From PCOS To Painful Periods: Here’s How To Eat In Line With Your Hormones
In a world where we're more circumspect about what we're putting into our beleagured bodies, we look at the idea of eating in line with your hormones.
Forget eating like a cavewoman, a viking or a blogger with a book deal. For some, diet isn’t a trend, but something based on a series of conscious decisions, made because of existing hormonal conditions. If that’s you, then the fridge needs a head-to-toe makeover.
Heather Leeson’s a nutritionist with Glenville Nutrition and works closely with the Sims IVF clinic. Ahead, she takes us through some common hormonal conditions and the advice she’d give those interested in supplementing treatment with a healthy plate.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Making dietary changes following diagnosis of a condition related to hormonal imbalance is a good idea. “Particularly for PCOS. There’s so much evidence showing diet makes a difference,” Heather says. In this instance, at least two of the following occurs: ovaries develop cysts; there’s too much testosterone in your body; you don’t ovulate every month. Women with PCOS tend towards ‘insulin resistance’, meaning their bodies are more likely to store fat, and one way to relieve the condition is through weight loss.
Avoid: One thing to watch if you’ve PCOS is blood sugar. “It often goes hand in hand with problems metabolising glucose,” Heather warns. Experts recommend a low glycemic index (GI) diet. With that, there’s a big focus on avoiding sugars and refined carbs, like white bread and white rice. Cake and wheat are off the menu, aka, “the stuff we turn to when we’re stressed.”
Embrace: Healthy proteins like fish. When looking for a snack, choose vegetables over fruit – sugary fructose ain’t your pal.
Endometriosis is when endometrial tissue grows outside the womb and causes pelvic pain. “It’s one of the more difficult conditions to tackle with diet,” Heather says, as the pain many women suffer alongside it stems from inflammation. Anti-inflammatory foods are the name of the hopefully-making-life-easier game.
Avoid: Alcohol- it puts your liver’s detoxification process under pressure and isn’t good for your estrogen levels – which are generally high. Also on the avoid list? “Saturated fats, dairy and red meat increase the chemicals that cause inflammation,” she stresses.
Embrace: Fibre. Think vegetables, wholegrains and pulses. TMI alert: aim to get regular toilet habits, because having a poo helps to flush out excess oestrogen, which is one of the main triggers for endometrial tissue growth. Omega 3 helps tackle inflammation – think oily fish – and it helps get rid of excess hormones.
AKA painful, heavy periods which can lead to horrific cramping.
Avoid: Caffeine. This wake-me-up brew is linked to PMS symptoms and can worsen cramping with inflammation. Give those comfort Cokes a berth and maybe avoid chocolate too.
Embrace: Seek out iron – spinach is the Holy Grail food here, as it’s imbued with vitamin C making iron absorption easier. Add some tomatoes to make sure you soak in even more. Magnesium is great for cramps as it helps muscles relax, Heather says. You’ll find it in green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, and wholegrains. Or you can take a supplement or a spray – but ‘food first’ is Heather’s philosophy.
About 20 percent of women suffer from acne when they hit their 20s and 30s, some bouts of which are caused by hormone fluctuations. While there are a host of topical and pharmaceutical solutions, diet is another avenue to consider.
Avoid: Soybeans are full of plant estrogens which mimic our natural estrogen levels, and can send your hormones a mixed message, leading to breakouts along the jawline. Lay off the tofu stir fry.
Embrace: Nettles in a soup, supplement or tea. It’s an ace detox tool alongside Brazil nuts, which are packed with white blood cell booster Selenium, vitamin E, copper, magnesium, potassium, calcium and iron – all box tickers for healthy skin.
In April doctors called on Irish women, regardless of whether they were planning a pregnancy, to start taking folic acid after a rise in neural tube defects in babies. A study from the Coombe found that just one in four mothers were taking folic acid, which helps prevent a host of health conditions, before conceiving. With a third of pregnancies in this country being unplanned, it’s something more women need to consider.
Avoid: While a fertility-focused multivitamin’s a good investment, because, “you’re not just backing one horse,” be careful with vitamin A. “It can damage the foetus in high doses,” Heather warns.
Embrace: In the three to six months before trying for a baby, Heather says try to get nuts, vegetables, healthy proteins and wholegrains into your meal plans. “You want your eggs to be as good as possible. The pre-conception period’s just as important as pregnancy,” she says.
This article first appeared in STELLAR’s July issue. The September issue is on shelves now!
Have your say