Are These ‘Healthy’ Habits Messing With Your Hormones?
Ladies, how much of your life do you write off because you know you’re going to be in the middle of PMS, potentially lying on the couch and eating chocolate? A whopping 75 percent of women suffer from headaches, mood swings, bloating, and other symptoms due to their hormones.
Many women have symptoms of PMS or hormonal imbalance either mid-cycle (ovulation) and/or the week before their periods. While many women try to alleviate these symptoms with “healthy” choices, what they don’t know is that their choices could actually be contributing to the reoccurring hormone–related symptoms listed above! Not so fun.
The good news is that some simple, conscious SHIFTS to your “healthy” habits can help stop the unintended hormone roller coaster and help decrease many hormone-related issues/symptoms.
1) Are you the ""cardio queen," doing intense cardio sessions and zero strength training?
THE HORMONE DISRUPTER: Researchers at the University of North Carolina found high-intensity, strenuous and prolonged exercise increases cortisol levels, while lowering thyroid hormones. This is not the hormone production you want for long periods of time!
HERE'S WHY: Thyroid hormones are needed to stimulate your metabolism and keep it burning high. The desired outcome of exercise is definitely not to lower your metabolism (free calorie burning, aka weight loss!) The study showed that even after 24 hours of recovery post-exercise, cortisol levels remained elevated and thyroid hormones suppressed. Both high cortisol levels and low thyroid hormones have been linked to poor adrenal health which also in-turn directly impacts thyroid function and how the body handles stress long-term, all of which can negatively impact overall hormonal balance and fertility.
THE HORMONE SHIFT: Keep in mind that exercise is good! This hormone issue develops when you are doing intense, prolonged exercise. If this is you, keep exercising – just bring the amount, and especially the intensity, into balance. Engaging in moderate aerobic exercise for 30 minutes a day, three times a week, with two 30-minute strength training sessions, and one or two hour sessions of yoga willgo a long way to maintaining your hormonal balance and increasing your long-term health.
2) Do you eat a low-fat diet?
THE HORMONE DISRUPTER: The low-fat diet fads of the past have many people, especially women, brainwashed into believing that all fats are the enemy. They are not! Fat is one of the most crucial elements for hormonal balance. For years, we've been told that fat-free is good, while cholesterol and saturated fats are bad. This is a dangerous lie. Healthy fat is the raw material that we need to produce and maintain proper hormone function.
HERE'S WHY: Hormones are produced using fatty acids and cholesterol, so if we're missing these nutrients, hormone problems arise simply because the body doesn't have the nutrients it needs to make them. Our body needs certain fats for rebuilding cells and stabilizing hormones. This is especially important for the female reproductive system.
Many of the clients I work with have eliminated all fat in their attempt to get “healthy” but they have hormone issues, mood disorders, sallow skin, brittle hair and nails, susceptibility to infection, inability to concentrate, and weight gain despite a rigid diet. They are not getting enough healthy fats in their diet.
THE HORMONE SHIFT: Ladies, you CANNOT have proper hormonal balance without adequate amounts of fats, including saturated fat. Quite simply, what you eat is either helping your hormonal production or hurting you by causing unpredictable imbalances. Not only are these essential fats fundamental building blocks for hormone production, they speed up your metabolism and promote weight loss. Inadequate fat intake is also something to evaluate closely if infertilitiy has been an issue. (This evaluation MUST be done with an integrative medical practicioners help, You will NOT be objective, epecially if you are fat phobic).
Some of my favorite foods packed with healthy fats include:
3) Do you take supplements, such as calcium, but not magnesium?
THE HORMONE DISRUPTER: Calcium has had a bright spotlight cast on it for years, and for good reason. However, there is one other mineral that deserves our equal attention: magnesium. Magnesium is like a supporting actor, small yet integral to the overall success of the play. Without it, nothing else seems to work, and all other jobs are infinitely more difficult for our bodies.
HERE'S WHY: Magnesium is such an important mineral because it regulates cortisol, lowers blood sugar, and it’s essential for the production of thyroid hormones. It is also anti-aging, aids sleep and fuels cellular energy. Most importantly, however, magnesium makes hormones! Magnesium is involved in the production of steroid hormones such as progesterone, estrogen and testosterone. On a side note, magnesium has also been shown to reduce those “amazing” hot flashes by 50 percent. Research is finding strong correlations between magnesium supplementation and a reduction in premenstrual cramps and changes in mood. This is attributed to magnesium’s ability to relax muscles and influence neurotransmitter pathways.
THAT IS JUST THE SHORT LIST: Click here for more on the amazing power of magnesium in your body.
THE HORMONE SHIFT: Start to be intentional about how much magnesium you get in your diet and how much you need. While magnesium is actually abundant in our food chain (especially green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, and legumes) studies show adults average only 66% of the recommended daily allowance. That makes most of us chronically deficient! But if magnesium is in so many foods, how is this possible? Because you need A LOT of it in today’s culture! If you work, have kids, commute, tend to worry, drink a lot of caffeinated beverages, or stress out, then you are mostly likely deficient in magnesium because combating stress takes high amounts of magnesium that can be hard to get through your diet, even if you eat “healthy.” It is easier to get enough magnesium in your diet if you live the meditative life of a monk on a mountainside, but really, do you know anyone like this?
Be honest about the amount of stress in your life, and limit coffee, colas, salt, sugar, and alcohol and learn how to practice active relaxation. Also, taking Epsom salts baths (magnesium sulfate) is a great way to absorb and get much needed magnesium into your body without supplementation and is a great way to relax! Most people benefit from 400 to 1,000 mg of magnesium (Natural Calm or Integrative Therapeutics Tri-Magnesium are great choices) daily depending on their health conditions. There is no one size fits all, consider working with an integrative health professional to find your needed magnesium level.
My favorite foods packed with magnesium include:
Swiss chard, cacao, cashews, chia, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds, quinoa, almonds, buckwheat, Brazil nuts, dulse, filberts, millet, pecans, walnuts, brown rice, figs, dates, collard greens, avocado, parsley, dandelion greens and garlic.
4) Are you eating “healthy” foods you are sensitive to?
THE HORMONE DISRUPTER: Many women (and men) struggle with hidden food sensitivities that they are not even aware of. Your immune and hormone systems are closely related, so if one changes, often the other will as well. Food sensitivities stress your immune system, which in turn stresses your hormones as well.
THE HORMONE SHIFT: Freeing your body of this constant burden will help restore hormonal health. The most common food sensitivities are gluten (found in wheat, rye, barley, and spelt), dairy, eggs, soy, peanuts, and corn. You can go have a food sensitivity test taken, or you can test for sensitivities yourself at home by taking these top offenders out of your diet for at least three weeks and then reintroducing each one gradually, in increased amounts, over a period of four days, and noting any negative health symptoms. There are many ways to get the reintroduction of the food wrong and taint your results, so I do highly recommend working with a health professional to determine if you have food sensitivities and are correctly introducing foods back into your diet.
Making the time to take a closer look at your “healthy” habits can help ensure they are fully supporting your body and not secretly disrupting your hormones. Were you unknowingly messing with your hormones? Comment below to share your experience and how you felt after you SHIFTED your “healthy” choices to also support your hormones.
Jennifer Klotz, MS, RD, LDN
As a holistic nutritionist and a Registered Dietitian with a Master’s of Nutrition and Wellness, Jennifer is dedicated to helping people live a healthy life by looking at the whole picture (their stress levels, sleep, physical activity, work environment, relationships and nutrition collectively). We love her passion for healing the body through nutrition (and the new recipes she’s always passing around!). She provides educational awareness regarding the knowledge and understanding of food sensitivities and nutritional issues, and offers guidance and the tools needed to help everyone lead a healthier, more balanced life!