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Hormonal helpers


“PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) is a hormonal imbalance where multiple cysts develop on the surface of the ovaries,” explains nutritionist Emma O’Connor, a graduate of CNM, the College of Naturopathic Medicine ( “It often goes undiagnosed until fertility problems arise. Most common symptoms include excess facial hair, acne, weight gain (especially abdominal), irregular/no menstrual cycle, mood fluctuations, cravings, insulin resistance and male pattern baldness.

Eating a diet high in refined sugar and starches causes insulin to be released more readily. This insulin surge may stimulate the ovaries to produce excess testosterone which contributes to PCOS symptoms. Opt instead for whole grains, unprocessed and unrefined carbohydrates and large helpings of green leafy and colourful veg which support balanced blood sugar levels. In addition, the fibre in such foods offers a longer-lasting sense of satiety and maintains healthy large intestine microflora. Omega-3 fats can stop the cell walls from becoming inflexible. If this happens, the insulin receptors can become impaired and unresponsive which might lead to insulin resistance – common in PCOS sufferers.

Exercise is vital for overall health and important for PCOS sufferers as it can improve insulin metabolism, reduce weight gain associated with PCOS and mobilise the lymphatic system.”


“Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) is the name for a collection of symptoms women experience in the run-up to their period if their hormones are out of balance,” explains medical herbalist Pamela Spence MNIMH ( “Every woman’s experience is individual but the most common symptoms include mood swings, breast tenderness, pain, bloating, bowel disturbance and spots. The most common type is PMS-A. The A stands for anxiety and this type is thought to affect around 70 per cent of sufferers. Symptoms are typically anxiety, irritability and mood swings. It’s the PMS where everything irritates you beyond belief and you get a bit snappy! If this sounds like you, Agnus Castus tincture can be useful to increase progesterone levels. Some women have cravings for carbs and sweets which can be curbed by making sure you’re getting enough protein and healthy fat each day. Be aware that if you feel that only chocolate will do, you may be deficient in magnesium – in which case a supplement will help. If bloating and water retention make clothes tight and uncomfortable, diuretic herbs like dandelion leaf, parsley and even celery can help. Many women ease breast tenderness by taking oil of evening primrose.”


“The menopause is a time of change,” says leading nutritionist and author of Natural Solutions to the Menopause, Dr Marilyn Glenville PhD (

“Your female hormones are going to be fluctuating up and down as you go through this stage until you come out the other side and into the postmenopause, when your hormones will stabilise. What you eat at this stage can make the difference between having a difficult or easy menopause.” Symptoms can vary from hot flushes, night sweats and vaginal dryness to mood swings, declining libido, weight gain and more.

Dr Glenville recommends adding phytoestrogens to your diet. She says: “Women who eat a diet rich in phytoestrogens have significantly fewer hot flushes – up to half the amount experienced by women who eat very few phytoestrogens. Go for variety: don’t base everything around soya; include chickpeas, lentils and flaxseeds too. Certain foods and situations can trigger some hot flushes and these can include spicy foods, caffeinated drinks, alcohol and stressful situations. There are a number of herbs that are helpful for the menopause including sage, flaxseeds, hops and red clover. Sage has been shown to decrease hot flushes by 50 per cent after four weeks and by 64 per cent after eight weeks. It also helps with decreasing insomnia, irritability, anxiety, physical and mental exhaustion by up to 47 per cent, which can all be symptoms around the menopause. Red clover has also been shown to significantly reduce hot flushes and night sweats.”

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