Naturopath and nutritionist, Ema Taylor, is on a mission to help women around the world find harmony with their hormones…
“Hormones function as the body’s chemical messengers, relaying vital information to cells and tissues,” says the Byron Bay-based expert, who knows her androgens and her oestrogens better than most. “They’re responsible for growth and development, metabolism, sexual function, reproduction and a balanced mood.”
In short, your hormones have the enormous responsibility of telling your body what to do, when to do it and for how long: melatonin production ramps up at night to signal to your body that it’s time to sleep, ghrelin is produced by your stomach to stimulate feelings of hunger, and in stressful or dangerous situations, adrenaline is released to prepare your body to fight or escape. Trouble is, when your hormones are out of balance—due to stress, poor diet, lack of sleep, or an underlying medical condition—they don’t always function as they should. Cue: hormonal imbalance.
“There are many telltale signs of a hormonal imbalance,” says Ema, who works with women of all ages and reproductive stages. “Just a few of the signs and symptoms you may experience include heavy, painful or irregular periods, missed periods, overly-frequent periods, mid-cycle irritability, PMS, tender breasts, acne or reduced sex-drive.” It’s also worth considering if you experience unusual hair growth on your face, chest or back, Ema notes, as this might be a sign of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Given the vital role that they play in your overall health and wellbeing, supporting your hormonal health should be at the top of your to-do list. And after the cortisol-inducing year that was 2020, we can’t think of a more important task! Here, Ema shares her top tips for supporting your hormones in 2021...
Eat An Anti-inflammatory Diet
“Inflammation impairs ovulation, and therefore, the production of progesterone which is required to balance oestrogen.” Fortunately, incorporating anti-inflammatory wholefoods into your diet—think salmon, nuts, seeds, avocado, extra virgin olive oil, fruits and vegetables—can have a significant impact when it comes to reducing inflammation in the body. Oily fish, in particular, is a powerful hormone-helper thanks to the abundance of inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids that it contains. To further support your hormonal health, Ema recommends opting for organic produce. “Pesticides and chemicals in food have also been shown to disrupt the endocrine system (your body’s chemical messenger system), so choosing to eat organic where possible will help to mitigate your exposure.”
Unsurprisingly, your gut microbes also play a crucial role in producing and regulating many of your body’s essential hormones and neurotransmitters (chemical messengers)—and this has a powerful influence on everything from your mood to your metabolism. By feeding this complex ecosystem of gut bugs with an abundance of anti-inflammatory fermented wholefoods, you’ll be supporting your hormonal health too.
Support Your Liver
“The liver is in charge of filtering out toxins and hormones from the body, but when it’s bombarded with an excess of other substances, the detoxification process can slow down.” To ensure you’re not compromising this process, Ema recommends limiting ‘liver loaders’ like alcohol, caffeine, pesticides, chemicals from plastics and genetically-modified foods. In doing so, you’ll give your liver a chance to do what it does best: metabolise, convert and excrete excess hormones (like oestrogen) from your system. Fortunately, supporting your liver doesn’t mean abstaining from your morning latte, but rather, understanding that too much of a good thing (yes, even coffee!) can wreak havoc on your hormonal health.
Enjoy 8 Hours of Sleep a Night
If quality sleep is slipping to the bottom of your to-do list, it might be time to reassess your nightly Netflix binge. “Sleep is fundamental for balancing hormones and supporting a calm nervous system,” says Ema, who recommends sticking to a consistent bedtime and giving phones and devices the flick an hour before bed. “If your nervous system is too ‘wound up’ from a busy lifestyle and lack of sleep, it will send a message to your hormones saying that it isn’t safe to ovulate.” This can drive hormonal imbalance even further, as a lack of ovulation means that progesterone—a key fertility hormone—is not being produced. If you’re struggling to get your eight hours of shut-eye, take a look at your sleep hygiene and consider incorporating a natural, sleep-promoting supplement into your nightly routine.
Manage Your Stress Levels
Stress activates two main pathways in the body—the pituitary-adrenal axis, which increases the production of stress-regulating hormones, and the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for regulating your blood pressure, heart rate and bowel function. What’s more, “high levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline can impair ovulation,” explains Ema, who recommends implementing daily stress reduction techniques to support healthy hormonal balance. “Meditation, deep breathing, stretches, Epsom salt baths, dancing, journaling—whatever it is you need to do to shake off the day's stressors.” She also suggests limiting caffeine, given its ability to increase the secretion of cortisol, one of your body’s stress hormones.
Move Your Body (In a Way that Serves You)
Getting your sweat on every day of the week might seem like the right thing to do, but when it comes to your hormones, excessive exercise can do more harm than good. “Overtraining—think: high-intensity workouts 4 days per week—can impair the delicate cascade of sex hormones in your body,” explains Ema, who advocates for a mixture of low-intensity workouts and strength training instead. “Aim to find a balance between exercises such as yoga, pilates, walking and swimming, with strength training or cardio.” The main takeaway? Listen to your body. If you’re constantly fatigued, there’s a good chance your hormones are a little frazzled too!
Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health, your hormones or a medical condition.