Fab Five: Hormone Health
Oh hormones. What would women do without them? Well, we wouldn't have PMS for a start.. However, we also wouldn't be able to create and carry children, have female characteristics or many other functions in our body! Our body uses hormones to direct and regulate many different processes so they are essential. The balance of hormones in our body is a very fine-tuned system that is constantly fluctuating, but is very sensitive to imbalances. Women in particular have dramatic changes in their hormones on a regular basis (hello menstrual cycle) and while these fluctuations are essential, it is very easy for certain hormones to get out of whack and the consequences definitely cause some unpleasant symptoms.
Women have three main hormones that dictate our menstrual cycle: progesterone, oestrogen and testosterone. As you can see in this diagram below, these levels change drastically over a month. The balance of these three hormones is vitally important for fertility and conception, but changes in these hormones can also affect mood, energy, cravings, sleep, weight, bloating, cognitive function and more! What we eat can also affect our hormones both positively and negatively. As always, a balanced diet with plenty of fruit or veg is the best for hormonal health, but there are a few specific nutrients that are important for our hormones too.
1. Vitamin C
Research has shown that vitamin C can boost progesterone levels and help maintain luteal phase length in your menstrual cycle. Low progesterone levels are common and are associated with increased anxiety, depression, acne, infertility and poor sleep. The good news is, it is so easy to get plenty of vitamin C! Citrus fruits and strawberries, like the lovely blood oranges and strawberries in my photo are great sources. Red peppers, tomatoes, kiwi and papaya are great sources too.
Zinc helps the production of hormones, in particular it helps the pituitary gland release follicle-stimulating hormone which is important during ovulation. This then also promotes good progesterone levels. Zinc can be found in high amounts in lamb, shellfish, beef, liver, pumpkin seeds and cashew nuts.
3. Vitamin E
Vitamin E also helps balance the hormones and increase progesterone levels. It has also been shown to increase blood flow to the uterus and promote uterine health. It is also suggested to help alleviate PMS symptoms! Rich sources of vitamin E are almonds, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, avocado and sweet potato.
4. Vitamin D
Vitamin D regulates the release of parathyroid hormone from your parathyroid gland which is vitally important for bone health. It can also help prevent bone loss in situations where oestrogen levels are low, such as menopause or certain cancers. From April-September in the UK we can get all of our vitamin D from 10 minutes of sunshine a day. In the winter months, a supplement is recommended as the sun is too weak and there aren't many dietary sources!
Magnesium helps progesterone levels and also helps breakdown oestrogen products, preventing oestrogen dominance which is a hormonal imbalance that is associated with lots of different symptoms. It also helps regulate cortisol, the stress hormone, which then regulates many of the other hormones. Cashews, kale, pumpkin seeds, legumes and whole grains are great sources.