In last week’s blog post, we discussed what hormonal imbalance can look like. Experiencing symptoms such as severe cramping, irregular periods, and heavy bleeding, along with conditions such as endometriosis or PCOS, are strong indicators that hormones are out of balance. The balance between the female sex hormones can be easily thrown off by a diet void in nutrients and stressors we experience daily. Having your hormone levels tested is the first step in addressing hormonal imbalance. From there, there are actionable steps that you can take to begin balancing your hormones.
Xenoestrogen exposure, impaired liver function, eating high estrogenic foods, nutritional deficiencies, and gut dysbiosis were factors covered in the previous blog post that can contribute to estrogen dominance. Other factors not explored in the previous article, but are still worth noting, include stress levels and poor sleep. Both have been shown to impact the delicate balance of our hormones.The suggestions below are general in nature and it is best to consult with your medical provider and nutrition coach before taking any supplements or medications
Minimizing xenoestrogen exposure- We find xenoestrogens (synthetic chemicals that mimic estrogen) in so many different products from personal care products and household cleaners to commercial food products and plastics. To help minimize your exposure, you want to limit the contact you have with such products. While that might seem overwhelming, there are small steps that you can do to gradually reduce your exposure over time. When I was replacing my personal care products (shampoo/conditioner, cosmetics, toothpaste, body lotion, etc.), I waited until I had finished a product and then searched for a safer option. I used the EWG Skin Deep database to help me find products that didn’t contain questionable ingredients. For foods that could potentially contain xenoestrogens, we shifted to purchasing meat that was from pasture-raised animals and wild seafood. Also, we reduced the amount of plastics we had within our home (swapped out plastic for wooden cutting boards, switched to non-plastic spoons and spatulas that we use while cooking, and strive to use reusable silicone bags instead of plastic ones. These safer swaps took about a year to make within our home (and we are still working on some other safer swaps), so please do not think you have to do this overnight!
Supporting your liver- If the liver is not functioning optimally, it will have difficulty clearing estrogen. With well over 200 functions in the body, the liver also helps us with detoxification, absorbing nutrients, activating Vitamin D, and creating bile (which is needed to break down fats and eliminate toxins). When our liver is having to work harder to address other toxins in the body (like alcohol), estrogen will continue to circulate within the body, building up your level of estrogen. To support the liver, decreasing alcohol consumption is highly recommended. Along with decreasing alcohol, choosing whole, real foods will decrease the overall burden on the liver. Choosing local, organic, unrefined and seasonal foods, when possible, will decrease the intake of toxins from our foods, allowing the liver to be able to function the way it is supposed to. Foods to focus on include cruciferous vegetables, radishes, beets, bitter vegetables, onions, garlic, and sour foods. Consuming beet kvass and dandelion root tea are also helpful in supporting the liver.
Being aware of phytoestrogenic foods- Phytoestrogenic foods are foods that contain plant-derived xenoestrogens. There are varying levels to how “potent” the concentration is of phytoestrogens. The three main categories of these phytoestrogens are isaflavones (such as legumes- most potent), coumestans (sprouting plants), and lignans (like flaxseeds). Deciding on if these foods should be eliminated or limited is more complex than a simple yes or no, and is a hotly debated topic. Factors that are needed to be taken into consideration include the female's health status, age, amount of phytoestrogens consumed, and gut microbiome. One approach to using phytoestrogenic foods to help support hormonal balance is doing seed cycling. Seed cycling is when you consume specific seeds during different times within your cycle. In the first phase, you can boost estrogen by consuming 1 tablespoon of freshly ground flaxseed and 1 tablespoon of pumpkin seeds daily during days 1-14 (day 1 is the first day of your period). In the second phase, which should happen right after ovulation, you consume 1 tablespoon of ground sesame seeds and 1 tablespoon of sunflower seeds daily during days 15-28 to increase progesterone. What is fascinating by doing seed cycling is that the flaxseeds adapts to the body’s needs within the cycle. When estrogen levels are too high, flaxseed contains lignans that can bind to excess estrogen and then be eliminated from the body. The flaxseed is paired with pumpkin seeds because the pumpkin seeds are naturally high in zinc, which ultimately helps with progesterone being produced in the luteal phase. In the second phase, sesame seeds are also high in zinc to continue supporting the production of progesterone, while also being high in selenium which can help block out estrogen. Sunflower seeds are also consumed during this phase to support progesterone levels due to their vitamin E levels.
Boosting your nutrient stores- Eating a Standard American Diet (mostly processed/refined foods with minimal intake of nutrient-dense foods) will leave the body deficient in key vitamins and minerals. While taking a high-quality multi-vitamin can help, along with targeted supplementation, it is also important to add in nutrient-dense foods into the diet. Those with estrogen dominance tend to have deficiencies in zinc, copper, magnesium, and B-complex vitamins.
Balancing the gut microbiome- Having more “bad” gut bacteria than “good” can not only contribute to other health problems such as allergies, digestive issues, joint pain, and fatigue, it can also throw off the balance of estrogen. To help support a healthy microbiome, there are several things a person can do:
-Only use antibiotics when absolutely necessary as antibiotics can kill off healthy gut bacteria
-Reduce exposures to toxins
-Increase intake of fiber (think vegetables)
-Chew foods thoroughly and slowly to optimize digestion
-Decrease use of NSAIDs
-Increasing consumption of prebiotic rich foods
-Consuming probiotic foods, and possibly even taking a probiotic such as Lactobacillus acidophilus or Bifidobacterium infantis.
If you believe that you have estrogen dominance, or even a different type of hormonal imbalance, you deserve to have your symptoms be taken seriously. I have been in doctor's appointments where the doctor dismissed my symptoms and refused to do additional lab work to confirm my suspicions. While these symptoms and conditions might be common, they are anything but normal! And, as we have covered today, there are actionable steps you can take to begin balancing your hormones today!