Suffering from insomnia, periods gone crazy, can’t shift that muffin top? Then hormone imbalance could be responsible. Nutritional therapist, Angelique Panagos, explains all…
I have terrible mood swings that I can’t control. I feel permanently exhausted. I need my daily fix of chocolate. I struggle to lose weight no matter what I try…
Any of these statements sound familiar? Then you’re not alone.
“These are complaints that I hear every day in my clinic, and time and time again they’re caused by the same thing – hormonal imbalance,” says Angelique Panagos, London-based nutritional therapist.
The big problem, according to Angelique, is that although hormones are given lots of attention when it comes to things like periods and mood swings, they’re very rarely recognised when it comes to wider health issues.
“The truth is that hormones affect everything,” says Angelique, “and they’re responsible for far more than just our menstrual cycles.” Take Angelique’s list below…
low progesterone can lead to irregular menstrual cycles, irritability, infertility, miscarriage, insomnia and PMS
low testosterone can lead to low self-esteem, weight gain, low libido and moodiness
high testosterone can lead to irritability, weight gain, infertility, anger, facial hair and acne
low oestrogen can lead to headaches, panic attacks, low mood and libido, bone loss, vaginal dryness and belly fat
high oestrogen can cause breast tenderness, PMS, heavy periods, fibroids, endometriosis, cysts and even breast cancer
low cortisol makes you feel burnt-out, exhausted and drained, tearful, PMS, taking you from superhero to super-cranky
high cortisol causes that tired but wired feeling, anxiety, insomnia and belly fat
low thyroid can cause brain fog, fatigue, weight gain, constipation, cold hands and feet, thinning hair and miscarriage
elevated insulin can lead to that dreaded muffin top, PMS, constant hunger, excess testosterone, elevated cortisol, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes
So, just what can we do to restore ourselves and any hormone imbalance we may be experiencing? In her excellent and enlightening book, The Balance Plan: Six Steps to Optimize Your Hormonal Health , Angelique explains the power of hormones, and connects the dots between what we put in our mouths and the impact on our hormones and health. She then guides us through six simple steps to rebalance our hormones, the first of which she shares with us below.
Pillar 1 of 6: Nourish
Optimally functioning hormones need a steady stream of nutrients in order to work efficiently, so we need to change the way we think about food. The good news is that a few easy tweaks to your diet can make a huge difference to your hormonal balance, virtually straight away.
Eat whole food, not processed junk food
Processed foods are devoid of nutrients, so dump the junk and always shop in the outer perimeters of the supermarket for nutrient-dense whole foods. Only enter the middle, the shop’s very own Bermuda triangle, to get things like olive oil, nuts and seeds, nut butters, herbal teas and essentials, like loo paper. But wear blinkers as there are shiny packages there to tempt you.
Eat the right carbs, not no carbs
I know, gasp, carbs? Yes, the right carbohydrates are extremely beneficial to us. These are brown and fibrous wholegrains and vegetables, and are what we call slow-release complex carbohydrates. They’re nutrient-packed and contain the all-important fibre we need for healthy elimination. Avoid white carbs that are refined – white bread, pasta, white rice, cakes, biscuits, pastries – and no added sugar or artificial sweeteners.
Eat good fats
Daily fat does not make you fat, sugar does. Eating the right fats in the right amounts builds hormones, reduces inflammation and keeps your cells and skin supple.
Eat a rainbow of vegetables
Fill your plate with different-coloured vegetables – it’s the pigments in them that indicate the different nutrients, so the wider the variety of colours, the more vitamins and minerals you’ll pack in. Aim for five to ten portions a day. (A portion is the size of your fist, about 80g/3oz.)
Have whole fruit only, no fruit juice
Enjoy one to two pieces of fruit a day, skin, core and all where possible, as whole fruit – not juice – which brings with it both fibre and nutrients. Although dried fruit tastes good and contains fibre and nutrients, it is a concentrated form of fruit sugar and can spike your blood-sugar levels, so best limit it.
Add in detox warriors every day
Instead of going on a cleanse or detox, send daily love to your liver and hormones by bringing detoxing foods like cruciferous and dark green leafy vegetables into your daily diet. Your detox warriors will help clear those spent hormones, support the liver in functioning optimally as it builds new hormones and help keep waste products moving out as they should.
Feed your eco-warriors
You need to give the good guys in your gut the right foods to flourish and maintain the microbiota diversity you need for digestion, immunity and hormone balance. Eat fermented foods, prebiotics and loads of fibre.
Eat good quality protein daily
Aim for organic and grass-fed protein when you can – I would rather you ate less of the good stuff than loads of animal produce that is full of hormones and antibiotics or beans and pulses slathered in pesticides and insecticides. Have a good mix of both plant and animal based protein.
Chronic inflammation is not doing your hormonal harmony any favours. In the four-week plan, we aim to reduce inflammation with an array of vegetables plus the anti-inflammatory superheroes turmeric and ginger.
Have a green smoothie a day
Green smoothies are high in fibre, detox warriors and magnesium, as well as other nutrients. They are like a multivitamin in a glass. You can find some recipes for these on my website here .
Use pure filtered water and herbal teas to keep hydrated throughout the day. Being dehydrated can affect your concentration, mood, digestion, hair, skin and energy levels, not to mention the strain it puts on the body as we need to be well-hydrated to function optimally. If you struggle drinking plain water, try infusing it with some mint and fruit for natural, sugar-free flavour.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol and stimulants
Tricky if you rely on coffee to get through the day – plus wine to unwind – but trust me you don’t need them. Your hormones and energy levels will benefit. If you rely on these, wean yourself off slowly.
Go organic as much as your budget allows
This reduces toxic burden and helps with hormonal balance as exposure to xenoestrogens, antibiotics and hormones in animal products, chemicals in fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides all act as a showstopper for our Sassy Six (and the planet).
Say no to gluten...
We’re not just jumping on the ‘gluten-free’ craze here. There is a lot of research showing that gluten can be extremely inflammatory in the gut and cause bloating and discomfort. That’s why the meal plan in my book is naturally gluten-free, but after that you may want to reintroduce gluten in small amounts.
Again, another big one. Unfortunately dairy comes with a host of animal hormones, including oestrogen, and if non organic, it’s filled with chemicals and some of us are intolerant. As with gluten, the meals from my book are dairy-free, but after four weeks, you may want to reintroduce it.
Find out more about Angelique’s book, The Balance Plan: Six Steps to Optimize Your Hormonal Health , and the rest of the pillars in the plan.