Nutritional Therapist Claire Mahy shares simple dietary steps for women’s wellness, helping unravel the complexity surrounding eating for hormone health.
With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I have been asked questions on which foods support female hormone balance, particularly oestrogen, since a large percentage of breast cancers are sensitive to this hormone. Read on for some of my top picks.
Health is a highly complex web of interactions and we can’t neglect the other spokes which keep the wellness wheel turning (such as restful sleep, regular exercise, healthy weight, reducing toxicity, managing stress, nature and having purpose, community and joy), however that’s too much to cover in one go, so in today’s blog I’ll spotlight specific foods that support healthy oestrogen balance. Having worked with comprehensive tests which take a deep dive into hormones, I wanted to bring together some of the targeted nutrients that are considered beneficial and protective especially for women.
But FIRST The Science Part…
Like everything in life, when it comes to hormones, balance is critical, for example high levels of stress hormones profoundly impact sex hormone output. Stress always wins over reproduction. Yes, we need stress hormones, but they need to be appropriately released and how our hormones interact, or ‘dance’ together is what’s truly important. Oestrogen often receives a bad rap and can leave us feeling confused about its effects and how much we need, but it certainly has many essential roles, including female reproductive function, cardiovascular health, for bone density and supple skin and influences mood and memory.
The body makes three main types of oestrogen which fluctuate with the rhythm of life, and to put it simply too much or too little oestrogen can lead to symptoms and health risks. The amount of oestrogen is not where the story ends, as the types of oestrogen the body makes and how you detoxifies and eliminate this hormone are equally as important.
Oestrogen is mainly detoxified by the liver, therefore it’s crucial not to overburden the liver with other toxins so it can carry out it’s regular functions effectively. Perhaps less well known is how the bacteria found in our gut (part of the gut microbiome), work to metabolise and clear excess oestrogens from the body. Therefore when it comes to eating for hormone health supporting the liver and having diversity of beneficial gut bacteria are absolute pillars.
A note on genetics; whilst gene variations increase likelihood of oestrogen being metabolised a certain way, our genes do not represent the end picture. The environment in which we bathe our genes is pivotal and can change the outcome. The foods we eat, lifestyle choices we make and our environment all shape the way our genes express both positively and negatively, so I encourage you to come from a place of empowerment over fear.
So, what should we eat to support female hormone health? Of course food is always a sum of it’s constituents, which work synergistically to nourish our bodies as nature intended, but it can be interesting to delve deeper into the specifics, so below I’ve highlighted eight powerhouse nutrients that help keep hormones in check. Its cliché but oh so true, that we should eat a rainbow of organic whole foods in line with the seasons. The more variety of colours and fibres (yes there are many types of fibre) we consume the healthier our bodies will be, especially our gut bacteria which thrive on a varied diet.
First up is Resveratrol, one of the many plant compounds found in blueberries, bilberries (wild blueberries) and the skins of red grape. It’s considered an antioxidant protecting the plant against infection and stress and these health benefits are thought to be passed on when we ingest these fruits. Resveratrol also supports a balanced oestrogen metabolism through the liver.
DIM is a powerful phytonutrient derived from cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, Broccoli, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, radish, kohlrabi, bok choy, watercress). It’s one of the most potent compounds to help detoxify oestrogens. Beyond this crucifers are loaded with fibre to feed our friendly gut bugs and keep our bowels regular, helping prevent the reabsorption of oestrogen. Sprouts are not just for Christmas!
Oily fish are a rich source of omega 3 fatty acids. Think of the SMASH acronym (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herrings). On Gozo we are blessed to have an abundance of fish at the tip of our fingers and we should take advantage of this (especially wild caught), since omega 3’s are extremely anti-inflammatory and many studies have shown the value of this for female hormone related conditions.
Rosemary activates enzymes in the liver that promote the safe detoxification of oestrogen. Whilst it’s debatable how much of the active component we need to have therapeutic benefits I believe this wonder herb still deserves a mention, since it also increases GABA in the brain, a calming neurotransmitter. Pick it fresh, rub into your hands and inhale deeply – instant calm. Rosemary also adds great flavour to water, in smoothies or with roasted veg.
Phytoestrogens are compounds which mimic the action of oestrogen in the body, which at first might sound strange, but they have a Goldilocks modulating affect helping balance oestrogen levels when they are too high or too low. Excellent sources include chickpeas, sesame seeds, edamame beans, fermented soy (e.g. tempeh), lentils, flaxseed and oats.
Whist Flavanoids is another fancy term, the foods that contain high levels are pretty humble, like apples, citrus fruit and tea. Flavanoids have strong antioxidant activity as protective agents which help prevent damage to our precious cells. So an apple a day might just keep the doctor away, as apples also contain millions of health promoting bacteria which positively affect the gut ecosystem.
You may be surprised that cocoa made the cut, but I’m a firm believer in a bit of what we fancy is good for us plus cocoa is an incredibly healthful food. Cocoa contains phytoestrogens, is loaded with magnesium to help PMS and other sex hormone related conditions and it raises serotonin, one of the main feel good chemicals. To get these benefits opt for chocolate with at least 70-90% cocoa.
Pomegranates are jam packed with super nutrients which make them highly protective against chronic health conditions. They contain high levels of ellagic acid which is anticarcinogenic. Pomegranates are cultivated locally on the Maltese Islands and are currently in season, even more reason to grab ’em whilst they are fresh. Try juicing them or add their bursting seeds to a salad or enjoy as a sweet treat from nature.
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GITH Magazine’s monthly nutrition blog will be guided by you, so please email your questions or ideas to email@example.com and we will do our best to include as many as possible on this new regular feature. Stay tuned for Novembers nutrition article, which will be dedicated to male health.