There’s a lot of talk about hormones these days, and for good reason. They’re a vitally important piece of the puzzle when it comes to our overall health and feeling our best. Let’s break down what hormones are, including looking at our three main sex hormones that are responsible for so much more than reproduction, then we’ll chat about how to bring them back into balance, naturally.
Hormones are messengers in the body. They literally take “a message” from one area of the body and deliver it to another area. Think of them like a postie – they collect a letter from the postal depot, (this is the spot where the hormone is produced),then drive along the road (our hormones travel in the bloodstream) and deliver it to the right address (this is where the hormone has its action). For example, progesterone is produced in the ovaries but travels through the body and is “delivered” (ie,takes action) all over the body.
Hormones are constantly being produced, travelling around the body and stimulating a cascade of effects. This all happens automatically, without us having to think about it. It’s a complex system, and especially when it comes to women’s sex hormones, can easily be thrown out of balance.
More about sex hormones
This hormone is naturally present in much higher levels in women, but men still have some. It’s the main hormone that gives women their (traditionally) “feminine” features, such as soft skin, curves and sociability. It’s an important hormone for maintaining our bone mineral density, cardiovascular health and mind clarity. For women, its main function when it comes to reproduction is stimulating the growth of the nutrient-rich cushion of endometrial tissue that lines the uterus each month in preparation for a baby.
Another hormone that is mainly present in women, and found in very low amounts in men, progesterone is a nurturing and calming hormone (ironically most women don’t have enough of it, but more on that later!). In terms of reproduction, after ovulation occurs, it’s responsible for holding that life-giving cushion in place to allow a fertilized egg to make its home there. So adequate progesterone is very important for fertility.
Testosterone is present in both men and women, but in much higher levels in men. It has many different effects – it stimulates hair growth on the body, makes it easier to build muscle and contributes to our motivation and drive. Among other functions, testosterone gives women (and men) their libido as well as stimulating follicles – the precursor to eggs.
Why are hormones important?
On top of reproduction (because it’s not all about babies!), hormones are important because they affect how we feel on a daily basis, how we relate to people we’re close to, and how we show up in our workplace – so basically all aspects of our life! When the complex interplay of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone get a little out of tune, it can result in all sorts of symptoms. Depending on which life stage you’re at, these will look different but can include the following:
• Fatigue or feeling tired throughout the day
• Brain fog or forgetfulness
• Irritability and being short with those around us
• Heavy, painful periods, with cramping
• PMS – food cravings, moodiness, bloating, headaches
• Struggling to lose weight/stubborn weight gain
• Struggling to conceive
• Low libido, dryness or pain during sex
• Hot flashes and insomnia
Balancing it out
So why do our hormones get out of balance and what can we do about it?
It’s well established that there are some common chemicals used in everyday products, including skincare, shampoo, plastics and food, that interfere with hormone balance, particularly estrogen receptors. Pesticides, BPAs, triclosan and phthalates, among others, seem to mimic estrogen in the body, causing massive downstream effects. This is sometimes called estrogen dominance – where there’s too much estrogen, especially in comparison to our progesterone levels.
Avoid plastic food containers and drink bottles, and opt for glass instead, and use natural skin and hair care. Coconut oil, for example, is a great natural face oil. The benefit when it comes to choosing organic food is multiplied twice! You’re not consuming pesticides or herbicides and you’re consuming more nutrient-dense food.
Our body deals with a lot of stress on a daily basis. Not just emotional stress (deadlines, family, work) but also physiological stress (toxins, nutrient deficiencies, unstable blood sugars). Stress causes our body to forfeit making calming progesterone in order to make more stress hormones. Less progesterone results in PMS, heavy painful periods, and issues with fertility. I advise my clients to do one thing everyday that helps to manage stress (and emotions) in the body. It’ll look different for everyone so find a practice that suits you. This could be yoga, massage, walking in nature without your phone, meditation, journaling or taking a bath.
UNSTABLE BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS
Our blood sugar levels respond to everything we eat. Most people eat too many carbohydrates, which spike blood sugar, and not enough good-quality fats and protein, which stabilize blood sugar levels. Here are some ideas for adding more protein to diet:
• Avocado on everything
• Peanut butter, coconut cream, protein powder, LSA and/ or flaxseed oil in smoothies
• Hot smoked salmon or salami for snacks/lunch
• Make bliss balls with protein powder
Many of us are very nutrient deficient without realizing it. Magnesium is one of the most important minerals for hormone balance. Boost your intake with these foods:
• Leafy green vegetables
• Almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds
• Quinoa and brown rice
• Consider a good-quality supplement – look for magnesium glycinate (not citrate or oxide). If you struggle with sleep, take it 30 minutes before bed.
WHEN TO GET HELP
If you struggle with any of the above symptoms, a holistic nutritionist or naturopath will be able to provide guidance. If any of the above symptoms are severe enough that they are causing you to miss work, or not be able to participate in life at all, go to your GP.
The natural hormonal transition that occurs for women between about 45–55 doesn’t have to be a roller coaster of emotions, insomnia and hot flashes. The symptoms of menopause usually occur because the body has got accustomed to very high (sometimes even too high) estrogen levels and suddenly has to deal with them dropping away it takes a bit of getting used to. The above tips are just as important for anyone dealing with this transition, but if I can emphasize anything, it’s that stress management is vital.