In the first of this two-part series, I explain my integrative approach to balancing female hormones. While there are bio-identical hormones that can help – I do believe that there also a lot of things we can do naturally to support our hormone balance.
Research shows that most women over 35 have a radical decrease in progesterone and testosterone, and a huge increase in oestrogen – making them oestrogen dominant, which brings with it weight-loss resistance, amongst a range of other symptoms. But I don’t believe that we should approach ageing with the attitude that ‘everything goes south after 40’ – there are so many things we can do to fine tune our lifestyles in order to address hormone changes and imbalances.
What hormones do
Hormones such as testosterone and oestrogen act as chemical messengers in your body and work together to keep your body in homeostasis, which is its auto-regulated healthy state. Hormones control your thyroid, adrenal and pituitary glands, as well as the ovaries and testicles, and pancreas. And for them to work well, they need to work in perfect symphony.
Signs your hormones are out of balance
Many of the symptoms associated with imbalanced hormones can easily be attributed to age, diet or stress. But if you’re showing some of the signs listed below, there is a good chance that your hormones are imbalanced:
- Weight gain
- Reduced strength, endurance, muscle tone
- Dry or thinning skin
- Thinning hair
- Painful intercourse
- Decreased or absent libido
- Loss of muscle tone in arms and legs
- Difficulty concentrating, brain fog
- Memory problems
- Depression, anxiety
- Listlessness, decreased motivation
- Bone density changes
What to do…
1. Do your bloodwork
I recommend working with an expert to get the following blood panels done:
- Liver markers: hormones get filtered through the liver and so its worth seeing what’s happening with the liver and detoxificiation.
- Thyroid: cortisol can affect thyroid function, so it’s good to get this checked. As we age our thyroid function naturally declines – and thyroid affects adrenals, metabolism and how we feel.
- C-reactive protein: this is fundamental as inflammation is at the core of every disease.
2. Look at sleep hygiene
Quality of sleep is fundamental. As parents we often have a schedule to ensure good quality sleep for our kids – such as no TV just before bed, no sugary treats – but we often don’t apply the same principles to ourselves. Hormones can also disrupt your sleep when they’re out of synch.
Here’s what helps me to get a good night of restorative sleep:
- Oura ring: helps find your unique rhythm of sleep and wakefulness by tracking sleep stages to see which factors make you sleep deeper.
- Supplements: Magnesium glycinate, ashwagandha
- Essential oils: I use Lavender – it’s great for anxiety and sleep. Other people find Frankincense, Cedarwood and Sandalwood work for them.
- I don’t eat 3-4 hours before bedtime, this is essential.
- Skip the screen time (which stops the production of melatonin)
3. Controlled nutrition
Aim to feed yourself for optimum nutrition, this does not mean deprivation – but actually eating for nourishment.
Incorporate saturated fats as these are the building blocks for all hormone creation in the body and are proven to boost testosterone levels which women need to keep their sex drive alive and their weight under control. They’re also important for the absorption of vitamins from the vegetables that you eat. Good quality sources of fat for women are good quality grass-fed red meat, butter and ghee, pastured egg yolks, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, high quality >85% cacao dark chocolate, krill oil, wild salmon, sardines, avocados and avocado oil.
Remove the following from your diet:
- Factory-farmed animal products
- Processed carbs – these are not essential in any sense, especially in women. Rather go healthy carbs such as sweet potatoes, etc.
Optimise your gut health – you can’t address adrenals and hormones without ensuring that your gut and digestion are working optimally.
4. Intermittent fasting
Don’t eat all the time – stop snacking and try intermittent fasting – eating all the time contributes to insulin, the fat storage hormone.
Intermittent fasting and your menstrual cycle
Track your cycle, and 5 days before your period: eat carbs and don’t fast. It’ll help with balancing your hormones at that time, otherwise you’ll increase cortisol production.
It doesn’t have to be an excessive amount of carbs, just something like sweet potato or another nutrient-dense starch, and no processed carbs.
5. Don’t over exercise
Women shouldn’t over-exercise, unless they know that their adrenals are in tip-top shape. Many of us punish ourselves with grueling exercise routines, thinking that we need to burn off food through exercise. It doesn’t work like that – 99% of weight loss resistance has to do with hormones, and has nothing to do with calories. We need to stop obsessing over this, we’re doing ourselves a huge disservice.
Walking is amazing, also yoga and Pilates with some strength training.
Studies have found that a more effective way of burning fat is to be active throughout the course of the day, as opposed to killing yourself at the gym for 1 hour. In particular, ‘Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenisis’ or NEAT refers to the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise.
You can try incorporating micro-movements into your daily routine. Such as 15 pushups, squats, crunches and lunges 5 x daily. Or 100 jumping jacks in the morning to get your brain going.
I’ve heard experts say “if you want to age fast, just run,” as runners produce more cortisol which is ageing, it’s the wear and tear hormone. It’s also hard on your joints and bones. Of course it’s fine to incorporate a bit of running into your routine, but don’t go overboard.
Here are my go-to’s to support healthy hormones – note these are adjuncts to a healthy lifestyle:
- Magnesium citrate for sleep, as mentioned above
- Ashwagandha to help reduce stress
- Milk Thistle to assist with detoxification which is key for hormone balance
- Glutathione to aid in optimising detoxification pathways
- Berberine because it helps control insulin – and can help women with weight gain around the waist
7. Essential oils
Like supplements, essential oils work in conjunction with lifestyle modifications to support your rebalance. Always only use therapeutic, high-grade, natural and organic oils.
- Clarysage & Geranium – it’s unbelievable what these two essential oils can do for female hormones – I urge you to research and find out more.
My friend Ana Cunya is a certified nutrition coach and essential oil expert and recommends a number of blends to assist with hormone health. “With regards blends – essential oils work in synergy with one another – the more you combine oils with similar properties, the more you’re likely to benefit, as some oils may work better for different people due to our bio-individuality.”
- Libido: A blend of Jasmine, Neroli, Sandalwood, Rose
- Relaxation – a soothing, powerful blend for your nervous system: Blend of Roman Chamomile,Vetiver, Copaiba, Cedar wood
- Menopause: Clarysage and Geranium – menopausal women can take this internally
- Liver support, bile production, detoxification pathways: Also Clarysage and Geranium – Ana puts it topically on her liver and bladder nightly, and then applies a warm compress.
8. Avoid xenoestrogens
Xenoestrogens are harmful chemicals and known hormone disruptors that can have estrogen-like effects. They can be found in certain foods, cleaning products and personal care products. Take a look at my blog posts on Eating Organic, Toxin-Free Living in My Home and Non-Toxic Sunscreens for more info.
9. Develop your own sense of self as a woman
This is probably the most powerful strategy in terms of how you feel about yourself. I think that’s very important and often overlooked.
Generally what makes a woman attractive and what she exudes is not so much about how she looks, but what she feels about herself – this is the presence that she exudes into the world.
You can be in the most ‘perfect’ shape, have the ‘perfect’ clothes size – and yet you can still have insecurities and not feel good – that’s ultimately what people pick up on.
It’s very important that we as women go back to the feminine aspect of who we are, versus trying to reach this ideal of ‘perfection’, we feel there’s always a better version of ourselves that we should be striving for, which I don’t think is necessarily true – and it’s actually not important, we miss out on so much of our lives trying to achieve that.
It’s fundamental that we look at those aspects of ourselves. There’s a lot of research showing once you reach that point, a lot of things fall into place – your hormones included, it’s a metaphysical level – it’s a whole different realm. It’s not just physical, because we’re not just physical.
Keep an eye out for Part 2 where I’ll examine the most common hormone imbalances including cortisol, progesterone, oestrogen and testosterone, along with tips for balancing those out.