Did you know that there is a link between hormone imbalance, inflammation, and weight gain? Considering that we tend to put most of our weight on between November and February, it is essential to find ways to balance hormones through the winter season.
Hormones act as chemical signals, communicating and influencing virtually every physiological process. Your body makes about 70 hormones that can signal for inflammation, reproduction, hunger, satiety, energy levels, and most every other function we need in order to survive. The inflammation at the root of chronic disease, weight gain, and obesity is very often the result of hormonal imbalances.
The interplay of inflammation and hormonal imbalance leads to a very sticky kind of weight gain. I’ve worked with women who have “tried everything” but can’t seem to get rid of stubborn fat, or who continue to gain weight. The strategies I outline in my book Slimming Meals That Heal (SMTH) work to reduce appetite cravings and regulate mood changes to naturally balance weight without dieting.
It is becoming the norm for people to think that hormonal imbalances are just part of being human – up to 70% of women deal with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and men may lose up to 1.5% of their testosterone production per year after the age of 30. The good news is that these hormonal imbalances are avoidable and treatable when you shift your focus to living an anti-inflammatory lifestyle.
The information below will help you to learn about the nutrients that can have a positive impact on your hormone balance. You will also come to understand why they are your allies in balancing hormones in your body. Foods that contain these nutrients, as well as healthy fats, fibre, vitamins and minerals, can be very beneficial in reducing prostate enlargement, PMS, and perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms. And remember, the recipes in the SMTH plan are chock-full of all of these nutrients!
Nutrients That Impact Hormones
BIFIDOBACTERIUM BIFIDUS: This is a bacteria (probiotic) that lives mostly in the large intestine and helps prevent colonization of the colon by unfriendly bacteria and yeasts (critters which can make estrogen dominance worse).
Where it’s found: Fermented products such as miso, lacto-fermented veggies including vinegar-free sauerkraut (finely shredded cabbage fermented with beneficial bacteria); also available in supplement form.
B VITAMINS: These are important for the proper functioning of liver detoxification enzymes, and for energy-producing reactions. Vitamin B6 helps the liver metabolize excess estrogen. Choline, folic acid, and vitamins B2, B6 and B12 support estrogen-sensitive tissues and promote overall wellness.
Where it’s found: Algae, avocado, beans, eggs, meat, milk, peas, seeds, and whole grains. If needed therapeutically, take a supplement of B-complex and additional key B vitamins (for example, B3 and B6).
BORON: Increases synthesis of estradiol and decreases calcium excretion; helps prevent postmenopausal osteoporosis by stopping the activation of the enzyme caspase-3, which can initiate the programmed cell death of new bone cells.
Where it’s found: Almonds, apples, asparagus, cabbage, carrots, figs, grapes, peaches, prunes, raisins, strawberries
BRASSICAS (cruciferous vegetables): These contain protective substances called dithiolethiones, indoles, and isothiocyanates that help prevent disease and fight cancer; also a good source of the hormone-balancing nutrients vitamin C, folic acid, carotenes, and fibre.
Where it’s found: Bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, collards, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, radish, rutabaga, turnip greens, watercress
CALCIUM: Menopausal women may need greater amounts of calcium due to lowered levels of estrogen. Estrogen protects the skeletal system by promoting the storage of calcium in the bones and protecting against osteoporosis.
Where it’s found: Almonds, asparagus, beans, blackstrap molasses, broccoli, dark leafy greens (e.g. spinach, kale), figs, salmon, seeds (especially sesame) and tempeh
FIBRE (soluble and insoluble): Binds to estrogen derivatives and encourages excretion of excess estrogen through the stool. According to a study from Tufts University Medical School, women on high-fibre diets excrete two to three times more estrogen in their bowel movements than other women who eat a diet low in fibre and high in fat.
Where it’s found: Whole, unprocessed foods; nuts and seeds including flaxseeds and chia; raw and cooked vegetables; fruit, legumes, and whole grains
FLAVONOIDS: Vitamin C and other phytonutrients (including bioflavonoids such as hesperidin, rutin, and quercetin) help promote liver detoxification of excess estrogen. Vitamin C and hesperidin have been shown to relieve hot flashes.
Where it’s found: Amla (Indian gooseberry), broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, citrus fruits, kale, kiwi fruit, kohlrabi, mango, papaya, peas (especially raw and from the pod; e.g. snow peas, sugar peas), pineapple, and sweet potato
MAGNESIUM: Eases symptoms of irritability, anxiety, mood swings, and insomnia; also helps the bones absorb calcium and raises HDL (good cholesterol). Magnesium also reduces premenstrual symptoms and menstrual cramps. In a double-blind trial using only 200 mg of magnesium per day for two months, women reported a significant reduction of several symptoms related to PMS caused by estrogen dominance, including fluid retention, weight gain, swelling of extremities, breast tenderness, and abdominal bloating.
Where it’s found: Almonds, cashews, halibut, spinach, pumpkin seeds, lentils, avocados, figs, raw cocoa beans, escarole, quinoa, teff, kale, kelp, and hemp hearts; also available in supplement form
OMEGA-3 FATS: Help to reduce inflammation, blood pressure, and depression. They also work to slow heart rate, balance hormone production, increase metabolism, reduce fat storage, promote liver detoxification and bowel regularity, ease menstrual cramps, and protect women and men from some hormone-sensitive cancers.
Where it’s found: Coldwater and deep-sea fish, anchovies, herring, mackerel, and sardines; supplemental fish oil should be sustainable (make sure the manufacturer has tested every batch to assure it is free from heavy metals). Algae, echium, flax, hemp, chia, and sancha incha seeds are good vegetarian sources but require co-factors vitamin B6, magnesium, and zinc for proper conversion.
VITAMIN E: This powerful antioxidant helps to reduce inflammation, promote liver health and function, protect cells and cell membranes from free radical damage, maintain cardiovascular health, relieve hot flashes, and alleviate vaginal dryness. A randomized trial testing the effects of vitamin E supplementation found that 105 breast cancer survivors (who were experiencing at least two to three hot flashes daily) showed an improvement in symptoms when taking vitamin E.
Where it’s found: Asparagus, avocado, brown rice, egg yolks, lima beans, nuts, peas, seeds, and sweet potatoes; also available in supplement form (make sure to use supplements labeled as containing ‘mixed tocopherols’)
LIGNANS: These specialized plant substances may help decrease hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Lignans are metabolized into phytohormones which help to balance hormones, decrease the activity of excess estrogens, and displace xenoestrogens. Plant lignans also decrease reabsorption of estrogens and testosterone from the colon.
A recent study of 21 women found that when they ate four tablespoons of ground flaxseed every day for six days, their hot-flash frequency was cut in half. Additionally, the participants reported improved mood, reduced muscle pain, fewer chills, and less sweating.
Where it’s found: The best food sources of lignans include gluten-free grains and raw seeds (e.g. hemp seed, chia). Fruit and vegetables such as broccoli and berries contain modest amounts.
Flaxseeds and sesame seeds are among the richest sources of lignans. To experience the therapeutic benefits of lignans, buy whole flaxseeds, grind them fresh in a coffee grinder, and sprinkle them on cereal or salads.
5 Hormone-Balancing Tips For Fat Loss
1) Decrease exposure to all estrogen-related factors in your diet and environment including plastic bottles, commercial cosmetics, laundry detergents, and cleaning products, conventional coffee, unfermented soy, pesticides, non-organic meats, soda pops, etc.
2) Use nutrition to flush out excess estrogen by increasing your intake of cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.), fibre, hemp hearts, and B-vitamins (found in green vegetables and avocados). Eat bitter-tasting foods like dandelion and arugula to support the flow of bile and cleanse your liver. Eat enough quality protein with sufficient amino acids to provide all the building blocks your liver needs to complete detoxification. Use probiotic supplements and eat fermented vegetables (sauerkraut), foods (miso soup), and drinks (kombucha) to support healthy gut bacteria.
3) Decrease insulin and cortisol effects by balancing your blood sugar. By eliminating your personal food allergies and intolerances (e.g. gluten, grains, and dairy), you can reduce the stress response that causes excessive weight gain. Replenish your nutrients with three low-sugar fruits and 10 vegetables a day.
4) Supplement with vitamin D, plus a mineral complex, and sustainable fish oil to decrease inflammation, protect against heart disease and cancer, and balance the sex hormones.
5) Work out with weights three to five times a week. If you want to burn fat, restore bone, increase mood, enhance strength, and tighten your body, nothing is better than weight-lifting exercise.
Below are my top recipes for hormone balancing, excerpted from my best-selling book, Slimming Meals That Heal.
(This article contains material republished by permission from Random House Canada)
Books by Julie Daniluk, R.H.N:
Meals That Heal Inflammation: Embrace Healthy Living and Eliminate Pain, One Meal at a Time
Hot Detox: A 21-Day Anti-Inflammatory Program to Heal Your Gut and Cleanse Your Body
Slimming Meals That Heal: Lose Weight Without Dieting, Using Anti-inflammatory Superfoods
Julie’s bestselling books, Meals that Heal Inflammation and Slimming Meals That Heal advise on allergy-free cooking that tastes great and assists the body in the healing process. Connect with Julie on Facebook, Instagram, Periscope, and Twitter. Check out her amazing recipes and nutrition tips at juliedaniluk.com