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An ancient adage from Chinese medicine says, “A doctor would rather treat 10 men than one woman.” In a way, this validates what women have always known—that we are indeed intricate creatures. At the heart of our complexity are hormones, their ebb and flow influencing all aspects of physical, emotional and mental well-being. When a woman’s hormones are in balance, she feels healthy, energized, and vital. She is also far less likely to experience symptoms during her menstrual cycle or as she negotiates the transition through menopause.
Unfortunately, all it takes is one alteration to this perfectly orchestrated process for hormone havoc to ensue, transforming a reasonable woman into a screaming banshee (sound familiar?). Our modern lifestyles do not help, either, and in fact have had a somewhat disastrous effect on hormonal balance. For example, stress, nutritional deficiencies, hormones in meat and poultry, estrogen-mimicking chemicals in our environment, and the widespread use of birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) have contributed to some of the highest estrogen levels ever measured, according to researchers.
Why do hormones have such a profound impact on your health? Basically, these powerful chemical messengers—including the two main female sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone—stimulate, regulate, and/or control all vital bodily functions. The delicate equilibrium of these master agents also influences every system in the body. Additionally, hormones affect certain neurotransmitters that determine mood and thinking processes. So, is it any wonder that hormonal balance is key for maintaining optimal wellness throughout your life?
Are You Estrogen Dominant?
To get an idea of the damage caused by estrogen dominance, review the following list and circle any conditions that you have. Amazingly, estrogen dominance can cause or worsen all of these conditions/symptoms.
- Breast tenderness
- Low libido
- Thinning hair
- Fibrocystic breast disease
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Blood clots
- Memory loss
- Ovarian cysts
- Autoimmune disorders
- Weight gain (especially around the abdomen, hips, and thighs)
Hormone Harmony: What Harms, What Heals
The most notorious hormone wreckers are sugar and sugar substitutes, refined carbohydrates, trans fats, caffeine, pesticide-laden foods, alcohol, dehydration, lack of sleep, stress, emotional upsets, chemicals in commercial personal care products, and lack of exercise. In addition to compromising your hormonal health, these saboteurs can also accelerate the aging process.
A hormone-harmonizing program includes organically grown whole foods (plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, seeds, and nuts); healthful fats (pick from extra-virgin olive oil, fish oil, flaxseed oil, coconut oil and butter); filtered water; regular meals; seven to eight hours of sleep; relaxation; staying hydrated; and regular exercise.
Hormones also act as sensitive barometers underlying physiological symptoms. For instance, a toxic liver, overworked adrenal glands, or a yeast infection (Candida albicans) can quickly throw hormones out of whack.
3 Ways to Enhance Hormone Health Throughout Life
- Support Your Liver: The liver plays a major role in the proper metabolizing of hormones, especially estrogen. Liver-loving foods include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, beets, garlic, lemons, artichokes, and asparagus. Liver-loving herbs include milk thistle, dandelion root, and turmeric.
- Nourish Your Adrenal Glands: The adrenals influence hormonal balance, immune health, digestion, blood sugar balance, blood pressure, inflammation control, and mineral balance. Your adrenals are nourished by vitamin C, vitamin B5 (best taken in a B-complex formula), cod liver oil, and magnesium. The adaptagenic herbs, such as ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Rhodiola rosea, and maca root (Lepidium meyenii), provide excellent adrenal support.
- Strengthen Your Digestive System: A strong digestive system ensures that your body will readily absorb your food. Digestive-strengthening foods include yogurt, kefir, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar, sauerkraut, and miso. Digestive enzymes are also helpful.
Best Natural Estrogen Detoxifiers
- DIM: Found in broccoli and other leafy green cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, DIM works by enhancing the body’s estrogen detoxification. It also promotes the balance of good versus bad estrogen and estrogen metabolism. I3C is a close relative of DIM, and it’s converted, in part, into DIM in the body. DIM is the active form, so keep that in mind when buying supplements.
- Sulforaphane glucosinolate (SGS), a broccoli seed extract, has, like DIM, been shown to stimulate the body’s production of detoxification enzymes that eliminate toxic estrogens and balance estrogens in the body.
- Pomegranate extract is thought to help support the body’s responses to estrogen.
Decadent Health for Your Decade
In our quest for optimal health, each decade of a woman’s life has its own unique needs and challenges. The following section is organized by age range to give you an overview of preventive health strategies for your specific needs. As we learn to listen to our bodies and adjust to the many changes experienced with each decade, we can gracefully dance through our transitions, savoring the gifts and wisdoms garnered from our journey through time.
The 20s are a time of great vitality, energy, and enthusiasm. But it is also easy to overdo things. College life usually means a lot of junk food, stress, poor sleep, and other unhealthy habits. Many women also start their careers in their 20s, which often goes hand in hand with demanding hours and take-out food. It’s no surprise, then, that the 20s can be a hormonally challenging period for women.
Eat nourishing meals, drink plenty of water, and try to get at least eight hours of sleep per night (or at least three nights per week). If you’re taking some form of birth control, you need extra nutritional support. All forms of birth control can deplete the body of vitamins B complex, C, and E, as well as calcium, magnesium, selenium, and zinc. Use a high-quality multivitamin/mineral formula to cover your bases. The pill, as well as antibiotics and steroids, may destroy good gut flora, resulting in yeast infections. Probiotic supplements, organic yogurt, and organic kefir can help restore proper gut flora.
Many women in their 30s are thinking of motherhood or giving birth for the first time. This is therefore the time to truly focus on adopting a healthful diet and balanced lifestyle.
Vitamins A and D are vital for normal reproduction and fertility. Vitamin A-rich foods include butter and cream from grass-fed cows, eggs, liver, and cod liver oil. A multimineral supplement is also essential. The herb chaste tree berry (also called Vitex) is helpful for balancing hormones and regulating the menstrual cycle. It can take as long as six months to notice results.
Natural bio-identical progesterone cream has been effective in not only alleviating PMS, ovarian cysts, and polycystic ovarian syndrome, but also supporting fertility. Sold at health food stores and compounding pharmacies, progesterone cream is best used under the guidance of a health care practitioner, who can assess your hormone levels and customize a treatment plan.
During this decade, a woman begins the transition into perimenopause, the five- to-10-year period before the onset of menopause. Rather than winding down, the ovaries are actually more active than they have been since adolescence. Consequently, perimenopause is a time of excess estrogen and declining progesterone. This hormonal shift often leads to unpredictable moods, heavy flow, hot flashes, night sweats, headaches, and weight gain—symptoms that have become synonymous with perimenopause and menopause.
Bioidentical progesterone cream is especially helpful for women because it helps counteract the negative effects of excess estrogen. A woman is most susceptible to estrogen dominance in her 40s.
The digestive system also becomes weaker. Strengthen it naturally by adding digestive enzymes and probiotics to your daily regimen. The thyroid can also become sluggish. Magnesium, selenium, iodine, and vitamin A help improve thyroid function. Liver-loving foods (e.g., artichokes, beets, cruciferous vegetables, berries, olive oil) and chaste tree berry capsules or liquid can also help balance excess estrogen levels.
Organic whole foods, proper nutritional support, and regular exercise are especially important in this decade.
This decade is the time for initiation into menopause, which for many women has become a stage of deepening wisdom and inner reflection. Medically, menopause means the cessation of a monthly period. When this happens, hormone levels begin to change, and the adrenal glands become the primary source of hormonal support.
At this stage, women must make wise dietary and lifestyle choices to adequately nourish the endocrine glands, which include the ovaries, adrenals, pituitary, and thyroid. To support this transition, strengthening the adrenals, detoxing the liver, and improving digestion are critical to achieve a healthy balance. Since progesterone declines much more precipitously than estrogen, using natural progesterone may be helpful.
Vaginal dryness can become more prevalent at this time as well. Increasing your intake of vitamin E and essential fatty acids (omega-3s and omega-6s) can help. Some women find that applying the oil from a vitamin E capsule to the inside of the vagina is also helpful.
Your 60s, 70s, and Beyond
From this decade on, a woman taps into her deep well of wisdom, acquired through decades of life lessons and experience. Many refer to this season of a woman’s life as the “Wise Woman” years. Health-wise, the goal is to remain strong, active, and healthy.
As with all the other decades, it is important to commit to a healthful diet and lifestyle during your 60s, 70s, and beyond. Along with probiotics and digestive enzymes, using hydrochloric acid supplements (also called betaine or HCI) is recommended to help digest protein foods.
In addition to supporting your digestive system, mineral supplements (try a multimineral formula with vitamins D and K) and weight-bearing exercise can help keep bones strong or even help reverse some early signs of osteoporosis. Because older women are more susceptible to chronic illnesses, eating antioxidant-rich, liver-loving, and nutrient-dense food ensures good health.
Chronic inflammation can become a health risk as we age. It fuels many diseases, including arthritis, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes. Natural anti-inflammatory sources include omega-3 fatty acids, found in Alaskan wild salmon, sardines, and other cold-water fish; curcumin (the active ingredient in the spice turmeric); and quercetin, found as a supplement and in red grapes, red and yellow onions, garlic, broccoli, and apples. Antioxidant-rich fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, and raspberries are anti-inflammatory and should be a part of the diet.
- Top Natural Remedies for Premenstrual Symptoms
- 7 Best Foods for Menopause
- Women’s Health: 6 Conditions That Affect Women More Than Men
To celebrate Mother’s Day, Better Nutrition is focusing on women’s health throughout the month of May. Check back each week for more articles about issues of particular concern to women—and the foods, supplements, and herbs that can help address them.