Why does it seem that we slip into hormonal imbalance so easily? It’s always a balancing act to get those hormones in line! Well, my friend, it’s because of the many chemicals, pesticides, and toxins in the environment as well as stress.
The Many Faces of Estrogen
As women, our hormones are constantly fluctuating. And with our toxin-filled, stressful environment, we tend to be in hormonal chaos a lot of the time. Sometimes all it takes is one stressful event or a few sleepless nights to throw everything off!
Estrogen dominance is something many women experience, causing symptoms such as irregular periods, headaches, breast tenderness, bloating, and decreased libido. Read more about estrogen dominance here.
Xenoestrogens are partly to blame. These estrogens are endocrine disruptors found in cosmetics, plastics (like BPA), food preservatives, pesticides, and household products. These chemicals have the potential to disrupt our natural hormonal process. Not to scare you, but they are everywhere!
And then don’t even get me started on stress. Stress produces the hormone cortisol, which interferes with normal hormone production. Read more about how stress causes hormonal imbalance.
Conventional medicine commonly turns to birth control and hormonal replacement therapy to help correct hormonal imbalance. The issue with these treatments is that they don’t address the root cause of why hormones are out of whack in the first place. They merely alleviate the symptoms and are not without their side effects.
I never questioned my doctor when she recommended birth control for my painful periods and acne. However, there are so many natural options for balancing our hormones. In my opinion, the best way to do this is through diet and lifestyle.
There is a different kind of estrogen that can actually support normal estrogen balance in the body, and this estrogen comes from our food.
Phytoestrogens – What Are They?
Phytoestrogens are plant estrogens found in legumes, peas, lentils, seeds, oranges, broccoli, apples, soy, whole grains. Sometimes when we hear the term “estrogen,” we think we need to steer clear. But actually, phytoestrogens can be very beneficial for menopause, menstruation, and helping to prevent osteoporosis (1,2).
You might be thinking, why would I want to use phytoestrogens if I’m estrogen dominant?
Phytoestrogens work in a very interesting way – adapting to your body’s own estrogen supply. If you have a lot of circulating estrogen, then phytoestrogens will act like a weak estrogen in the body. However, if you have low amounts of estrogen, then phytoestrogens will stimulate estrogen receptors. Pretty darn cool.
By incorporating phytoestrogen-rich food into our diets, we may find relief from menopausal symptoms as well as a decreased risk for osteoporosis, breast cancer, and heart disease. Phytoestrogens help prevent inflammation as well as slow down cell growth. They also act on our estrogen receptors in a way the body needs them to.
How Can We Incorporate Them into Our Diet?
My favorite way to incorporate phytoestrogens is through flaxseed meal. This is a versatile food that can be added to practically any meal – smoothies, on top of oatmeal, on top of your nice-cream, in your salad dressing, or even just sprinkled on top of your veggies.
Flaxseed contains lignans, which are some of the best phytonutrients for supporting estrogen metabolism. Not only that, but flaxseed is a rich source of potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
Start with 1 teaspoon a day and then increase to 1-2 tablespoons a day. Because it is a fiber, it can increase gas and bloating, which is why it’s best to start small. Also, be sure to increase your intake of water when consuming more fiber.
A Word About Soy
I was never a big soy fan and when a doctor once told me to eat more soy to reduce the pain of menstruation, I told myself she didn’t know what she was talking about. Soy is one of those controversial nutrition topics that health professionals often argue over.
Soy has been shown to be helpful for menopausal symptoms as it contains high amounts of phytoestrogens. There is, however, an important caveat to soy – most of it is genetically modified and a lot of soy products are highly processed. In addition, soy can be difficult for the body to break down and utilize, so if your gut is not in good shape, you won’t be able to reap the benefits.
That being said, there are forms of soy that are less processed and even fermented to aid in digestion, such as tempeh and miso paste. These fermented forms of soy make the phytoestrogens more available and absorbable.
Just don’t go overboard on the soy – it has been shown to negatively impact thyroid function. Everything in moderation!
There are plenty of herbal estrogens if you’re not a beans and soy kinda gal. For women experiencing menopausal symptoms, relief might be found in the following herbs:
Black cohosh – may help reduce hot flashes, night sweats, and anxiety
Chaste tree berry (aka Vitex) – may help shift the ratio of estrogen to progesterone in progesterone’s favor
Dong quai – a uterine tonic
Licorice – can support healthy cortisol levels to support adrenal health
Red Clover – may help reduce hot flashes
A tea made from a blend of these herbs could be beneficial in supporting hormonal balance and even helping to reduce the symptoms of hot flashes. I would also add in sage as sage tea can help alleviate symptoms of menopause.
The Bottom Line
As always, don’t leave it all up to your doctor to dictate your health. Do you research, ask for alternatives, and know that you have options. If you’re not sure if conventional hormonal treatment is for you, try some natural remedies first. Just know that it does take time for natural remedies to do their thing, so have patience and keep at it!
A whole foods diet with a variety of foods will help to regulate hormonal imbalances. Be sure to incorporate lots of phytonutrients and herbal teas to help you get those hormones in check.
If you’re local and you need some help finding natural medicine practitioners, reach out to me and I’ll hook you up!
Thanks for the informative post, Katie! I love what you said about soy, since it gets such a bad rep!
Thanks for your comment, Chelsea! There are so many controversies in the field of nutrition, soy being one of them!