This is a guest post by Brea of Beneath The Surface. If you would like to write an article for our blog, read our guest posting guidelines.
“Food can either be the safest & most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.”– Ann Wigmore
In school, I was the girl that ate a lot of processed foods, didn’t drink enough water, and just didn’t take care of myself. I had horrible inflamed cystic acne, painful PMS and was uncomfortable and insecure in my own body. It wasn’t until I found myself in the midst of an eating disorder, horrible gut issues and a diagnosis of hypothalamic amenorrhea that I realized something had to change.
That’s when I fell in love with using food and natural remedies to solve problems usually addressed with pills. I healed my acne, eliminated my PMS, overcame SIBO, leaky gut and low stomach acid, restored my period and just renewed my vitality.
Now I am able to help women become the confident, sexy, and energetic version of themselves that I know they are destined to be and teach them how to kiss their health problems goodbye – once and for all!
Hormones are complicated, delicate but fascinating all at the same time. However, because of their fragile nature they are easily thrown out of balance if your body isn’t receiving proper nourishment and care. Hormones are chemical messengers that pulse throughout the body to help regulate important processes like metabolism, immunity, menstruation, reproduction, digestion, stress and even your mood.
In today’s society, we are constantly exposed to toxins, and stress. Our ancestors never had to deal with the financial and physiological stressors that we do now. When individuals are experiencing undesirable symptoms like acne, bloating, fatigue, or weight gain – the last thing they usually turn to is food as a form of medicine or treatment.
However, more often than not, an individual’s symptoms and diagnosis can be remedied through the use of lifestyle and dietary alternations.
With that being said, I full-heartedly believe that hormones control every aspect of your life – whether you are consciously aware of it or not. So in turn it only makes sense that the food choices we make all have an impact on our hormones such as insulin, serotonin, estrogen, progesterone, and cortisol.
Estrogen is the main female sex hormone that is responsible for a healthy regular menstrual cycle. It also helps to build up your uterine lining to either prepare your uterus for implantation or menstruation. Your estrogen levels fluctuate during your reproductive age depending on where you are in your current cycle i.e. menstruation, luteal, follicular, or ovulatory.
Now your diet can have some detrimental effects on your estrogen levels, if you aren’t eating a diet that supports an estrogen-progesterone balance. Excess estrogen is detoxed through the liver and excreted through urine, stools and even bile. If you aren’t taking care of your detoxification organs, your body instead will reabsorb the excess estrogen and then pump it back in your blood stream. This creates a hormonal imbalance known as estrogen dominance.
Estrogen dominance is extremely common unfortunately. When choosing to over-consume alcohol, caffeine, refined-processed foods, eat a low fibre-nutrient dense diet and then add on all environmental stress and toxin, your liver and your hormones are going to pay the price.
As well when you reach the age where your estrogen levels start to decline and cause menopausal symptoms (hot flashes, night sweats and mood swing) to help to relieve some of these undesirable symptoms it is important to include phytoestrogens into your diet. Phytoestrogens are estrogen-like-chemical substances that trick the body into thinking it is receiving estrogen. Research shows that phytoestrogens can actually help to manage menopause.
Moving onto Insulin. Insulin is a hormone present in your body that has a direct correlation to your blood sugar. To simplify, insulin is the hormone that is influenced the most by your dietary choices. To understand insulin, you first have to understand carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are our direct energy source. Meaning that when we consume carbohydrates, they are quickly and easily converted to sugar (glucose) in our body.
Therefore, when individuals are choosing to eat low carb, or ketogenic they aren’t getting quick energy but rather have to go through other pathways to make glucose from fat and protein. Low carbohydrate levels have been known to drop estrogen levels and thus potentially stop ovulation as your body is attempting to find a way to synthesize glucose.
The issue with carbohydrates starts when people start to demonize them in general. There is a night and day difference when it comes to whole-food carbohydrate sources and refined carbohydrates.
Refined carbohydrates are the delectable cinnamon buns, scones, and cookies you get from down the street and have been through quite the manufacturing process. This process usually strips most if not all nutrients and fiber from the product.
Excess refined carbohydrate consumption causes a raise in insulin levels and testosterone, promote acne, raise estrogen levels (estrogen dominance), worsen PMS, alter your thyroid health, hinder your mood, and even cause insulin resistance polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Whole-food sources of carbohydrate include wild rice, quinoa, steel cut oats, potatoes, fruits, and legumes which are packed full of beneficial nutrients and fibers. When the carbohydrates source isn’t stripped of the fiber it helps to balance blood sugar levels, flush out excess estrogen, aid in fertility, maintain a healthy pregnancy and even help those suffering with amenorrhea restoring the HPO axis.
Thus, when glucose travels to your bloodstream, it then triggers your pancreas to start secreting insulin. In response, insulin attaches to the glucose and helps to carry them to your cells so they can be utilized for energy.
Then glucagon comes into play. Glucagon is another hormone secreted by your pancreas which is released when you go without food for a long period of time. Glucagon signals the liver to start extracting stored glycogen into a useable energy source (glucose). Glucose is then secreted into the bloodstream, so the body has energy until it is given more food.
Glucagon and insulin are essential for blood sugar balance, when you are constantly over-eating carbohydrate sources in comparison with fats and proteins or have a diet high in refined carbs you may be at risk of developing insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance is when your pancreas produces insulin as it should but instead of your muscles, fat and liver responding to the release they don’t, which then causes the body to create more insulin. Another issue is if your body can’t produce enough insulin your excess sugar builds up and can result in prediabetes or diabetes.
You know that black heavenly elixir most of us rely on to function? Yeah that beautifully designed latte or the extra-shot expresso caramel macchiato well it could come back to bite you in the butt if you are consuming it everyday.
Caffeine consumption plays a huge role on our adrenals. The adrenal glands secrete a hormone known as cortisol; cortisol is a stress hormone produced in response to physiological stress or danger. Caffeine can really spike your cortisol especially, if it drank before a meal, which seems to be the case now a days.
It’s not unheard of for caffeine to replace a nutrient dense breakfast. Depending on your overall health your body needs about 6-12 hours to metabolize caffeine out of your system, which mean constantly grabbing another coffee every couple of hours is going to keep your HPA axis (stress response system) activated and thus cause adrenal fatigue or a cortisol imbalanced. In fact, excess of caffeine can even amplify symptoms of PMS, and worsen estrogen dominance symptoms, hinder the T4 – T3 conversion, and hinder fertility.
You feel how you eat. Serotonin is a chemical that is synthesized in the gut and found in the brain, blood, and intestines. Essentially, serotonin causes the blood vessels in your body to contract to help transmit information across the nervous system. Anxiety, depression, memory issues all have been traced back and linked to a deficiency in serotonin levels.
Now this is the crazy part, you can’t actually get a dose of serotonin directly from food, but you can get its precursor – tryptophan. Now, tryptophan is an essential amino acid meaning that the body cannot make this specific protein and thus incorporating it into your diet is a must.
Therefore, when it comes to serotonin and mood hormones it is essential that you are receiving the correct amount of protein. Protein can even influence the release of hormones that affect appetite but decreasing levels of ghrelin and stimulating hormones that tell you that you are full.
Progesterone is a sex hormone that specifically plays a big part in maintaining a healthy pregnancy and boosting your fertility. Low levels of progesterone is linked to abnormal menstrual cycles, missing or late periods, miscarriages, infertility, irregular ovulation or anovulatory cycles and even spotting or cramping.
Though once again, progesterone is not something you can get directly from your food but having the proper vitamins and minerals support the production of progesterone.
Some of the nutrients needed to help synthesize progesterone is Vitamin B6, Zinc, Magnesium, Vitamin C, and L-arginine.
Many studies show that B6 and vitamin C have been known to boost low progesterone levels but helping to detoxify excess estrogen and therefore better balance progesterone to estrogen ratio.
Zinc helps in the production of FSH and therefore ovulation and progesterone production. Good sources for example are lean beef, seafood, pumpkin and squash seeds and nuts.
Magnesium supports the pituitary gland, which is responsible for FSH, LH and TSH to help in the production of these sex hormones. Which is why on your period, you may even crave magnesium rich foods. Hint, hint – chocolate.
Lastly, l-arginine is another amino acid that is important in the production of nitric acid, which aids in blood circulation. Blood circulation is essential for a proper functioning corpus luteum – which is responsible for the rise in progesterone following ovulation. Great food choices for this includes lentils, salmon, pumpkin seeds, chicken, pork, and lean beef.
All in all, though, when it comes to a specific hormone there are so many vitamins and minerals that are essential to make sure a hormone can be produced and function at its optimal capacity.
However, every hormone has one thing in common. Your body needs fats to synthesize hormone production. Without fat in your diet, hormone production has an extremely high chance of being hindered or stopped all together. As fats also help with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K this is why a lot of women on low calorie, low fat diets can lose their period, hair, and just overall vitality.
Hormones are built out of cholesterol and as fat helps your body create cholesterol, without these essential macro-nutrients, your body is unable to produce sex hormones. The big thing that people get wrong when it comes to fats is that fats make you fat – which is 110% not the case. Fats are the reason you have glowing skin, shiny hair, a healthy cycle, and energy to do the things you love.
Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid that will not only help with hormone synthesize but also fight inflammation caused by inflammatory foods and even stress. So please ladies, incorporate coconut oil, avocado, olive oils, nuts, and seeds and even fish to your daily routine.
Now as much as you can eat all the right things to support your hormones and overall, well-being a huge factor in hormonal balance and health is not just WHAT you choose to eat, but WHEN you choose to eat. I see this a lot in girls who specifically want to lose weight, they feel like if they miss a few meals here and there all that will happen is a couple pounds will shed off.
Most likely, they will, but unfortunately, when you skip a meal, you are instantly placing a stressor on your body. Your body will react like it’s in a state of starvation and therefore influence your insulin and cortisol levels. Your cortisol will skyrocket because your body is scared, it doesn’t know when its next meal is and if done continually can even do the opposite and your body will start to hold weight as a defence mechanism.
In addition, cortisol actually blocks the relapse of leptin from fat and the production of dopamine, which means, that instead of feeling full your body will do the opposite and think its starving. This practice in itself can lead to weight gain.
Also, the precursor that synthesizes your sex hormone progesterone actually synthesizes cortisol as well. Which means if you are conclusively just skipping meals, instead of building sex hormones to put you in a rest, digest, and reproductive state your body will flip the switch and start producing cortisol and activating the flight or fight response.
With little progesterone production like discussed, estrogen dominance comes into play which usually follows with undesirable symptoms such as PMS, irritability, breast tenderness, bloating, headaches, anxiety, decreased libido and of course MIA periods or irregular cycles. The missing periods, painful PMS and irregular cycles can even be due to the HPA axis (stress response system) suppressing your hypothalamus function which links the brain to the ovaries.
What you choose to eat could be the reason you are energetic and full of life or you feel drained and dull. It could be the difference between being pregnant or losing your period. Food is so much more than it made out to be. Whole foods contain so many amazing vitamins and minerals that support and nourish your body is so many ways.
Your body needs nourishment in order to preform at its best. Its like a car, you can’t accept your car to run with no fuel. Don’t expect your body to do the same either. I believe food is the answer to many issues out there. You can do all the right things, go to the gym, talk all the supplements in the world but unless you change your diet to support your goals, progress will be minimal. So please eat enough, eat to nourish your body, and eat to nourish your soul.
Brea is a Holistic Nutrition Practitioner who has a fiery passion for hormones and gut health! After years of suffering from SIBO, gut dysbiosis, constipation, a missing period, adrenal fatigue, damaged metabolism and yo-yo dieting she FINALLY figured out the secret to becoming that confident, sexy, energetic and NOURISHED version of herself. AND guess what? The answer isn’t starving yourself, weird supplements, or running on a treadmill for 5 hours a day. Now, she is in love with the fact that she is able to help women kiss their health problems good-bye and revive their vitality.
Make sure you grab a copy of my FREE guide 5 Steps To Increase Your Fertile Cervical Mucus & my FREE Self-Care Mini Course. You can access either one by clicking on the title. These are packed full of information that you can begin implementing today to put yourself one step closer to getting pregnant, naturally.
If you’re looking for a group of like-minded women with which to share your fertility wellness journey, be sure to check out my Whole Body Fertility & Wellness Facebook group today!
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