Melissa is a dedicated and hard working school teacher and has suffered with irregular periods and PMS for years.
In a typical work day, Melissa has no time for lunch because she is in staff meetings or on playground duty. She will eat a muesli bar or a piece of fruit after work to keep her going until dinner, or if her period is due, she will snack on chocolate.
Melissa is not a real person in this case, however she is an example of a typical client who I may treat every week.
There are two main things that I will discuss with Melissa that could be contributing to her hormone imbalance: diet choices and stress.
1. Diet choices
Our bodies have specific requirements for the nutrients that are needed to make healthy hormones. I often see women who have very limited diets because they eat the same small number of foods every day. It's easy when we are busy, to get into a habit of making the same breakfast and lunch to make our shopping and preparation quick and easy.
The first thing I work on with my clients is to increase the variety of foods that they are eating, in order to increase the nutrients available. We often add in extra fruit, extra vegetables, some more proteins such as eggs and fish, and some healthy fats like avocado and nuts.
We usually need to take out some foods as well. I help my clients to gradually cut back on high sugar convenience foods such as breakfast cereal, muesli bars and ready made juice. We also look for foods that might have been causing them digestive or sinus problems (such as dairy or bread) and cut back on those as well.
These diet changes can make a noticeable improvement to the way your body functions each month, and women often discover that they have a lot more energy for their daily activities.
If you're already eating a great diet, what else could be causing hormonal problems?
2. Stress, overwhelm, anxiety, exhaustion
Let's go back to the example of Melissa. She has anxiety every day. Melissa faces a classroom of children of varied abilities and concentration spans, she has no break during the day, and then she manages the concerns of parents after class.
Melissa goes home to prepare the lessons for the next day and might work until 1am researching, preparing and perfecting her lessons. Full time jobs are hard to come by, and Melissa and her partner are saving for a deposit for their own home. The pressure is on for Melissa to be made a permanent staff member at her school.
The constant pressure, overwhelm and exhaustion that I have just described is unfortunately typical of women in many professional roles. Stress can play a huge role in hormonal imbalance. Stress hormones have a direct affect on our reproductive hormones. Many women have examples in their own lives where a period started 2 weeks early when they were stressed, on holidays or at an important work conference.
It can be hard to manage your stress levels when you're caught on a roundabout of work, pressure, family commitments and expectations. I work with my clients to find ways to reduce their stress hormones using yoga, breathing, exercise and relaxation. We also talk about setting healthy boundaries, saying 'no', and realising when something can be left until another time.
I find herbal medicine can be useful to my clients, because I can design an individualised herbal formula that is nourishing to the nervous system and supportive of healthy hormones. This formula can support you in the short term, while you are making positive changes to your lifestyle.
Diet, stress, hormones and the mid-40s woman
There is a stage towards the end of a women's reproductive years when hormones become unbalanced as part of a natural process called peri-menopause.
Peri-menopause is about 5 years before menopause (when your period stops) and is a time of fluctuations in the levels of progesterone and estrogen.
Peri-menopause typically occurs in your mid-40s, and this surprises many women because we are not expecting menopause until we are older. Peri-menopause can be a time of worsening PMS, anxiety, insomnia and is often accompanied by heavier or irregular periods.
Your experience of peri-menopause can be greatly improved by diet and lifestyle changes and working with a naturopath.
Some women that I treat have symptoms that need further medical investigation, such as absent periods or bleeding between periods.The majority of my clients come to see me alongside the conventional care they are receiving from their doctor, most commonly because they don't want to start or continue on the contraceptive pill.
This blog is not intended as specific health advice for the reader. This information is based on my training as a naturopath (B.Health Science) and my experience with working with clients. To find out more about how I work with your health concerns, please contact me.
I am a naturopath, herbalist, nutritionist and certified wellness coach.
I welcome clients to my clinic in Gladesville, Sydney.
I love to help men and women have a better understanding of their bodies and discover how they can feel better with simple diet and lifestyle changes.