Balancing act

We take a look at some natural ways to support women’s hormonal health during all stages of life

International Women’s Day is commemorated each year on 8 March. In line with this global event we take a look at some of the most common health issues affecting women at different stages of life, and some natural ways to help.

20s

“For most women, by the time their twenties come around, they are likely to have been taking some form of contraceptive for at least five years,” says registered nutritional therapist Michaella Mazzoni (www.michaellamazzoninutrition.com). “As alternative methods of contraception become more popular, such as rhythm and the copper coil, I am frequently seeing in my clinic women who want to come off their contraception and support their hormones’ adjustment during this time.

In many cases, stopping taking the pill can lead to acne, irregular cycles and headaches. Fortunately, with nutrition and supplement support, there are things you can put in place to support this adjustment period. Some studies have shown that the pill can deplete many vitamins and minerals, for example B12, B6 and magnesium, so deficiencies may have developed. These nutrients in particular are vital in the metabolism of hormonal function so starting with a quality multivitamin is key. Other minerals which may be beneficial on top of a multivitamin are magnesium, zinc and reishi mushrooms.

From a dietary point of view, supporting the hormones in your twenties with a good range of foods helps to set the tone for your hormonal health. Foods to eat include those rich in omega fatty acids such as salmon, anchovies, mackerel and haddock, as well as walnuts and olive oil. Also stock up on foods rich in antioxidants such as dark berries and dark leafy greens. In addition to foods which form the foundation of the diet, it is important to keep some foods in moderation, such as refined sugars, non-organic dairy, deep fried foods and alcohol.

A final note on supporting your hormones in your twenties, which is relevant for your whole life, is to take care of your gut with foods rich in prebiotics (such as fibre, apples and leeks) and probiotics (such as fermented food), due to the link between the microbiome and hormonal health.”

30s

“In our thirties, the natural production of certain hormones, such as testosterone and growth hormone, begin to decline,” explains Michaella Mazzoni. “These hormones are key for muscle function and growth, so feeding the muscles with nutrients like lean protein (chicken, turkey, oily fish, eggs) and collagen (bone broth and good quality supplements) is a great way to support the hormones during this time. In terms of dietary protein, 1 to 1.5g of protein per kilo of body weight is about right as a general rule of thumb.

“Bone density built in your twenties will need to be maintained with foods rich in calcium such as organic dairy and sesame seeds.. A vitamin-like nutrient called CoQ10, which is involved in many areas of the body such as cellular health, also starts to decline in our thirties. CoQ10 plays a role in supporting the thyroid which, in turn, supports hormone function. Introducing a CoQ10 supplement is a good idea for most women to do from the age of 35. Foods that are rich in CoQ10 include fatty fish (particularly sardines), soy beans, lentils and broccoli.

“Another way of supporting the hormones is through the body’s detoxification pathways. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts and bitter foods like lemon, rocket, and watercress all support the liver, which is responsible for clearing used hormones like oestrogen. The hormones are also physically removed from the body through bowel movements so including good sources of dietary fibre like wholegrains, flaxseeds and fruit will help to support the digestive system.”

40s

“A time comes in every woman’s life when her cohort of follicles (eggs) starts to decrease and she enters perimenopause,” says Rosie Weston, Nutritional Therapist for CNM (College of Naturopathic Medicine). “Without an egg to ovulate each month, her progesterone levels will decline, leaving oestrogen unmatched. This decrease causes symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, a reduced libido and irregular cycles.

“Eating a healthy balanced diet is one of the best ways to support female health. Each meal should include fat, protein and complex carbohydrates. Healthy sources of fat include extra virgin olive oil, avocados and nuts. Include a fist-sized portion of protein, preferably from vegetarian sources such as lentils, chickpeas and beans which contain substances that support perimenopausal symptoms or from organic and grass-fed animals. Great sources of complex carbohydrates are sweet potatoes, vegetables and whole grains like brown rice. Eating protein and fat together with carbohydrates slows the absorption of glucose and balances blood sugar levels which makes for happy hormones.

“Include five or more portions of vegetables per day and remember the cruciferous family: broccoli, kale and cabbage, as they support excess oestrogen detoxification. The insoluble fibre in fruit and vegetables supports the excretion of excess hormones from the body. Seeds are a wonderful addition to the diet and contain phytoestrogens which are great for supporting hormonal balance. Enjoy flaxseed, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds.

“And, last but not least, remember to drink plenty of pure, filtered water with two litres being the optimal amount depending on activity levels and time of year.”

CNM has a 22-year track record training successful practitioners in natural therapies in class and online.

For more information call 01342 410 505 or visit naturopathy-uk.com

50 plus

“When we reach our fifties our bodies are beginning to go through the menopause,” says Dr Marilyn Glenville, leading nutritionist and author of The Natural Health Bible for Women (www.marilynglenville.com). “During the menopause you may become aware that you are gaining weight, especially around your middle. As your ovaries produce less oestrogen, your body tries to compensate by making you fatter. Fat around the middle manufactures oestrogen and so can offset the lower levels of oestrogen produced by the ovaries. The standard thinking is that fat makes you fat and you should therefore reduce your fat intake and buy low-fat or no-fat foods. Research has shown that people on low-carbohydrate diets had significantly more weight loss at six and 12 months than with low-fat diets. The key to weight loss is not a low-fat diet but a low-carbohydrate diet – not a ‘no-carbohydrate’ diet, which is unhealthy, as your body needs energy from carbohydrates – but a diet in which quality carbs are consumed in moderation.

“The two most important points to follow are: eliminate refined carbs, e.g. sugar and white bread, and eat little and often – every three hours.

“Other symptoms of the menopause include drier, lacklustre skin, hair loss and bone thinning. Good nutrition promotes hormone balance and although it cannot reverse the ageing process it can certainly help towards minimising symptoms. Try to include these foods to help balance hormones naturally:

  • Tofu contains natural plant oestrogens (phytoestrogens) which help top up levels of dwindling oestrogen as the ovaries begin to produce a lesser amount of hormones. They have a modulating effect on female hormones which have a positive effect on unwanted symptoms including hot flushes, night sweats and vaginal dryness.
  • Dark green leafy vegetables are rich in magnesium which is an important mineral for bone health and the nervous system and adrenals which helps lower stress. The adrenals are important to ‘nourish’ at this age because they take over some of the work from the ovaries once they have stopped producing oestrogen.
  • Beetroot is rich in iron which is important for anaemia. Menstrual cycles can become erratic in this peri-menopausal phase with periods getting heavier before they stop. Making sure iron levels remain stable will help lessen the likelihood of anaemia.

International Women’s Day, which takes place on 8 March, is a global day celebrating the social, economic and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality. To find out more, visit www.internationalwomensday.com or search the hashtag #EachforEqual on social media

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