In an office full of women, chocolate cravings are an occupational hazard. But after one too many spoonfuls of cacao mousse, we decided to get serious and learn about the biochemistry behind our cravings. Yep, that’s right – we’re seeking a healthy relationship with our hormones, by decoding the science of bloating, sudden mood swings and skin breakouts.
So, to get the lowdown on our hormone levels, we attended a truly insightful conference called The A-Z of Women’s Health, hosted by holistic nutritionist Dr Libby Weaver. Boy, did she blow us away with her vast knowledge on all things health, wellness and science, making the complexities of the human body so simple and easy to understand.
What we really wanted to know was, how do our hormones work?
What’s the deal with the dreaded PMS?
How can we been bouncy and upbeat one minute, then grouchy and irritable the next?
To shed some light on this hot topic, Dr Libby Weaver offered up some explanations on those changes in your body, mind, skin and moods, plus her top 5 tips to achieve a healthy hormonal balance. Read on for a one-way ticket to hormonal heaven…
My holistic approach to health has three prongs to it:
1. The biochemical: I help people understand how their body works, such as sex hormone balance and how stress and sex hormones interact.
2. The nutritional: I explain the foods and nutrients that support the optimal functioning of body systems, such as sex hormone production, as well as those that can take away from the optimal functioning of those systems.
3. The emotional: I help people answer the question “why do you do what you do when you know what you know?” as it is not usually a lack of education that leads someone to polish off a packet of chocolate biscuits after dinner. It is biochemical or emotional or both and I help people crack that code.
With that in mind, let’s explore two game-changing hormones when it comes to women’s health: estrogen and progesterone.
Estrogen and Progesterone:
Estrogen and progesterone are two of a woman’s major sex (steroid) hormones and their interaction has the potential to make us happy or sad, vivacious or anxious, pimply or clear skinned, and our clothes looser or tighter. All that pressure on two little hormones!
Progesterone is a hormone that we all want bucket loads of forever. In our body, its actions are anti-anxiety, anti-depressive, a diuretic (meaning it allows us to excrete excess fluid) and it allows us to burn body fat as an energy source. Women make progesterone from their adrenal glands, which sit just on top of the kidneys, as well as from the corpus luteum, the crater that is left on the surface of the ovary following ovulation.
For the first half of the menstrual cycle, estrogen is the dominant hormone, laying down the lining of the uterus. Ovulation takes place around day 14 of the cycle after which progesterone is designed to be the dominant hormone. However, with the challenges and pace of many of our lives, the balance between estrogen and progesterone is easily disturbed, for it is also from the adrenal glands that we produce our stress hormones; predominantly adrenalin and cortisol. When this occurs, estrogen tends to dominate in the days (or week) leading up to menstruation creating havoc with how we feel and function. Bloating, fluid retention, sore and swollen tender breasts, congested skin and mood swings are symptoms associated with estrogen dominance. It has been reported that over 90% of women in the Western world suffer from PMS. I like to say it is common but it’s not normal and there is so much you can do about it.
While the adrenal glands are busy making stress hormones, adrenal production of progesterone is significantly reduced, which can leave us sad and anxious, with our clothes growing tighter. Often, our response to this is to go on a diet yet the way you’ve been eating may not have changed! Worrying about food sets our body up for more stress and no body fat loss, often making us feel like there is no answer to this challenge. And if we feel like there is no hope, the stress is even greater, food choices can become poor and lifestyles can become sedentary. You can see the vicious cycle into which we can fall.
Also known as estrogen dominance, low levels of progesterone lead us to lay down body fat in the typically female pattern… Look out hips and thighs! And did I mention the PMS symptoms? Enough of the gloom though; what’s a girl to do?
The Good News:
If you want to restore your ideal body fat levels (as well as your sanity), my first tip is to breathe diaphragmatically. This means taking long slow breaths to make your belly expand. So any activity that encourages this, such as tai chi, meditation, yoga, pilates or simply 20 nourishing breaths before you get out of bed in the morning, will be beneficial. Your body was born to move and embracing forms of movement that nourish you can be a wonderful place to begin your quest for hormone balance.
Secondly, tailoring your nutritional needs to your own biochemistry can make an enormous difference as some foods have the capacity to promote inflammation and worsen PMT symptoms. Improving digestion and liver function makes a difference for many women; lemon juice in warm water or apple cider vinegar first thing in the morning is a great start. Supporting yourself with essential fats, such as those found in fish, flaxseeds, walnuts, pecans as well as evening primrose oil can make a difference as can amping up your dietary intake of zinc, magnesium and/or vitamin B6. Good food sources of zinc include oysters, red meat, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. Green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds contain magnesium, while eggs are rich in vitamin B6.
A number of herbs can be used to support the liver in the excretion of estrogen. Additionally, herbs that support adrenal function can also be of enormous benefit. For those seeking an alternative mode of treatment, acupuncture and other traditional Chinese medicine therapies can also form part of the solution for estrogen dominance. Start by finding a practitioner and a modality that resonates with you.
If you’ve noticed changes in your body, mind, skin and moods – the good news is that there are always solutions for you. I can’t encourage you enough to take action on your next steps.
Here’s some ideas to get you started!
1. Amp up your greens: Eat more real food, particularly green vegies for their nutrient density – it is after all, nutrients that keep us alive! When you eat real food, you miss out on artificial ingredients such as preservatives, sweeteners, flavours, colours.
2. Drink plenty of pure water for hydration: Not only will your skin love you for it, hydration also helps the kidneys and urinary system do their vital blood filtration and detoxification work, helping keep hormones balanced.
3. Support liver and adrenal health: Get honest with yourself about how much alcohol, caffeine and refined sugars you consume. You know better than anyone if these substances need to be reduced. The liver loves the Brassica family of vegetables so enjoy your broccoli regularly!
4. Restorative practices: If you live on stress hormones, your body can think your life is in danger and sex hormone balance can be compromised. Embracing breath-focused practices can help reassure your body you are “safe” and allow your body to make its own natural progesterone. I love tai chi and restorative yoga.
5. Gratitude and kindness: We have so much for which to feel grateful. Even if you are going through a tough time, you still have bucket-loads of things to feel grateful about. What you focus on is what you feel so focus on what you feel grateful for every day. Kindness calms you, supporting hormonal balance… and kindness changes the world.
Dr Libby Weaver is an internationally acclaimed nutritional biochemist, author and speaker based in Sydney Australia. She is also a five time number one bestselling author with titles such as Beauty from the Inside Out.
Her health messages are globally relevant, hence why her holistic approach and unique form of education is embraced by audiences across the world. Armed with abundant knowledge, she has a true desire to help others see their own light and beauty. Dr Libby empowers and inspires people to take charge of their health and happiness.
For more insights & know-how from this wonderful holistic biochemist, visit her website where you will be treated to a hub of information on all things women’s health, plus some truly delicious wholesome recipes.