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Top 10 happy hormones

MiNDFOOD Magazine, September 2011

Whether it’s that time of the month or that time of life, hormones can play havoc. We ask 10 health experts for advice on PMS, menopause and other hormonal conditions.


“Speak to your GP to ensure that it’s your hormones which are the root of any PMS symptoms,” says Dr Ronald McCoy, spokesperson for the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. “If so, making some lifestyle changes, rather than just relying on medications, can help. Firstly, get a good night’s sleep: sleep affects a lot of hormones, a lack of which can make you testier and more stressed. Around eight hours [of sleep a night] can reduce hormonal symptoms, maintain weight and keep your glucose levels even. Regular sunlight exposure and exercise through a daily walk will also help your z’s.” And talk to your doctor about getting your Vitamin D levels checked. Sleep difficulties can arise from a vitamin D deficiency.


“PMS and menopause management require a wellness package,” says Associate Professor John Eden, a gynaecologist and endocrinologist. “This typically involves vitamins Vitex agnus-castus and B6, calcium and magnesium, vigorous exercise such as boxercise and a healthy diet of fruit and veg and little salt.” Choose the best form of exercise to suit your health history and lifestyle.


If you have digestive problems during and around your period, then your hormones may be to blame. “Constipation and diarrhoea can be exacerbated by changing hormone levels. The uterus and bowel share some nerves in common, so the bowel may behave differently during menses,” says Annalies Corse, medical scientist and naturopath. “This can sometimes mean your bowel movements are more regular or looser, according to the general health of your digestive system.” Top tip? Avoid caffeine during your symptoms and your period, which helps prevent bloating and pain.


“During pre-menstruation there are high levels of the hormone progesterone, which is an appetite stimulant,” says nutritionist Gabrielle Maston. “Typically, the body craves carbohydrates because it’s the body’s preferred fuel source: that’s why women typically crave chocolate, chips and lollies. The body also requires more energy at this time, as menstruation taxes the body’s energy.” So is this a green light to eat that block of chocolate? “By following a low-GI diet and supplementing with omega-3 fats you’ll be able to help control cravings to a degree. Allow yourself a small treat at this time, but 
in moderation.”


“Acupuncture has been successfully used in treating men suffering from the effects of prostate cancer treatment, where the levels of testosterone have been medically altered,” says acupuncturist Keri Krieger from Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat. Studies show acupuncture stimulates the production of anti-inflammatory hormone ATCH and reduces the negative effect of stress on the hypothalamus. “Typically, I would focus on nourishing the kidney energy and supporting the kidney essence, with points on ankles and lower back.”


“Yoga is ideal for reducing period pain, as well as helping maintain a clearer body and mind during PMS,” says Mandy Kopcho, senior teacher at Power Living Australia Bondi Junction. “By combining asanas (yoga postures) with ujjayi (steady, conscious breathing), the parasympathetic nervous system releases tension and calms the mind.” A recent study in India found women who suffer from PMS reported benefits from performing yoga stretches. It’s believed that by doing yoga you’ll have a higher level of allopregnanolone, a natural antidepressant, in the body.”


“The first step is to look at whether you’re giving your body the building blocks it needs to create a hormonal balance,” says Dr Karen Coates, practitioner in women’s health. “If you’re stressed, then this can deplete the hormone production from the adrenal glands, putting your hormones out of balance. And if your libido is rock bottom, then zinc can help.” Think oysters, which help your body produce testosterone. “For those who decide not to take hormone oestrogen therapy, then bio-identical hormones, which can imitate testosterone, progesterone and oestrogen if necessary, can be used. These imitators can cut down on the side effects you can get with HRT, which is primarily oestrogen. Oestrogen is the hormone we try to avoid in menopause, due to its link to breast cancer and heart disease. But this low level can cause misery. With bio-identical hormones, there is an increase in energy levels and a subtle control of hot flushes.”


“In reflexology, the entire body is reflected in the foot,” says Karina Stewart, co-founder of the Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary and Holistic Spa Resort in Koh Samui, Thailand. “The inner and outer ankle area  relates to ovaries and the uterus. Massage or pressure on this area can help to relieve period pain.” Stewart says that when dealing with hormones you need to treat the entire endocrine system. “By massaging the big toe, you’ll treat the pituitary gland, which is the master of the entire endocrine system.”


“Heavy periods could be a symptom of a major issue, such as fibroids or endometriosis, and these need to be ruled out,” says Corse. With these ruled out or diagnosed medically, herbs are then prescribed. “I use hormone modulators, which are very specific in 
the way they work,” she says. These 
may be a blend of Vitex agnus-castus, wild yam and unicorn root, among others. “The improvement is gradual 
but very noticeable.”


“If you’re going through menopause, include soy products in your diet,” says accredited practising dietitian Kate Di Prima. “Soy products, such as soy milk, tofu and soy beans, contain compounds called phytoestrogens that may reduce some menopause symptoms. However, while they may have some similar properties, phytoestrogens are considerably weaker than the female hormone oestrogen. For menopausal women, whose oestrogen levels tend to plummet, eating soy products may be a good way to offset the side effects, such as hot flushes, mood swings and weight gain, among others.”


According to Karina Stewart from Kamalaya there is an acupuncture point right on the anklebone that can help relieve period pain. To find this, cross one leg over the other thigh and place four fingers over the anklebone. “Right on the tip of your pinky finger is a point which, when massaged, helps to relieve menstrual pain. You could also use a relaxing essential oil such as lavender, jasmine or geranium.”


Dr Ronald McCoy from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners advises the following diet changes to help ease PMS:

* Eat fish at least three times a week to reduce the inflammation caused by hormones; pile your plate high with salmon, trout and mackerel.

* Boost your omega-3 levels by eating raw and fresh nuts regularly.

* The amount of veg you eat can affect the number of days you suffer from PMS on a monthly basis. Increase your intake of legumes, grains, fruit and vegetables.

* Eat foods high in vitamin D (eggs and fish) and calcium (dairy foods.

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