Updated: Nov 14, 2019
I’m so glad you asked!
Hormones are chemical messengers that are produced in your brain and other organs. They are sent in your blood to target areas of your body to produce a particular effect. This can range from increasing your heart rate such as with the release of cortisol to regulating your menstrual cycle such as the case with an orchestra of hormones produced by females.
The main one of these is the well-known oestrogen. Most of you will have heard of it in the context of its role in the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and its association with breast cancer as well as some symptoms experienced by women during perimenopause as levels of it decline.
What does your diet have to do with this?
Well a lot actually.
Your body has many checks and balances to maintain healthy levels of oestrogen in relation to the other hormones involved in the cycle, including progesterone and follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinising hormone. One of these is a carrier that binds to the hormone while it is in circulation, stopping active hormone from having free reign and producing unwanted effects such as irregular and heavy menstruation, uterine fibroids and an increased risk of oestrogen dependent cancers.
This is where the association with your diet becomes important. If you eat a lot of food that is high in refined carbohydrates, you may experience elevated blood sugar levels. Another hormone, insulin, is responsible for transporting the glucose out of your blood into other areas of your body but ongoing elevated levels of blood glucose can lead to insulin resistance where your body just can’t keep up with the demands. When this happens there is also a decline in the amount of oestrogen protein carriers produced resulting in an increased level of active hormone in circulation – not what we want!
To try and protect itself, your body will convert the glucose into fat for storage and the effect of that process is further increase in oestrogen because fat cells can cleverly convert other hormones such as testosterone into oestrogen – also not what we want!
Reducing your blood glucose by consuming foods with a lower glycaemic index such as whole grains as well as including more protein and beneficial fat in your diet will have a positive effect and help to regulate oestrogen circulation. Here’s a couple of ideas to improve the glycaemic load of your diet
Swap white rice to brown – this increases the amount of fibre and will slow down the absorption of glucose from your food. It also contains many more nutrients such as B vitamins and minerals such as zinc that are important for hormone metabolism.
Swap white potato for sweet potato – this is a much lower GI option and also contains vitamin A that is important for health
Ensure that you are consuming adequate protein in your meals – this will keep you feeling fuller for longer and therefore less likely to snack on unhealthy foods between meals. You can add plant based protein such as legumes and lentils as well as nuts and seeds to your diet.
Limit your alcohol intake – not only does alcohol increase your blood glucose levels, it also depletes your body of vital nutrients required for healthy body function such as B vitamins. Alcohol also effects the environment in your gut by increasing inflammation which changes the bacterial colony in your colon. Keep reading to learn more about why this is important for hormone regulation.
Another way that your body will keep your hormones balanced, especially oestrogen, is by excreting them through your bowel. This happens once the oestrogen is packaged into a form that is no longer active and sent to your colon. Here, some of the bacteria can open the package and cause active oestrogen to be reabsorbed having the effect of increasing the pool of active hormone in circulation.
Your diet plays a major role in your gut health including your microbiome. Foods high in sugar and saturated fats are associated with increased levels of the bacteria that can interfere with oestrogen excretion. They also cause increased inflammation in your digestive tract that can reduce nutrient absorption.
Many women experience symptoms associated with hormonal dysfunction that cause distress and can interfere with their quality of life as well as potentially increase their risk for future health conditions. Treatment options that are offered to them are often dramatic and not without side effects. They can include giving more synthetic hormones or even surgery – the decisions can be overwhelming for women.
While dietary changes may not be enough and more aggressive therapy can be warranted, this should not be the first option. One of the most important philosophies of Naturopathic medicine is to begin with the least intervention and assess the factors that may be contributing or exacerbating the condition and remove them and then move onto more targeted treatment.
Your diet does affect your hormones.
If you’d like to explore how natural medicine can help you to improve your hormonal health, please contact me for further information or to make an appointment for a naturopathic consultation. Bookings can be made online at larissajanenaturopathy.com