Ahh, peri-menopause – hello mid-forties! If like me, you have experienced the rollercoaster of hormonal change that is the lead up to menopause, then this might be just what you need. I recently shared on my social pages some of the foods I am using to support my hormones, and there was a lot of interest from you guys, and lots of people saying “Raw carrot for estrogen clearance? Had NO IDEA!”. And so, I enlisted the help of Low Tox Life’s in-house Naturopath, Steph, to share some of the nutritional quick-wins that can help you balance those hormones when you’re feeling totally out of whack. So, without further ado… here we go.
What’s happening to my hormones?
Before we get to the fun stuff, a little explainer is needed. Perimenopause also called the ‘menopausal transition’ is the time for women where their body is coming to the end of its reproductive phase. It’s such a milestone point in time for many women, and can be an emotional one as this critical process in the body is no longer needed and child-bearing is no longer a possibility. That alone can affect mood, anxiety levels and general health. On the other end of the spectrum comes the physical hormonal markers of perimenopause, which include a massive drop or elevation in oestrogen levels, progesterone and testosterone. Let’s look at those in a little more detail…
Oestrogen acts as the primary “female” hormone and promotes the health of the female reproductive organs. It’s also what keeps the vagina well supplied with blood and lubricated. (Pro tip: So does a good vitamin E supplement if that’s an issue for you!) Oestrogen levels often decline during perimenopause, but this can occur in an irregular fashion -. Sometimes there can be more oestrogen present during perimenopause than there has ever been in the past and this can cause all kinds of issues, I mean, fun, I mean, upsidedown rollercoaster. Dr Carrie Jones so perfectly called it ‘reverse puberty, where a bunch of weird stuff happens’. Did you catch our show on Perimenopause? 100% worth a listen.
During perimenopause and menopause, levels of other hormones produced by the ovaries—progesterone (another female hormone) and testosterone (a male hormone)—are also fluctuating during this time. Decreased progesterone and testosterone levels can impact cycle regularity, mood and libido. We cannot ignore these hormones when treating symptoms of menopause.
Common symptoms of perimenopause and menopause
No two women have the same hormonal picture and it’s important not to self prescribe without getting a hormonal test done, as many of the symptoms of elevated estrogen can also be similar to those for women with low estrogen. Again, Carrie Jones talks about this on show #140 that we did together on perimenopause.
Symptoms can include:
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Poor/interrupted sleep
- Mood fluctuations
- Low libido
- Hair loss
- Dry skin
- Tender breasts
- Weight gain
Doesn’t that all sound fun. Anything you’re experiencing a lot of at the moment that you care to share? So, while if things are really miserable, I recommend you go see a naturopath – they really can work magic for this stage in life for women and make it a time to thrive, instead of miserable, but here’s what we can do on the food front.
Five Ways To Balance Hormones With Food
Eat foods rich in vitamin D
Several studies suggest that adequate levels of vitamin D may help to reduce menopausal symptoms. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked with low mood, which can be exacerbated during perimenopause. Increase your intake of wild-caught salmon, sardines, organic egg yolks and mushrooms.
Try my Smoky Brain Boosting Mayo for a yummy Vitamin D kick.
Pro tip – Vitamin D is also necessary for the absorption of calcium, which plays a key role in maintaining bone strength, and reducing the incidence of osteoporosis for women going through menopause. So, eat up and get some early morning sunshine, too!
Lower your histamine-releasing foods
Oestrogen can cause the production and release of histamine in the body – a natural occurrence, but in excess, a nightmare for women going through perimenopause. If you’re experiencing symptoms of histamine-sensitivity like brain fog, mood swings, swollen breasts, headaches/migraines, bladder irritation, inflammation and itchiness this may be due to elevated oestrogens in the body. You might find a huge positive impact by focusing on a lower histamine food mix a couple of days before ovulation and a few days before the start of the next cycle, when estrogen peaks in the cycle.
To reduce these symptoms, focus on a low-histamine diet for a few months in general or for the times above as a baby steps starting point and take note of any improvements. Low histamine diets look like reducing wild fermented foods; such as kombucha, sauerkraut, cheeses and yoghurts, avoiding certain vegetables and fruits; tomatoes, spinach, avocado, bananas, citrus and strawberries, and staying clear of nuts and any leftovers. For the full list of histamine containing and releasing foods go here. For cultures that tend not to have the same histamine-releasing impact because of the strains carefully chosen in them, check out Kultured Wellness.
Fill up on indigestible (insoluble) fibres
There are two types of fibre, soluble and insoluble (indigestible), and our bodies need both for optimal function. Soluble fibre, dissolves in the digestive tract when it comes into contact with water whereas insoluble fibre passes right through us, helping to eliminate solid waste from our bodies comfortably and keep our intestinal lining healthy.
Filling up on insoluble fibres can reduce the risk of breast cancer in peri-menopausal women as it can help to decrease β-glucuronidase activity in faeces that leads to decreased reabsorption of oestrogen in the colon. Less oestrogen circulating not only means less risk of cancer but it can help to avoid an oestrogen dominant picture resulting in some of the symptoms like mood swings and vaginal dryness listed earlier on in this post.
Try my Powerhouse Antioxidant Salad for a nutrient rich-fibre packed meal.
Other great sources of insoluble fibres include:
- Brown rice
- Root vegetables, such as carrots and beetroot (eating these raw is a great option), parsnips and potatoes.
- Celery, cucumbers and zucchini
- Beans, pulses and lentils
- Activated nuts and seeds
Load up on phyto-estrogenic foods
Phyto-what now?! Phytoestrogens, also known as dietary oestrogens, are naturally occurring plant compounds that may act in a way similar to that of oestrogen produced by the human body and help to increase declining levels in menopausal women.
‘But I want to lower oestrogen in the body’, we hear you say. Great point. And as mentioned earlier on, it’s always important to get your hormone levels tested to see which end of the scale you’re sitting on – too much oestrogen or too little.
With that said, there’s some good news here. Phytoestrogens have been shown to have both estrogenic and antiestrogenic effects. This means that some phytoestrogens have oestrogen-like effects and increase oestrogen levels in your body, and others block its effects and decrease oestrogen levels. Multiple studies have also associated phytoestrogen intake with decreased cholesterol levels, and a lower risk of osteoporosis, so a worthwhile addition to most women’s’ diets.
The best way to determine whether phytoestrogens are for you is to first get a hormonal profile test done, and then trial an increase of your phytoestrogen intake for a month or two and notice how you feel. As practitioners, we’re always told to look at the symptoms of the client, not the diagnosis. So if a client feels better on a diet rich in these plant compounds, then that’s what they need.
The best phyto-estrogenic foods include:
- Flaxseeds: flax is rich in lignans, a group of chemical compounds that function as phytoestrogens.
- Organic soy: should only be eaten in organic form as tofu, edamame or tempeh. Soy milk and processed soy products like soy lecithin are no good for the body. Keep in mind that the effect of soy isoflavones on human estrogen levels is complex and the jury is still very much undecided. So to err on the side of caution, don’t go overboard, instead, include 2-3 serves a week as part of a balanced diet.
- Cruciferous vegetables: including cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage are all rich in phytoestrogens and a compound called DIIM (Diindolylmethane), which has known oestrogen clearing properties. My Cracking Cruciferous Soup is the perfect estrogen supportive soup.
- Sesame seeds: studies have found these tiny little seeds pack a nutritional punch and may increase estrogen levels in postmenopausal women.
Eat enough protein
During peri-menopause women experience a decrease in muscle mass and a propensity to carry extra weight. Increasing protein intake daily can help to support and maintain muscle mass and balance weight. Protein intake also balances blood sugars, helping to regulate energy and in turn balance appetite.
Focus on including lean sources of ethically and sustainably reared proteins like wild-caught fish, pasture-raised and fed beef, organic chicken and organic, free-range pork. Include plenty of vegetarian sources too, like legumes, organic eggs, organic tempeh and tofu and activated nuts.
Try my Simple Salmon Cakes for a winning combo of Vitamin D and protein.
Keen to learn more? Check out my podcast episodes below:
- Show #16 – Hormone School for healthier hormones with Michele Chevalley-Hedge
- Show #87: Dr Carrie Jones on going Dutch on your hormones
- Show #140: Perimenopause with Dr Carrie Jones
- Show #151 – A detoxification masterclass with naturopath Naomi Judge
So there we have it. Five super easy ways to incorporate hormone supportive foods into your diet during menopause. I hope this helps and feel free to share your wins in the comments.
Low Tox. Healthy People. Happy Planet.