Hormones affect everything, from mood, growth and metabolism to fertility, libido and skin health, so keeping them on an even keel is key to optimal health. And to learn how to do it the natural way, we caught up with Angelique Panagos, nutritional therapist and hormone expert. Here’s how diet and exercise can help keep things balanced, leaving you happier and healthier in the long run...
Firstly – what are the signs your hormones might be out of whack?
Hormones are our body’s chemical messengers. They work all over our bodies and affect pretty much every bodily function, so there are all sorts of signs your hormones might be imbalanced. Many women don’t think what they’re experiencing is hormone related, but symptoms can include irregular menstrual cycles, irritability, infertility, insomnia, low self-esteem, weight gain, decreased libido, moodiness, fatigue, anger, acne, headaches, panic attacks, low mood, breast tenderness, heavy periods, PCOS, cold hands and feet, endometriosis, cysts, and PMS. In fact, PMS alone has over 150 symptoms associated with it.
Is it possible to get tested to pinpoint an imbalance?
Absolutely. If you suspect your hormones are out of whack then testing can help you identify where your imbalance lies. If you are interested in getting tested, make an appointment with a registered nutritional therapist, functional medicine practitioner or your health practitioner who can properly interpret the results.
Are there any supplements you can take to balance your hormones?
As we’re all biochemically unique it’s tricky to advise on supplements because what works for one person may not work for another. You should seek advice from a qualified practitioner when it comes to supplements, but vitamin D, omega oils, magnesium and evening primrose oil are some that might help. However, it’s crucial to remember supplements are not a substitute for a healthy diet – start with food, and nourish your body from within.
So, what are the main foods to avoid for optimal hormone levels?
In order to function optimally our hormones need a constant supply of nutrients from the food we eat. Avoid processed and refined sugars; where you can, lose the alcohol and cut back on caffeine, which can affect cortisol levels. I also recommend avoiding dairy, which is full of animal hormones and often comes loaded with chemicals and antibiotics if it’s non-organic, and gluten, which can cause inflammation. Not willing to ditch them completely? Go ‘dairy and gluten light’ and don’t eat them with every meal.
And what kinds of food should you eat?
Wherever you can, eat a rainbow of food – healthy, unprocessed and in its most natural state. Fill your plate with cleansing, leafy greens, plenty of healthy fats, the right carbs to boost fibre and help healthy elimination, and nutrient-rich green smoothies. It’s also crucial to stay hydrated – even the slightest dip in your hydration levels can wreak havoc on your concentration, mood, digestion, hair, skin and energy levels.
What role do healthy fats play in balancing your hormones?
A significant one. Whilst you should avoid trans and hydrogenated fats and vegetable oils (often found in cakes, pastries, ready-meals fast food and biscuits), you should load up on good fats. Fats such as omega-3, which is found in oily fish, walnuts and dark green veggies, and omega-6, which you’ll find in nuts (especially almonds) and sesame oil, are great to add to your plate. Also, make the most of avocados and olive oil, which are rich in omega-9, and certain saturated fats such as coconut oil, which can help with energy levels.
So what kind of role does the gut play in hormonal balance?
Gut irritability can trigger all sorts of health conditions, which can lead to extra stress, inflammation and hormonal imbalance in the body – in fact, serotonin (the happy hormone), originates in the gut. Make an effort to enjoy a healthy, varied diet that’s rich in whole foods, fibre, probiotics and prebiotics. If you suffer from constipation, up your fibre intake and stay hydrated – not going to the loo is troubling for hormones as it means your body cannot excrete excess oestrogen.
Okay, so what are some easy hormone-balancing meals and snacks?
Try to start the day with a protein-rich breakfast within an hour of getting up – this is crucial to balance your blood sugar – and incorporate a portion of protein and whole grains/complex carbs at every meal. A green smoothie is a simple way to pack in a whole host of nutrients in one swoop and a handful of nuts or seeds or small servings of nut butter also make for a tasty hormone-balancing snack.
Can exercise help to balance your hormones?
Yes and no. As with all things in life, your approach to exercise needs balance – not enough exercise won’t do your body any favours and too much can be a stress on the body and wipe out some of the benefits. Moderate exercise, such as a power walk, a gentle jog, a swim, some HIIT or a yoga class can reduce cortisol levels and boost your metabolism. However, exercising excessively can disrupt your hormones and cause adrenal insufficiency, speeding up the ageing processes and messing with the immune system. Remember, exercise should energise you, not exhaust you. If you find yourself feeling low after a workout, it could be time to cut back.
Lastly – what’s the simplest way to balance hormones?
The clue is in the question – it’s all about balance. A balanced diet and a balanced life is the key to optimal hormonal health.
The Balance Plan by Angelique Panagos is available on Amazon from 27th July, priced £20.