By Janel Ferrin Anderson
Could it be that women are just meant to suffer hormonally? Or might there be something else going on in our modern world contributing to our hormone symptoms? I am putting my money (and career) on the latter.
Whether you are out chit-chatting with friends on a mountain bike ride or talking to your health care provider, many of the conversations women have are around hormone issues. They include sleep challenges, low energy, mood issues, fatigue, weight gain, headaches, changes in libido, temper, focus, brain fog, PMS, skin problems, hot flashes, cravings, and more. Although we are not taught how or why, there is a lot we can do to impact this.
When our hormones are fluctuating up and down as intended each month, we most likely feel balanced, energized, and vibrant. When they are misbehaving, we suffer in a myriad of different ways. And whether we are having monthly issues or not, hormonally tumultuous times like puberty, childbirth, and perimenopause can create additional challenges.
Although our symptoms feel like the problem, it is more likely there is something going on upstream of those hormones, driving chaos. Our symptoms are a message that we could use a little extra TLC and attention. This is the empowering mindset shift that puts you in the driver’s seat.
I see and hear women today getting frustrated, becoming curious, speaking up, trying new things, wanting to make choices to feel better, and reaching (often frantically) for strategies to help. But the problem is we are simply not taught enough about our body, how it works, the basics of how our hormones rise and fall each month, what impacts that, how to tap in and listen to our body, how our body systems are interconnected, how our body changes with the decades, and how our modern world impacts all of this.
Thankfully, this is changing.
When it comes to hormones there are four important things to consider. We want to make the right amount of each hormone, we want to be appropriately sensitive to those hormones, we want to break them down in a healthy way, and then we want to clear them out of our body in a timely way so they don’t hang around and cause problems.
When any of these four steps are off, we feel it.
Each part of these cycles is impacted by what’s surrounding us, and we are living in a world that is increasingly more challenging to stay balanced in. In addition, some of our hormones are bossier than others. Our stress and blood sugar hormones are incredibly powerful. When those two are not at optimal levels, it impacts our reproductive and sleep hormones and more. It is nearly impossible to resolve hormone symptoms and find a solution without addressing those dominant hormones first, and this is often a missed initial step.
But there is hope. Here are 10 things that impact our hormones:
1. Our microbiome
2. Our liver and whether we have the right nutrients to process hormones in a healthy way
3. Our stress and how we process it
4. Whether we are consuming the nutrients we need to make hormones
5. Our digestion, including whether we are actually digesting and absorbing the nutrients we are eating, and also how we are clearing out our waste (aka pooping)
6. Exposure to toxins that disrupt our hormone balance
7. Blood sugar swings and especially how they change in our 40s
8. Circadian rhythm and how well we are sleeping
9. Our thyroid. Like Goldilocks, we want this just right.
10. The level of chronic inflammation in our body
So what is a woman to do?
Often we are quickly prescribed birth control pills or an antidepressant when our hormones are out of balance. And while those can provide symptom relief and are an important option for many, they don’t address what is actually driving the problem, plus they often have side effects. When we make changes that improve how our hormones are functioning, we get the benefit of positively impacting all of our body systems and how we age, preventing future diseases. This helps us take ownership of our health and body. And the cool thing is you don’t have to pick a side. Anyone can make small steps to improve their hormones and how they feel.
A powerful first step is to focus on digestion. I had a brilliant teacher who said, “We aren’t what we eat, but instead what we can break down and absorb.” Actionable steps include: sit when you eat, take a moment to give thanks, chew your food well, smell your food, breathe calmly, enjoy a small glass of lemon water before your meals, and don’t guzzle down too much liquid with your meals.
Another big hitter is focusing on the magic formula fat/fiber/protein every time you eat. This structure can be adapted to any individual preferences you have, but including each of those in every meal will work wonders to balanced hormones for several reasons, especially as we age.
When we understand our body and what impacts it we are empowered to take charge of our health.
Here is a delicious hormone-balancing chocolate mousse recipe to enjoy as you contemplate your hormones and how you want to age.
1 1/4 cups unsweetened almond milk
1/3 cup chia seeds
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 1/3 Tbsp almond butter
1 3/4 Tbsp monk fruit sweetener (or maple syrup)
2/3 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 tsp sea salt
1. Add all the ingredients to a high-speed blender and blend for two to three minutes until thickened, smooth, and creamy.
2. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until chilled, about three hours.
3. Enjoy as is or sprinkle with cocoa powder, sunflower seeds, raspberries and blueberries.
~ Janel is a functional medicine and holistic nutritionist specializing in hormone health, digestion, energy, and resilience. She teaches group classes as well as works one-on-one with people who want to take control of their health. To provide a missing gap in health care, she has dug deep into the science of nutrition, physiology, and root cause.