Spotty skin, headaches, chocolate cravings, breast tenderness, anxiety and tearfulness often accompany menstruation. But balancing your hormones can eliminate these issues. Nutritionist Jodie Abrahams explains how…
Jodie Abrahams is an east London-based nutritional therapist specialising in women’s health. She takes a science-based, holistic approach, supporting women to find ways of eating that suit their individual biology, lifestyle and goals.
Sometimes you just feel hormonal. It’s not always easy to put your finger on exactly what the feeling is, or even what’s behind the sensation.
Hormonal symptoms affect women differently. Maybe your skin breaks out every month, or you’re popping ibuprofen for the first couple of days of your period. You might develop a chocolate addiction or lose it with strangers on the bus.
Other symptoms of hormonal imbalance can include anxiety, tearfulness, breast tenderness, a zapped libido and night sweats. But why do some of us suffer, while others get their periods without so much as a twinge?
Our individual genes, diets, environments and lifestyles all play a role. But there are some general principles for supporting hormonal balance to help you feel more like yourself all month long. Healthier hormones aren’t just about easier periods though. A better balance can also boost fertility, skin health, weight management and mood.
Hydration, hydration, hydration
1. First things first, make sure you’re well hydrated by drinking 1.5-2 litres of water each day. Proper hydration helps to ensure that you’re properly detoxifying and eliminating any excess or old hormones that your body no longer needs. Drinking enough water also improves your digestion, energy levels, skin and mood – who doesn’t want that?
Stress and your hormones
2. In times of high stress, our bodies prioritise the production of cortisol at the expense of our sex hormones. Unsurprisingly, this has a knock on effect on how we feel and function. So you might notice worse PMS, spottier skin, overwhelming sugar cravings and irregular – or even absent – periods during times of intense or prolonged stress.
The reality is, life can be stressful, and sometimes stressful situations are unavoidable. Getting stressed about being stressed is obviously counter-productive. Take a deep breath.
You can take practical steps to help your body cope better with physical, emotional and psychological stressors. Making space in your life for techniques like meditation and gentle exercise, along with increasing nutrients that support the body’s resilience to stress, can have a big impact.
3. Magnesium (AKA the relaxation mineral) calms the nervous system, regulates cortisol, aids sleep and helps stabilise blood sugar. It can also soothe menstrual cramps as it’s a muscle relaxant. Magnesium is depleted when we’re stressed, so you should keep your stores up and replenish it regularly.
To boost magnesium levels, eat plenty of dark green leafy veg like spinach, chard, kale, and cabbage. Plus wholegrains, beans and legumes, almonds, cashews and seeds such as pumpkin, sesame and sunflower. You can also take regular epsom salt baths to relax and unwind with the added bonus of absorbing magnesium from the salts through your skin.
4. Although they might be just what you’re craving, refined sugars in chocolate, sweets, cakes and biscuits actually increase the impact of stress on the body. Caffeine and alcohol can also over-stimulate an already strained nervous system. Limiting (or even better, avoiding) them can help you feel more balanced.
Take a load off your liver
5. The liver plays a central role in hormonal balance, as it processes excess and old hormones to stop them circulating in the bloodstream. Cruciferous veg like broccoli, cabbage, kale, watercress, rocket, radishes and pak choi contain compounds which support the liver to detoxify hormones, so aim to eat some every day.
6. It’s worth giving thought to environmental toxins and hormone disrupting chemicals that we encounter in daily life. We can be exposed to these through pollution, pesticides, skincare products, plastic food and drink packaging and chemicals in household cleaning products.
Opt for organic food and glass and stainless steel food and drink containers as much as you can. And choose organic skincare that avoids ingredients including parabens, sodium lauryl/laureth sulphate, formaldehyde and synthetic ‘fragrance’.
Hormones and your gut
7. It’s all very well supporting your liver to detoxify effectively, but if you can’t eliminate waste products from your body, they are re-absorbed back into the bloodstream. This doubles the workload for your liver.
Keeping your digestive system ‘regular’ is essential to maintaining hormonal balance. Fibre helps to move waste through the bowel and supports the elimination of hormones and toxins processed by the liver. Switching from refined grains to wholegrains and increasing fruit and veg, nuts, seeds, pulses and legumes will easily bump up your fibre intake.
8. The bacteria in your gut also play an important role in your hormones. As well as supporting immunity and our absorption of nutrients, our microflora can also help to regulate oestrogen. Eat probiotic foods like live yoghurt, keffir, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha to help populate your gut with good bugs.
If you’re interested in personalised nutrition and lifestyle support, visit jodieabrahams.com for details of Jodie’s consultation plans. You can also sign up there to receive regular recipes, tips and news of upcoming talks and workshops. Jodie is also on Instagram and Facebook.
Photo credit: Annie Spratt