Hormone Balancing Foods for Female Fertility – (Part 1)
The sex hormones oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone control our reproductive organs, and imbalances in the levels of these hormones can have a significant impact on a woman’s reproductive health, influencing factors such as ovulation and egg quality. Having too much or too little of these hormones can influence our fertility. While extreme deficiency of certain hormones may require medical intervention, dietary changes and eating key hormone-balancing foods can positively impact hormone health and support reproductive health and fertility.
Oestrogen balancing foods
Oestrogen levels that are too low can negatively impact the menstrual cycle and chances of conceiving. However, having oestrogen levels that are too high, a state called oestrogen dominance, is linked to several health conditions that can impact fertility, including endometriosis and fibroids. Other symptoms of oestrogen dominance include breast tenderness, heavy and painful periods and PMS.
The female body uses oestrogen, breaks it down, and removes it as if it were a toxin. Eating foods that support this process of oestrogen breakdown and removal can help reduce oestrogen dominance and support a healthy balance of oestrogen for reproductive health.
Eat more cruciferous vegetables.
Cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, kale, Brussell sprouts and rocket, are superfoods for female hormonal health thanks to their ability to improve the body’s ability to break down and metabolise oestrogen safely. Oestrogen can be metabolised into a more aggressive inflammatory form (called 16-hydroxyestrone) or a less inflammatory form (called 2-hydroxyestrone). All cruciferous vegetables contain a naturally occurring compound called indole-3-carbinol which encourages the metabolism of oestrogen into the less inflammatory form.
Eating at least one serving of cruciferous vegetables every day can help promote healthy oestrogen activity in the body; choose from broccoli, tender stem broccoli, purple sprouting broccoli, kale, cavolo nero, pak choi, rocket, radishes, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, watercress, cabbage and broccoli sprouts.
Nutritional tip: eating two types of cruciferous vegetables together will enhance your absorption of the hormone-balancing compounds in these vegetables, as well as dressing the vegetables with mustard. So why not try a rocket salad with some broccoli and radishes with mustard-based salad dressing?
Fibre and Flaxseeds
We all know that fibre is important to keep our bowel motion regular, and having regular bowel motion is, in fact, really important for our hormonal health. Oestrogen is removed from the body via the gut and bowel, and if you aren’t having a regular poo and are constipated, the oestrogen that the body is trying to excrete can get reabsorbed through the bowel wall. Eating plenty of fibre will help to mop up this oestrogen in the gut and increase the chance of a regular bowel motion.
Aim to eat a high-fibre diet packed with vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, and lentils. A general rule is to try to include a fibre source every time you eat.
Milled flaxseeds are a fantastic hormone-balancing source of fibre because they are known to increase levels of a hormone-balancing protein in our bloodstream. Eating flaxseeds regularly increases something called Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG). SHBG is a carrier protein that controls the amount of free and active hormones in our bloodstream; if we don’t have enough SHBG, we end up with more free and active hormones, which is bad news if you have excess oestrogen. So, eat two dessert spoons of flaxseed daily to provide fibre and support hormone balance.
Eat to control Aromatase.
You might never have heard of it, but aromatase is an enzyme in our body that converts androgens (testosterone) into oestrogen. Controlling aromatase activity is important to prevent oestrogen imbalances. Aromatase activity is increased in people who are overweight (the more fat tissue we have, the more aromatase we produce), as we age, in people with high insulin (such as PCOS), by stress and by alcohol. However, certain foods also act as aromatase inhibitors to help control and reduce the activity of this enzyme. These foods can therefore help balance hormones in oestrogen-dominant conditions.
Aromatase inhibiting foods to include in your diet are:
- Cruciferous vegetables (see list above)
- Calcium-rich foods such as low-fat dairy products
- Nettle tea
- Purple foods (blueberries, pomegranate, raspberries, blackberries, acai, red grapes, black beans)
- Citrus fruits
Progesterone balancing foods
Inadequate levels of progesterone are associated with reduced chances of conceiving, this hormonal imbalance can cause irregular periods and reduced chances of successful implantation. Signs of low progesterone levels include irregular periods, short menstrual cycles and short periods. Progesterone is produced by the corpus luteum and helps to thicken the uterus lining to support implantation.
While low progesterone levels may require treatment with progesterone medications, nutrition can also support an improvement in progesterone levels.
Eat foods rich in Vitamin B6 – vitamin B6 is probably the most important hormone-balancing nutrient, and having adequate levels of B6 is important for progesterone production. It can lead to a regular menstrual cycle and a longer luteal phase. So aim to eat plenty of foods rich in vitamin B6 and ensure you take a multivitamin such as NuaBiome Women to support fertility that provides vitamin B6.
Vitamin B6-rich foods include whole grains (oats, brown rice, whole wheat), turkey, fish, eggs, green leafy vegetables, edamame beans and eggs.
Eat foods rich in Vitamin C – eating plenty of vitamin C-rich foods can support the body’s natural production of progesterone. Women who took a 750mg supplement of vitamin C every day saw their progesterone levels increase by 77%.
Vitamin C-rich foods include strawberries, citrus fruits, peppers, Brussel sprouts, Broccoli, tomatoes, potatoes, kiwi, kale, papaya, spinach, mango and cabbage.
Check your vitamin D levels – vitamin D is a vitamin that acts as a hormone in our body, and it can support the activity of our sex hormones. Vitamin D has been shown to enhance progesterone activity in female reproductive organs by around 13%.
Our main source of vitamin D is sunlight, and it can be difficult for us to get enough in the winter months. It is impossible to get enough vitamin D from our diets, and therefore at times, we might be reliant on a vitamin D supplement to boost our levels if we are deficient – you can read our blog post on the importance of vitamin D when trying to conceive HERE.