A whopping 90% of women experience PMS symptom each month and a huge 50% of women experience severe symptoms each month.
The classic symptoms include fluid retention, bloating and weight gain, increased appetite, breast swelling and tenderness and mood changes.
That is a lot of upset hormones, tears, empty chocolate wrappers, bloated bellies and hot water bottles floating around at any one time!
On top of this endometriosis is said to affect 1 in 10 women and PCOS affecting 12-18% of women.
It is now more important than ever to eat right for your hormones.
But with information overload at your fingertips when you search 'hormones + diet' it can feel a tad overwhelming to find the answers. That is why I have taken the guesswork out of your food shop and created an essential list of hormone repairing foods.
These foods are delicious, not part of a fad diet, readily available and easy to incorporate into your weekly cook up. Backed by not just research but the results I see in clinic every day.
So stick this list on your fridge front centre if you are experiencing any hormonal imbalance because it will be your go-to everytime you run out for your weekly shop.
1. Wild Caught Salmon
Salmon contains the essential fatty acid alpha-linolenic or more commonly known as Omega-3. Our bodies cannot synthesise omega-3 therefore we need to eat it to obtain it.
Omega-3 repairs hormones by regulating prostaglandins - the guys who decide whether we do or don't experience pain. By eating salmon you are lowering the production of inflammatory prostaglandins (PG2) and increase anti-inflammatory prostaglandins (PG1). The result less pain during your period, a reduction endometriosis pain (which can sometimes be month long) and a reduction of systemic inflammation which is the root cause of a large spectrum of hormonal complaints.
Omega-3 is so effective in treating painful periods that in a recent study it came out on top when compared to ibuprofen.
Consuming salmon has also been shown to reduce the psychiatric symptoms of PMS including depression, nervousness, anxiety, and lack of concentration and may also reduce the somatic symptoms of PMS including bloating, headache and breast tenderness.
Why Wild-Caught salmon you may ask?
Wild-Caught salmon is the least tampered-with variety available as the large majority of what is available in Australia is farmed and poor quality. It is sourced from Alaska and is available frozen or canned. Read more on farmed vs wild caught seafood here.
Check out my Quick and Easy Wild-Caught Salmon Patties recipe.
* If you experience period pain be conscious of the ratio of omega-3 (salmon, walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds) : omega-6 (processed foods, meat, eggs, dairy, vegetable oils) that you are eating. Opt for three times more omega 3 than omega 6.
2. Organic Flaxseed Oil
Flaxseed oil is an underrated hustler when it comes to balancing hormones. Like salmon it contains the essential fatty acid alpha-linolenic, omega-3 which means it stops inflammatory prostaglandins from being produced and promotes anti-inflammatory pathways. This sees a reduction in painful periods and endometrial pain.
Bonus - It is also vegetarian and vegan-friendly so quite accessible to most.
A 2017 study also showed flaxseed oil supplementation for 12 weeks in women with PCOS had beneficial effects on insulin metabolism, serum triglycerides, LDL-cholesterol and inflammatory markers.
Flaxseed oil is a favourite of mine due to its versatility and ease, it can be added to salad dressings, mixed through yoghurt or simply had on its own.
* What I do need to note is the difference of flaxseed oil vs. flaxseeds. Flaxseed oil does not contain plant lignans however flaxseeds do. These lignans are phytoestrogenic and play a role in hormone health however are not suited for everyone as they may change your estrogen status. Therefore I recommend sticking with a good quality flaxseed oil like Melrose Organic Flaxseed Oil and chatting with your GP, specialist or Naturopath about flaxseed and your hormones.
3. Yoghurt (non-cows dairy)
The gut microbiota is one of the principal regulators of circulating hormones including estrogen.
Yes, your gut!
This is in part due to the enzyme beta-glucuronide which is produced by your very own colonic microflora. When beta-glucuronide is high it can inhibit the elimination of estrogen via the liver and cause it to be absorbed back into the body or 'recycled'. This can lead to an imbalance between the estrogen and progesterone in your body and may contribute to the worsening of endometriosis symptoms, infertility, weight gain, moodiness, irregular cycles, and migraines.
So in a bid to regulate our hormones we want to regulate our digestive system. In fact, this works in a bi-directional way, fix your gut = help your hormones, help your hormones = fix your gut.
How do we do this? Diversify our gut microbiota and fix dysbiosis.
Coyo coconut yoghurt is my favourite. Yoghurt contains Lactobacillus which significantly decreased fecal bacterial beta-glucuronidase and stops the recycling of estrogen back into the body. (yes that pesky beta-glucuronidase is at it again!)
Secondary to this sheeps dairy does not contain the harmful A1 casein (found in cows dairy) which disrupts immune function and stimulate the release of inflammatory cytokines leading to PMS, worsening of endometriosis and painful periods.
Add sheep's yoghurt to your smoothies, breakfast bowls or make a savoury dip or labneh, it's creamy and delicious.
* If you are lactose intolerant I suggest coconut yoghurt. If you are lactose sensitive try sheep's yoghurt in small divided dosages of around 1 tbsp 3x per day)
4. Root Vegetables
Stress affects our hormones. Root vegetables help our adrenal glands (HPA Axis) cope with stress.
Done, sorted we are cured!
Ok, I will elaborate...
We need carbs, but not just any carbs, nourishing starchy carbohydrates like root vegetables. They assist in the production of GABA, tryptophan, and serotonin which nourish our adrenal glands (sitting above your kidneys) and strengthen their response by dampening the effects of cortisol and DHEA. (To understand further how your stress response works read this article I wrote here)
The nervous system has a tendency to over produce cortisol and DHEA leading to low blood sugar which can worsen PCOS. Starchy carbohydrates will help to mitagate that effect and thus lower PCOS symptoms.
When women do not eat enough carbs this can also disrupt ovulation and cause hypothalamic amenorrhea or absense of menstruation.
So if you are not getting your cycle or it seems to be all over the place stopping a low-carb diet may benefit you.
5. Cruciferous vegetables
Brocolli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, rocket, bok choy, cabbage, kale, radish, turnips, and watercress are all delicious, oh yes and of course cruciferous too! The beauty of food is medicine is that it can be enjoyed and really connect with our bodies in the process.
Cruciferous vegetables such as those mentioned contain calcium-D-glucarate which has been shown to inhibit beta-glucuronidase (Beta-glucuronidase jumps into the picture again!). By consuming a range of these vegetables each day you are assisting in the correct elimination of hormones, or excess hormones in some cases, from the body. This is through a process called phase II liver detoxification.
Not only do cruciferous vegetables inhibit beta-gluceronidate, they also produce sulforaphane which we love for liver health, immune regulation and as an anti-inflammatory. Sulforaphane is produced upon damage to the plant eg. chewing into a big piece of broccoli through the release of myrosinase.
Sulforaphane has been shown to reduce immune cell proliferation and production of proinflammatory cytokines which means it will assist in lowering pain associated with menstruation, cysts, endometriosis and during ovulation.
Sulforaphane also assists in phase II detox by increasing in the hydrophilicity of the metabolite eg. estrogen, theoretically leading to enhanced excretion in the bile thus colon and/or urine.
* Very high intakes of cruciferous vegetables have been found to cause hypothyroidism (insufficient production of thyroid hormones) in animals so if you have a thyroid condition please consult your GP, specialist or naturopath before consuming.
So if you are experiencing PMS, irregular periods, PCOS, painful periods or endometriosis it may be time to re-jig your diet and start prioritising those foods designed to balance your hormones and get you feeling your good self again. Have any questions or want to book in with one of our naturopaths for personalised advice? You can get in touch with us here.
Jennifer Ward, Adv Dip Nat, Bcom Econ
Jennifer is a leading naturopath trained in herbal medicine, nutritional medicine, and health coaching. Consultations available by appointment at www.jenniferwardnaturopath.com.au. For speaking engagement enquiries or to collaborate email email@example.com.
(sit down with a cuppa, these reads are a little science-y! Read complexity 3/5)
Check out some of my favourite hormone friendly recipes here.