By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
As a naturopath with a very large focus on hormonal health, I wanted to go through the 6 steps that I look at in every case of hormone balance. This applies to irregular periods, PCOS, heavy or difficult periods, perimenopause swings, difficult periods at puberty, estrogen dominance and more. Your hormonal system is intricately connected to all many other systems in the body, and the key is to create overall balance. It’s a common misconception that we go right to the hormones and create change here, but the reality is that by addressing your underlying health, including nutrition, gut, liver and more, we can permanently change your hormone expression. Here are the six steps:
STEP 1: Optimize Nutrition
The most important place to start is with food, with a few goals in mind:
- Including sufficient protein in your diet (at least 1 gram of protein per kg of body weight).
- Hormone balance requires dietary fat, especially for fertility and during perimenopause.
- Carbohydrate requirements vary, depending on weight, insulin resistance and presence of PCOS. Important to minimize sugar and simple carbohydrates (foods made with white flour or sugar).
- Key nutrients to include: B-vitamins, Magnesium, Vitamin D and iodine.
- Cow’s milk dairy avoidance may be recommended with endometriosis, and any estrogen-dominant condition (heavy periods, fibrocystic breasts, uterine fibroids), and with painful periods.
- Gluten-avoidance can reduce period pain with endometriosis, in fact a 2012 study found that after 12 months of eating gluten-free, 75% of study-participants had a significant reduction in pain. (1)
STEP 2: Balance Blood Sugar
Balancing blood sugar levels and reversing insulin resistance is especially important for PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), and also can reduce androgen expression (acne, hair thinning and hirsutism).
You might suspect insulin resistance if you are carrying weight around your central abdomen, crave sugar and carbs intensely, lose weight very slowly, and have a diabetes in your family. Read more about insulin resistance here: http://darouwellness.com/why-testing-for-insulin-resistance-should-be-part-of-every-physical-exam/.
STEP 3: Support Gut Function
A healthy digestive system is essential for hormonal health, and is a good starting place for intense PMS, painful periods, endometriosis and heavy flow. The reason the gut is so important is that your hormones are cleared or detoxified in two steps: first in the liver, and second in the colon. If your digestive function is out of balance, or you have chronic constipation, you are more likely to have symptoms of estrogen dominance, mood swings and difficult periods.
To support digestive health: minimize sugar intake, eat fermented foods or replenish with probiotics, ensure you have plenty of fiber, and consider a gut microbiome reset.
STEP 4: Reduce Stress & Balance Stress Hormones
Stress can impact your hormones and cycle in many ways:
- increasing menstrual pain
- raising prolactin levels which can cause irregular cycles
- lowering progesterone resulting in more PMS, difficulty conceiving, premenstrual spotting, and more anxiety.
All of your hormones are intricately connected, so an imbalance in stress hormones can lead to changes in your cycle with estrogen and progesterone too.
I would also include addressing sleep in this step too, as when sleep cycles are out of balance this is often related to stress levels. Getting good quality, deep sleep is essential for progesterone production, in fact one study found that a simple low-dose melatonin supplement brought progesterone levels up by 10 ng/mL in 64% of women who participated in the study (2).
STEP 5: Test & Optimize Thyroid Function
Your thyroid function can also impact your overall hormone balance, and when the thyroid is underactive it can lead to heavier periods, longer cycles and difficult fertility.
Signs that you might have an underactive thyroid include: long menstrual cycles (more than 32 days), difficulty losing weight, constipation, dry skin, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and feeling cold or chilled.
STEP 6: Reduce Toxins & Support Detox Pathways
In very simple terms, your estrogen levels depend on three things:
- How much estrogen you produce
- How well you detoxify your hormones (liver and digestive system)
- Exposure to estrogen-mimicking chemicals
When these factors are out of balance, your body ends up in an estrogen dominant state which creates heavier and more difficult cycles.
Supporting hormone detoxification: In addition to digestive function as discussed above, we can also help the liver detoxification pathways with turmeric, the broccoli family of vegetables, and several supplements including DIM, Indole-3-carbiol, calcium D-glucarate, Sulforaphane and B-vitamins.
Minimizing exposure to estrogen mimicking chemicals, also known as endocrine disruptors includings phthalates (found in plastics, shower curtains and fragrance), Bisphenol A (in hard plastic, plastic lining of canned foods, hard plastic toys), Perfluorinated chemicals (in nail polish, makeup, moisturizers, non-stick cookware), Triclosan (in antibacterial products), and Parabens (a preservative in shampoos, sunscreens, deodorants and toothpaste).
I hope this short article has given you a good overview of ways to improve your hormone balance. Remember that your body and all of its systems are interconnected, and when we improve basic factors like nutrition, reduce stress, get enough sleep and regular exercise, we can make profound changes to our hormone expression.
1. Marziali MI, Venza M, Lazzaro S, Lazzaro A, Micossi C, Stolfi VM. Gluten-free diet: a new strategy for management of endometriosis related symptoms? Minerva Chir. 2012 Dec:67(6):499-504.
2. Taketani T, Tamura H, Takasaki A, et al. Protective role of melatonin in progesterone production by human luteal cells. J Pineal Res. 2011;51(2):207-213
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