From nutrition and sleeping better to adapting our exercise regime to fit
with our cycles, we look at the many ways to keep a steady balance
‘While modern medicine is often crucial for discovering and treating underlying hormonal imbalances, it can be worth experimenting with natural alternatives to find what works for our individual bodies,’ says expert Courtney Jay Higgins
The Balance Diet
Hormones are produced by the microbiome, beneficial bacteria in the gut, so you can really
help yourself by keeping your gut healthy and including
foods such as kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut and kimchi in your diet. Also make sure to include essential fats – such as coconut oil, olive oil and avocados as well as oily fish and flaxseeds – that will help with inflammation.
Proteins are the building blocks of your body’s hormones. Try to get as many of them as you can from non-meat sources, such as eggs, fish, legumes, nuts and seeds. If you do eat meat, look for organic, 100 per cent grass-reared chicken and pork.
Fibre helps to bind and remove excess hormones, such as oestrogen, and can be found in all your ‘above ground’ vegetables, avocados, berries, nuts and seeds. It also really helps to cut out sugars, refined carbs and some alcohol, and try to swap out coffee for green tea, which is an excellent source of antioxidants.
Higgins uses something called ‘seed cycling’ to help regulate her cycle and the balance of her hormones throughout the month. In seed cycling, the four phases of a 28-day cycle are broken into two two-week phases, and specific seeds eaten daily during both phases. Seeds are rich in fatty acids, an incredible source of nutrition and protein, and support the body’s natural production of essential hormones.
In phase one, you should eat one tablespoon of pumpkin seeds and one of flax seeds each day. Pumpkin seeds are an important source of zinc, which can help with hormonal acne, and mood. It also supports progesterone production in the body. Flax seeds on the other hand help to reduce the overproduction of oestrogen in the body, and can also protect against hormone-related cancers, such as breast cancer.
In the latter part of the month, you should have a tablespoon of sesame seeds (great for reducing oestrogen and inflammation), and a tablespoon of sunflower seeds, which help to balance hormones and aid liver function.
You can also sprinkle: grind the seeds and stir them into yoghurt in the morning, toast them and sprinkle them onto your lunch, or stir them into noodles, or eat as a snack.
It’s a good idea to have some tests done to find any deficiencies that you could remedy with a supplement. Magnesium is a muscle relaxant, and known to help reduce stress and tension, and promote better sleep. It’s also been used for years to relieve PMS and menstrual cramps.
You might also want to consider a multivitamin, omega-3 fatty acids, extra vitamin D and a B complex, which plays a key role in mood and energy.
Also, seek advice on taking an adaptogen – a group of ancient herbs such as Siberian ginseng and ashwagandha, known to help stabilise blood sugar and improve mood and support adrenal gland and thyroid function.
Expert Maise Hill swears by Chinese medicine, in terms of acupuncture and Chinese herbs as a solution for many menstrual aches and pains. She also champions learning the Arvigo technique of Maya Abdominal Therapy – essential an abdominal back massage you can do yourself to relieve cramps. You might also find that reflexology, reiki and cranial osteopathy can help you feel more balanced.
The art of adapting your workouts and nutrition to your menstrual cycle, cycle syncing is popular with athletes – Jessica Ennis-Hill has added a programme for it to her own fitness app – and helps us work with changes to our endurance, strength and flexibility. ‘We should be taught that this is our superpower,’ said Dr Georgie Bruinvels – a senior sports scientist at Orreco, and the co-creator of FitrWoman, an app designed to help women tailor their exercise training to their menstrual cycle, in The Sunday Times. ‘Learn to work with your body and you can utilise it smartly,’ she adds. This could be as simple as stretching out when you have cramps, or sprinting when you feel restless energy.
Getting enough sleep will never not be important. But it can be a challenge, especially when an imbalance of hormones can be linked to both fatigue and insomnia. Try to approach your relationship with sleep more honestly: set aside more time in the evening for winding down, and adjust your morning routine to enter the day