How Nutrition Can Affect Women's Hormones
FROM THE REGISTERED DIETITIANS AT FEASTGOOD.
Feeling like your hormones are a wild roller coaster ride? You’re not alone!
As women, our bodies experience a whirlwind of hormonal changes that can often leave us feeling out of sync.
In this article, we’ll explore the fascinating world of hormones and how they impact women’s health. From estrogen and progesterone to insulin and thyroid hormones, we’ve got you covered.
Uncover the power of food and nutrients to help balance these hormonal maestros and start feeling like the best version of yourself.
Just interested in one specific topic? Jump to sections of this blog:
Estrogen: The Superhero of Women's Health
Ladies, let’s talk about estrogen, our best friend in the world of hormones!
This primary female sex hormone is like a superhero, orchestrating our menstrual cycle, reproduction, bone health, and even our mood.
Dr. Lisa Mosconi, PhD, neuroscientist and author of The XX Brain has said:
“Estrogen is not just a reproductive hormone. It’s a brain hormone. It’s a neuroprotective hormone. It’s a metabolic hormone. It’s a mood hormone. It’s so many things that we don’t really think about.”
Life can be a roller coaster, and our estrogen levels are no exception.
During perimenopause, estrogen can fluctuate wildly, causing a range of symptoms.
When we hit menopause, our estrogen levels take a nosedive, leading to hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and even the dreaded vaginal dryness.
But fear not! There are natural ways to help alleviate these symptoms.
Phytoestrogens: Nature's Little Helpers
Did you know that some plants can lend a helping hand during menopause?
Certain plant foods contain phytoestrogens – chemicals that mimic estrogen in the body, but with a gentler touch.
These compounds can help ease some menopause symptoms and lower the risk of diseases associated with menopause.
To invite these plant-based helpers into your life, try incorporating foods like soy and flaxseed into your diet.
Soy: The Protein-Packed Powerhouse
Soy is more than just tofu and soy sauce.
This versatile legume is a powerhouse of protein, fiber, and isoflavones, which are phytoestrogens with potential health benefits for women.
Studies suggest that soy can improve blood cholesterol levels, lower the risk of heart disease and breast cancer, and even reduce hot flashes.
Dr. Walter Willett, MD, DrPH, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School has this to say about soy:
“Soy is a nutrient-dense source of protein that can safely be consumed several times a week, and is likely to provide health benefits—especially when eaten as an alternative to red and processed meat.”
Opt for organic and minimally processed forms, such as organic tofu, tempeh, edamame, or soy milk.
Flaxseed: The Tiny Seed with Mighty Benefits
Flaxseeds may be small, but they’re mighty when it comes to health benefits!
These tiny seeds are packed with fiber, lignans (a type of phytoestrogen), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential omega-3 fatty acid. Just like soy, flaxseed has some fantastic benefits for women’s health.
It can improve blood lipid levels, lower blood pressure and inflammation, reduce breast cancer risk and tumor growth, and even help alleviate menopausal symptoms.
To get the most out of flaxseed, choose ground or milled flaxseed over whole seeds or oil. This ensures your body can absorb all the good stuff.
Insulin and Glucagon: The Blood Sugar Balancing Act
Insulin and glucagon function as a dynamic duo, collaborating to regulate our blood sugar levels and energy metabolism.
Insulin lowers blood sugar by enabling glucose to enter our cells, while glucagon raises blood sugar when it’s too low.
However, issues arise when insulin resistance occurs. Our cells become less responsive to insulin signals due to chronic high blood sugar levels or excess body fat. This can lead to a cascade of health problems for women.
As Dr. Sharon Stills, NMD, naturopathic physician, and women’s health expert said:
“Insulin resistance is one of the main drivers of hormonal imbalance in women. When your insulin levels are constantly high, it affects your other hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. This can cause symptoms such as weight gain, fatigue, mood swings, irregular periods, and infertility.”
Fortunately, certain foods can help improve insulin sensitivity and prevent or manage insulin resistance. Focus on incorporating complex carbohydrates, fiber, protein, healthy fats, and antioxidants in your diet to maintain balanced blood sugar levels.
Complex Carbohydrates: Sustained Energy Source
Complex carbohydrates are the key to sustained energy, with a more intricate structure that digests slower and has a gentler impact on blood sugar levels.
These carbs promote satiety, support gut health, and can even help lower cholesterol levels. Find these nutritional powerhouses in whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.
Fiber: The Blood Sugar Stabilizer
Fiber acts as a regulator for digestion, slowing down carbohydrate absorption and helping maintain stable blood sugar levels.
It plays a crucial role in women’s health by reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, and obesity.
Here’s also what Dr. Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS, RD, and founder of The F-Factor Diet said about fiber:
“Fiber is a natural appetite suppressant. It fills you up without filling you out. It adds bulk to foods without adding calories. It slows down digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, which helps prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes. It also helps you stay satisfied longer between meals.”
To get your fiber fix, opt for oats, barley, high-protein beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables.
Protein: More Than Just Muscle Builder
Protein not only builds muscles but also manages blood sugar levels.
It triggers insulin release to help maintain blood sugar balance and assists muscles in using sugar effectively.
Protein also helps maintain strong muscles, preventing age-related muscle loss, supporting bone health, and bolstering the immune system.
Keep your protein levels in check by consuming lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, soy, quinoa, nuts, and seeds.
Healthy Fats: Choose Wisely
Healthy fats differ from unhealthy fats in their structure, function, and impact on blood sugar levels.
They offer numerous benefits for women’s health, such as improving insulin sensitivity, lowering inflammation, reducing oxidative stress, and protecting against cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline.
Enjoy the benefits of healthy fats by indulging in olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish.
Antioxidants: The Cellular Guardians
Antioxidants act as bodyguards for our cells, defending them from damage caused by free radicals.
Essential for women’s health, antioxidants help reduce insulin resistance, prevent or delay diabetes complications, enhance immune function, and aid in wound healing. To maximize the benefits of antioxidants, incorporate berries, citrus fruits, green tea, dark chocolate, spices, and herbs into your diet.
Dr. David Katz, MD, MPH, and author of The Truth About Food also said:
“Antioxidants can be found in a variety of plant foods, especially those with vibrant colors. Eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables every day is one of the best ways to get enough antioxidants.”
Thyroid Hormones: The Body's Regulators
Thyroid hormones play a crucial role in regulating metabolism, growth, development, and body temperature.
Sometimes, however, the thyroid gland can produce too much or too little of these hormones, leading to symptoms like weight gain, weight loss, fatigue, depression, or hair loss.
Unfortunately, Dr. Elizabeth Pearce, MD, MSc, professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and president of the American Thyroid Association, said:
“Thyroid disorders can affect anyone at any age, but they are more common in women than men”.
Certain nutrients, such as iodine, selenium, and iron, are essential for the synthesis and functioning of thyroid hormones.
Iodine: The Thyroid's BFF
Iodine is critical for thyroid hormone production.
Dr. David Brownstein, MD, and author of Overcoming Thyroid Disorders said:
“Iodine is the most important nutrient for thyroid health. It is the building block of thyroid hormones. Without enough iodine, the thyroid cannot make enough hormones to meet the body’s needs.
Both too little and too much iodine can disrupt thyroid function and overall health, leading to issues like goiter, hypothyroidism, cretinism, or autoimmune thyroiditis.
Adult women should aim for 150 mcg of iodine daily.
To ensure adequate iodine intake, consume iodized salt, fortified foods, or iodine-rich foods like seaweed, fish, shellfish, eggs, dairy, meat, poultry, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
Selenium: The Thyroid's Sidekick
Selenium is essential for converting and activating thyroid hormones.
An imbalance in selenium can affect thyroid function and overall health, causing issues like autoimmune thyroid disease, thyroid cancer, or infertility.
Adult women should aim for 55 mcg of selenium daily.
To get enough selenium, choose selenium-rich foods like Brazil nuts or seafood.
Iron: The Thyroid's Unsung Hero
Iron plays a key role in thyroid hormone production and is essential for oxygen transport, energy production, and immune function.
A lack of iron can contribute to hypothyroidism, while an iron overload can lead to hemochromatosis.
Adult women should aim for 18 mg of iron daily.
Some excellent iron-rich foods include high-protein red meat, poultry, fish, legumes, tofu, fortified cereals, whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruits, and nuts.
Progesterone: Vital for Women's Health
Progesterone is essential for more than just preparing the uterus for pregnancy and supporting fetal development.
Dr. Sara Gottfried, MD, gynecologist and author of The Hormone Cure said:
“Progesterone is a calming hormone that helps you sleep better, reduces anxiety and depression, and protects your bones. It also balances estrogen and prevents estrogen dominance, which can cause weight gain, breast tenderness, heavy periods, and fibroids.”
As women age, progesterone levels naturally decline, leading to symptoms like irregular periods, mood swings, insomnia, and anxiety.
Specific foods and nutrients, such as vitamin C and magnesium, can help.
Vitamin C: More Than Just a Cold Fighter
Vitamin C is vital for progesterone production.
Research suggests it may improve luteal phase defects, boost fertility, and reduce miscarriage risk.
Adult women should aim for 75 mg of vitamin C daily, which can be obtained from fresh fruits and vegetables like citrus fruits and leafy greens.
Buffered or liposomal supplements may be considered for better absorption.
Magnesium: A Progesterone Superhero
Magnesium plays a key role in regulating progesterone receptors and enzymes.
This mineral can help alleviate premenstrual syndrome (PMS), improve sleep quality, and reduce blood pressure and inflammation.
Adult women should aim for 310-320 mg of magnesium daily, which can be obtained from magnesium-rich foods like dark chocolate, nuts, seeds, legumes, leafy greens, and whole grains.
Cortisol: The Stress Hormone Tamed
Cortisol, our body’s natural stress hormone, acts as our knight in shining armor when we face challenges.
It plays a vital role in regulating metabolism, blood sugar levels, and immune response.
However, chronic stress can turn this knight into a foe, causing cortisol levels to spike and disrupting the delicate balance of other hormones.
Dr. Yufang Lin, MD, integrative medicine doctor at Cleveland Clinic said.
“Cortisol is not a bad hormone. It helps us cope with stress and challenges. But when cortisol levels are chronically high, it can cause inflammation and imbalance in other hormones”.
This hormonal chaos can lead to pesky symptoms like weight gain, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
Fear not, ladies! We have powerful allies in our fight against cortisol’s dark side.
Nutritional superheroes like omega-3 fatty acids and probiotics come to our rescue, helping to lower cortisol levels or buffer its effects.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Cortisol's Kryptonite
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients that wield the power to modulate cortisol secretion and action, keeping our stress response in check.
Research suggests that omega-3 supplementation not only reduces stress reactivity but also works wonders in improving mood, sharpening cognition, and guarding against cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline.
To ensure adequate omega-3 intake, opt for wild-caught or sustainably farmed fish, flaxseed oil, or chia seeds, especially if you’re a vegetarian or vegan.
Probiotics: Champions of the Gut-Brain Axis
Probiotics, the friendly gut bacteria, hold the key to the gut-brain axis and cortisol production.
These microbial warriors are masters at enhancing stress resilience, lifting mood, bolstering mental health, and supporting immune function and gut health.
Let’s put those misconceptions about gas and bloating to rest—probiotics are here to help, not harm!
To make sure you’re enlisting enough probiotic troops, choose yogurt, kefir, or fermented foods, or opt for high-quality probiotic capsules.
Mix up the strains and sources of probiotics, and team them up with prebiotics to nourish these helpful microorganisms.
How Cronometer Can Help With Your Hormones & Nutrition
Navigating the complex world of hormones and nutrition can be overwhelming, especially when you’re trying to keep your body in perfect harmony.
That’s where Cronometer comes to the rescue! It is your trusty sidekick in tracking your nutrient intake and ensuring you’re meeting your hormonal health goals.
Not already a Cronometer user? Sign up here.
Check Your Nutrition Report & Daily Report
Cronometer offers personalized nutrition tracking tailored to your unique needs, making it easier than ever to monitor your intake of key nutrients like iodine, selenium, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, and probiotics. Make sure you’re leveraging your Daily Report and Nutrition Report.
By keeping tabs on your nutrient consumption, you’ll be able to make informed food choices that support your hormonal health and overall well-being.
Custom Biometrics & Charts
Gold subscribers have access to creating Custom Biometrics, which can be plotted against any nutrient or other biometric in a Custom Chart.
Try creating a Custom Biometric for mood and chart it against your intake of any of the above mentioned nutrients like vitamin C or iron to see if it has an impact.
Gold subscribers have access to our Nutrition Scores feature, which bundles specific macro and micronutrients together and gives users a percentage value for how they are hitting their targets.
We have a dedicated Nutrition Score for women’s health which includes the nutrients that females are typically lacking such as iron, magnesium, calcium, vitamin D and fiber. We also have Nutrition Scores for all targets, electrolytes, bone health, immune support, metabolism support, antioxidants, keto & more!
You don’t have to navigate the hormone jungle alone!
Cronometer’s thriving community of fellow users and health experts is ready to offer support, advice, and encouragement.
Share your journey, exchange tips, and celebrate your victories with others who are passionate about hormonal health and nutrition. We have thriving communities on Instagram, Facebook, Reddit and our forums.
And there you have it – a comprehensive guide to understanding the connection between hormones and women’s health.
As we’ve seen, maintaining a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients can have a significant impact on your hormonal health and overall well-being.
As you continue on your health journey, don’t hesitate to seek professional advice to tailor your nutritional plan to your unique needs.
By taking charge of your hormonal health through diet and lifestyle, you’re setting yourself up for a happier, healthier future. So, go on and embrace the power of balanced hormones!