Stereotypes aside, it is an unfortunate truth that those of us who menstruate spend the better part of our existence riding the natural yet often unpredictable waves of our hormones, which hold an alarming amount of power over our physical and mental wellbeing. From mood swings, to cravings, to breakouts: the never-ending fluctuations control us from the inside out.
On top of this, external factors such as diet, stress, birth control, and exposure to plastic can throw a spanner into the (already rather confusing) works.
Of course, it’s natural for our hormones to be constantly in flux. However, if you struggle with the same persistent symptoms, there may be an underlying issue causing a long-term imbalance.
Hormones: Pick Your Poison
Anxiety, insomnia, and irritability could mean you have too much oestrogen and too little progesterone. Although we associate oestrogen with fertility and femininity, you can have too much of a good thing! It’s normal to have this oestrogen-progesterone ratio for a few days each month around ovulation, but for some women, this doesn’t level out on cue.
Also – a synthetic version of oestrogen is found in most hormonal birth control methods, such as the combined contraceptive pill, which manipulates the natural balance, so you may also experience these symptoms because of this.
On the reverse side…
Lethargy, cravings, and a low mood – especially accompanied by breast tenderness – could mean you have too little oestrogen/ too much progesterone. It’s normal to have high progesterone and low oestrogen levels in the days leading up to your period, as well as during pregnancy. But if you are not sure why you have these symptoms long-term, it’s worth looking into.
High progesterone levels are the body’s way to prepare for pregnancy, which explains the cravings for high-carb and high-fat foods, and the desire to curl up in a ball and conserve energy. It even makes you more dismissive of new things, to avoid any risk to your safety.
A synthetic version of progesterone is found in the mini-pill, the hormonal IUD, and some other contraceptives (to fool your body into thinking it’s already pregnant), so if you currently use one of these methods and the side-effects are really bothering you, it may be worth considering alternatives.
Irrational anger, acne, and hair loss – and sometimes unexplained weight gain-could indicate too little oestrogen / too much testosterone. It’s totally normal and healthy to produce a low level of testosterone as a female, but too much can provoke these unwanted effects. This is a common imbalance among ladies living with PCOS – so definitely get tested for this if these symptoms sound familiar.
How To Heal Your Hormones
More sleep and less stress
Perhaps the best thing you can do to balance your hormones is to ensure you get adequate sleep. Have you ever had your menstrual cycle come to a halt during a stressful period (pardon the pun)? It is no coincidence that many women experience this.
Whatever is stressing you out – work, family, relationships – the hormone cortisol pumps through our body as though we need to fight for our life. But this evolutionary gift now comes with a cost, as most of our stresses are not solved by running or throwing a punch. Bodily functions such as digestion and menstruation are put on hold until this “threat” subsides.
It’s worth noting that caffeine and over-exercising also elevate cortisol levels. If your periods have stopped or become very unpredictable, your body is telling you to slow down.
Plastic: Not Fantastic
Not only are disposable plastics terrible for the environment, but they contain BPA – an endocrine disruptor, throwing off your natural hormone production. Ditch the bottled water and invest in a reusable flask, as an easy yet powerful first step.
Similar hormone-disrupting chemicals can also be found in many cosmetics, processed foods, and other plastic products. We will do both the earth and ourselves a huge favour if we avoid these items as much as possible!
This ancient Peruvian secret has been gaining popularity in the rest of the world for some time now.
As an adaptogen, when ingested, maca root adapts to your specific hormone levels and encourages a natural increase or decrease in each hormone, depending on your profile. Maca has long been used as a natural remedy for improved fertility, hair, skin, and nails, as well as for treating PMS.
In its mild and sweet-tasting powder form it can be added to hot drinks, cereal or porridge – or simply taken as a capsule.
Dark Chocolate & Leafy Greens
Maybe not together… but incorporating cocoa and dark green veggies into your daily diet may be your ticket to hormone harmony!
Not only are these foods a rich source of endorphin-releasing antioxidants, giving your irritability some relief, but also in magnesium – which most of us could do with more of. Low magnesium levels exacerbate anxiety, irritability, and stress. This induces a spike in the fight-or-flight hormone cortisol, sabotaging your other hormones’ ability to do their thing.
Studies are still ongoing about just how much this healthy fat can positively impact hormone levels. Since omega-3 intake also benefits brain health, soothes anxiety, and nourishes the skin, hair and nails – it’s an overall winner.
In general, women need to be less afraid of fats. They are essential for the formation of healthy cell membranes and steroid hormones like progesterone and oestrogen. Just be sure to have more Omega-3 fats, and less saturated fat.
Great sources are flax or chia seeds, which you can easily add to cereals, smoothies, baked goods and salads due to their versatility. You can also get Omega-3 from fish (particularly oily fish).
Soy & Turmeric
Though it is getting a bad rap at the moment, soy can actually be a great boost when your oestrogen levels drop. This naturally high-protein, low-fat bean is high in calcium and iron – and its plant oestrogens have the ability to mimic the ones we produce naturally.
Another source of plant oestrogens is the curcumin compound, found in turmeric. This golden spice has also been used for its anti-inflammatory properties for centuries, meaning that it can tackle that other common cause of hormone imbalance.
A great excuse to treat yourself to a soymilk-turmeric latte when low oestrogen is getting you down!
Overall, as with most health issues, a nutrient-dense, balanced diet, adequate sleep, exercise and stress management are the best thing you can to regulate your hormone levels.
If you are concerned about persistent symptoms, talk to your doctor.