Functional Foods to Balance HormonesApr 30, 2021 09:31AM ● By Tamara Luck
Women’s hormones are a complex, yet interconnected web of signaling molecules that impact almost every aspect of our well-being. The food on our forks modulates estrogen and progesterone, and is responsible for maintaining our sexual health, bone density, metabolism, energy and more.
Estrogen, one of two primary women’s sex hormones, is mainly responsible for the development of the reproductive system. While estrogen plays many important roles in the body, too much estrogen, relative to progesterone, can worsen PMS, cause bloating, breast tenderness and swelling, decrease sex drive, cause fibroids and even increase breast cancer risk over time. Additionally, imbalanced, fluctuating estrogen levels are often at play in hot flashes. Having optimal estrogen is reflected by having levels balanced with progesterone and other hormones, and by being easily detoxified from the body after performing its responsibilities throughout the body.
Many women have some degree of estrogen dominance, often exacerbated by chronic stress, sluggish detoxification in the liver, slow toxin excretion in the gut (constipation), and endocrine-disrupting chemicals, like the BPA found in the plastic of food containers or on receipt papers.
These effects can be combatted by supporting estrogen levels through the consumption of cruciferous vegetables, which naturally promote estrogen detoxification and balance. Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, spinach and cabbage, contain a compound called 3,3-Diindolylmethane, or DIM. This compound has been shown to reduce high estrogen levels and support estrogen detox in the liver, which helps balance estrogen levels overall. DIM has also been shown to be chemoprotective, leading to lower risk of breast cancer over time.
Another important compound in cruciferous vegetables is sulforaphane which also reduces excess estrogen and helps boost antioxidant activity in the body. Women struggling with severe PMS symptoms, should try to incorporate one to two additional servings of cruciferous vegetables per day for the two weeks before her period. This can help reduce excess estrogen and lighten the severity of PMS symptoms. Lastly, these vegetables contain magnesium, which can help to reduce muscle cramping that may occur before or during a women’s period.
Another food group that promotes hormone balance is seeds. Seeds such as flax, hemp and chia provide minerals and essential omega-3 fatty acids that support estrogen and progesterone production. Omega-3s are also anti-inflammatory, helping to decrease menstrual pain. Flax seeds contain a phytoestrogen known as lignans. Lignans have a balancing effect on estrogen and have been shown in research articles to help menstruating women and postmenopausal women balance their hormones at doses as low as one tablespoon per day.
Each meal is an opportunity to support hormonal balance by adding in hormone supporting nutrients, like DIM or omega-3s. Focusing on nourishing foods will also help to crowd out foods that may interfere with hormonal balance. For example, highly processed foods that contain large amounts of sugar can promote inflammation and increase androgens, like testosterone, in women. Instead of packaged sugary sweets, opt for a homemade flax banana bread or fruit, like blueberries for antioxidants.
Tamara Luck, RDN, LDN, is an integrative and functional dietitian in Waltham, MA. She is currently accepting new patients at Johnson Compounding and Wellness for virtual nutrition appointments. Schedule a free, 15-minute introductory call at NaturalCompounder.com/Tamara.