You feel O.K.. You are sleeping well, eating a balanced diet, taking your multivitamin, exercising, but still not feeling like your optimal self.  Something in your body is just feeling off and out of whack. You feel moody, your digestion feels a little sluggish, have gained weight unexpectedly, have a decreased sex drive and you never really feel rested.

Do any of these ring a bell? Your hormones could be to blame!

In brief, our hormones work to control so many functions within our bodies from our reproductive system, metabolism, blood sugar levels, blood pressure, energy, kidney function, sleep, appetite, mood and brain activity.

So how do I know if my hormones are making me tired or crazy, or both?!

As  females, our hormones are constantly changing throughout our monthly cycles and it’s normal for us to experience.  But it is when these mood changes, food cravings, sore breasts and sluggishness. If our experience of these symptoms starts to become prolonged or increase in intensity then we may need to pay closer attention to what is going on and have to maybe think something is not quite right…

Hormone imbalances aren’t always easy to first detect because they can sometimes be mistaken for other issues. We can blame our tiredness on the long hours we’ve been working, having a few too many drinks on the weekend, general life stress and even changes in the weather.

Regulating hormones can sometimes prove to be a difficult process as they can be very delicate and can fluctuate easily.

Direct correlations have been found between hormone imbalance and diet deficiencies, along with stress and sleep patterns.

But first, a kind of quick bit of science…

Hormones are produced by the endocrine system, which is made up of glands that are controlled and stimulated by the nervous system, chemical receptors in the blood, and other hormones produced by glands in the body.  

The three major glands are the hypothalamus, pituitary (both found in the brain) and the adrenals (located above your kidneys).  These glands all interact with the HPA axis located in your brain, which is responsible for stress levels, mood, emotions, digestion, immune system, libido, metabolism and energy release.

These hormone then pass into the bloodstream, sending chemical messages around the body.  When these chemical messages are lost or not sent to the right places, hormone imbalances and problems with the endocrine system occur.  Some problems with the endocrine system and hormonal imbalances that you may be aware of are diabetes, menstrual abnormalities like polycystic ovarian syndrome and amenorrhea,  and thyroid problems like  Hypothyroidism.  

Studies have shown that a decrease in fat intake (healthy fats from egg yolks ), olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds and coconut oil), can have an impact on hormone imbalances, especially in women.   This is because  many of our hormones are made from cholesterol, which is needed to maintain neurotransmitter and brain function, nurture the immune system and fuel the brain and nerve tissues. It also helps with the digestion of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, E and K.

When the body is not fuelled with enough dietary fat and cholesterol, it sends a message to the liver to produce more cholesterol.  This makes the body go into “safe mode”. When the body is in “safe mode” it over produces cholesterol to protect it, leading to hormonal imbalances.  Our liver is then in overdrive and has to work harder to detoxify the body of environmental toxins, chemicals from cosmetics, pesticides and oestrogen-like plastics and FOODS!!

Stress is another BIG and unfortunate cause of many hormone imbalances.  Increased stress leads to increased cortisol production (which by the way is made from cholesterol), putting our body in a state of fight or flight.  Again evolution will kick in, which means that more stress will lead to more cortisol, and unfortunately less of the other hormones, especially our sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen that help control our sex drive.

O.K… so what can be done to help fix these imbalances (naturally)?

If you are concerned about your hormones being out of balance you can ask your doctor for a few simple blood tests. They will test your cortisol levels, thyroid hormones and your other reproductive hormones, such as testosterone and oestrogen.  

But let’s start simply by making some immediate changes like eating whole foods, clean proteins and antioxidant rich foods:

  1. Reduce processed, high sodium and high sugar foods, such as fried food, cakes, lollies, chips.

  2. Love your fats! This one is so important because our body needs fats to produce hormones. Try including a greater amount of:

    • omega-3 fatty acids-  fish, flaxseed, walnuts and brazil nuts

    • monounsaturated fat - avocados, nuts, seeds, olives and olive oil, they help our body absorb and use nutrients

    • coconut oil - it contains lauric acid, a medium chain fatty acid used as a direct source of energy and hormone balance

    • whole eggs - the yolk is packed with good dietary cholesterol and also contains loads of vitamins and minerals, like iodine and choline, necessary for thyroid health

  3. Load up on dark leafy greens, as well as, asparagus, broccoli, spinach, collard greens, cabbage, kale.  They are packed with vitamins and minerals and phytonutrients, that are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant rich.

  4. Don’t forget to include colourful vegetables like capsicum, tomatoes, carrots, beetroot, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and red onion. These also contain a high amount of antioxidants.

  5. Eat lean and clean proteins like turkey, organic chicken, grass-fed organic beef, and wild fish.

  6. Add legumes, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains (quinoa, freekeh, buckwheat, linseeds).  These are not only packed with protein but also fibre, and other powerful antioxidants and minerals including folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.  

  7. Spice and herb it up - add turmeric, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, cumin, parsley, oregano, and basil to your cooking.  

  8. Balance out and stabilise blood sugar levels with protein, healthy fats and low GI carbs.

  9. Drink plenty of water, preferably not out of a plastic bottle.

  10. Exercise according to your energy and stress levels.  If your day has been stressful try some yoga or an outdoor walk. If you are less stressed and feel energised go for some high intensity.  Vary your exercise and remember to take rest days!

  11. Consider supplements such as fish oil, activated Bs, calcium, magnesium and/or zinc.

When we find balance in our hormones our moods stabilise, we sleep better, our sex drive improves and our energy levels become consistent.  So, if your body is fuelled with the right nutrients and stress reducing techniques, it will find its equilibrium and you’ll thrive!