Out of balance female hormones can be crazy annoying and even debilitating.
Headaches, pms, infertility, moodiness, brain fog, fatigue, skipped or long periods, hot flashes. Yuck!
Who has time for that? No woman I know.
Getting your hormones back into balance can be straight forward for some and tricky for others, depending what is throwing them off balance. It is important to look “upstream” of the symptoms and consider other causes for hormone problems other than dysfunctioning ovaries or age. Our hormones depend on a delicate balance and communicate with each other constantly. If there are one or two misbehaving upstream the rest fall out of whack and cause frustrating symptoms. These upstream culprits include-
Blood sugar imbalance- Spikes in the hormone insulin and the stress that puts on the body can throw off sex hormones. Try getting enough fat/protein/fiber in each meal and snack to help regulate blood sugar. Healthy fats (the backbone for sex hormones) include nuts, seeds, avocados, eggs, and olive oil. Clean proteins include grass fed pasture raised meats. Fiber is best found in organic vegetables and fruit.
Dysfunctioning detoxification by the liver resulting in an accumulation or dominance of estrogen – Try eating more cruciferous vegetables to help the liver get the specific nutrients it needs to detox efficiently and then for your body to get rid of what is not needed effectively. Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale, and cauliflower. Doing a seasonal cleanse to give the Liver time to rest and rejuvenate is extremely beneficial as well.
Overall inflammation in your body. The adrenals kick into overdrive producing round the clock cortisol hormone when there is chronic inflammation in the body which directly affects progesterone levels, your cool and calm hormone. Reduce inflammation by removing any triggers and adding anti inflammatory agents such as turmeric and ginger. Look here for commonly missed causes of chronic stress.
It can take time to get things back into balance and can vary depending who you are and what your unique situation is. However, by including these important foods in your diet everyday you just may shift the terrain and get the relief you need from the pesky symptoms of hormone imbalance.
Mountain Rebalance is offering a 4 week Hormone Balancing Series coming soon! Join us if you want to feel your best, get the motivation to make sustainable changes, and connect with other kick butt women.
Nakayama, Andrea. Functional Nutrition Alliance. Full Body Systems 2018
Brighten, Jolene. Beyond the Pill. Harper Collins. New York, NY. 2019
Most people think blood sugar sugar is only something that diabetics have to think about and monitor. This is far from the truth. We are all impacted by blood sugar swings and the key is keeping those swings from being too high and low.
I work with a lot of people who consider themselves pretty healthy and this is even true for them.
Hormones are impossible to balance if our blood sugar is swinging high and low. Blood sugar, insulin, and cortisol are very closely related. When our stress pathway (our sympathetic nervous system) is activated cortisol plays a role in increasing our blood sugar so we are prepared to fight, flight or flee. On the flip side, if our blood sugar gets too high or low our stress response is activated increasing cortisol as our body tries to regain homeostasis, or balance.
Melatonin (our sleep hormone) is also tightly connected to blood sugar. We need our blood sugar optimal during the night so that our stress pathway is not activated and then responsible for waking us up in the middle of the night because of a drop in blood sugar.
What goes up must come down.
If our blood sugar is fluctuating up and down too high during the day it will most likely continue to do so during the night, disrupting our melatonin (and sleep!!).
Really I can go on and on about the impacts of blood sugar fluctuations they are so important and key to how we function day to day.
Signs of blood sugar imbalance can include the following- waking up at 2-4 am, an afternoon energy crash, foggy thinking, irritability aka “hangry” from not eating, weakness, blurred vision, craving sugary or refined foods, craving alcohol, belly fat, need for caffeine to get through the day, jittery/shaky, low sex drive, problems losing weight, infertility, anxiety, cravings, and more.
Blood sugar highs and lows can be the root cause of inflammation, oxidative stress, and numerous downstream problems. Blood sugar regulation is important for all of us and is often overlooked as a cause of everyday symptoms. Learning basic physiology and listening to your body’s signs and signals can help. Measuring your blood sugar levels can be super insightful and great fun too, if you want to go there:)
Basic terms to help understand blood sugar-
Glucose– simple sugar known as blood sugar that is used to make energy, produced mainly by the breakdown of carbohydrates during digestion. When we eat carbs or protein our blood sugar or glucose in our blood rises.
Insulin- hormone that helps move glucose from the blood to the cells to be used as energy or stored, it is produced in the pancreas and lowers blood sugar levels. When our blood sugar rises our insulin follows it, helping remove the sugar or glucose from our blood so our cells can use it. Then our blood sugar comes back down.
Insulin Sensitivity– The normal and prefered situation where the cells are open to receiving insulin so the insulin can do its job and lower blood sugar allowing cells to use the glucose for energy.
Glucagon- hormone produced by the pancreas to balance insulin, when insulin is low (because blood sugar is low). Glucagon promotes the release of glycogen (stored glucose) in the liver and the conversion of proteins to glucose. Both provide glucose for cells to use for energy.
Dysglycemia– state of chronically dysregulated blood sugar that includes both low and high blood sugar levels. This is far more common than we think and can drive many everyday symptoms.
Things can drive dysglycemia or dis-regulated blood sugar- This can vary as we are all unique but some things that impact this include-
Not getting enough fat, fiber, and protein at our meals
Eating or grazing all day
Eating late at night
Eating high sugar foods including juices, flour, baked and packaged foods
Having chronically high stress or not processing our stress well
Not being fat adapted (able to use fat as energy)
Skipping breakfast if not fat adapted
Menopause (estrogen plays a role in our sensitivity to glucose)
With all things, tuning in to how you feel at different times of the day is an important first step. I encourage people I work with to temporarily track their mood (any symptom physical or mental), what they eat, and their poops, no matter what we are working on. This can be especially insightful for blood sugar support.
If you are ready to dig in more, monitoring and tracking your blood sugar is a great way to see what is going on in your body in real time.
Glucometer- You can measure your blood sugar using a finger prick blood glucose meter or a continuous blood glucose meter.
These both test your blood sugar levels in your blood so you can see what is happening in the moment. This can be wonderful information when trying to optimize hormones or impact any aspect of your health.
In Functional Nutrition we say that it is impossible to optimize our health if we are not
Pooping at least once a day
Sleeping at least 7-8 hours a night
Regulating our blood sugar
General Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations for regulating blood sugar (remember, we all react differently to foods and are bioindividual, but this is a good place to start and to be curious)-
Remove or reduce food bandits (sugar, artificial sweetener, white flour, damaged fats, processed foods)
Eat within 1-2 hours of waking up if you are trying to balance blood sugar and downstream hornmones. Make sure to include clean protein for breakfast (when ready, intermittent fasting can help insulin sensitivity).
Include Protein/Fat/Fiber in every meal/snack (make that your mantra!!)
Fiber slows down the speed at which glucose hits your bloodstream (preventing the blood sugar and then insulin spike),
fat does not cause a rise in blood glucose but provides energy for cells and helps us feel satisfied (becoming fat adapted is important as many of us have ‘forgotten’ how to burn fat as energy),
and protein helps stabilize blood sugar levels.
No restrictions on fat as long as they are high quality such as avocado, nuts, seeds, coconut, olives, coconut oil, fatty fish, pastured and organic meat/dairy/eggs, olive oil, Omega 3’s
Eat high quality carbs including non starchy veggies, dark green leafy vegetables, polyphenols (from brightly colored fruits and vegetables), soaked/sprouted whole grains
Eat before becoming hungry. Notice signs of hunger/blood sugar imbalance (see the list above of signs of blood sugar lows)
Specific Nutrients to get from food
Magnesium-( glycinate, citrate, or malate before bed)
Chromium- facilitates insulin signaling and decrease carb craving
Find joy, community connection, loved ones, hobbies, delight
Get a good night’s sleep. Go to bed by 10pm if possible and keep your room as dark, quiet, and cool as possible
Check out my blog on carbs if you are interested in learning more about them
Bauman, Ed. Therapeutic Nutrition Manuel. Bauman College. Pengrove, CA. 2016
Hyman, Mark. The Blood Sugar Solution- The 10 day Detox. Little Brown and Company. New York, NY. 2014
Kresser, Chris. When Normal Blood Sugar Isn’t Normal. Kresser Institute. October 2016
Janel Ferrin Anderson NC FNLP DNM
Janel works with people who are curious about using food and lifestyle to optimize health. Janel is obsessed with physiology and how our body interacts with the world. She helps people tune into their body, build resilience and function their best.
Winter blues, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), affects more than 10 million people in North America and women make up 60-90% of those affected (PsychCentral). It is a form of depression that is specifically time based coinciding with the shorter days of winter, starting in fall and resolving in spring. It affects some people more than others and in some cases is not to be taken lightly. While the exact cause remains unknown, factors that influence it are fluctuations in circadian rhythm, serotonin levels, and melatonin levels due to the decrease in daylight.
So what’s a person to do? By both embracing the dark by adjusting our lifestyle yet proactively doing what we can to facilitate our biochemistry to feel as good as we can during the shorter days we can make an impact and hopefully shift things.
Winter has a different vibe than summer as it’s a more restful and quiet time in the natural world. Things slow down energetically and turn inward so they can bloom in the spring. Most of nature works in a cyclical way like this. Even our bodies work in a cyclical way. Cortisol levels rise and fall as the day goes on, menstruation cycles with each lunar month, the thyroid cycles with the season, etc. Our hormonal system is designed to cycle with nature (this is one reason I have fallen in love with hormones). The dark is a time of more inward focus and rest. If we can embrace this idea, and not fight it, perhaps we can be more in sync with its quieter rhythm. A few ways to embrace the dark and align with it include
Light a candle first thing in the morning before turning on the lights
Cozy up by the fire with a book instead of turning on the TV
Have a warm cup of Golden Milk (my favorite recipe below) or herbal tea in the evening
Dust off your piano or guitar and play a song instead of rushing to the next activity
Start or continue a daily meditation or breathing practice (calm or headspace app, gaiamtv.com).
Honor the winter solstice and celebrate the dark and the return of light
Cook a warm and oily gut and soul healing soup
Keep the lights a little lower in your house after the sun goes down and try to honor a slower pace in the dark.
Connect with friends and family in the candlelight to tell stories, enjoy meals, to play music, and games. read poems, and more.
Listen closely to what the darker days are trying to communicate with you
Along with embracing the dark and cozying up to it there are things we can do to help with our body’s biochemistry to minimize the hormonal effects of shorter days and less light. Here in Truckee the sky is often sunny. Making an effort to get out in it in addition to feeding our body what nutrients it needs to thrive can help. Here are some ideas-
Take a walk in the midday sunshine or move your desk so you are in a sunlit window
Try light box therapy when you wake up for 20-30 minutes a day (10,000 lux of illumination while the smallest amount of UV emitted)
Make sure you are getting enough sleep and try to go to bed at the same time every night
Enjoy the healing benefits of adaptogenic herbs. Adaptogens are herbs that help us manage stress and balance hormones
Eat a whole foods diet focusing on colorful vegetables and fruits, whole grains, nuts/seeds, healthy fats, high quality protein, fermented foods, and plenty of clean water
Exercise. If you can do this outside in nature it is a double whammy as being in nature has many biochemical benefits on it its own
Connect with friends or family over a nice warm bowl of soup
Daily supplements that help most people function optimally are omega 3 fatty acids, probiotics, and vitamin D
Wishing you coziness and quiet this winter season and of course please reach out for help and support if you need it from family, friends, healthcare providers, or a neighbor.
Golden Milk Golden milk has many wonderful ingredients but the star is turmeric. Turmeric contains curcumin which is the main healing chemical constituent. Curcumin is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic, boosts immune function, and more. Enjoy!!
Recipe (by Sharkin) Ingredients
Combine 1/2 cup water, turmeric, and pepper in a small saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened, 7 to 9 minutes. Stir in 1 teaspoon water. Continue cooking until thickened into a paste, 7 to 9 minutes. Cool completely, 15 to 20 minutes. Pour into an airtight glass jar.
Whisk 1 teaspoon turmeric paste with the almond milk, coconut oil, ginger, and cinnamon together in a saucepan. Heat over low heat until hot, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in honey.
Strain milk mixture into 2 mugs. Drink. Enjoy! Ymmmmm.