Hormones: As women, we’re intimate with their effects.
We meet them with cyclical regularity throughout our lives—at our monthly menses, during pregnancy, at menopause, and beyond. Hormones mark the significant stages of our lives as women.
For some women, hormonal fluctuations are no big deal, but when hormones are out of balance, day-to-day life can become downright uncomfortable. Mood swings, abdominal cramps, water retention, hot flashes, muscle aches, and memory problems are only some of the indicators that the estrogen and progesterone levels in a woman’s body are in need of rebalancing.
Here are a few measures that may help:
In all stages of life
Watch what you eat. Your diet can directly affect your body’s fluctuating hormones. To ease symptoms such as bloating, mood swings, fatigue, and weight gain:
- Reduce salt, sugar, chocolate, and caffeine intake
- Increase your intake of vitamin B6 with supplements or by adding more beans, nuts, legumes, and cereal to your diet
- Eat calcium-rich foods or take a calcium supplement
- Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as flax seed, walnuts, salmon, brussel sprouts, and cauliflower
- Eat more complex carbohydrates (fruits and vegetables) and cut down or eliminate simple carbs like bread and pasta
Manage your stress. Stress causes a surge of cortisol, the body’s primary hormone that also helps convert food into energy, normalize blood sugar, and maintain the immune system’s inflammatory response. Cortisol levels that are elevated due to chronic stress can also cause your female hormones to become imbalanced. Weight gain can also result.
To help your hormones normalize, make a regular practice of actively managing your stress levels. Exercise moderately, walk in nature, or take up meditation, yoga, or any practice that calms your body and mind.
In perimenopause and menopause
In perimenopause, estrogen levels begin to fluctuate and progesterone levels drop. Periods also become irregular, and PMS symptoms may become more intense until stopping altogether as the body enters menopause. This can be a challenging hormonal time for women, with hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, mood-related problems, and a lower libido.
Hormone replacement therapy is a common treatment for hormone imbalance, though controversial due to its much-publicized potential for negative side effects. Bioidentical hormones, made from plants, are a more natural option. With the same molecular structure as the hormones women make in their bodies, bioidentical hormones can be effective in easing the discomfort that often comes at this time of transition in the life of a woman.
Relief can also come through following the dietary recommendations above, plus supplements such as dong quai, black cohosh, and red clover, which can ease hot flashes and mood swings. Zinc-rich foods, such as oysters, wheat germ, sesame seeds, and peanuts, have been linked to increase in testosterone levels which can help increase libido—as can testosterone supplements prescribed by your doctor. And if sleep is an issue, a 5-milligram melatonin supplement 1-2 hours before bedtime can help.