Fix your hormones with fibre
Most of us don’t spend much time contemplating our body’s complex hormonal systems. Even when we are displaying the outward signs of hormonal imbalance, fixing the underlying root cause is not always top of mind. Popping a pill for menstrual cramps, or drinking caffeine all day long to stay awake, are just some of the “quick fix” solutions that our society gravitates towards these days. Unfortunately, these quick fixes do not resolve the reasons why your hormones are out of whack in the first place. One hormone that is responsible for much of the distress is estrogen. Both men and women have this important hormone, but when it becomes dominant in relation to progesterone and testosterone, problems start to arise.
What is estrogen dominance?
From the age of 35 a woman’s progesterone levels start to drop and the natural ratio of estrogen to progesterone is upset. Too much estrogen circulating in the body increases body fat and makes weight loss very challenging. Estrogen dominance causes fat to be stored around the waist, hips and thighs, hence why so many middle-aged women are pear-shaped. When our hormonal orchestra is playing the estrogen dominance tune, we can suffer from PMS, low libido, memory loss, menstrual issues, headaches, breast tenderness, insomnia, stubborn weight, bloating, hair loss and mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. As men age, testosterone levels start to drop, leading to estrogen levels that become too high. Signs of estrogen dominance in men are man boobs (moobs), loss of sex drive, poor sperm quality, reduced muscle mass, a “beer” belly, as well as erectile dysfunction and fatigue.
What else can cause estrogen dominance?
Fat cells have the ability to produce estrogen, so one of the most common causes of estrogen dominance is obesity. The more fat you carry, the more estrogen you produce and vice versa. Our toxic industrialised environment also exacerbates the situation. Pesticides, plastics, cosmetics, hormone injected meat, birth control pills, alcohol and caffeine can put you at risk for estrogen dominance. The liver is a filter that detoxifies our body. When the liver has to work hard to eliminate toxins its capacity to cleanse the blood of estrogen is compromised. It has been found that estrogen levels are significantly higher in women who drink alcohol. In one study, estrogen levels increased by 22 percent in women who consumed just two drinks a day. Consequently breast cancer risks are higher for women drinkers. Stress is another big factor as high cortisol levels decrease the production of progesterone in women and testosterone in men, leading once again to an imbalance of estrogen. Low magnesium is also associated with high estrogen levels and most people are deficient in this very important mineral.
What are the health risks?
Besides the obvious health issues related to being overweight, estrogen related belly fat is also a contributing risk factor for cardio-vascular disease. Estrogen fuels cell growth, which can lead to cancer, especially breast and uterine cancers. Elevated estrogen levels have also been linked to an increased risk for fibroids and endometriosis, as well as allergies, autoimmune disorders, infertility, ovarian cysts, and accelerated aging.
What can be done?
Following a nutrient dense, low carb, healthy fat diet is an excellent start to reducing inflammation and balancing hormones. Even though certain hormone conditions might require more specialised treatments, there are a few simple nutrition strategies that can help your body to naturally return to a balanced state. We all know that fibre helps us to maintain regular bowel movements, but did you know that it also plays a very important role in balancing our hormones?
How does fibre help?
Fibre binds with water and adds bulk and softness to the stool. This process helps the stool move easily and slowly though the digestive tract. The benefits are as follows:
- Promotes a feeling of fullness, which helps people not to overeat.
- Slows down the release of blood sugar and reduces the demand for insulin, which assists with fat loss.
- Reduces high cortisol levels caused by stress
- Facilitates the excretion of used estrogen out of the body
This last point is very important because if stool remains in the bowel for too long, estrogen is reabsorbed. You really don’t want to be recycling estrogen. Therefore, a diet high in fibre can help alleviate the effects of estrogen dominance.
Where do I get fibre?
There are many varieties of foods that contain fibre, but not all of them are compliant with an LCHF diet. Whole grains, beans and legumes are very high in fibre but are also very high in carbs so are not recommended for a low carb eating plan. Fortunately green leafy and cruciferous veggies can provide what we need if we eat them in sufficient amounts. Broccoli, cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts and cauliflower also contain sulfur compounds that bind to estrogen and escort it out of the body, reducing estrogen dominance. Berries and chia seeds can also be used to increase fibre intake.
How much fibre?
Dr Sara Gottfried, a hormone expert, recommends that women should consume between 35 to 45 grams of fibre per day; men should consume slightly more than this. Most women only consume about 13 grams of fibre per day, which is far too low. Include 4 to 5 cups of cooked veggies and salads per day, half a cup of raspberries, half an avocado, 2 tablespoons of chia seeds, a few seed crackers and you would have hit your target. She cautions that fibre should be increased gradually to avoid gas, bloating, and even constipation. Drink plenty of water as water and fibre work together to improve bowel function and balance hormones.
Avoiding xenoestrogens, or chemical estrogen-like compounds found in the environment, is vital. As far as possible buy organic fruit and veggies and grass-fed dairy and meat products. Make sure your water is filtered. Avoid cosmetics that contain parabens and phthalates, use plastics that are BPA free and clean your home with natural products such as spirit vinegar and bicarbonate of soda. If you are going to use a microwave, ensure the food is in glass or ceramic. Store leftovers in glass containers and avoid direct contact of food with plastic wrap. Avoid alcohol, don’t eat soya products and quit smoking. Exercise regularly as this also helps to reduce estrogen levels and lowers stress. Go to sleep by 10:00 pm as this provides optimal levels of melatonin, which helps to reduce estrogen.
Hormonal imbalance is rife in our modern world. Patients complain about weight gain, loss of libido, depression and constant fatigue. Their doctor will probably tell them to eat less, exercise more and many will leave with a prescription for an anti-depressant or Viagra. Our body is amazingly complex and it needs to be treated holistically. If you truly want to get to the bottom of why you are not feeling healthy, or why losing weight is so difficult for you, then take action. Following an anti-inflammatory LCHF diet and increasing your fibre consumption is an excellent start. Don’t keep putting Band-Aids over your health issues. Get to the root of the problem and see how beautifully your hormonal orchestra will play for you.
Article written by Nicky Perks for Lose It magazine (Issue 14)
Posted on March 15, 2017, in Primal 101 and tagged balancing hormones, fibre, hormonal imbalance, man boobs, oestrogen dominance, weight loss resistance, weight-loss. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.