WOMEN EATING WELL: HORMONE-BALANCING FOODS
The female sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone play important roles in a woman’s reproductive health, from menstruation to pregnancy to menopause and more.
Estrogen & Progesterone
Estrogen – women are pretty familiar with this hormone as it is responsible for the physical changes during puberty, the start of menstrual cycles and childbearing. It also keeps cholesterol in control, protects bone health, and affects a woman’s mood, heart and even her skin. Estrogen levels change throughout the month and are highest in the middle of a woman’s menstrual cycle and lowest during her period. At menopause, estrogen levels begin to drop.
Progesterone helps to regulate the menstrual cycle and gets a woman ready for the possibility of pregnancy. After ovulation, progesterone prepares to accept a fertilized egg. If there is no fertilized egg, progesterone levels drop, and menstruation begins. When women go through menopause, ovulation rates begin to decline and stop at the onset of menopause.
Women who experience imbalances in estrogen and progesterone levels may experience one or more of the following:
- Menstrual periods that are irregular or have stopped altogether;
- Hot flashes or night sweats;
- Worsening premenstrual syndrome (PMS);
- Weight gain;
- Loss of sex drive;
- Depression or anxiety;
- Abnormal uterine bleeding, miscarriage.
Testosterone, the primary sex hormone found in men, also plays an important role in a woman’s body. Women who produce too much testosterone may experience irregular or absent menstrual periods, frontal balding, acne and has more body hair.
How To Remedy?
One of the most common misperceptions about hormones is that there is nothing we can do to improve our health symptoms and quality of life. However, while women are quick to put the blame on hormones, it could in fact be due to stress and lifestyle related choices rather than hormonal changes.
Good nutrition is key to women’s health and hormonal balance. A healthy, well-nourished woman will have less premenstrual syndrome (PMS), healthier menstrual cycles, easier menopause and better overall health.
According to a study1 in Malaysia, approximately 60% of 158 women surveyed did not use any remedy to lessen the effects of their PMS.
Managing Your Hormones
To establish normal hormonal levels and general well-being, women might be better served with herbal and natural remedies prescription under qualified complementary practitioners. In addition, women need to empower themselves with the right knowledge to care for and support their health.
For a start, women can incorporate a hormone-balancing diet that is rich in nutrients and healthy fats into their meal plan. As for dealing with unpleasant PMS or managing those nasty peri- and post-menopause symptoms, the following are some effective lifestyle tips:
Relax. Breath. Sleep.
Make sure you are getting enough sleep. Find the root cause of why you can’t doze off easily. If it is stress-related, you can go for a jog, opt for a free 15-minute sun bathing session, or simply give yourself a “me-time” off your busy schedule. If it is a health-related issue, see a health professional about it.
Water. Weight. Active.
Hydration is key for healthy weight management, digestion and muscle function. Women tend to put on extra weight after menopause due to declining estrogen levels, muscle loss, lifestyle and diet factors. We also tend to be less active physically prior to menopause. Hence, it’s good to kick start a moderate and vigorous exercise regime to prevent the on-coming menopausal weight gain. Maintaining a healthy weight according to your BMI (body mass index) is crucial.
Eat a balanced diet that includes fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Plan your fiber goals. Malaysians are recommended to consume 20-30 g of dietary fiber a day2. Get hold of fiber-rich foods such as seeds, nuts, beans, colorful vegetables and fruits as part of your shopping list and achieve your fiber goals.
4. Healthy Fats
Healthy fats not only provide the body with energy but also help with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, healthy weight management and protection of the heart. Include good fats such as olive, nuts, seeds (pumpkin seed, flaxseed, walnuts) and avocados in your diet. Adding more of these healthy fats may also help you feel more satisfied after a meal, reducing hunger and thus promoting weight loss.
5. Natural Remedies
Incorporate herbs and spices like ginger, lemon grass and cinnamon by adding it to your tea, stew and soup to help better manage PMS. If cooking is not your forte, drink herbal tea such as Chamomile, Black Cohosh and Red Raspberry leaves. Another wonderful herb is Kacip Fatimah3, a local Malaysian herb which is rich in isoflavones and phytoestrogen. This female tonic herb has traditionally been used to regulate menstrual cycle, relieve menopausal symptoms and PMS.
6. Mental Attitude
Positive. Recharge. Love.
It is not selfish to love and care for yourself. Self-care is all about making sure your well-being is your top priority. When feeling blue, ditch the Smurfs in you and get yourself a Troll. Be happy, silly and grateful, for life is a blessing. We are never too old for cartoons!
Have you been giving yourself the love and attention you deserve? If not, the best time to start is now.
2. Ng TKW. Dietary fat and fibre intake in adults. Mal J Nutr 3: 137-147, 1997 https://nutriweb.org.my/mjn/publication/03-2/e.pdf
3. Kacip Fatimah https://www.forestry.gov.my/my/tumbuhan-ubatan/item/kacip-fatimah