How does diet impact your hormones?
Did you know that the human body is made up almost entirely of microbes? In fact, the average human is home to over 100 trillion microbes, meaning that cell for cell, we're around 90% microbes and only 10% human! These microbes are spread everywhere throughout your body, but today, one group in particular is taking centre stage: your gut microbiota.
You've probably heard me mention your gut microbiota or intestinal flora before. This collection of friendly bacteria helps with a number of functions throughout your body, from supporting metabolism to maintaining your immune system. If you recall, over 70% of your immune cells are found in your gut!
Researchers now know that gut bacteria also play a valuable, more direct role when it comes to your hormones. Certain types of microbes, such as estrobolome, can assist with the metabolism of hormones such as estrogen, to prevent excess estrogen from circulating in your system and causing issues such as estrogen-dominant PMS symptoms.
Your own population of friendly bacteria is extremely dependent on what you eat. If you eat the right foods and create the right intestinal environment, your friendly bacteria will flourish. But if you eat a diet high in refined sugars, processed meats and unhealthy fats, then your friendly bacteria will quickly become dominated by their unfriendly cousins, which can lead to all sorts of nasty symptoms and possibly even a hormonal imbalance!
Foods that help support your hormones
Start with prebiotics and probiotics
If you don't suffer from any serious hormonal imbalances but are just looking for some all-around support, start by nourishing your friendly intestinal bacteria. The best way to do this is by consuming a combination of prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics help feed your friendly bacteria, providing an environment where they can thrive, while probiotics contain billions of strains of different friendly bacteria to help you populate your gut.
You can start by including more prebiotic and probiotic foods in your diet. Prebiotic foods often include plant-based foods such as:
They're all readily available from your local supermarket and can be incorporated into a variety of recipes, such as Hot and Aromatic Kimchi. Fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut are really gaining in popularity right now and are an excellent source of probiotics. You can learn more about them in the article "Fermented foods for a flatter tummy."
Suffering from low estrogen levels? Eat more seeds and soybeans!
Estrogen is an extremely important hormone for women—it helps maintain your menstrual cycle and boosts your production of collagen, a structural protein that's essential for healthy, youthful-looking skin! However, as you age, estrogen production gradually declines, culminating in menopause.
Low estrogen levels are responsible for most menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, mood swings and bloating. That's why it's important to try to get your levels to decline gently rather than plummeting abruptly. Fortunately, plenty of foods can help to support healthy estrogen levels, including:
Seeds such as flax and sesame naturally contain phytoestrogens and are rich in other nutrients, including fibre, B vitamins and iron, which can help gradually regulate your estrogen levels. To really reap the benefits of flaxseeds, make sure to grind them up before eating them, otherwise they'll often pass through you undigested.
Pumpkin seeds are another fantastic seed for menopause as they're incredibly rich in zinc and magnesium, meaning that they can help to support your production of sex hormones such as estrogen.
However, the main staple for tackling low estrogen is soybeans, which are extremely rich in phytoestrogens. Consider supplementing your dairy milk with a soy milk alternative and incorporate more tofu into your meals. Try this soy-based recipe: Marinated Tofu Stir Fry.
Trying to support your thyroid? Get more iodine!
Your thyroid is an endocrine gland located in your neck. It works to store and produce hormones such as T3 (triiodothyronine) which work to regulate your metabolism and energy levels. Having a thyroid imbalance is extremely common, especially as you approach menopause, and can cause a number of unpleasant symptoms including fatigue, dry skin and an elevated heart rate.
However, one oft-overlooked nutrient that may help you maintain a healthy thyroid is iodine! We go into a bit more depth in the article Getting enough iodine?, but iodine deficiency is extremely common and its incidence may be increasing! You can find iodine in everyday foods such as:
Kelp is one of the richest dietary sources of iodine which is why, if you feel that you need an extra hand, we recommend trying A.Vogel Thyroid Support. It's made using Pacific sea kelp and is completely vegan-friendly. You can take Sea Kelp to help support your metabolism and maintain a normal thyroid function, but if you know that you suffer from a thyroid imbalance, speak to your healthcare practitioner before taking it.
Struggling to sleep? Boost your melatonin!
Two main hormones regulate your sleep patterns: cortisol, a stress hormone, and melatonin, known as the sleep hormone. These two hormones coexist in a delicate balance, with melatonin being secreted at night to make you feel more relaxed and encourage sleep, while cortisol is released before you wake up, making you feel more awake and alert.
If you've noticed that you feel more restless at night and are unable to sleep, it could be because an underlying problem, such as stress or fluctuating blood sugar levels, is causing you to produce too much cortisol, which then inhibits melatonin production.
Fortunately, dietary sources of melatonin are easy to find—sour cherry juice, bananas and kiwis are just a few. It's also worth noting that magnesium, a vital mineral for your mood and muscles and joints, has recently been shown to decrease cortisol levels, so try to include more of this important mineral in your diet.
Magnesium is found in foods such as green leafy vegetables, bananas, avocados and pumpkin seeds.
What to watch out for...
If you're looking to avoid a hormonal imbalance, you may want to watch out for some key foods. I'm not saying you should completely eliminate these foods from your diet—we all need an occasional treat! It's just important to be aware of them and make sure that if you include them in your diet, you do so in moderation.
Too much dairy: Dairy can be a controversial topic, with some arguing that we need dairy products like milk and yogurt to increase our protein and calcium intake. However, others are convinced that dairy consumption is linked to skin problems like acne and can upset your digestion. While we think a small amount of dairy in your diet is nothing to worry about, getting too much can definitely upset your hormones.
Refined sugar: This is a real problem for gut health, as it helps feed the unfriendly gut bacteria, can upset blood sugar levels and can even contribute to unhealthy sleep patterns.
Alcohol: There's nothing wrong with the odd glass of wine or fancy cocktail, but if you're having a drink on a daily basis or regularly bingeing on weekends, you're going to feel the aftermath. Not only can excessive alcohol consumption damage your liver and upset your skin, it can also interfere with your cognitive function, specifically in your hypothalamus and pituitary gland. These areas of your brain are responsible for secreting several different hormones, including dopamine, the human growth hormone, oxytocin and TSH, the thyroid stimulating hormone.