Author: Dr. Donna Schwontkowski (ret. D.C.), M.S. Nutrition, M.H.
When hormones are balanced, life is a lot easier. Women go through more hormonal fluctuations in life than men, starting out with their menstrual periods during puberty. Pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause are other major hormonal shifts that occur, and potential hormonal imbalance problems occur with each of these major shifts.
Diet is Your Foundation for Physical Health
One of the most important things that women must realize is that diet goes a long way in adaptation during these shifts. For example, during menopause, many women feel scatter-brained, moody, gain weight and suffer from insomnia and hot flashes. This time of life is especially important for regular meals with enough high quality protein foods, plenty of vegetables and whole grains for regularity, phytonutrients and high calcium and magnesium foods for the minerals that help foster a full night of sleep.
High quality protein foods provide the body with the amino acids that are used to create neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are important for cognitive thinking and brain processing skills such as quicker processing times, better memory, the ability to make decisions and problem solving. These brain chemicals are also needed to balance moods and allow easy sleep at night. However, their synthesis is slowed if protein in the diet is low, and many women getting into their menopausal years tend to stop eating meat and protein foods.
Vitamins and minerals are critical to preventing hormonal imbalance. For example, boron is an element closely tied to the body’s ability to make its own reproductive hormones. It’s also important for bone density. When boron is low, problems with the periods become prevalent, and during menopause, spotting and/or heavy bleeding can occur. Could a menopausal women with a boron deficiency alter the number of hot flashes she has daily with a boron supplement? It’s possible from the increase of her body’s own production of estrogen.
It’s also possible that if a woman had adequate levels of B vitamins, she would suffer from fewer mood swings based on the fact that the B vitamins are crucial for even-keeled moods and dealing with stress. A diet high in sugar or processed foods is one that tends to be a lot lower in B vitamins than a diet without these foods.
To get all the vitamins and minerals one needs, the basics of a good diet must always be followed. A woman needs plenty of vegetables and fruits, some nuts and seeds, some dairy products and grains, and plenty of good high-quality protein foods for not only standard dietary needs such as carbohydrates, protein, fat and nutrients, but also phytonutrients such as polyphenols, antioxidants, bioflavonoids and proanthocyanidins.
Herbs are Extra Gifts from Nature for Hormonal Regulation
Researchers are still testing the effects of herbs such as dong quai, black cohosh, wild yam, St. John’s wort and ginseng for the treatment of hormonal imbalances found in menopause. Even though many ‘experts’ have concluded that there’s not enough evidence to use them in treatment, based on reviews of many studies, historical use precedes scientific thought. Many negative conclusions about these herbs don’t take into consideration that there are some studies that show a clear benefit. One study published in the Climacteric journal in 2008 found that the frequency of mild, moderate and severe hot flashes decreased with both dong quai and astragalus. No side effects were noted.
Physicians at the University of Arizona College of Medicine found that the majority of studies on black cohosh improved menopause-related symptoms. These positive reports make a lot of sense, as people around the world have used herbs safely for hormonal regulation for thousands of years.
A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of the effect of Chinese herbal medicine preparation (Dang Gui Buxue Tang) on menopausal symptoms in Hong Kong Chinese women. Climacteric 2008 Jun; 11(3):244-51.
Menopause: a review of botanical dietary supplements. Am J Med 2005 Dec 19;118 Suppl 12B:98-108.