Hormones affect our weight, skin, sleep and more—here’s how to look after your hormonal health.
When do you think about your hormones? Perhaps it’s when you see the tell-tale signs of your period, not thanks to the sudden breakout of pimples on your face; or maybe it’s when you get a flashback of high school when you first entered puberty. While hormones are likely a less thought-about topic in our daily lives, it’s actually an integral part of our health and wellness.
Here, we talk to Kim Murphy, a Hong Kong-based qualified clinical nutritionist with more than 30 years of experience to understand more about hormones.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR WOMEN TO HAVE BALANCED HORMONES
“When our hormonal and nervous systems are able to work in harmony with each other, we look and feel our best,” says Murphy. “When our hormones are imbalanced, however, we can feel lethargic, irritable, anxious and depressed,” she expands. While both men and women can experience hormonal imbalance, women, in particular, experience more hormone fluctuations over the course of their lifetime with the most notable times being during puberty, pregnancy, perimenopause and postmenopause.
“Hormones can control the growth, development, and metabolism of the body, as well as the electrolyte composition of bodily fluids, and reproduction,” Murphy says.
THE TWO PRIMARY FEMALE HORMONES AND THEIR ROLES
Estrogen: This hormone plays a vital role in cardiovascular health, development and functioning of the skeletal system. It also plays a protective effect on one’s cardiovascular system. Estrogen is also the key to maintaining body weight, as it is responsible for the reduction of adipose tissue—aka body fat.
Progesterone: Progesterone increases collagen synthesis, helping you maintain skin health and appearance.
WHAT DOES FEMALE HORMONAL IMBALANCE LOOK LIKE
Bloating: Estrogen causes your body to retain water, which can lead to bloating.
Fatigue: Excess progesterone can make you sleepy. And if your thyroid—the butterfly-shaped gland in your neck—makes too little thyroid hormone, it can sap your energy.
Irritability/mood swings: For some women, uncomfortable symptoms such as lower back pain, headaches and mood swings can occur approximately one to two weeks before menstruation. This period of time is also known as premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Mood swings are also one of the most common symptoms of menopause.
Hair loss: When the levels of estrogen and progesterone decrease, hair growth slows down and hair becomes much thinner. A decrease in these hormones also triggers an increase in the production of androgens or a group of male hormones.
Palpitations: Heart palpitations are a direct result of lower levels of estrogen, which leads to an overstimulation of the heart.
Brain Fog: During stages of hormone fluctuations such as menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and before and during menopause, our bodies can cause shifts in brain chemistry and temporarily affect mental clarity.
WHAT CAN WE DO IF WE HAVE IMBALANCED HORMONES?
Visit a professional
If you suspect that you have imbalanced hormones, Murphy suggests visiting a professional who specialises in hormone treatment to come up with a unique treatment plan tailored to you.
To start off, she suggests taking the Dried Urine Test for Comprehensive Hormones (DUTCH) to help measure your body’s current levels of cortisol, cortisone, estradiol, melatonin and other hormones. Unlike the hormone blood tests, DUTCH zooms into one’s cortisol rhythms and estrogen metabolism to get comprehensive information on the person’s overall health—something that blood or saliva tests are unable to provide.
“Your treatment plan may also investigate your vitamin, mineral and iron levels. Aside from applying dietary medications and supplements, your doctor may also prescribe treatments such as Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT),” says Murphy. “BHRT is a natural solution that uses biologically identical replacement hormones available in the form of pills, creams, gels and skin patches to gently balance your hormones.”
Steps to take at home
However, visiting the doctor isn’t the only solution to hormonal imbalance, according to Murphy—There are steps you can take today to help balance your hormones on your own.
She suggests eating a plant-based diet with plenty of high-fibre whole grains, vegetables, fruits and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as avocados and nuts.
On top of that, she advises against eating certain foods or to try and eat them in moderation. Food such as red meat, which increases the production of estrogen in your body can worsen hormonal imbalance. Soy products can also affect one’s ovulation cycle due to the bioactive substance it contains. Sugar and other stimulants such as alcohol and coffee are also best to be limited as they could worsen fatigue and disturb sleep cycles. A change of lifestyle habits such as learning to manage your stress and keeping a better sleep routine can also help, she says.
“No system in the body acts alone and so balance across the whole body is important,” Murphy concludes. “Like a well-tuned car, we need to keep each part functioning to its maximum potential.”