Working with people each day, every single case and concern is unique - no two people are the same. However, I often get asked the same questions so thought I'd share with you now - the five most common questions I hear about female health.
1. What are hormones?
Hormones are chemical messengers in the body. Women have two hormones which rule their life, oestrogen and progesterone and they are pivotal in the three main phases in a woman's development: menstruation, pregnancy and menopause.
At each stage there is a shift in the balance of oestrogen and progesterone. Oestrogen is primarily produced in the ovaries and is responsible for the development of female characteristics in the body such as breasts and the uterus. It also plays an essential role in ovulation when the egg is released from the ovaries and the period that happens after.
Progesterone is most often associated with pregnancy (pro-gestation). Progesterone can help the body burn fat for fuel, improve mood and reduce anxiety. It is the delicate balance of these hormones, in particular oestrogen which are responsible for many of the ups and downs throughout the month.
2. How do I know if my hormones are out of balance?
Women who experience severe PMS, heavy, irregular or no periods, acne on the jawline, breast tenderness, low mood and fatigue, fibroids, PCOS or in some instances infertility, most likely have hormonal imbalance.
A lot of these symptoms are often associated with oestrogen dominance, often caused by years on the contraceptive pill, digestive issues or poor diet.
Whilst the changing levels of hormones throughout the menstrual cycle can cause women to experience many of these unwanted side effects, it should be by no means ‘the norm’.
Many women think that it's ‘just something we have to deal with’ or ‘it’s always been like this’ making it acceptable, but it really isn't.
If you experience any of these symptoms for more than a day or two, it's highly advisable to get some nutritional support to improve them. I see a lot of women who have digestive problems that also have hormonal issues. That is because hormones, toxins and wastes are excreted through the bowel. If your metabolism is not functioning properly, then these hormones and wastes get recirculated in the bloodstream and wreak havoc. So if you suffer with any type of IBS, IBD and your experience issues around your cycle, then speak to someone about healing the gut flora and the rest will fall into place a lot easier.
3. I exercise regularly but I've been putting on weight rapidly, especially around my stomach. Is this hormonally related?
One of the most common manifestations of hormone imbalance I see in women is rapid weight gain, especially around the middle. What most people don't know is that weight around the stomach area is metabolic. By that, I mean it makes its own hormones and can cause inflammation in the body.
Rapid weight gain in this area is often linked with blood sugar imbalance. High blood sugar (from a high carbohydrate and sugar diet) can lead to more rapid weight gain and low blood sugar caused by fasting or under-eating can cause a cortisol and adrenaline spike which taps into the body's glucose stores in the liver and increases blood sugar.
Both are equally negative in the long run as blood sugar imbalance leads to insulin resistance, which leads to hormonal imbalance and the cycle continues. If you are exercising and finding that you are not losing weight then you may want to investigate further into hormone imbalance. Many women with PCOS have these issues and the doctors prescribe metformin, a diabetes drug but there are lots of natural methods instead. A modified keto diet can be great to shift the weight initially but it needs to be done safely and in a way to ensure you aren't tired or fatigued from not eating properly. Then long-term diet management with whole foods.
4. What is a ‘normal’ period and should I be worried if mine is different?
As with everything to do with the body, there is no ‘normal’ but there are several alarm bells that should ring if you experience any of the following:
Severe, heavy, painful periods with clots
Cycles that last less than 21 days or more than 35
Low mood or energy that lasts more than a couple of days.
It would be advisable to speak to a natural medicine practitioner such as a nutritionist or functional medicine doctor who can resolve these issues naturally through further investigation.
For me, I would firstly look at what are your iron levels. Iron is a vasoconstrictor and reduces the blood flow. I see a lot of women in my clinic who are borderline anaemic. As soon as we rectify this their periods become much lighter and less painful. If it's very severe, it's worth speaking to your GP to check for fibroids. If you are regularly experiencing clots in the blood flow then you want to clean up the diet, remove the inflammatory foods such as sugar, caffeine alcohol and processed foods. Any clots bigger than a 50p should be investigated.
WARNING: going on the pill will NOT regulate your periods. It will stop ovulation and give you a withdrawal bleed, which is not a real period. Going on the pill will simply prolong your symptoms for when you come back off the pill. Managing your period with the correct diet and the right nutrients can go a long way to making sure your ‘time of the month’ is as balanced and pain free as possible.
5. Can proper nutrition balance my hormones and make the ‘time of the month’ less of a drag?
The biggest success I have in my clinic when it comes to balancing hormones, is by cleaning up my clients' diet. I have had women who experience two weeks of the month with severe PMS, low mood, lack of energy and fatigue, and when their periods come they are long, heavy and painful. Within just one month of removing the foods that increase prostaglandins (pain inducing chemicals in the uterus) these women have felt like a new person. It's quite common for these ladies to not even realise their period is approaching. It can really be life-changing when symptoms are severe.
Increasing water, reducing sugar, caffeine and alcohol and eating a whole foods diet can work wonders for PMS and periods. Working with herbs and specific supplements for the liver can also be very beneficial to make periods more regular, lighter and less painful.
The liver filters all the blood through the system and when it is under stress or burdened from a poor diet, it can be much harder to filter out toxins and hormones which can then recirculate, causing havoc. An accumulation of this leads to all the negative side effects associated with PMS and heavy, painful periods.
If you're experiencing any of these above symptoms, book with me and see how I can help you today.
Registered Nutritional Therapist
Kelly is a Registered Nutritional Therapist who focuses on positive physical and mental wellbeing, achieved through diet, lifestyle, sleep and exercise. Having struggled for years with IBS and hormonal imbalance, and increasingly frustrated with the lack of support and helpful advice from her GP, Kelly began her own journey of healing the body from the inside out. After seeing huge improvements she quit her job to study nutrition and focus on harnessing the healing powers of food to help other people in similar situations.