Interview with Krista King, registered dietitian nutritionist and certified health coach.
Tell us your story. What inspired you to become a dietician nutritionist and develop meal plans based on balancing hormones?
I lost my mom to cancer when I was 18. Prior she had experienced years of heart issues that ultimately culminated to a heart transplant. Then the cancer. At the time the integrative and holistic health world isn’t what it is today. Regardless, my mom was very devoted to understanding the root causes of the health issues she was facing. She is the one who introduced me to the concept of using nutrition for healing and also incorporating a mind-body approach to health. This ultimately lead me to pursue a degree in dietetics and become a registered dietitian. You could say that my passion for preventative and holistic health has been my driving force in everything I do today, but that’s not to say I haven’t had my own health detours along the way. When we go through something difficult in life we don’t always have the tools to know how to manage it. So we shove it away and try and move on with life. But what we don’t resolve we carry with us. I pushed away a lot of the pain of losing my mom and plowed through my early 20s the way a lot of us do – working hard and playing harder. Alcohol became a way to not deal with the pain, even though I didn’t realize that’s what was happening at the time. And it worked, until it just didn’t. On the outside everything seemed fine – I had a good job, relationship, social life, apartment. Nothing seemed on fire, except the burning feeling inside that everything I wanted out of life was on the other side of alcohol. The stress, blocked pain, lack of self-care, and not eating in a way to support my body started showing up as terrible anxiety, nutritional deficiencies, fatigue, and more. And I was done ignoring it. I was already a dietitian and I wanted how I lived my own life to match what I shared and taught others. Let me tell you, everything that drove you to your numbing tool of choice is still waiting for you when you choose to stop numbing – whether is a substance, food, relationships, work, scrolling on your phone. We all have our mix of things we have learned to deal with the thing we’ve experienced. A lot of my personal health story has been about untangling all of this and understanding how unresolved trauma shows up in the body. And it often shows up with dysregulated nervous systems and hormone imbalances (particularly the hormones that govern the stress response). This all has a downstream effect on our sex hormones and can show up as period problems. As I started Composed Nutrition the same patterns kept showing up in my clients: period problems, gut issues, anxiety, and a strained relationship with food and our bodies. It’s my mission to provide education, tools, and resources for healing the body naturally with a particular focus on hormones, gut health, and anxiety using a functional and integrative approach to nutrition that incorporates intuitive eating principles and emotional and spiritual tools.
What is the connection between nutrition and hormones? How can your diet impact hormone levels?
Every process in our body requires nutrients we must obtain from food. Think of metabolism, not just as it relates to weight (how we commonly only think of it), but as the sum of every reaction that occurs in the body. The body is constantly building up and breaking down through these reactions that occurring every single second. Sex hormone production requires adequate healthy fat and other vitamins and minerals like magnesium, zinc, omega-3, selenium, and B vitamins. For these reactions to continue and occur without issues we need each piece of the puzzle. Each nutrient has a job and if we are missing one (or many) then over time we can start to experience symptoms.
Many are some symptoms that indicate someone is suffering from hormonal imbalance? What are some nutritional changes that can help improve hormonal balance?
There are a wide range of symptoms that could indicate a potential hormone imbalance. Some examples include acne or skin issues, anxiety or mood swings, brain fog, low energy, fatigue, food cravings, period pain or cramps, hair loss, cyclical headaches, long or heavy period, a short or light period, infertility, sleep issues, low libido, spotting, or vaginal dryness. This is a long list of symptoms, but it is important to identify your symptoms then uncover the root cause of what is driving your symptoms – or which hormones may be low or elevated – to determine the correct healing strategies for your body. When it comes to healthy hormones some nutritional foundations include focusing on blood sugar balance, including a variety of colorful whole foods, including adequate protein and healthy fat, and being mindful with things like sugar, caffeine, and alcohol.
How do you develop individualized plans to help customers achieve balanced nutrition and hormones? Why is it important to consider holistic hormone health?
I use a comprehensive health assessment that includes a complete medical history, symptom questionnaires, digestive health assessment, mood questionnaire, questions on lifestyle, movement, and stress, and a 3-day food log. I then spend time putting the pieces together to help you understand what may be driving your symptoms. I may also use comprehensive hormone testing with the DUTCH hormone test or gut health testing with the GI MAP test. With all of this information I use what is working for you right now with your schedule and food preferences as a starting point and we talking through shifts, adjustments, or additions for meals and snacks that align with your goals. We will focus on specific foods that are helpful to focus on based on any hormone or gut imbalances or nutrient deficiencies that we uncover.
Discuss the connection between diet, menstrual health and taking the pill.
It’s important to understand that when taking the pill there are nutrient depletion that can occur. These include vitamin B12, vitamin B6, magnesium, folate, riboflavin (B2), zinc, tyrosine, selenium, and vitamin C. These nutrients are all vital for hormone production. It’s also important to understand that the bleed you get on the pill is not a period, it’s a withdrawal bleed. A true period will always follow ovulation, but the pill works as a contraceptive by actively blocking ovulation from occurring to prevent pregnancy. If you are on the pill or transitioning off of the pill it is really important to make sure you are including food sources of the nutrients mentioned and possibly supplement if indicated.
What effect does nutrition and the pill have on PCOS, Endometriosis, Thyroid and other problems?
The pill works by suppressing ovulation. It will also suppress your own natural hormone production. Common PCOS symptoms like acne, hair loss, hirsutism (unwanted hair growth), difficulty losing weight are driven by elevated androgens – testosterone or DHEA. If you have endometriosis you may have imbalances in estrogen and progesterone. The pill can suppress the hormones driving the symptoms, but this does not address the root cause that lead to the imbalance in the first place. This means that if you stop the pill and have not made nutrition or lifestyle changes to address the root cause your symptoms will likely return. The nutrient depletions that can occur with the pill are also important nutrients for thyroid health and proper thyroid hormone production, particularly zinc, tyrosine, and selenium.
What are some strategies to get off the pill and achieve regular periods? What role does nutrition play in this?
I focus on four main areas when clients are transitioning or have transitioned off of the pill: gut health, liver health, adrenal health, and nutrient repletion. For some, the pill can affect overall gut health and optimal gut function is needed to make sure we’re properly digesting and absorbing nutrients for building hormones. Your hormone processing takes place in the liver, so support these processes with things like turmeric, microgreens, epsom salt baths, colorful produce, sweating, and cruciferous veggies. Your adrenals govern the stress response. Imbalances in stress hormones can have a domino effect on the rest of your hormones (like your thyroid and sex hormones). As we talked about earlier, I also make sure that you are getting the nutrients the pill depletes through food and possibility supplementing.
What is the connection between gut health and hormones and what are some ways to achieve a healthy gut microbiome?
Gut issues or poor gut health can impact hormones. The eight I see commonly: low stomach acid, constipation, dysbiosis, intestinal permeability, inflammation, altered mood chemical production, elevated beta-glucuronidase, and gut pathogens. Low stomach acid can be due to things like stress, certain medications, or gut infections. Adequate stomach acid is needed to prevent the overgrowht of not so good bacteria, protect against gut infections, and to digest your food, particularly protein foods. Low levels can impair nutrient absorption and result in deficiencies of nutrients needed for hormone production. Estrogen needs to leave the body through the stool and if you’re experiencing constipation then estrogen can recirculate and contribute to elevated estrogen levels. Dysbiois is the imbalance of good / not so good bacteria in the gut and it can affect nutrient absorption and is a source of internal stress on the body. Intestinal permeability, often referred to as leaky gut, can impair nutrient absorption and result in food sensitivities and inflammation in the body. Inflammation can be due to gut infections, certain medication or foods. This is a source of internal stress in the body, which can affect sex hormone production and balance. A significant amount of your feel good mood chemicals (like serotonin) is made in the gut. Poor gut health and nutrient deficiencies can affect this production. Beta-glucuronidase is a marker that when elevated can interfere with phase II estrogen detoxification, unpackaging it and causing it to recirculate. Gut pathogens are the not so good guys we don’t want in the gut and can impair digestion and nutrient absorption.
What are some common misconceptions about nutrition and hormones?
I think the main common misconception is just how powerful of a role nutrition can play in overall hormone balance. The food we eat provides the building blocks for healthy hormone production. Food is a powerful healer. Another is that it needs to be elaborate or difficult when it comes to supporting your hormones through food. It definitely requires some patience, but often it’s a few simple shifts that make the biggest impact.