Just like you, I’ve suffered from many hormonal imbalances. At first, I bought into the belief that hormonal problems are genetic or that the causes are “unknown.”
Some of you may have been told that there is little you can do about your hormones apart from taking birth control pills or supplementing your body’s natural hormones. This may be the case for some women, but what I have discovered on my journey is that there is more.
I’ve found that hormonal balance requires healthy digestion, stable sugar levels, and a well-functioning liver. Restoring your gut, sugar levels, and liver health will not only rebalance your hormones but will reverse many other, seemingly unconnected ailments that might have been plaguing you for years, such as seasonal allergies, hives, chronic pain, depression, and anxiety.
I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to lead large online communities of women who have gone through my hormone-balancing diet, with life-changing results. When I polled the community about the biggest change that this way of eating had created for them, I thought I was going to read replies pertaining to weight loss, better sleep, or better mental function. To my surprise, the biggest benefit the women reported was having learned to “listen” to their bodies.
This skill will set you free.
For some of you, just eliminating gluten and dairy from your diet might resolve years of suffering. For others (and that’s me), it takes some real tuning in and figuring out what foods your body loves and what it rejects. By eating the “rejected” foods, you are in a constant state of inflammation that won’t bring you to hormonal balance and bliss.
I learned to cook because I had to—to save my life and sanity. I’m 45 years old. I’ve gone through having Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s disease, adrenal fatigue stage II, estrogen dominance, and hypoglycemia. I’ve battled chronic Candida, heavy-metal poisoning, bacterial infections (H. pylori), and parasitic infections (many times!), and I’ve had active Epstein-Barr virus (aka mononucleosis). Despite “eating well,” I’ve suffered irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). For years, I dealt with an addiction to coffee and cigarettes. My neurotransmitters were so out of whack at one point that I became abusive to the one person I loved the most, which ended our many future plans and hopes. Yet despite all this, I came out on the other end. I’m in better health today than I have been since I was 20 years old.
What I have learned is that our health is a journey, especially for those of us with difficult childhoods, past trauma, and undetected lingering infections. This journey can be highly frustrating and unrewarding at times; after all, I’ve committed my life resources to healing and I do not always get the results I hope for. Nevertheless, I’ve come to appreciate this journey, as with every obstacle comes deep understanding and discovery that you will learn and benefit from. What fascinates me equally is how this journey has armed me with the “soft” coping skills of patience and self-forgiveness. Without those, there will be no healing.
So, back to hormones. They are responsible for how you think, feel, and look. A woman with balanced hormones is sharp and upbeat, with a good memory. She feels energetic without caffeine during the day, falls asleep quickly, and wakes refreshed. She is blessed with a healthy appetite and maintains a desired weight with a good diet. Her hair and skin glow. She feels emotionally balanced and responds to stress with grace and reason. When menstruating, her menses comes and goes with no or little PMS. She has an active sex life. She can maintain a full-term pregnancy. When entering perimenopause or menopause, she slides into a new phase of life with ease. If that doesn’t describe you, your hormones are imbalanced. Don’t despair. You are not alone. Millions of women experience hormonal imbalance. The good news is, you can rebalance your hormones naturally and resolve your symptoms. Here are a few quick ways to start to assess what imbalances you might be suffering from.
High Cortisol: You are in a state of chronic stress, and your adrenals are working extra hard. Family issues, poor relationships, job problems, finances, overexercising, and past trauma and abuse could be causes, as could chronic digestive issues or infections.
Low Cortisol: If you have low cortisol levels, you have had high cortisol levels for a while now and your adrenals are therefore too tired to produce sufficient cortisol. To confirm whether you do have low cortisol levels, it’s important to get a diagnosis from a qualified functional physician and get a urine or saliva test four times a day.
Low Progesterone: Low progesterone can be caused by excess cortisol levels (from chronic stress) or excess estradiol, the antagonistic estrogen produced in your body or introduced externally as synthetic estrogens (known as “xenoestrogens”) from skin-care and house-cleaning products. High cortisol levels are inflammatory and can block progesterone receptors, inhibiting progesterone from doing its work. When stressed, we end up with less progesterone.
High Estrogen (Estrogen Dominance): This condition can manifest in a few ways. You could have more estradiol (E2), the antagonistic estrogen, compared with estriol (E3) and estrone (E1), which often happens when many xenoestrogens, or synthetic estrogens, are present in your life. Second, you might have insufficient progesterone to oppose estradiol (even if your estradiol levels are within range). Estrogen dominance can also happen when there are more antagonistic estrogen metabolites (which are the byproducts of estrogen metabolism). Visceral fat also produces estradiol. Women with high testosterone levels (and often polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS) can suffer from estrogen dominance, too. This is because testosterone gets converted to estradiol in the aromatization process. Inhibiting this process can break the cycle of estrogen production and relieve symptoms of estrogen dominance.
Low Estrogen: Declining estrogen levels typically happen to women going into perimenopause and menopause, but I have seen young women suffering from stress and toxic lifestyles experience this too. The ovaries are producing less estrogen because of aging, stress (and high cortisol levels), or toxicity.
High Testosterone (Androgen Dominance): The leading cause is high sugar levels. Polycystic ovarian syndrome is commonly caused by androgen dominance. While making dietary changes, get a formal diagnosis of PCOS and high testosterone level.
Low Testosterone: Most often, when the adrenals are exhausted, they also underproduce testosterone.
Underactive Thyroid (Hypothyroidism and/or Hashimoto’s Disease): Sadly, too many thyroid conditions go undiagnosed because of incomplete tests and wrong lab ranges that conventional doctors use. The consensus among functional practitioners is that 30 percent of the population experiences subclinical hypothyroidism (this means the symptoms are subtle). This could be an underestimate. One study in Japan found 38 percent of the healthy subjects to have elevated thyroid antibodies (indicating the body’s immune system attacking the thyroid). Another study reports that 50 percent of patients, mostly women, have thyroid nodules. If you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, it was most likely caused by Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune condition. When you put out the fire in your gut and the immune system, you may see your thyroid health improve and symptoms subside or go away.
Insulin Resistance or Leptin Resistance: If you eat processed carbohydrates (including cereals, puffy rice, breads, bagels, pasta, cakes, and cookies), sugar (found in incredibly high amounts in most packaged foods), or processed proteins (such as protein shakes), it’s likely you have a problem with sugar. It first manifests with high and/or low blood-sugar levels (you feel cranky, unfocused, lightheaded, and tired when hungry) and ends up with a full metabolic disorder such as insulin or leptin resistance. Women suffering from high testosterone or PCOS tend to have elevated sugar levels or insulin or leptin resistance. The good news is this: These conditions are completely reversible with diet, exercise, detoxification, and stress management The key to balance is not too much or too little of any hormone. Where fat is stored in your body can tell a bigger picture—one of a hormonal imbalance.
Listening To Your Body
Once you know about the role of food in balancing hormones, you can create daily eating habits that work best for you. Certainly, eating a whole-food diet and an abundance of green, leafy vegetables while reducing the amount of processed foods, sugar, and alcohol in your diet is a good place to start. But there is no one-size-fits-all diet plan or nutritional protocol that will work for every single woman. You have probably noticed that the same food affects you and a family member or friend differently. Perhaps your best friend can’t stop talking about how great quinoa is, but you find it upsets your stomach. Or, you love fermented vegetables as a good source of probiotics, but your colleague can’t tolerate them, breaking out in hives and feeling itchy and anxious after just a bite. One person’s health food can be another person’s poison. The only way to find a diet that supports your health is to respect your body and listen to what it tells you about which foods are friends and which are foes. Start with small changes and the recipes here, and see what you notice.
About the Author
Magdalena Wszelaki is a holistic nutrition coach and founder of the popular Hormones & Balance online community. Learn more at hormonesbalance.com.
Excerpted from Cooking for Hormone Balance by Magdalena Wszelaki, HarperOne, 2018. Reprinted with permission.