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3 things a hormone health expert wishes she knew sooner in life

Woman holding stomach in pain due to hormones. (Getty Images)
Could your symptoms be improved by being more in tune with your hormones? (Getty Images)

Some 75% of women feel they don't understand their hormones, which is far from ideal, considering they can affect just about everything to do with our health, mood, bodies and more.

For hormonal health expert Karolina Löfqvist, she used to be in the dark too. "But honestly, it shouldn't take years to find this stuff out," she says.

Here are the three things she would tell her 20-something-self about looking after her hormones.

1. We should change what we eat through the month

Closeup image of woman cutting watermelon in small triangles
Feed and nurture your hormone changes the right way. (Getty Images)

"Food can affect your mood massively. Some foods contain natural mood boosters that can help improve your mood and make you feel good, and understanding and nurturing your body's hormonal fluctuations throughout your menstrual cycle by switching what you eat can significantly impact how you feel," explains explains Löfqvist, co-founder and CEO of app Hormona, which unearthed how many women aren't in tune with their hormones.

"For example, at the start of your cycle, as your period arrives, you can focus on replenishing your iron levels, and upping your potassium to ease menstrual cramps.

"Particularly for the last days of your menstrual cycle, you might notice a shift in energy levels and an increase in PMS symptoms. You can combat fatigue and cravings by reaching for fibre-rich snacks, whilst zinc-packed foods can also provide relief from painful cramps. These foods not only help keep your energy stable but also provide extra mood support. Particularly for those who might find PMS extra difficult, understanding which foods help at certain times of the month can be a game-changer for combatting symptoms and boosting your energy levels."

Here are her suggestions of how to eat (which of course can be tailored to your diet and needs) through the four phases of the menstrual cycle.

Menstrual phase

  • Hydrating foods like watermelon and cucumber

  • Iron-rich foods such as leafy greens and grass-fed beef [if you eat meat]

  • Comforting foods like warm soups, with anti-inflammatory turmeric and ginger, and herbal teas

Follicular phase

  • Whole grains such as quinoa and brown rice

  • Protein-rich foods like eggs, fish, and legumes

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables for vitamins and fibre

Ovulatory phase

  • Omega-3 fatty acids from salmon, chia seeds, and walnuts

  • Green leafy vegetables for folate

  • Antioxidant-rich foods like berries and dark chocolate

Luteal phase

  • Complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and whole grains

  • Magnesium-rich foods such as nuts, cacao or dark chocolate, and leafy greens

  • Foods high in vitamin B6 like poultry (chicken or turkey), bananas and chickpeas

2. Exercising right for your cycle can help ease symptoms

Group of men and women practicing yoga lessons. Diverse group of people in sportswear doing stretching yoga workouts in a fitness studio.
Consider what type of exercise is best for what time of the month. (Getty Images)

"Exercise also releases hormones like endorphins and serotonin, which are helpful for improving your mood and alleviating pain. The release of these neurotransmitters means the right exercise at certain times of the month will help ease menstrual symptoms, and you can adjust your exercise routine so it is best aligned with your energy levels – for example, go slow when you’re feeling not so well, and be more active when you are more energetic," says Löfqvist.

"It’s worth remembering that everyone responds slightly differently to their hormonal changes. The best way to work out how to exercise in relation to your own cycle is to track how you feel throughout the month."

So, while it's also about listening to your body and what feels more enjoyable, here are the hormone health expert's suggestions of how to switch it up.

  • Menstrual: Take it easy with some walking or yoga – you might be feeling low energy and that’s ok

  • Follicular: Take advantage of increased energy levels and endurance with some cardio

  • Ovulation: Try more intense workouts like HIIT or strength training to challenge yourself

  • Luteal: Something low impact like yoga or pilates will help you stay fit and feel relaxed, even if you’re feeling fatigued

3. 80% of women have a hormonal imbalance, studies suggest

woman suffering from brain fog. (Getty Images)
A hormonal imbalance isn't just something you should put up with. (Getty Images)

"If you feel brain fog, bloated, hot and cold flushes, hair loss – it could be a sign of an imbalance, not something you should just put up with," Löfqvist points out.

"There’s a huge range of physical, sexual, and mental symptoms throughout your whole cycle. And there are things you can do to help."

So what can cause a hormonal imbalance? "It can be triggered by various factors, from conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) to thyroid or adrenal disorders, and diabetes," the expert adds. "Medications containing hormones can also play a role; though they may have different effects on different people. Stress, eating disorders (and tumours for certain people, whether benign or cancerous) have also been noted to disrupt hormonal balance."

What are the ways of treating hormonal imbalances? "Stress management for those where this may be the cause. For some hormonal imbalances such as PCOS, or type 2 diabetes, adjusting your lifestyle by increasing exercise, changing to a diet rich with protein and healthy fats, or reducing alcohol intake can make a difference, alongside medication for the hormonal condition.

"There are also many herbal supplements out there that claim to help with hormonal imbalance, but often there is no clear evidence to suggest they are beneficial for treating imbalances – so it’s best not to use these as a primary form of treatment.

"Most of all, if you do experience any severe symptoms and you feel that your body is not functioning as normal, the first thing you should do is talk to your doctor. Your doctor should ask you what symptoms you have been experiencing and examine for signs of hormonal imbalance – which is why it is important to log and keep track of any unusual symptoms throughout your cycle [and this can help with personal tips and advice]."

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