Being hormonal is often something that women joke about, but did you know that our female sex hormones are fundamental for our physical and emotional well-being? From bone health to libido, mood to muscle strength, there is a connection between Oestrogen and Progesterone and various systems in the female body. In our way they are our super power.
So how can we take care of our hormone health? Before we take a dive into some top habits of those with healthy cycles it is important to understand how our female hormones are made in the body. Cycle health actually begins in the brain. The Hypothalamus is a part of our brain which controls all of the hormone making glands in our body including the ovaries. Ovulation needs to occur for hormone health as ovulation is how women make Oestrogen and Progesterone and ovulation is only given the green light if the Hypothalamus believes a woman is safe and has access to resources such as nutrition. This is an important survival mechanism left over from cave man times to protect us from pregnancy if we were living in conflict or in a state of famine.
Now that we understand the role of the brain in hormone health let’s look at how you can take care of your cycle.
1. Front load your day with a high-protein breakfast.
Higher protein intake in the morning helps energy levels, reduces PMS symptoms and cravings later in the day. Ideally think of pairing protein with carbohydrate containing foods, a buddy system! This helps to keep us fuller for longer and carbohydrates are important for our brain to allow ovulation to happen. A smoothie with banana or oats and protein powder is an easy option, or grainy toast topped with eggs.
2. Eat enough!
It sounds simple but undereating is a common cause of Ammenhorea (loss of periods), irregular cycles and poor hormone health. Avoid fad diets which exclude food groups or provide very little nutrition. If you are unsure whether or not you are under-eating ask yourself if you would be happy to give your portions to someone you love (a friend, child, parent) and expect them to thrive?
3. Eat before morning exercise.
We know from research that women who exercise fasted in the morning produce higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in response to training. Cortisol production can tell your Hypothalamus that you are in danger and this is a particular issue if you are someone who deals with stress often. Even something small like a banana or some Greek yoghurt would do!
4. Focus on nutrients
Include key nutrients for hormone health in your diet such as Omega-3, Zinc and Magnesium. Avocados and oily fish are rich in Omega-3, red meat and sea food such as mussels and oysters are an excellent source of Zinc and Magnesium can be found in many foods such as dark chocolate (yes, chocolate!), seeds and dark green vegetables.
5. Track your cycle using an app, diary or calendar.
Tracking your cycle is a great way to gain insight into your hormonal health as heavy, light or irregular periods can give us a clue that your hormones need some TLC. Take note of how long your period lasts for, any symptoms you experience and how many days between periods.