– BY KAREN BOYLE –
PMS and heavy, painful or irregular periods plague so many women today. They’re all symptoms of unbalanced hormones, and effects can range from irritating to life-limiting. If you’d like to ease your symptoms and regulate your menstrual cycle in a natural way, read on.
Women’s hormones are connected to each other in tremendously complicated patterns. When we are at menstruating age, our hormone levels are different every day of the month. This does mean they often go awry. The level of each hormone and whether they’re rising or falling can determine the symptoms you experience.
Hormone balance explained
The best-known female hormones are oestrogen and progesterone. Oestrogen helps to prepare the lining of the womb in the first half of the month, ready for pregnancy. Progesterone is released later in the cycle. An average cycle length is anything between 24 and 35 days. Some women have longer or shorter cycles, but if your cycle suddenly starts to change significantly, it’s time to take action.
Oestrogen and progesterone don’t act alone – it’s as if they’re on a see-saw. Progesterone helps keep oestrogen levels in balance. When oestrogen climbs too high it can cause problems like heavy, painful, frequent or irregular periods, PMS, bleeding between periods, mood swings and breast tenderness. Sounds familiar? This is your hormones telling you they’re out of kilter. Let’s see what can cause our hormones to become chaotic.
Why do hormones become unbalanced?
Too little progesterone with high oestrogen is incredibly common. It’s called oestrogen dominance. Usually it’s not actually that we produce too much oestrogen, but that our progesterone levels have become depleted. Progesterone can become depleted in the body for a number of reasons. Probably the number one factor is excessive stress. This can knock our progesterone production right off balance. The body converts progesterone into stress hormones, leaving little left over to balance oestrogen.
In the years leading up to the menopause, we often don’t ovulate each month. When this happens, we don’t release progesterone in the second half of the cycle, so oestrogen levels skyrocket. At this time in a woman’s life, her cycles often become irregular – sometimes for many years. Also taking the contraceptive pill can leave your hormones in disarray once you stop taking it. Let’s have a look at some natural ways to balance your hormones and regulate your menstrual cycle.
1. Manage your stress
This is easier said than done, but try meditation, yoga, any exercise you enjoy, or reading – they’re all great stress busters. Consider keeping a gratitude journal. Whatever you choose, take time out of your day to devote exclusively to you. And don’t panic about it – the world will get on just fine without you for half an hour.
2. Eat more fibre
Natural fibre helps us to get rid of excess oestrogen. As it travels through our intestines, oestrogen must bind to fibre to be excreted. If we eat too little fibre, oestrogen gets absorbed back into the bloodstream all over again. Processed foods contain very little fibre. Therefore, eat plenty of fresh veggies, fruits and whole grains which are packed with it.
3. Eat plant phytoestrogens
Also called phytoestrogens, these are plant compounds which mimic our natural oestrogen. Since they are much weaker than our own oestrogen, scientists believe they can block stronger oestrogens. They can therefore reduce oestrogen’s effects if our body load is too high. Phytoestrogens are found in fermented soya products like tempeh and miso, flax seeds, chickpeas, alfalfa, mung beans and sesame seeds.
4. Eat brassica vegetables
Brassica vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts and cauliflower contain antioxidants and other plant nutrients which help the liver to detoxify used oestrogen.
5. Reduce alcohol
Your favourite tipple can raise oestrogen levels and push down progesterone. Researchers discovered even moderate alcohol intake increases oestrogen levels by a massive 66%. Scientists also believe alcohol hinders the liver’s job of breaking down oestrogen.
6. Avoid hormone-mimickers
Today’s environment is chock-full of chemicals which can mimic our hormones and disrupt their levels. Also called xenoestrogens, many of these chemicals can attach to our oestrogen receptor sites. They’re stronger than our natural oestrogen, so they’ll push up the levels. One well-known culprit is Bisphenol A (BPA), found in plastic. It can leach into the food or liquid.
To avoid your exposure to these hormone mimickers, switch to natural cosmetics, toiletries and household cleaning products. Use glass containers to store food and glass or BPA-free plastic water bottles instead of regular plastic ones. Don’t wrap food – particularly fatty food – in cling film.
7. Eat vitamin B and magnesium–rich foods
B vitamins are needed to help us deal with stress, and to produce hormones. Magnesium is needed to help us manufacture hormones in the first place. Also, because it helps muscles and nerves to relax, it’s vital for sufferers of painful periods. Magnesium is found in leafy greens, fresh nuts and seeds, dark chocolate, avocados, beans and salmon. B vitamins are plentiful in whole grains, beans and lean chicken.
8. Eat more fat
The essential fatty acids Omega 3 and Omega 6 are important for hormonal balance. They reduce inflammation and keep our cell’s receptors sensitive to hormones. These fats are easily destroyed by cooking and are removed from processed foods. Omega 3 are scarcer in our diet than Omega 6. Make sure to eat more sources of Omega 3 fats such as oily fish, seeds like flax and hemp seeds, and nuts like walnuts.
Even small changes to your diet and lifestyle can reap huge rewards. They are a great help in balancing your hormones, regulating your menstrual cycle and increasing your overall well-being.
About the author
Karen Boyle is a co-founder of Amchara Health Retreat (Somerset, UK & Malta). She has been involved in the health, nutrition and well-being industry for many years. Her interest in fasting, naturopathic nutrition and functional medicine led her to set up the retreat, where she further trained as a colon hydrotherapist focusing on gut health and detoxification. Karen is also a raw food chef and is currently writing a plant-based recipe book.