by Dr. Elli Reilander, Peninsula Naturopathic Clinic –
A woman’s hormonal system is an intricate communication system between your brain, ovaries and adrenal glands. These chemical messengers control an incredible number of biological processes in the body! They can impact everything from how you sleep and how you gain weight to how well you remember where you put your keys.
When there are imbalances in this system, we can experience an array of symptoms – hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, irregular periods … the list goes on! Nutrition can play a big part in helping regain control of our hormones and relieving those unwanted symptoms. Check out these hormone balancing superfoods and how they benefit your hormonal health.
Cruciferous vegetables. Ok, so I realize this isn’t just one food, but this group (that includes broccoli, brussels sprouts and kale) packs a serious hormone balancing punch! These vegetables contain an array of vitamins and minerals to support healthy metabolism and detoxification of hormones, mainly estrogen. One important compound known as indole-3-carbinol (I3C) helps reduce the negative effects of estrogen in the body by converting it into less aggressive metabolites to be processed by the liver. This means that it can relieve symptoms of breast tenderness and heavy periods or may be useful in premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and some hormonally-driven cancers.
Soy. Now here’s a legume with an underappreciated role in our health. Over the years, soy has stirred up controversy and has received some negative press. Soy contains a molecule that looks a little bit like estrogen; this is called a phytoestrogen. These phytoestrogens can bind to our own estrogen receptors, which elicits a weak estrogen-like response. This is great for menopausal women because they aren’t producing enough estrogen on their own, so when a gentle estrogenic molecule occupies empty receptors in the body, it can provide relief of some menopausal symptoms like hot flashes.
Why the controversy? Due to this phytoestrogenic activity, there have been concerns that soy may be linked to breast cancer, disrupt thyroid function, and that it will lower testosterone levels in men. Fortunately, research has shown that soy consumption is correlated with a lowered incidence of breast cancer, doesn’t disrupt thyroid function in humans, and when consumed in moderation doesn’t have a negative impact on male hormones or fertility. We must keep in mind that soy in its natural and fermented forms are a culinary staple in many Asian cultures and has been for thousands of years.
Wild Salmon (and other healthy fats). For years, the low-fat diet craze was a complete disservice for women all over North America. Women need fat, period. Every sex hormone in the body – estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and even cortisol – are derived from cholesterol. This means if you starve your body of healthy fats then you may not be able to keep up with hormone production. Ultimately this can exacerbate hormonal symptoms, your ability to adapt to stress, and even fertility.
It’s important to remember that not all fats are created equal. Processed foods and trans-fats are problematic for our health and contribute to chronic disease. However, mono- and poly-unsaturated fatty acids (salmon, avocado, olive oil, etc.) are healthy choices for balancing cholesterol levels, reducing inflammation, and protecting the heart.