When in balance, estrogen plays a protective role in our major organs like the heart, liver, and pancreas, and helps keep our bones strong.
The most notable transition spurred by shifting hormones begins at puberty, and is followed just a few decades later with the onset of menopause. On the journey there (called perimenopause), some women may begin to experience a mixture of symptoms related to fluctuating levels of estrogen that can shake up their status quo. Still others may breeze through this phase completely unvexed. Can we just chalk this up to genetics? Read on to find out!
A balancing act
When in balance, estrogen plays a protective role in our major organs like the heart, liver, and pancreas, and helps keep our bones strong. It also contributes to a healthy metabolism and circulation(1).
Too high estrogen
Estrogen levels can spike during the earlier stages of perimenopause. This can lead to irregular, and usually heavy, periods. Common symptoms associated with too much estrogen include bloating, breast swelling and tenderness, and cold hands and feet. Some women may experience premenstrual headaches, weight gain, uterine fibroids and hair loss(2).
Too low estrogen
As menopause nears, the amount of estrogen produced by the ovaries declines. This can lead to hot flashes, night sweats, frequent bladder infections, brain fog, and achy bones and joints. Thinning skin around the vaginal wall, and reduced vaginal secretions can also make sex painful(3). Needless to say, all of these physical and emotional changes can really put a damper on our day-to-day lives – leaving us fatigued and moody.
There is hope
The good news? While it’s true that genetics plays a role in hormonal balance, you might be surprised to learn that 90% of our genes can be switched on or off with our lifestyle choices(4). For some simple tools to help you navigate what may sometimes feel like a bumpy life transition, we’ve got you covered!
Food as medicine
As a general rule of thumb, eating a plant forward diet that is rich in healthy fats, and small to moderate amounts of lean protein is a great place to start(5).
Whole plant foods
Plants are naturally rich in antioxidants and fiber. Antioxidants have a protective effect on our bodies, switching off the damaging effects of by-products our bodies make in response to environmental toxins and food digestion(6). The fiber found in fruits and vegetables works like a giant broom – to sweep away waste products out of the body. And by doing so, helps reduce our risk of heart disease and cancer(7). In particular, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, and brussels sprouts help our bodies detoxify excess hormones(9), boost brain power(8), and build bone density(10). For breast health, berries have some seriously special superpowers. Blueberries and darker colored berries are rich in both antioxidants and fiber. And they have been shown to pack a one-two punch when it comes to cancer prevention – helping prevent cancer cells from forming, and killing off existing cancer cells(11).
Omega 3 fats are the building blocks of heart-healthy and anti-inflammatory hormones(12). The Omega 3’s in hemp seeds and ground flax seeds contain plant estrogens that help our bodies neutralize the more harmful forms of estrogen(13). Small, fatty fish like sardines, anchovies, and mackerel are also rich in Omega 3’s, protein, and bioavailable calcium. Eating two or more servings of fish per week can boost mood, improve heart health, and strengthen our bones(14).
Reduce or eliminate these foods
As estrogen levels dip, so does our body’s ability to process sugar and alcohol(15). Reduced insulin sensitivity can increase our risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, and as little 1-2 alcoholic drinks per week can increase breast cancer risk by as much as 11%(16).
If you’re experiencing anxiety, fatigue, or sleeplessness, consider putting that coffee mug down, and try matcha tea instead. Matcha is brimming with antioxidants(17), and supplies a more even-keeled energy thanks to the amino acid L-theanine. Try whisking the vibrant green powder into a steaming cup of water for a delicious and soothing daily ritual that takes no time at all.
Exercise as medicine
A mix of strength training and aerobics can build bone, improve heart and brain health, boost mood, and melt away the fat tissue that excess hormones love to hide out in(18). Find something you enjoy doing, and stick to it. Your body (and mind) will thank you.