Have you ever wondered why you get sugar cravings before your period or cry over nothing? Or perhaps you can’t sleep and suffer the odd migraine. Your haphazard hormones could be to blame, and when they’re out of balance, life can be hell.
Hormones are the chemical messengers that travel via our bloodstream to every organ and tissue, and regulate processes in the body; they’re involved in everything from growth and metabolism to reproduction and mood, and include the main sex hormones oestrogen, testosterone and progesterone, plus melatonin (sleep), cortisol (stress), adrenaline (fight or flight) and thyroid (metabolism).
An imbalance can be caused by nutritional deficiency, impaired liver function, hypothyroidism, stress and intake of xeno-oestrogens. Symptoms can include weight gain, anxiety, mood swings, painful breasts, depression, cravings, bloating, thyroid issues, insomnia, hirsutism, vaginal dryness, hot flushes, headaches and migraines, night sweats, rosacea and acne.
The battle of the oestrogens
Oestrogen imbalance is common in women, and can be caused by exposure to xeno-oestrogens, which are man-made chemicals that are present in everything from plastics and pollution to household cleaning products and pesticides.
“Xeno” is the Greek word for “foreign”, and that’s what these chemicals are to the body – they mimic the effect of the hormone, attaching themselves to oestrogen receptors, interfering with normal signalling and creating imbalance.
The good news is the negative effects of xeno-oestrogens can be countered by plant-sourced phyto-oestrogens, and absorbing as many of these natural sources as we can (see the “food to balance hormones” box, above) prevents the baddies from latching on to the oestrogen receptors in our body.
It’s just as important to limit exposure to xeno-oestrogens, some of which are easier to avoid than others as they include environmental pollutants such as car exhaust fumes and man-made chemicals in non-organic foods, skincare and cleaning products.
It’s little wonder our hormones are imbalanced when we’re giving our bodies so much extra work as it tries to eliminate these chemicals.
Start in the home
A good rule of thumb is that Mother Nature always knows best. Xeno-oestrogens are used to make pesticides, herbicides and plastics, so keep your life as free from these as possible by using natural products and eating organic, phyto-oestrogenic foods. This will help you take back control of your hormones, and improve your overall health and vitality. Here are simple changes to make at home.
Cleaning products: Washing powders, toilet cleaners, hand soaps, stain removers… many of these products are loaded with toxic xeno-oestrogens. Instead, try using natural cleaners such as lemon, vinegar and baking soda (for cleaning ideas, check out bodyandsoul.com.au/health).
Tampons: These can be coated with xeno-oestrogens called dioxins. Instead, buy organic tampons, not just cotton as this can contain genetically modified organisms and is likely to have been sprayed with pesticides.
Plastic: Of all xeno-oestrogens, bisphenol A (BPA) in plastics has been shown to have one of the biggest impacts on our health, so try to limit the plastic in your life.
Instead, keep your food in glass storage containers, use a resuable water bottle and make sure any plastics are labelled BPA-free.
Skincare to help hormones
The skin is our largest organ and whatever comes into contact with its thin outer layer is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. If you’re not already using a natural or, better still, an organic skin and body-care range, I recommend making the switch today. This includes your cleanser, moisturiser, mask, scrub, soap, toothpaste, deodorant, hair care and anything else you use on your body. The toxic chemicals used in many products can disrupt hormone function and place a burden on our organs, particularly the liver and kidneys. Look for brands that use only natural and preferably organic ingredients, and embrace the recycled packaging options to avoid plastics, too.
Foods to balance hormones
Include these good sources of dietary phyto-oestrogen:
Vegies- Alfalfa, beetroot, cabbage, carrots, corn, beans, garlic, parsley, peas, potatoes, pumpkins, soy products, split peas, squash, yams, zucchini
Fruit-Apples, cherries, plums, pomegranates, rhubarb
Cereals-Barley, oats, rye, wheat and wheat germ (all of which contain gluten)
Seeds, nuts and their oils- Flaxseeds, olive oil, peanut and safflower oils
Herbs- Aniseed, black cohosh, fennel, hops, licorice, oregano, red clover, sage, raspberry leaf, chaste tree, and wild yam root