Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance Nutrition and Seed Cycling.
There are hundreds of hormones at work in the human body regulating everything from sleep to digestion.
Estrogen and progesterone are the main hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle, and an imbalance in these hormones can lead to a variety of symptoms, and can throw other hormones like cortisol and insulin out of balance.
In this article we’ll focus on estrogen and progesterone, and how to keep them balanced throughout your cycle with nutrition and seed cycling.
Estrogen is produced in the ovaries, fat cells and adrenal glands. Estrogen levels start out very low when your period starts, and gradually come to peak when you ovulate, and peak again in the luteal phase.
In addition to regulating the menstrual cycle, estrogen influences mood, sleep, brain function, memory, and plays a crucial role in bone health.
What are the signs of unbalanced estrogen?
- Signs of high estrogen can include irregular periods, heavy periods, clotting, migraines, weight gain, fluid retention (bloating), sleep problems, and mood swings.
- Signs of low estrogen can include missed periods, mood swings, insomnia, hot flashes, fatigue, and breast tenderness.
What are the causes of unbalanced estrogen?
Causes of high estrogen can include poor gut health, poor liver health, having high body fat, low progesterone, perimenopause, constipation, stress, and some chemicals in the environment that interfere with normal hormone function.
Causes of low estrogen include having low body fat, doing a lot of exercise, stress, or genetics.
Progesterone works in tandem with estrogen to regulate the menstrual cycle. It’s produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands. One of the roles of progesterone in the cycle is to maintain a pregnancy should one occur. This is why it peaks after ovulation, and then if a pregnancy doesn’t occur, it begins to decline.
Progesterone is calming and a natural antidepressant. It causes sleepiness, and is relaxing to muscles. It helps maintain blood sugar, facilitates thyroid function, and prompts the body to use fat for energy.
Effects of Progesterone
When progesterone peaks in the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, constipation can result due to the muscle relaxing effect. High progesterone is also partly responsible for constipation in pregnancy.
The decrease in progesterone levels in the later part of the luteal phase is responsible for anxiety, migraines, headaches, mood swings, sleep disturbances, and feelings of overwhelm.
Low progesterone can be a cause of absent periods and spotting, because without sufficient progesterone, ovulation doesn’t occur. And not ovulating (such as in perimenopause) leads to lower progesterone.
Causes of low progesterone
- High estrogen levels can cause low progesterone, so balancing estrogen is important for balancing progesterone.
- Low progesterone levels can be caused by low levels of thyroid hormones or hypothyroidism.
- Body fat levels - high levels can lead to high estrogen which suppresses progesterone, and low bodyfat and/or doing a lot of exercise can make the body skip ovulation, resulting in low progesterone.
- Not ovulating due to a medical condition or perimenopause.
- High cortisol due to stress will also increase estrogen and decrease progesterone.
How can nutrition and seed cycling support our hormone balance?
In order to balance hormones with nutrition, we want to be giving our body the nutrients it needs to produce the hormones, and to properly metabolise and eliminate them.
Here are some ways you can support your hormone balance with the food you eat.
Eat a high fibre diet and have a healthy gut - to balance estrogen, progesterone, insulin, and cortisol
The gut removes excess estrogen, and if the gut isn't healthy, or you’re constipated, estrogen can be reabsorbed into the body. The gut also produces hormones and neurotransmitters responsible for sleep and mood.
Look after your liver - to balance estrogen
The liver helps to break down excess estrogen. Support your liver by eating plenty of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.
Limiting alcohol and caffeine, and not drinking either on an empty stomach, especially in the luteal phase, is also beneficial for the liver and will help with fluid retention (bloating). By limiting caffeine you’ll also be helping to balance cortisol, which in turn helps estrogen balance (yes, it’s all connected!).
Eat cruciferous vegetables - to balance estrogen
A substance in cruciferous vegetables (kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and others) has been found to help regulate estrogen. If you have any thyroid issues, don't eat these vegetables raw.
Keep your blood sugar balanced - to balance insulin, cortisol and estrogen
Eat low-GI carbs, eat protein and fat with carbs, and eat small meals more often rather than large meals. If you eat a high carb meal, go for a walk or do some other physical activity to prevent a blood sugar spike.
Look after your thyroid - for hormone production and regulation with minerals selenium, iodine, and zinc.
Get enough magnesium - for gut health and balancing estrogen
Magnesium is important for proper digestion, sleep, mood, and breaking down excess estrogen.
Foods containing ‘dietary estrogens’ can help whether your estrogen is high or low by binding to estrogen receptors and behaving like our own estrogen.
Other nutrients and foods that help to balance estrogen and progesterone
Vitamin C from berries, citrus, kiwi, potatoes, and capsicum
Zinc from shellfish, almonds, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes, and dairy
Vitamin E from sunflower seeds and oil, almonds, hazelnuts, avocado, salmon, and Brazil nuts
B Vitamins from potatoes and starchy vegetables, legumes, nuts, bananas, whole grains, yoghurt, cashews, peanut butter, almonds, avocados, tomatoes, spinach, and eggs
Arginine (an amino acid): lentils, chickpeas, fish, poultry, nuts, and seeds
So you may be wondering: how does seed cycling fit in with all this?
Seed Cycling supports hormone balance by providing many of the nutrients needed for hormone production, and for eliminating excess hormones.
It does this in many ways, and we have an in-depth article on the nutrition of all the seeds.
Here are just a few:
- Some of the minerals in the seeds help with the breakdown of excess estrogen, while others boost the production of progesterone, and others support the thyroid.
- The vitamin E in the seeds helps boost progesterone.
- The phytoestrogens in the seeds help regulate estrogen levels.
- Due to their fibre, protein and healthy fat content, seeds are ideal for keeping blood sugar balanced.
- The fibre in seeds is good for the gut, and helps with removal of excess estrogen.
Seed cycling is a simple and effective way to get many of the nutrients you need for hormone balancing, while also being filling and giving you more sustained energy.
Written by Alison Loeliger
Alison is a Canberra-based nutritionist, nutrition writer, and mum of two boys.
She loves to demystify and simplify nutrition for her clients, and works with women wanting to improve their gut health, hormone balance, perimenopause symptoms, energy, IBS, and more.
Alison has a Bachelor of Human Nutrition from the University of Canberra and has completed Monash University’s IBS and FODMAPs training.
When she’s not working, she’s searching for the perfect almond croissant, hiking, or obsessively looking after her houseplants.