Female hormonal imbalance has reached almost epidemic proportions in the Western world. PMS, irregular or heavy periods, absent periods, endometriosis, PCOD and infertility blight the lives of increasing numbers of women in their reproductive years.
The most common solution to female hormone imbalance is to impose artificial balance by using the Combined Oral Contraceptive Pill. While this may seemingly offer a solution, taking the pill to remedy hormone imbalance, fails to address any of the underlying physical, mental and emotional imbalances which often lay at the root of hormone imbalance.
Holistic healing addresses causal imbalance rather than merely treating symptoms. So what are the common causes of female hormone imbalance, and what can you do to really remedy the problem?
The main organs involved in balancing a woman’s hormones are the hypothalamus (a tiny organ in the brain), the pituitary gland and the ovaries. The hypothalamus is like the conductor in the hormonal orchestra, directing the pituitary gland to start the hormonal process which in turn stimulates ovarian function. This interaction can be negatively affected by long term or intense emotional or physical stress, irregular sleep patterns, nutritional deficiency, excessive consumption of alcohol, cigarette smoking, obesity or underweight, amongst others.
For many women, remedying hormonal imbalance involves a “whole life” approach including stress management, dietary change, exercise, along with specific corrective therapies such as acupuncture, herbal remedies etc.
The typical western diet is far from “hormone friendly”. For example PMS, dysmenorrhoea (period pain) and endometriosis are all aggravated by the typical high saturated fat consumption and processed foods of the Western diet.
An overabundance of saturated fats stimulates your body to produce an inflammatory prostaglandin (local hormone) which worsens these conditions. Try cutting down on saturated fats while increasing your intake of monounsaturates such as cold pressed olive oil, flax seed oil and avocados and your omega 3 fish oils.
Other quick fix nutritional changes for hormonal health!
Increase your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables which are high in soluble fibre, and help reduce excessive levels of circulating estrogen which aggravate endometriosis and PMS.
Stay away from the wine bottle and other alcohol. Make alcohol a once or twice a week treat rather than a nightly accompaniment to dinner. This has a great impact on PMS, especially fluid retention and breast tenderness; reduce your caffeine intake by drinking herbal teas or water decaffeinated tea and coffee. Caffeine increases excretion of many of the hormone friendly nutrients including B vitamins and magnesium. It is also a stimulant which will aggravate tension and irritability symptoms of PMS.
Many female hormonal problems are thought to be caused or aggravated by excessive exposure to environmental estrogen or estrogen like substances (collectively known as xenoestrogens. We ingest these substances through agricultural sprays used on our food; through plastics we use in the home every day such as plastic kettles and food containers and even cling film we wrap our food in. Liver detoxification helps our body to eliminate xenoestrogens from your body
We can also increase our bodily resistance through eating a diet high in phytoestrogens. Increasing phytoestrogens in your diet can also reduce PMS and endometriosis symptoms, and help support the transition through menopause when the body’s production of estrogen slowly declines.
Boost phytoestrogens by stocking up on tofu, flax seed oil and linseed (try delicious soy and linseed bread), apples, oats, carrots, pulses and legumes, alfalfa sprouts. Try drinking red clover tea daily. Phytoestrogen rich herbs include black cohosh, motherwort, licorice, burdock, wild yam and dong quai.
Take a look at the balance in your life. Female hormones are all about rhythm, flux and balance. Do your hormones mimic your life… chaotic? If the answer is yes, take some time to find ways of reducing stress. Take up tai chi or yoga, practice meditation daily, or simply make time for quiet contemplation in a busy world. Try journal keeping, affirmations, visualisations… whatever it takes to bring harmony back to your life and hormones.
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Michael is head consultant at Planet Naturopath - Functional Medicine and Nutrition Solutions. As Seen