Women’s Health and Hormones
written by Samantha Somers
Let’s straighten out the facts and keep the management of our female health on track with these general and easy yet very effective solutions for happy hormone health and ultimately a happy you!
Hormones, they are your body’s chemical messengers which are produced by endocrine glands in the body. Endocrine glands produce, store and release hormones into the bloodstream. Endocrine organs exist of: adrenal glands, ovaries, pineal gland, pituitary gland, hypothalamus gland, thyroid and the pancreas.
Hormones are powerful chemicals that travel in the bloodstream communicating with specific tissues and organs and regulating major bodily processes including: metabolism, appetite, reproduction, sexual function, sleep, mood and stress.
Due to influences both internal and external, your body’s natural chemistry is constantly changing and when hormones are too high or too low, this indicates a problem with the endocrine system. There can be other influences on hormone health including: stress, immune disruption and changes in the blood’s fluid and electrolyte balance. Hormonal dis-eases can eventuate if your body does not respond to hormones in the appropriate ways.
When hormones are not balanced, there is a significant impact on the reproductive system, particularly in women. Hormone imbalance in women can occur at different stages of life, most significantly puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause but is not limited to these and can have a varied effect on the body.
Symptoms of hormonal imbalance include:
- Irregular bowel movements
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in libido
- Hair loss
- Sleep disturbances
- Weight gain/weight loss
- Sensitivity to cold or heat
- Heavy, irregular and painful periods
- Breast tenderness
- Hot flushes and night sweats
- Pain during sex
- Vaginal dryness and atrophy
The most common and underappreciated cause of hormone imbalance in women today. The stress system or the hypothalamic-pituitary- adrenal (HPA) axis, coordinates the adaptive response to stress of any kind. These adaptive responses to stress involve the endocrine, nervous and immune systems and is collectively known as the stress response. (Valsamakis et al., 2019)
The HPA adapts to stress via mobilisation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian (HPO) axis. When stress activates the HPA it interferes and inhibits the HPO axis causing disruption to different degrees in the female reproductive system. (Valsamakis et al., 2019)
We are living in a time that asks a lot from us, especially women who wish to seek their full potential (most of us) meanwhile our responsibilities keep stacking up. It all feels important but before you know it your health may be severely impacted. Consider your own hierarchy of needs, take time to stretch, to feed yourself good nutrition, to laugh, to sleep and to take care of your health.
A key component in the stress response and is activated by the HPA axis. While cortisol is important and useful in response to alarm and danger, it is dangerous long term in chronic states and interferes with the metabolism. Sustained HPA hyperactivity decreases muscle and bone mass, which is important for maintaining a healthy weight, balancing blood sugar and starving off osteoporosis. Cortisol also increases central adiposity fat, raises oestrogen, effects blood sugar and causes insulin resistance. Maintaining a healthy body weight is an independent regulator of the HPO axis but this can prove difficult when there is an underlying hormone imbalance. (Valsamakis et al., 2019)
Maintain a healthy weight
For adults aged 18-64 years it is recommended you are active as you can be on most days, ½ hour – 1 hour daily of moderate to vigorous intensity exercise daily and strengthening/weight bearing exercises at least 2 times weekly. Regular exercise is important for stabilising moods and blood sugar, lowering oestrogen, managing cortisol, reducing adipose tissue (fat) and preventing osteoporosis in menopause. (The Department of Health, 2019)
Yes, it’s true, coffee can have many health benefits, it is also true that coffee can be quite detrimental to your health depending on your current health status. If you are suffering from any HPA or HPO impairment you could be doing yourself a lot of harm, daily. Caffeine stimulates the HPA and releases cortisol which impacts your sleep/wake cycle, increases blood sugar levels which causes cortisol spikes, damages the gut lining, exacerbates PMS symptoms by contributing to oestrogen dominance ,which also impairs function of the thyroid gland.
Consumption of alcohol has been shown to increase oestrogen levels in the body. So, in menopausal women who have low levels of oestrogen in the blood, a glass of red wine may be beneficial. (Hiller-Sturmhöfel & Bartke, 1998) Limit your intake of alcohol.
Your liver is the gateway to your digestive system, which breaks down and excretes hormones from within the body and sometimes it gets blocked up and overworked from the incoming traffic. It’s important to have a healthy, well-functioning liver. The liver is key to important digestive processes such as bile production and synthesizing carbohydrates, proteins and fats and ensuring we have healthy stools to ensure the elimination process.
Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs)
Exogenous compounds which can cause hormonal imbalance and result in female reproductive and endocrine issues including obesity, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. (Casals-Casas & Desvergne, 2011) EDCs can mimic natural hormones and interfere with production, release, metabolism and elimination of hormones in the body. EDCs can be natural; animal and plant based such as soy, which acts as a phytoestrogen. However the cause for concern, internationally, according to the world health organisation (WHO) is on synthetic chemicals and endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as plastics, household cleaning products and beauty products.(Casals-Casas & Desvergne, 2011)
Reduce exposure to exogenous toxins
Including preservatives, additives and plastics: replace old non-stick pans with ceramic pans, replace plastic containers with glass to store and heat food, replace toxic home and beauty products with natural options, buy organic and if not wash fruit and vege before use, do not heat food or drinks in plastic.
Good Gut health
Our gut flora (microbiome) is the collective, ecological community of symbiotic and pathogenic micro-organisms that live in our gastrointestinal tract (GIT), which play out many important mechanisms in our body and health such as metabolism, body weight, mood, appetite and immunity. Bacteria in the GIT can either help or hinder a person’s well-being so therefore it is essential to be mindful of what we feed ourselves. Our gut flora aid in digesting food, eliminating toxins, regulating hormones and producing vitamins. Hippocrates is the traditional father of all medicine and he stated in 400BC that “all dis-ease starts in the gut”. What we know now is that the richer and more diverse your good gut flora is, the better health you will experience. The Nutrient Reference Values for Australia recommend taking 25g of fibre daily and add prebiotic foods to your diet such as raw garlic, onion raw and cooked, raw leeks, raw chicory root, raw Jerusalem artichoke and raw dandelion greens.
My personal favourite! If you are having problems with your sleep, this is means there are other underlying issues that need to be addressed. Issues can be a result of dysregulation of the circadian rhythm and neurotransmitter deficiencies due to endocrine dysfunction.
According to the Australian dietary guideline’s females should consume a minimum of 2.1L of water daily (8-10 cups). Water is required for digestion, absorption, solvent for nutrients and for elimination of waste products in the body. (National Health and Research Medical Council, 2013)
Dairy and gluten do cause inflammation in the GIT and impair hormone balance which can cause acne. Try to limit your intake of dairy and watch out for signs of inflammation and intolerance to dairy and gluten products. Removing these from your diet will see great improvements in your health.
Good nutrition is paramount for hormone health and for all around good health. It is important to balance blood sugar, you can do this by reducing your intake of grains, refined sugars and carbohydrate. Ingest around 0.75g/kg of protein daily for women. Increase fibre intake to at least 25g/day in addition to lots of leafy greens colourful vegetables. Eat plenty of Essential fatty acids specifically omega 3’s such as fish, linseeds, nuts, chis seeds and hemp seeds to improve skin, digestion and reduce inflammation.
Hormonal imbalances occur when there are nutrient deficiencies present. You may want to assess your nutrient status with a Naturopath to determine whether supplementation is required for you. Common deficiencies include zinc, magnesium, iodine, selenium, iron and B-vitamins.
Evening primrose oil may be effective for the treatment of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Vitex angus-castus acts by regulating ovulation and therefore progesterone levels by acting centrally to influence HPO axis behaviour. (Trickey, 2011)
Salvia officinalis may be effective for reducing hot flashes.
Angelica sinesis for menstrual irregularity and in menopause.
Asparagus racemosa may assist in adapting to stress and improving libido.
Paeonia lactiflora for hormone imbalance and modulating oestrogen.
Taraxacum and Silybum marianum for improving the health of the liver.
Withania somnifera supports the HPA and HPO axis and aids in adapting to stress.
Casals-Casas, C., & Desvergne, B. (2011). Endocrine Disruptors: From Endocrine to Metabolic Disruption. Annual Review of Physiology, 73(1), 135–162. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-physiol-012110-142200
Hiller-Sturmhöfel, S., & Bartke, A. (1998). The endocrine system: An overview. Alcohol Health and Research World, 22(3), 153–164.
National Health and Research Medical Council. (2013). Australian Dietary Guidelines. National Health and Research Medical Council. www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines-publications/n55
The Department of Health. (2019). Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines and the Australian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines. The Department of Health. https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/health-pubhlth-strateg-phys-act-guidelines#npa1864
Trickey, R. (2011). Women, Hormones & the Menstrual Cycle (3rd ed.). Trickey Enterprises Pty Ltd.
Valsamakis, G., Chrousos, G., & Mastorakos, G. (2019). Stress, female reproduction and pregnancy. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 100, 48–57. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2018.09.031
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