Eating for your Hormones – Nutrition Mini Series

Nutrition and hormones

We know that food can have a big impact on how we feel and our overall health but as just as important is our health, so is our hormonal balance! 

You see, our hormones play major functions within the body and I’m not just talking periods! Think metabolism, sleep, moods, cravings, energy levels, it’s all linked to our hormones and how what we eat, and our lifestyle can play a major factor!

In this nutrition mini series I will cover periods and nutrition as well as thyroid and adrenal health! 

Let’s kick start with our periods! Even now it’s such a taboo to talk about, but we all go through it and making sure that we support our body during not only our menstrual cycle but also for the rest of the month, is vital to how we feel and function.

Symptoms associated with our periods such as painful cramping, mood swings, bloating, headaches, tender breast are often classed as PMS, but this is can be a result of hormonal imbalances, but we shouldn’t have to suffer in silence in fact there’s many things we can do to help stabilise those hormones a bit better each month. 

Let’s break down our period. It’s split into 2 cycles- follicular and luteul phase!

  • Menstruation: Our Period is the shedding of the uterine lining. Levels of estrogen and progesterone are low at this stage
  • The follicular phase: The time between the first day of the period and ovulation. Estrogen begins to rise as an egg prepares to be released.
  • The proliferative phase: After the period, the uterine lining builds back up again.
  • Ovulation- The release of the egg from the ovary, mid-cycle. Oestrogen peaks just beforehand, and then drops shortly afterwards.
  • The luteal phase: The time between ovulation and before the start of menstruation, when the body prepares for a possible pregnancy. Progesterone is produced, peaks, and then drops.
  • The secretory phase: The uterine lining produces chemicals that will either help support an early pregnancy or will prepare the lining to break down and shed if pregnancy doesn’t occur.

The menstrual cycle starts with the first day of the period and ends when the next period begins.

A menstrual cycle usually lasts between 24-38 days but this does vary with each person!

Syncing what we eat with our menstrual cycle can help to reduce some symptoms of PMS but also help to balance our hormones (1).

Conditions such as oestrogen dominance is a common imbalance that occurs during the menstrual cycle due to increasing levels of oestrogen! Did you know that our liver plays a major part in the clearance of hormones, therefore if our liver is sluggish or overworked, oestrogen can recirculate into the body, increasing levels and causing an imbalance resulting in symptoms such as weight gain, mood swings, irregular periods, heavy periods, Edema, sleep disturbances, and even infertility! Remember that as women we have higher levels of circulating oestrogen which results in higher fat storage in areas such as our butts and our posterior chain (backs of arms and back) therefore any imbalances and increases in oestrogen levels can result in higher fat storage! 

Making sure that we eat to support our hormone levels can have a positive effect on how we feel!

So where do we start…

During the menstruation phase, oestrogen is on the rise. Try to drink soothing tea, like chamomile, to combat cramps. When it comes to foods, avoid fatty foods, processed foods, alcohol, caffeine, and salty foods. The aim is to focus on eating whole foods, throughout your cycle to help balance your hormones (especially during menstruation). Eating every 3 or 4 hours can also help to support and manage blood sugar levels and avoid cortisol spikes or mood swings. Drops in blood sugar levels can have a major impact on how we feel day to day (2)

Did you know that Oestrogen is a female sex hormone, secreted mainly from the ovaries, whose main purpose is regulating the reproductive system. Oestrogen also optimizes insulin activity, therefore helping to regulate blood sugar levels! Pre-menopausal women produce oestrogen which controls insulin resistance. Low levels of oestrogen during your cycle and post menopause especially can have a major impact on our blood sugar balance (3)

During the follicular stage oestrogen is increasing so it’s important to include foods that will help to metabolize oestrogen (we don’t want recirculating oestrogen) Focus on sprouted and fermented foods like broccoli sprouts, kimchi, and sauerkraut. These are all foods that can help support gut function too!

During the ovulatory phase, oestrogen is at its highest so including liver supporting foods can help to reduce the risk of oestrogen dominance and help to clear any excess oestrogen from the body! Foods that can help support liver detoxification include almonds, walnuts, avocados, beetroot, cruciferous veg, and berries.

Also including anti-inflammatory foods like whole fruits, vegetables, and almonds. Can have amazing health benefits, including anti-aging properties and protection from environmental toxins, which are known to have an impact on your hormones.

During the luteul phase Oestrogen and progesterone both peak and then drop during this period. Try to include foods  that will help to produce serotonin, such as leafy greens, quinoa, cherries and wholegrains. Magnesium rich foods will also help to support hormone balance and support serotonin production but also fight fatigue and low libido, include foods such as dark chocolate, leafy greens, wholegrains, and nuts and seeds such as pumpkin seeds.

Ensuring that we balance out our blood sugar levels can have a major impact on supporting our hormones levels! You see when our blood sugar levels are out of whack, cortisol levels (our stress hormone) can kick in resulting in poor metabolism, sugar cravings, low energy, mood swings! Ensuring that we eat fibre rich foods, reduce processed foods and refined sugars, include natural whole foods as well as making sure to include 3 meals a day with nourishing snacks is the best way to stabilise those blood sugar levels and helps to avoid those dips in energy and those cravings for a little pick me up! Check out my last nutrition mini series covering all things blood sugar and creating balance (4)

Remember we are all different and the main thing we can do to support our hormones is ensure that we eat whole natural foods, limit processed foods, include nourishing vegetables and fruit, stabilise blood sugar levels, reduce alcohol and caffeine and refined sugar.

(1) Bryant, M., Truesdale, K. and Dye, L., 2006. Modest changes in dietary intake across the menstrual cycle: implications for food intake research. British Journal of Nutrition, 96(5), pp.888-894.

(2) Draper, C., Duisters, K., Weger, B., Chakrabarti, A., Harms, A., Brennan, L., Hankemeier, T., Goulet, L., Konz, T., Martin, F., Moco, S. and van der Greef, J., 2019. Publisher Correction: Menstrual cycle rhythmicity: metabolic patterns in healthy women. Scientific Reports, 9(1).

(3) Cross, G., Marley, J., Miles, H. and Willson, K., 2001. Changes in nutrient intake during the menstrual cycle of overweight women with premenstrual syndrome. British Journal of Nutrition, 85(4), pp.475-482.

(4) Jas, P., 1994. The Menstrual Cycle, Mood and Appetite. Nutrition & Food Science, 94(2), pp.23-25.