I’m sure we are all familiar with the fact that women are complicated! Just ask any boyfriend, brother, father, husband or even male friend. We have complicated physical, mental and emotional states and can be hugely controlled by our hormones.
Did you know that your diet plays a large role in maintaining healthy hormones? This is a vast topic, so I have decided to limit myself to discussing four nutrients, namely Soy, Dairy, Gentle Carbohydrates and Magnesium. These are, in turn, large topics so I will be brief for this particular article, and leave the potential to elaborate on each nutrient in future writing.
Allow me to group soy into two major groups. Industrially produced soy products, and whole bean, organic and fermented soy. Industrially produced soy products are bad for hormones. They induce inflammation, contain pesticides and can impair nutrient absorption. These include soybean oil, processed soy protein and soybeans (unless pesticide-free). Whole bean, fermented (e.g. tamari) and organic soy on the other hand, may not be so bad.
Soy contains phytoestrogens (plant estrogens), which sounds scary, but isn’t. Phytoestrogens are also in a lot of other products such as flaxseeds, lentils, oats, peanuts, cashews, garlic, cabbage, fennel, apples, coffee, beer, and even dairy and meat. It’s safe to say these have been a part of our diet for centuries, so we have adapted to them. Phytoestrogens help in the healthy detoxification of estrogen, alleviate PMS symptoms and make periods lighter.
Xenoestrogens are the estrogens in industrially produced soy products, as well as in pesticides and the oral contraceptive. These have been linked to hormonal problems such as PCOS, endometriosis, infertility, and breast cancer.
The bottom line – consuming soy is not essential since we get phytoestrogens in so many other foods. That being said it can help alleviate PMS symptoms in some.
Eliminating dairy from your diet may improve period pain, heavy periods, endometriosis, acne, and PMS. This may be true, but not every time because it depends on the type of dairy as well as the individual. There isn’t consensus as to why dairy may be harmful in terms of hormonal health but there are two potential culprits namely: the hormone content, or the A1 Casein content.
The A1 Casein content however is a more probable cause of hormonal disturbances. In some people this A1 Casein leads to the production of inflammatory cytokines  that in turn disturb hormonal and reproductive functioning. The good news is that the A1 Casein doesn’t affect every one, and is also not found in every type of dairy. Dairy from Jersey cows, goats, and sheep contains very little A1 Casein, rendering this type safe. Other sa
fe dairy products include heavy cream, butter, or ricotta (a whey-based cheese), as they contain very little A1 Casein.
The bottom line – consider avoiding dairy if you suffer from period pains, heavy periods, fibroids, endometriosis, PMS or acne.
The word “carbohydrates” has become a new swear word, replacing “fat”. I believe that when everyone gets off of the “bant-wagon” adding some complex carbohydrates back into the diet is beneficial – particularly for hormonal health. Yes intermittent fasting, and a diet of only meat, fat and vegetables is great in theory, and does work for many people. But it does not work for everyone.
When there is adrenal fatigue (or the more modern term – HPA axis dysfunction) eliminating all carbohydrate sources is not beneficial. Essentially, when your nervous system is shot, particularly in women, you may need good carbohydrates. The common symptom is episodes of hypoglycemia, due to an inability of cortisol and DHEA to keep up with the over-stimulation of your nervous system. So this form of “low blood sugar” is not insulin-related, but rather stress hormone- and neurotransmitter-related.
Carbohydrate ingestion can improve the cortisol response in very stressed people . Additionally, there is evidence that carbohydrate may increase tryptophan uptake as well as serotonin levels in the brain, so carbohydrate may promote better sleep .
Complex carbohydrates are those that do not trigger inflammation (such as sugar and potentially gluten for some individuals), or spike blood sugar levels. These include rice, potatoes, sweet potato, squash and beets. One word of caution – always combine carbohydrates with a protein or fat source to avoid blood sugar elevation.
The bottom line – avoid sugar and processed carbohydrates, and do not fear the inclusion of complex carbohydrates.
Magnesium should be considered a super-nutrient in my opinion. Reams can be written about this phenomenal supplement, so I will summarise here:
The bottom line – magnesium is an amazing nutrient. Get your daily magnesium from meats, nuts and seeds, dark green leafy vegetables, fish, low fat dairy, beans and lentils, whole grains, bananas, and dark chocolate.
Just being aware of the role of each of these aforementioned nutrients can go a long way towards keeping our hormones and in turn ourselves as women in balance.