How to treat hormonal imbalance
Feel like your mind and body are in flux? From nutrition to fitness advice, here are our top tips to treat hormone imbalance and rediscover your centre
Swift diagnosis is the key to correcting your symptoms. At-home testing is now an increasingly popular way to bypass GP waiting lists. Thriva, the personalised health company, has recently launched a female hormone testing kit which can be conducted in the comfort of your own home, with the results analysed by a GP within 48 hours.
The hormone imbalance test tracks the major female hormones as well as the hormones produced by the thyroid. These are: FSH (female sex hormone); LH (luteinising hormone), which plays a key role in reproduction; oestradiol, a type of oestrogen essential for egg production; SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin, which transports hormones in the blood; testosterone, present in both men and women; thyroxine and TSH, both produced by the thyroid gland.
If the tests show that your hormone levels are outside of the normal range it may indicate that you have one or more of the most common female hormonal conditions: perimenopause/menopause; pre-menstrual syndrome; PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome); fertility problems; or thyroid malfunctions (these are technically not female hormone related, but the symptoms are similar and they can be catalysed during pregnancy or menopause).
Although it may not always be clear what has caused the hormonal imbalance, the good news is, that by making a few lifestyle changes, and adjustments to your diet and exercise routine you will be able to relieve some of the most common symptoms as outlined below.
Hormonal weight gain, particularly around the waist, is often associated with the menopause, PCOS and an underactive thyroid. The single most effective way to rebalance hormones that may be influencing your weight is to cut down your intake of refined sugar. When you eat food high in refined sugar, the hormone insulin is released from the pancreas to remove the sugar from the blood and transport it to cells to be used as energy. Any excess sugar, that is not required for immediate energy requirements, is stored as fat. The blood sugar levels will then drop quite sharply causing an energy slump that will make you crave more sugar-laden food and the vicious cycle is repeated.
High levels of insulin can also prompt the ovaries to produce unusual levels of testosterone, which may interfere with the egg-producing sacs in the ovaries and potentially (in extreme cases) lead to infertility.
Try this: Avoid fizzy drinks, processed foods, cakes, sweets and confectionery, which are all high in refined sugars. Eat the good carbohydrates (slow energy release, low GL foods), which will help to keep your blood sugar levels stable and prevent unwanted weight gain. Good sources of these carbohydrates are brown rice, bread and pasta, as well as bulgar wheat, quinoa, lentils and oats.
Eat protein with every meal (meat, cheese, fish, tofu, soya) – it takes longer to digest and will curb your appetite, by making you feel fuller for longer. Increase your quota of antioxidant-rich leafy vegetables.
Top tip: Spinach is a superfood rich in magnesium, which is needed for hormone synthesis and balance.
Hot flushes can affect anyone at any age, but they can be a particular scourge in the few years that lead up to the menopause.
Try this: A good way to tame the daily fluctuations in body temperature and frequent night sweats is to reduce your intake of caffeine, which is known to speed up the metabolism and heighten these discomforts.
Top tip: Black Cohosh is a herbal supplement commonly prescribed for hot flushes treatment. The normal recommended daily dose is 50mg, although up to 500mg is quite safe and known to be very effective in raising serotonin levels, helping to relieve mild depression.
Mood swings, stress, irritability and poor concentration are an increasingly common problem for anyone of any age, but female hormonal imbalance can be a catalyst.
Try this: Restrict your alcohol intake, as its well catalogued side effects can heighten irritability, agitation and mild depression. There is now huge scope in terms of low alcohol drinks, making it easier to sacrifice the real thing.
A diet rich in good essential fats will help with brain function during these periods. The brain is 60% fatty tissue and this tissue needs replenishing, therefore, it's important to eat plenty of Omega-3 and 6 fats, commonly found in oily fish, nuts and seeds.
Top tip: St John’s Wort is nature’s remedy to help combat low level depression, irritability and fatigue. The recommended dose is 300mg a day. It can be safely combined with Black Cohosh.
Hormonal fluctuations can also prevent a good night’s sleep, now universally considered to be a great health tonic. Restlessness and night sweats can be quite debilitating and leave you feeling more tired than before you went to bed.
Try this: Cultivate good sleep patterns by reducing alcohol and caffeine intake – both can cause sleep disturbance. If possible, try to eat a light meal early in the evening as it's easier to digest and more conducive to good sleep. Scientific research also shows that the longer the ‘fast period’ in a 24-hour day – the longer the period the body goes without food – the better it is for optimal health.
Top tip: Lavender essential oil has wonderful natural calming properties and can be used in the bath at night, or rubbed into the palms and breathed in before bed.
The gut or ‘second brain,’ as it is sometimes known, can be particularly sensitive during hormonal imbalances and predispose to IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).
Try this: Eat plenty of fibre to help with digestion and flush out excess oestrogen, which, if left in the gut, can cause cell damage. Fibre is contained in wholegrain cereals, fruit, vegetables, beans and pulses.
Probiotic foods will help to correct gut flora imbalances. The best nutritional sources are yoghurt, kefir and fermented foods such as sauerkraut.
Oestrogen is the hormone that promotes the activity of osteoblasts, which are the cells that build bone. As you approach the menopause your oestrogen levels will decline and will lead to a reduction in bone density. Bone density can decrease by up to two % per year after the age of 50, and in menopause can lead to brittle bone disease (osteoporosis). The most effective way to retain bone strength is to eat calcium.
Try this: dairy foods are by far the richest source of calcium, but there is plenty to be found in green leafy vegetables.
Top tip: Calcium supplements may be recommended for vegans, people with lactose intolerance or women with osteopenia, the medical precursor to osteoporosis. The recommended daily dose is 1200mg. Vitamin D is also routinely prescribed for bone strength. The recommended daily dose is 3000iu.
Erratic skin breakouts, acne, greasy, dry or ageing skin and flushing can all be caused by hormonal fluctuations. Antioxidants (vitamins A, C, E) will treat the symptoms by reducing the damage caused to skin by free radicals. Collagen, the main structural protein found in skin, is made when vitamin C converts the amino acid proline into hydroxyproline. Without vitamin C, there would be no collagen.
Try this: Avoid starchy carbs, which are high in refined sugars – these can play havoc with the hormone levels. Focus on eating a diet rich in antioxidants, found in abundance in fruit and vegetables.
Healthy skin relies on essential fatty acids. These unsaturated fats keep our skin looking plump and radiant and are found in cold-water fish, cold pressed oils, nuts and seeds.
Keep hydrated – one and half litres of water, drunk slowly throughout the day, will flush out toxins and help to perk up your skin.
Fats are structural components of prostaglandins (hormone-like substances) which control many body functions, including the regulation of sex hormones (oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone).
Try this: Stick to the good fats, as outlined above, for prostaglandin health.
A healthy diet should always be accompanied by an appropriate exercise routine. It will radically improve your energy levels, lift your mood, help with stress management and maintain bone strength, all common manifestations of hormone imbalances. Aim for two hours of vigorous exercise a week, roughly split between cardio and resistance (muscle toning). You could opt for spin classes, HIIT, LIIT, team sport, weights training or an intense yoga session. Then add as much walking to your weekly routine as possible – London has so much green space to offer – explore the parks and beauty spots around in and around Capital.
If you have severe and persistent female health symptoms consult your GP who may prescribe pharmaceutical medication specific for your condition.