You probably know The Food Doctor for their product range – a staple in the health isle of most supermarkets and one of the first brands to bring the UK ready-to-eat meal components with real nutritional benefit. What you may not know is that they also have their own clinic on London’s Harley Street. It’s here that I met their nutritionist, Alice Mackintosh, for a chat about a topic particularly close to my heart…female hormones. Here’s what Alice has to say…
Why is hormone balance such an issue for women in particular?
Women’s bodies are complex, and complexity means a greater potential for problems. This is especially the case when it comes to hormones as so many systems need to come together in order for them to remain balanced. Compounding this is the fact that hormones are incredibly sensitive to the environment meaning that stress, poor nutrition and exposure to many of the synthetic compounds that exist in modern life put us at greater risk of imbalance.
What are the typical symptoms of an imbalance?
In general we shouldn’t really notice too many uncomfortable symptoms around our period so anything untoward can suggest a certain degree of imbalance. This will of course vary between individuals but bloating, fluid retention, mood changes, food cravings, anxiety, pain, heavy periods are all common signs of PMS. Imbalanced hormones can have more far reaching impact on the body and can contribute to skin problems such as acne and hair loss.
Women who struggle with more severe hormone induced conditions such as PCOS and endometriosis can also struggle with a host of other undesirable symptoms.
Before incorporating supplements, it’s important to have fundamental nutrition and lifestyle habits in place first. What would you suggest are the three most important nutrition factors for improving hormone balance?
Well-balanced hormones will rely on the functioning of many systems and so it helps to think about supporting the whole body functionally if you really want to keep things in harmony. The three most important strategies to consider should be:
1. Supporting the liver
The liver is responsible for detoxifying harmful compounds we take in from the environment – alcohol, pollution, cigarette smoke, drugs, medication and pesticides are at the top of a very long list. As well as this, the liver is also responsible for breaking down thing we produce ourselves such as hormones. Don’t do this and you can expect oestrogen and progesterone to become imbalanced which is often at the heart of PMS type symptoms.
Give the liver what it needs to function and you put yourself in good stead – anything dark, green and leafy is a good start – kale, spinach, brocolli, cabbage. Colourful foods are generally very supportive – berries, beetroot, peppers and avocado are all ideal and dont forget protein which the liver can’t do without.
superfoods are a great all in one liver support – chlorella, Blue Green Algae and wheatgrass as well as acai and boabab are great.
2. Making sure hormones are properly removed from the body
Once detoxified, you also need to make sure you remove these hormone byproducts from the body. Supporting digestion is the most crucial way to do this – eat plenty of fibre rich foods such as wholegrains (oats, quinoa, brown rice, brown pasta, spelt) as well as fresh fruit and veg. I also recommend probiotics as some types of unhelpful bacteria can cause hormones to be re-absorbed back in to the circulation, contributing to imbalance.
3. Balance your blood sugar
Though this might not seem like it could be related, perhaps the most important thing to get right is balancing your blood sugar as fluctuations in this can lead to excessive insulin production which has been shown to contribute to hormone imbalance. Low blood sugar can also be quite stressful for the body and given that stress hormones are closely linked with sex hormones, you want to minimize this as much as possible. Eat three regular meals and snack between them, always choosing wholegrain carbs paired with protein. eggs with avocado and rye bread for breakfast is ideal; and snack on nuts, seeds, coconut flakes or hummus with crudites. Bounce bars are a great alternative to sugary snacks if youre craving something sweet!
The Food Doctor started me off on a combination of supplements specifically chosen for female hormone balance – this included MegaMag Fem Balance (a combination of Myo-Inositol, Vitamin B6, Calcium and Magnesium), a pro-biotic and Omega 3. I asked Alice to explain more about why this combination is effective and how supplements can be a beneficial additional support to a healthy, varied diet.
How can these supplements enhance an already good nutrition plan? Do they provide something that can’t be easily obtained from diet alone?
These supplements have been formulated specifically with hormone balance in mind and quite often problems suggest that extra help is needed. Diet should always be central to this but supplements can help things along.
In particular, naturally occurring compounds such as myo-inositol, which have been found to have positive impact on female hormones aren’t actually found in abundance in the diet. Supplementing is therefore the only way to get their benefits.
Similarly, probiotics can be found in fermented foods such as yoghurt and kefir but getting a variety of strains of bacteria in high amount is would require overconsumption of these foods. Supplemental bacteria is therefore helpful in such cases.
Omega 3 fish oils can be found in the diet but quite often they aren’t eaten in the correct ratio with omega 6, particularly as the typical modern diet tends to be higher in foods rich in vegetable fats rather than oily fish and nuts/seeds. Taking an omega 3 oil can help rebalance this, which is vital for hormone balance.
How can this combination help combat a stressful lifestyle?
Once it’s switched on, stress conquers all in the body. Hormones are no exception; and so combating a stressful lifestyle is essential for any strategy aimed at balancing hormones. The body’s requirements for nutrients increase significantly during times of stress and the supplements in this package bring a ready supply of supportive B vitamins, magnesium, vitamin C and calcium. Given that our stress hormones (and sex hormones) have a structure based on fats, an omega supplement can help support their production and also support healthy brain function, which is essential during times of stress.
Stress has an almost immediate impact on digestive function; and given that gut bacteria can easily become disrupted when life is going at full pace, probiotics provide an excellent support and help keep things in check so you have one less thing to worry about!
Alice Mackintosh – (Hons) Phys, BSc (Hons) NT, mBANT, CHNC
During her training, Alice gained a First Class Honours degree in Nutritional Therapy at the renowned Centre for Nutrition Education in the UK. She also has a scientific background with a prior degree in Biomedical Sciences from Leeds University. Having originally set out to qualify as a medical doctor, Alice’s instinctive understanding of the impacts of diet on health and the development of disease led her to pursue her career in nutrition instead. Using her knowledge and experience she now advises on all aspects of nutrition at the prestigious Food Doctor clinic on Harley Street. Having witnessed the effects that a busy lifestyle can have on health, she has gained a reputation as the best consultant for those wanting no-nonsense regimes that are based on the most up-to-date scientific research.