With Joanne Kennedy
We may not give them much thought, but our hormones have a huge impact on our body and can influence how we look, feel and function on a daily basis.
There are also a number of factors—both intrinsic and extrinsic—that can impact our hormonal health and the delicate balance of hormones in our bodies, which is why it’s essential to ensure we are supporting our hormonal health at every stage of our lives.
While as women, we often consider how our hormones affect our menstrual cycle—as we head into peri-menopause and menopause, the signs and symptoms of our hormones shifting can be new and, at times, unsettling, if we are unsure how to support them. This is why we were thrilled to speak with Sydney-based Naturopath, Joanne Kennedy, about why hormones are so integral to our health and wellbeing—as well as how we can support our hormones as we age…
How do our hormones impact and influence our health and wellbeing day to day?
“Our hormones play a huge role when it comes to our overall health and wellbeing. Not only do they allow for menstruation and fertility, but they also directly impact many of the other systems in our body.
Oestrogen is important for the health of our bones, cardiovascular system, our brain, breast development, regulation of healthy cholesterol levels, mood and sleep patterns. Progesterone is important for proper blood glucose control, mood, sleep, energy, helps build muscle, and has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.”
What factors—instrinsic and extrinsic—can impact our hormonal health and balance of hormones?
“Our hormones are heavily impacted by our bodies' own internal environment as well as the external environment. When it comes to the internal environment, the health our gut and its bacteria is of utmost importance. An unhealthy gut can cause issues with hormone detoxification leading to a build up of unhealthy oestrogen which is a major cause of premenstrual symptoms such as mood disturbances, fluid retention and breast tenderness. Having bad bacteria in your gut can also increase the amount of histamine in your body. Histamine increases oestrogen which will also cause PMS symptoms. Having SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) will cause a reduction in the absorption of important nutrients you need for healthy hormones including folate, vitamin B12, iron and iodine.
Our hormones are also heavily impacted by our thyroid health, insulin levels, nutrient deficiencies, being underweight or over-exercising as well as being overweight.
From a dietary perspective, eating a good amount of healthy fats (nuts and seeds, avocado olive oil, coconut oil, oily fish) is very important as your hormones are made from fat.
Foods that play havoc with our hormones are inflammatory foods including gluten, sugar and processed foods.
Stress will also cause havoc with our hormones as this leads to anovulatory cycles and low progesterone levels.
There are also many environmental toxins that disrupt our hormone balance including bisphenol A (BPA)—found in plastics—as well as solvents, pesticides, fire retardants, mercury and lead.”
For women, are there critical ages and stages of life where our hormonal health shifts or should take priority?
“The peri-menopause transition for women starts in our late 30s–early 40s and lasts right up until menopause which, on average, is at age 51. Throughout this period, women undergo hormonal shifts which can cause a lot of unpleasant symptoms including anxiety, depression, heavy periods, migraines, insomnia and breast tenderness. This occurs due to a reduction in progesterone and higher levels of oestrogen. These higher levels of oestrogen will increase the amount of histamine you have which also contributes to many of these symptoms.
Once you have had your final period and are in menopause you then have low oestrogen which can cause symptoms such as insomnia, vaginal dryness and memory loss.”
What happens to our hormones as we age? Are there any signs and symptoms that our hormones are shifting or changing as we age?
“The signs and symptoms to look out for as you get into your 40s are the classic signs of low progesterone and the corresponding high oestrogen which include anxiety, depression, heavy periods, migraines, insomnia and breast tenderness. Although they are a normal part of the peri-menopause ageing process, there is a lot that can be done naturally to help support healthy ovulation which makes progesterone and detoxify oestrogen which can significantly alleviate these symptoms.
Many women will also experience high histamine symptoms for the first time as they age due to the increase in oestrogen relative to progesterone. High histamine symptoms include headaches, migraines, vertigo, heart palpitations, itchy skin, hives and acne.”
So how can we better support our hormonal health—both now—and as we age?
“There is so much that can be done to help women through the hormonal transitions of ageing—and Natural Medicine is extremely efficacious in this area. Firstly, ensuring you have a healthy liver and gut function is paramount, as hormones are detoxified via the liver and the gut. Keeping stress down is also key as stress will lead to a reduction in progesterone levels.
Furthermore, when it comes to progesterone, you can ensure you have good levels of the nutrients that help make progesterone including vitamin B6, zinc, iron, iodine and vitamin D.
There are wonderful herbs that can help support healthy ovulation, which will ensure better progesterone levels.
Also, keeping inflammation down will support healthy follicles and ovulation, again making more progesterone!”