There is a connection between female sex hormones and autoimmune disease. Balancing these hormones can help reduce symptoms. Guess what? Hormone replacement therapy is not your only option. What you eat plays an important role in recalibrating these sex hormones. Read on to discover the top foods to balance your hormones. Also, there is also a lot of noise online about seed cycling, so I’m breaking down the science behind this healing modality to see if there is any truth to it.
Foods that Help with Hormone Balance
Sex hormones are a complicated and delicate system. They dictate our menstrual cycles, mood, weight, hair growth, bone structure, autoimmune disease and fertility. Throughout a woman’s life, these hormones fluctuate based on different life stages. There are two main sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone, help keep the menstrual cycle regular. Eating a balanced, nutrient dense diet can help keep these hormones in check. Below are some specific foods to focus on for hormonal balance.
Making hormones takes energy. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred energy source and they provide the calories your body needs to make hormones. The other thing to keep in mind is carbohydrate and calorie restriction can be stressful for the body. Stress can affect the HPA axis, and this axis supports hormone production.
Carbohydrates also play a key role in regulating leptin. Leptin is another important hormone that regulates appetite, metabolism and reproduction. The production of leptin depends on a number of factors, including circulating insulin. Consuming carbohydrates increases insulin levels in our bodies. The increase in insulin supports leptin production.
Leptin is also affected by calorie consumption. So if you are eating a very low carbohydrate diet and not eating enough calories, your leptin levels will likely not be sufficient enough to fully support your reproductive system (1). In addition, calorie restriction is linked to irregular periods and amenorrhea (no monthly period).
Here’s the kicker, not all carbohydrates are equal. Focus on complex carbohydrates that have fiber, vitamins and minerals. These are very different from refined carbohydrates that lack nutrients. Complex carbohydrates are found in whole foods, such as:
- whole grains (like whole wheat flour, buckwheat, quinoa, millet and barley)
- starchy vegetables – sweet and white potatoes, winter squash, corn and peas
- whole fruits
Another important and beneficial side effect of eating complex carbohydrates is fiber. Fiber is an amazing carbohydrate that:
- supports digestion
- helps lower cholesterol
- protects against heart disease
- regulates blood sugar
- protects against colon and breast cancer (2)
In terms of hormones, fiber helps reduce circulating estrogen. A study of 250 women found that fiber rich diets were associated with lower levels of estrogen and progesterone. What is also super interesting about this study is that high fiber diets actually increased the risk of an irregular menstrual cycle (3). As I always say, it is possible to have too much of a good thing.
Fiber can be helpful if you experience estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance is when your body’s estrogen levels are higher than your progesterone levels. This can happen if you naturally produce too much estrogen, are using hormone replacement therapy, or have low testosterone or progesterone levels.
Here are some tips to increase fiber in your diet:
- Include complex carbohydrates in your diet (see above)
- Sprinkle flax or chia seeds on your breakfast cereal or blend into smoothies
- Add green banana flour to smoothies or baked goods for an insoluble fiber boost
- Replace fruit and vegetable juice with the whole fruit or vegetable.
Polyunsaturated Fats & Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Irregular cycles may be a sign that you are not getting enough fat in your diet. Fats and cholesterol are building blocks of hormones. Your body needs fat in order to make a sufficient amount of sex hormones. Like carbohydrates, not all fats are the same. Polyunsaturated fats are the best type of fat for your hormones. Several small studies have linked polyunsaturated fats to increased testosterone production and kept menstrual cycles more regular.
Omega 3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat, was also found to benefit women sex hormones. In the same study, high intakes of omega 3 fatty acids were linked to higher progesterone levels and a decreased risk of irregular periods (4).
Polyunsaturated fats are found in nuts, seeds and their corresponding oils. They are also found in high processed oils like canola, sunflower seed and corn oil. However, please use these sparingly as they tend to be very highly processed and have fewer nutrients than olive and avocado oils. The best source of omega 3 fatty acids are fatty fish – especially SMASH fish:
- Salmon (preferably wild caught)
What About Seed Cycling?
Seed cycling is a popular treatment used in complementary medicine to help regulate reproductive hormones. This treatment uses 4 different seeds – pumpkin, flax, sunflower and sesame – at different phases of the menstrual cycle to support the female hormones. The cycle is as follows:
- Phase 1: This starts on the first day of your period and lasts until you ovulate. For most people, this phase will last about two weeks. The first phase includes 1 tablespoon each of ground pumpkin and ground flaxseeds every day.
- Phase 2: This phase covers the second half of your menstrual cycle (from ovulation to the day before your period). The seeds switch to 1 daily tablespoon each of raw, ground sunflower seeds and ground sesame seeds.
Why These Seeds?
The theory behind these four seeds is that each of them supports the hormonal function in each important phase of the menstrual cycle. Pumpkin and flaxseeds are used to help boost estrogen production during the follicular phase, and sunflower and sesame are used to promote progesterone levels during the luteal phase. However, the evidence is pretty weak.
There is one very small study that connects flaxseed to more regular cycles (5). Another small study actually found that flaxseed lowered estrogen levels (6). As for the rest of the seeds, there wasn’t much in the literature that connects those specific seeds to hormone balance.
To Cycle or Not to Cycle – Can it Hurt?
There are plenty of people who believe in seed cycling. While the evidence does not make a strong case for it, there is truly no harm in trying it out. Based on some online testimonials, it takes a few months to see actual results. Adding these seeds into your diet will at least add fiber and some other important vitamins like vitamin E. If you want to try it, find ways to sprinkle the seeds onto foods you typically eat.
While hormone imbalance can be frustrating, making small changes to your diet may help. If you feel like you need some extra help making these changes, please book a free call with me to see how I can help you achieve your goals.