fermented and probiotic foods, turmeric and ginger to your diet is also believed to help balance your hormone levels.
What you put on your body also plays a major role. The skin is our biggest organ and we absorb many different chemicals whilst applying our face cream, body lotion, deodorant and make up. Often these products contain chemicals which also have an effect on our hormones, these are also known as xenoestrogens. Avoid these by choosing natural skincare products, not drinking from plastic water bottles and trying to avoid as much pollution as possible (a hard one for those living in a city!) I also use the Think Dirty App www.thinkdirtyapp.com which allows you to check whether your skincare products contain any ‘hormone disrupting’ chemicals.
Long story short, if you suffer from these symptoms try and eliminate certain foods from you diet, sleep more, de-stress when you can and use skincare products that do not contain harmful ingredients. With these ground rules in place, we can knock down the walls of what is preventing us from feeling amazing.
- 1. Biochemical and molecular changes at the cellular level in response to exposure to environmental estrogen-like chemicals. Roy D; Palangat M; Chen CW; Thomas RD; Colerangle J; Atkinson A; Yan ZJ Environmental Toxicology Program, University of Alabama, Birmingham 35294, USA. J Toxicol Environ Health, 1997 Jan, 50:1, 1-29
- 2. St John’s Wort Interaction with hormonal contraceptives including implants. Drug Safety Update. https://www.gov.uk/drug-safety-update/st-john-s-wort-interaction-with-hormonal-contraceptives-including-implants
Love, Zoe Lind van’t Hof
Contributor, SERENE Social
Zoe learned about health and nutrition from her mother, who has been in the health food industry for over 40 years. This knowledge and motivation has led her to start up her own business. Having travelled with her mother to Sri Lanka to experience and learn more about Ayurveda, Zoe learned about turmeric and its benefits. The following year she went back to Sri Lanka to establish a partnership with the suppliers of our most crucial ingredient, Turmeric, and begin her journey to starting WUNDERWORKSHOP.