Naturopaths Lily Zurlino & Anushka Malcolm from Bare Health Studio give us insights into how to eat to balance your hormones and have a healthier, happier period.
An overview of the menstrual cycle
Every month between puberty and menopause our body undergoes a series of hormonal events known as the menstrual cycle which results in either pregnancy or a menstrual bleed.
Day 1 of your menstrual cycle begins on the first day of your bleed. This is the first day of heavy flow (so if you are spotting you aren’t quite there yet), this is also the beginning of your follicular phase. The hypothalamus lets the pituitary gland know it's time to release follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) which stimulates your ovaries to produce 5-20 follicles. These follicles each contain an immature egg and by the time ovulation comes around only the healthiest one will mature.
The main event, ovulation, occurs around day 14 of your cycle, around 10-12 hours after the peak of luteinising hormone (LH). The LH surge is inhibited by the dramatic rise in estradiol (E2) to produce the preovulatory follicle.
At the same time, hormonal changes prepare the uterus (womb) for pregnancy, as the lining begins to thicken.
In the second half of the cycle, the hormone progesterone helps the uterus to prepare for implantation of a developing embryo.
The egg travels down the fallopian tubes. If a man’s sperm doesn’t meet and fertilise the egg it is reabsorbed into the body. Levels of oestrogen and progesterone fall and the lining of the uterus will shed through the vagina, known as a menstrual bleed or a ‘period’.
Once the lining has separated from the uterus wall, the cycle starts again.
What happens if our hormones are imbalanced?
While hormones are so powerful and important in our body’s and to our health, they can easily become out of balance if something isn’t functioning the way it should. Throughout our menstrual cycle our hormones and brain work together (HPO axis) to fluctuate when needed, so if something signals a hormone to increase too much or decrease to little it will most likely create an imbalance for many of our other hormones.
Imbalanced hormones can create some unpleasant side effects. These side effects may come in the form of something the most menstruators think of as ‘normal’. Including mood swings, break-outs on various areas of your skin, poor sleep, bloating and we can’t forget the painful cramping and back aches, the list goes on. These are some of the most common signs and symptoms of imbalanced hormones but that does not make them normal. If you are experiencing symptoms of imbalanced hormones, they are a sign that something is not right and should not be ignored.
Eating a whole-foods diet for healthy hormones
Eating a whole-foods diet provides an array of nutrients required for a healthy reproductive system and happy hormones. A whole-foods diet means eating a diet with minimal processed foods, with foods as close to their natural state as possible, think more from the earth and less from a packet. For optimum health we recommend a diet high in vegetables and fruit, with legumes, whole grains, lean protein from both animal and plant sources, nuts and seeds and fermented foods.
Variety is key and eating a rainbow of foods will support you to reach your nutrient requirements to support your hormones. Limiting saturated fats and deep fried foods, sugar, refined carbohydrates and caffeine is recommended as these foods can have adverse effects on our hormones. In our clinic, Bare Health Studio, there are a few specific dietary practices that we encourage as part of a balanced diet for optimal hormone health and better menstrual cycles.
Consuming enough calories (kilojoules/energy) is essential to healthy hormones. Restrictive dietary patterns will cause havoc to your hormones. Eating a balanced diet will help you to feel full and satiated and get a variety of nutrients into your diet.
Eat your macros
Macronutrients are carbohydrates, protein and fat, they’re called macros because they should be eaten large amounts. Macronutrients are essential for producing hormones and hormones health. Significantly restricting any of these will may result in imbalanced hormones.
Eat anti-inflammatory foods
Eating an abundance of anti-inflammatory foods will support your hormones will support your hormone health. Anti-inflammatory foods include ginger, turmeric, fresh nuts and seeds, cold pressed oils, oily fish, and antioxidant-rich foods (brightly coloured fruits, especially berries and vegetables).
Eat enough fibre
Fibre is found in fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and is essential for overall health and health hormones. Adequate fibre intake is encouraged for better digestive health and supports the excretion of excess hormones through our stools.
Eat cruciferous vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables are so important for hormone health, these include broccoli, kale, brussels sprouts, cabbage and rocket, which contain a phytochemical known as indoles. Cruciferous indoles assist in detoxification of oestrogen, hormone regulation and supporting PMS management.
Eat dark leafy greens
Dark leafy greens are fundamental in the Bare Health Studio kitchen. Dark leafy greens, such as spinach, chard, kale and rocket are a brilliant source of magnesium, an essential nutrient. Magnesium is one of our favourites for better periods, it supports mood improvement, PMS symptoms, energy, sleep and is effective in reducing pain from menstrual cramping.
Eat fermented foods
Eating fermented foods like yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh and miso is so important for hormone health because they contain beneficial bacteria known as probiotics. Probiotics may play an important part encouraging hormone balance. Probiotics also reduce inflammation in the body and can support healthy moods.
Put it all together: nourish bowl recipe
½ broccoli, chopped
150-200g piece of salmon fillet
½ cup cooked quinoa
1 large handful baby spinach
1 small handful of alfalfa sprouts
1/4 lebanese cucumber, ribboned
2-3 cherry tomatoes
1 tsp hemp seeds
Yoghurt beetroot dressing
1 tbsp beetroot, finely grated
3 tbsp Greek yoghurt
1 tsp tahini
1 tbsp lemon juice
¼ garlic clove, mined
Make the yoghurt beetroot dressing by combining beetroot, Greek yoghurt, tahini, lemon juice, garlic and salt in a small bowl.
Bring one inch of water to a boil in your pot. Add your steamer basket to the pot and place the broccoli florets on the steamer. Reduce the heat to medium, add lid and steam for 5-6 minutes, for tender crisp broccoli. Remove from the heat.
For the salmon, season each side of the fillet with salt and black pepper. Heat oil in a frypan on high temperature. Place salmon skin side down for 4 minutes, flip and cook for 1 minute 30 seconds. (Do not repeatedly flip). Remove from heat and serve.
Assemble broccoli, salmon, rocket, cucumber, alfalfa, tomatoes in a bowl. Top with dressing and hemp seeds and a drizzle of olive oil.
Note: If time poor used preferred tinned fish salmon, sardines, mackerel or tuna all work well. Pre-cooked quinoa pouches are easily accessible in the supermarket, alternatively try brown rice.
This post and recipe was created by Lily Zurlino & Anushka Malcolm from Bare Health Studio.
If you are looking to improve your health and balance your hormones, book an online nutrition or naturopathy appointment at the Bare Health Studio website www.barehealthstudio.com and start your health journey today.