How To Balance Your Hormones Naturally
We’ve been sold the lie for far too long that the only way to balance your hormones and tame those pesky little PMS symptoms is to go on birth control. Well, now it’s time to take the narrative back.
You may have seen some not-so-friendly articles about Evie’s new app, 28, in the media lately, such as this one by Vice claiming that the reason 28 requires women's menstrual cycle information is because the “app relies on the pseudo-scientific idea that different types of exercise are required for different times in the menstrual cycle” and that this is “a notion not particularly supported by science.” Or this one by Jezebel that states that “28’s entire premise is basically rooted in pseudoscience.” Both state that this is unsurprising since Evie supports “Covid denialism” due to its “false” claims that the Covid vaccinations are harmful to young people, women, children, and unborn babies.
Spooky, right? Now, because I love all things health science and all things statistics (because numbers never lie), I decided to take a deeper dive into these bold claims. Can working out and eating for your cycle really impact your health in a measurable way? I put my medical research skills to the test, and this is what I found out.
Working Out for Your Cycle
When I first learned that the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team tracked their periods to optimize their training and that this is what they attributed their success to in winning the World Cup, I was blown away and, honestly, a little incredulous. A former D-1, pole vaulting athlete myself, I snorted at the thought of matching my training to my menstrual cycle. Sure it’s more difficult to work out on your period – you’ve got no energy, cramps, muscles that feel leadenly unresponsive, a general lack of motivation, and you’re bleeding like a wounded animal, for goodness sake. But you just suck it up and deal with it, you “man up.” After all, women literally just earned their spot to compete in every Olympic sport in 2012. It’s still very much a man’s world. This, unfortunately, also describes the medical research field as well, where up to 75% of all studies are performed exclusively on men.
So when I discovered studies published in journals with high impact factors (meaning that the journals are well respected due to the fact that they are very selective about the studies they publish and therefore the studies can be counted on to be high quality and reputable) touting the beneficial effects of working out with your menstrual cycle, using the fluctuating hormones in your body to your advantage, I was shocked. But should I have been? After all, I know from firsthand experience how hard or easy a workout can be based on where I am in my cycle. But I was also working out with programs designed by men, for men. I was being told that every day counted, every rep, every sprint, every jump, needed to be 100% every time, all the time. No excuses, no bad days. I was training like a man. But according to the U.S. Women's Soccer Team and cutting-edge research, I should have been training (and eating) like the woman I am.
Everyone’s cycle begins here, in the follicular stage, with menses, or bleeding. All hormones involved in the cycle are at an all-time low, and the bleeding typically lasts for 5-7 days.
Contrary to the typical culture that surrounds women's periods, this is a life-giving time for the female body. It’s a time of intense detoxification, and we want to support our body in this mission by gentle, full-body movements that use our full range of motion in order to stimulate lymph and menses drainage.
You may have been told by your doctor that the only two options to help curb the pain of your uterine cramps are NSAIDS (which are toxic) or birth control (which is a class 1 carcinogen). Unfortunately, this isn’t a surprise as ACOG itself pedals this harmful misinformation. And, when you click on its “can vitamins help with painful periods?” section, this is what it tells you: “Vitamin B1 or magnesium supplements may be helpful, but not enough research has been done to recommend them as effective treatments for period pain.”
Well, luckily for us, although there is limited data available on magnesium supplementation for pain, Hyo-Seok Na, clinical professor of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine at Seoul National University College of Medicine, has taken it upon herself to write an entire book devoted to the how and why magnesium should be used for pain management and had it published by several universities and reputable journals worldwide.
In it, she dives into how magnesium can not only be used to alleviate period pain, but autoimmune pain, surgical pain, chemotherapy pain, cancer pain, and pain caused by diabetic nerve damage. And in addition to that, she outlines how magnesium can effectively be used orally, intravenously, dermally, and epidurally. I’m not really sure how one woman and her small team can outdo an organization with literally 60,000+ members, but hey, we can’t all be Hyo-Seok Na.
“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” – The Wheatgrass Book, by Ann Wigmore
So, not only does magnesium help prevent or lessen the severity of cramps during your period, if you happen to also suffer from headaches, migraines, stress, and anxiety during your time of the month, magnesium can help make those disappear too.
The best way to get your magnesium is through magnesium-rich foods such as pumpkin seeds, almonds, and spinach, but sometimes this isn’t enough. That’s where supplements and Epsom salt baths come in. So, don’t be afraid to pamper yourself on your period! Set up some candles, draw yourself a bath, and let the detox begin.
Get Smart about Iron
The recommended daily amount for iron is almost twice as high (at 14.8mg) for women of childbearing age than for men and women 50 and over (8.7mg) due to their monthly loss of blood. So, needless to say, getting your iron in is kind of a big deal. It’s not that hard to do, but there are some pro tips you need to know.
Try to get your iron through red meat as this is its most bioavailable form as well as its most nutrient-dense form (this means you get more iron per calorie).
Try not to consume your iron with foods that contain tannins (found mostly in tea, wine, beans, nuts, and legumes). You can consume tannin and iron in the same day, obviously, just try to separate their intake by several hours. Additionally, don’t consume your iron alongside foods that are high in phytic acid (legumes, beans, seeds, and nuts) as these acids can inhibit the absorption of iron and zinc. And finally, don’t consume your iron with foods high in calcium. The effect of calcium on iron absorption is less than the effects of tannin and phytic acid, but when every milligram counts, why make things any harder on yourself?
Cruciferous vegetables (especially if eaten raw) have been shown over the years to help prevent breast cancer in premenopausal women. This is mainly due to three little chemicals: carotenoids, polyphenols, and isothiocyanates, and how they work is, honestly, really amazing. They modulate estrogen in the body, and what this means is that they actually block estrogen receptors in things like cancer cells (estrogen can cause certain cancer cells to grow, which is how these molecules work to prevent cancer) while enhancing estrogen receptivity in useful cells, such as osteoblasts (responsible for building bone and preventing osteoporosis).
So essentially, if you want balanced hormones, find a raw cruciferous veggie recipe you love, and eat up!
Chew the Fat
If you want to increase your fertility, it might be time to look at increasing your fat intake. Many studies today praise the benefits of fat in relation to human fertility, and these fats have especially been shown to benefit female fertility, from preventing anovulation to helping ease the symptoms of PCOS and providing the very building blocks our hormones are created from (cholesterol).
You can overdo it, obviously, but if you’ve been throttling your fat intake due to the latest, restrictive diet trend and not getting your desired results, it may be time to concentrate on feeding your fertility instead of depriving it.
About midway through the follicular phase, the bleeding stops, and estradiol (the primary form of estrogen in women of childbearing age) begins to rise and eventually peak.
Testosterone is also on the rise during this time as well, so to capitalize on that – now is the best time to start building muscle and sculpting the body you’ve always dreamed of.
Since the relationship between the gut microbiome and the endocrine system was established in the 1980s, “gut health” has been a hot topic that’s only gotten hotter with each passing decade.
In 2007, The Human Microbiome Project began. During its course, the scientists working on the project discovered incredible things about the bacteria living on and within our bodies, such as the fact that human survival would be impossible without our microbiome. These little germs do things like create vitamins, break down the food we eat and extract the necessary nutrients (making it bioavailable to our bodies), and perform constant maintenance on our immune system, going so far as to produce anti-inflammatory compounds. When the project ended in 2016, it left us with this message: “changes in the composition of our microbiomes correlate with numerous disease states, raising the possibility that manipulation of these communities could be used to treat disease.”
Since then, the project has given birth to a myriad of other similar, more focused studies, such as the Vaginal Microbiome Consortium, where it was discovered that a mother and her child’s genes factored in determining when a baby would be born by only about 33%, but environmental factors (such as their microbiomes) influenced whether the baby would be born preterm or not by about 66%. Other notable spinoff studies include projects on IBS and the onset age of type 2 diabetes.
Additionally, in recent years, other scientists have discovered that gut bacteria not only influence neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, but they produce them. Because of these studies, we now know that 95% of our body’s serotonin is actually produced in the gut, and some scientists posit that the SSRIs of the future will actually be probiotics! This is great news because there are literally no drawbacks or negative side effects from a healthy gut, while SSRIs, on the other hand, have plenty.
Finally, some scientists today refer to the gut microbiome as the forgotten endocrine organ. Our body is designed to seek equilibrium. Its primary function is to maintain homeostasis. We just need to give it the tools and support it needs, and one of those tools is bacteria. So, whether you enjoy the bubbly effervescence of kombucha, the tart tang of sauerkraut, spicy kimchi, or smooth and sweet yogurt, it's time to get your (daily) fill and replace the friendly germs that may have been lost during your menstruation.
Sleep is important during any phase in your cycle, but it’s especially important to prioritize as you recover from your monthly blood loss. But to get your best sleep ever, you have to make sure your diet is working with you. In addition to cutting out processed foods and not consuming caffeine during the six hours before your bedtime, you should also try tryptophan.
It’s an amino acid commonly found in milk, tuna, bird meat, oats, and cheese, and it’s an important precursor to melatonin. Melatonin is important because it (along with exposure to sunlight first thing in the morning) helps set the stage for your circadian rhythm, and your circadian rhythm is what makes sure you feel energized when you should be awake and sleepy when you should be asleep. Not only that, it helps make sure that once you are asleep, you stay that way.
So, for your best sleep today, try drinking some milk or eating some cheese before bed and see what happens – it could just become part of your new sleep routine.
Keep Your Carbs Complex and Low Calorie
Your metabolism is revving back up, but it’s still pretty slow. To help with this, try to consume fewer carbs and more fat. Additionally, make sure the carbs you do consume are complex. Here’s why.
In a weight loss study performed by the BMJ, the researchers discovered that when controlling for calories, the individuals who were placed on a high fat/low carbohydrate diet were more likely to keep off the weight previously lost during a special diet. This was due to three things: First, the high fat group had an increased energy expenditure of 200+ calories when compared to the high carb group. Second, the high fat diet appeared to help modulate insulin. Third, hunger hormones decreased. That’s right, you have hormones that make you hungry, the main culprit being ghrelin (think: hangry gremlin). It’s a hormone that increases your appetite. And if your appetite decreases, so does your calorie intake.
Finally, complex carbs are high in fiber, so they digest more slowly. This means they leave you feeling fuller longer and therefore encourage you to eat more in tune with your slower metabolism.
Pump Up the Vitamin C
Studies show that by simply increasing vitamin C intake, a woman can improve multiple facets of her fertility. Not only does vitamin C boost progesterone production in a major way (necessary for healthy and timely ovulation, as well as many other things), it has the potential to cure luteal phase defects, and improve egg development/health (otherwise known as folliculogenesis).
Vitamin C boosts progesterone production in a major way and improves egg development and health.
Foods highest in vitamin C are going to be your citruses and cruciferous vegetables, but even then, it may be difficult to reach the 750mg discussed in the study (only worth trying if you have fertility issues), so a supplement may be necessary. Otherwise, just shoot for the easily attainable RDA of 75mg.
Welcome to the main event of your cycle: ovulation! During this stage, you’re high energy but not high-strung, and you’ve got peaking levels of estrogen and testosterone to thank for that! This is also the best time to push your workouts to the max and, consequently, see max results.
B Vitamins: Fertility Fuelers
Studies suggest diets that supply adequate or above adequate B vitamins promote conception, are protective against miscarriage, and more likely to result in a live birth.
So how can you make sure to get enough of these superstars of fertility into your diet? For your RDA of 2.4mcg of B12, try out beef, beef liver, sardines, clams, and dairy products. For vitamin B6, you can use milk, salmon, tuna, eggs, beef, and carrots to meet your RDA of 1.5mg. And for folate and it’s 400mcg, you can eat dark green veggies, beans, sunflower seeds, and whole grains.
In total, there are about eight different B vitamins, and the good news is that most of them can be obtained easily through animal products. So, if it’s baby-making time for you, make sure your body is primed and ready to go before you hit the sheets with these fertility fuelers!
Eat More Calories
During this phase in your cycle, your metabolism is on fire and so are your workouts! Make sure to keep yourself fueled for performance with extra calories. This will also help to ensure ovulation continues on its normal schedule by keeping diet-induced stress hormones like cortisol to a minimum.
Your progesterone is peaking, and your estrogen has increased again as well, which may have you feeling all sorts of ways. Use this time to listen to your body and give it what it needs. Some days you may want to put any frustration or stress you’re feeling into a workout, other days you may feel the need to take it easy. Be kind to yourself during this phase, and let your intuition be your guide.
According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, “a diet high in fiber is significantly associated with decreased [estradiol, progesterone, LH, and FSH] concentrations...for each additional 5 g of fiber… estradiol decreased by ≈0.047 pg/mL over the menstrual cycle.”
Soluble fruit and grain fiber were the most effective fiber forms for reducing estradiol. This is great news for any woman suffering from high estrogen, but the question still remains, what is the recommended daily intake of fiber, and can you overdo it?
According to the Mayo Clinic, the average female should try to eat around 25g of fiber a day. It helps prevent cancer and diabetes as well as cardiovascular disease and helps keep your bowel movements regular and your bloat down. But the AJCN found something interesting: "Of the 509 menstrual cycles included in this study, 42 (8.3%) were anovulatory. Of the cycles in which women consumed at or above the DRI (≥22 g fiber/d; n = 41), 22% of cycles were anovulatory compared with 7.1% of cycles in which women consumed ≤10 g fiber/d (n = 155).” Essentially what the researchers found was that by consuming the RDA of fiber, the women in the study significantly decreased their chances of ovulating.
By consuming the RDA of fiber, the women in the study significantly decreased their chances of ovulating.
Fiber intake and blood estrogen levels were so well coordinated, in fact, that the researchers were able to calculate exactly how much fiber would increase your risk of anovulation by what percent. This is what they found: “a 5-g/d increase in dietary fiber intake, equivalent to ~2 slices whole-grain bread (4.6 g/d) or one large apple (4.7 g/d), would result in a 78% elevation in the risk of anovulation.”
That is wild. By simply eating an extra apple a day or a raw carrot salad (or really any root vegetable), you can remove so much estrogen from your body that you don’t ovulate. Diet can be so effective at managing your hormones that this is what happens! But the takeaway is kind of tricky. As it turns out, you can have too much of a good thing. So while fiber is incredibly beneficial to the body, it has its time and place. Have you already ovulated? Great, pump up that fiber if you feel the need. Help your body clear out any excess hormones during its prime detox days and combat mood swings while you're at it. But if you know you have trouble with ovulating or want to make sure you do, maybe hold back a little bit.
MTHFR Gene Mutation
MTHFR is a gene that everyone has two copies of. At conception, we get one MTHFR gene from our mom and one from our dad. Because of this process and because the MTHFR gene is commonly subject to mutation, we all have essentially a 50/50 chance of having a mutated form of this gene. So why is this important, especially to us females? Because not only does it have the potential to influence our susceptibility to certain cancers and mental health conditions, but it also has the ability to cause systemic inflammation and cause recurrent miscarriages, and possibly PPROM as well (though the literature on this is less certain). So, what can be done?
Unfortunately, the answer to this problem extends beyond taking a special daily vitamin containing a pre-methylated form of folate because the cascade effect that low folate has on the body and the many toxins we’re subject to throughout the course of our lives (like Tylenol) interfere with this process even more. Let me explain.
The MTHFR gene is responsible for telling the body how to convert folate into methyl-folate. Methyl-folate is super important for a process called methylation. So, what is methylation? Well, essentially, it’s a process that literally takes place on an atomic level to influence our DNA. The “why you should care” version of this is that in cases where someone has the MTHFR gene mutation, the methylation process doesn't work properly. This, in turn, can cause an amino acid called homocysteine to build up in the body. This is because one of the other things that methylation is responsible for is converting homocysteine into methionine.
Methionine is responsible for repairing cells (anti-inflammatory) and detoxifying the body. Methionine is also responsible for making sure the body has enough glutathione, and glutathione is essentially the best at helping your body break down and remove toxins. If it can’t do this, you then become susceptible to all the things discussed earlier as well as IBS, chemical sensitivities, systemic candida overgrowth (more than just common yeast infections, which, coincidentally, not only are these sometimes caused by low glutathione levels, they in turn cause low glutathione), migraines, stroke, heart disease, and congenital birth defects in your offspring. So, obviously, this is a very important process for your body to get right, and it’s obviously bad news if both of your MTHFR genes are mutated in this way. There is good news, however.
There are many lifestyle modifications an individual with the MTHFR gene mutation can undertake to keep their body at its healthiest. Firstly, do not touch Tylenol (acetaminophen) as it decreases your body’s glutathione stores. Secondly, as we saw earlier, the gut microbiome is a master when it comes to helping the body work at peak efficiency, and when it comes to the MTHFR gene mutation, the story is no different. Our bodies need gut bacteria in order to be fertile. This is because in addition to all the other work they do, they convert our sulfur-rich foods into glutathione. And apparently, glutathione is vital for maintaining fertility, especially for those with PCOS.
Thirdly, reduce your toxic burden as much as possible. The biology of those with the MTHFR gene mutation already has a hard enough time making sure the body doesn’t have a build-up of environmental and internal toxins. So don’t make it harder on yourself! Some easy ways to get started are to drink filtered, fluoride-free water, wear natural materials, eat unprocessed, organic food, and use non-toxic cleaning products like vinegar and hydrogen peroxide.
Lastly, eat meat or beef liver (you can buy it desiccated in pill form as well if this sounds repulsive to you). People with the MTHFR mutation are more likely to be deficient in vitamin B12, and the best source of it is found in beef liver. Since it’s in its natural form, it’ll also be more bioavailable to your body and microbiome. This will also help your body convert homocysteine properly, which is important as high homocysteine levels are commonly found in women struggling with infertility and PCOS.
Our feminine biology is unique and phenomenal. Just the simple fact that most of our bodies will self-correct (even over-correct) if given the right nutrients and care, blows my mind.
We live in a world that pushes us to believe that the cure to whatever ails us resides in a pill, but the truth is, our bodies didn’t evolve with synthetic, highly concentrated chemicals. Modern-day medicine certainly has its place, don’t get me wrong, I’ve relied on it to save my life more than once, but it should really only be used as a last resort.
28 wants to bring women back to the basics. Back to our primal, intuitive selves. It wants to give women an alternative, effective, holistic route to health and healing. One without harsh side effects and lasting, negative consequences, just the way nature (and science) intended. So join us. Come see what all the buzz is about and maybe even improve your quality of life along the way.
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