Hormonal imbalances and how food can help

Hormones are responsible for a lot more than just a poor mood or heavy periods.

Hormonal imbalances in both men and women can impact sleep quality, concentration, hunger levels and memory.

“Hormones are essentially the remote control of the body, which help control our functioning,” says fertility dietitian Selin Ramadan.. “Every day, our actions are dictated by our hormones.”

For example, insulin is a hormone that helps regulate blood glucose levels. Serotonin is considered both a neurotransmitter and a hormone that plays a role in mood, digestion and sleep. Leptin regulates body weight and ghrelin stimulates appetite.

Over the long-term, hormonal imbalances can be associated with a host of health conditions including high cholesterol, osteoporosis, obesity, uterine fibroids, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and type 2 diabetes.

What should I eat?

Some health conditions resulting in a hormonal imbalance may have higher prevalence rates in certain cultures. Indigenous Australians are around four times as likely to have type 2 diabetes than non-Indigenous Australians. People of Asian heritage also experience a higher rate of type 2 diabetes when compared to those of European heritage.

Uterine fibroids are diagnosed in up to 70 percent of white women and more than 80 percent of women of African ancestry during their lifetime.

Diet can also affect your risk of developing (or preventing) these hormonal diseases, even if you have a genetic predisposition to them.

“The food you eat will be the building blocks of all of the different hormones and chemicals in the body that are essential for healthy functioning,” pregnancy and pediatric dietitian, Dr Anita Star, tells SBS.

“The food you eat can also be the building blocks of hormones and chemicals that cause damage to our bodies as well. That’s why diet really matters when you’re attempting to balance your hormones. ”

“The food you eat will be the building blocks of all the different hormones and chemicals in the body that are essential for healthy functioning.”

Hormonal imbalances are diverse, varying in severity from person to person, as are the associated dietary approaches needed to address them.

However, both experts agree that there are also some general food tips that, when followed, can help the management of many hormonal imbalances.

Lots of fiber-fueled plants

Studies suggest that a plant-based diet can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and better regulate insulin if you already have type 2 diabetes.

A plant-based diet featuring beans, chickpeas and lentils can also help to improve insulin resistance, which can benefit people living with type 2 diabetes and PCOS.

One reason why is that plant-based diets usually contain a lot of fiber. “Fiber, sourced from whole foods, is really important for all hormonal imbalance issues,” explains Ramadan.

For example, consider estrogen dominance. Symptoms of estrogen dominance include migraines, fluid retention, irregular periods, weight gain and fatigue. High levels of estrogen are associated with some cancers (breast and ovarian), endometriosis and PCOS.

“When oestrogen is metabolized in the body, it sits in the bowels ready to be excreted,” she says. One effect of this [over the long-term] is that you may develop estrogen dominance.

“But, if you consume enough fiber in your diet, estrogen is excreted from the bowel faster. So look to include some sort of fiber at every meal, building up your fiber intake throughout the course of the day.”

Nuts, olive oil and oily fish

Fat intake and healthy fats are essential for hormone production. “Some hormones are manufactured in the body from fat so we need to have healthy fats in the diet to actually produce these hormones,” says Dr. Star. “It’s important to have a diet that is rich in healthy fats.”

Foods that are high in healthy fats include nuts, seeds, oily fish, olive oil and avocado.

“Salmon and other forms of oily fish are great for people with PCOS to eat,” Ramadan adds. “They have a beautiful amount of omega threes, which are anti-inflammatory, helping to mitigate some inflammatory responses that we often see with PCOS when blood sugars are high.”

Ramadan specifically recommends Brazil nuts out of all the nuts for hormonal regulation. “Brazil nuts contain selenium, calcium and magnesium, which are all important nutrients to help regulate a woman’s hormonal cycle. Foods that are rich in selenium are also great for an underactive thyroid. ”

Salmon and yellowfin tuna are also high in selenium.

Bright colored vegetables and fruits

Foods that are high in antioxidants may improve our hormonal regulation. That includes wholegrains, fruit and vegetables like blueberries, artichokes, red cabbage, raspberries, red grapes, kale and orange vegetables like sweet potato.

“We are exposed to a lot of environmental hormones, whether that’s through our food or plastics or pollution or smoking,” says Ramadan. “We can counteract their negative effects by eating foods that are high in antioxidants.”

Research suggests that antioxidants may help the body excrete excess testosterone and estrogen. A diet high in antioxidants may also reduce the risk of many diseases including some cancers.

“There’s so much you can do to improve the management of your condition if you have a hormonal imbalance.”

Ramadan concedes that despite all the food tips above, some hormonal imbalances may be hard to manage.

“It’s not easy [to manage a hormonal health condition] but having the right kind of support to help you is really important. Health professionals like dietitians are there to help you understand how to eat for your health and manage your lifestyle. You don’t have to do it alone. “

If you have a hormonal condition or are experiencing the symptoms of a hormonal imbalance, always consult a medical professional for support and personalized advice.

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