SEED CYCLING: BALANCING HORMONES WITH YOUR DIET

Let food by thy medicine – Hippocrates

PMS is so common that it is perceived as normal. Many of us experience some form of discomfort and bodily changes prior to our cycle, including bloating, breakouts, sugar cravings, fatigue, and mood swings. These symptoms can vary in severity and are partly controlled by two important hormones – Oestrogen and Progesterone. These two hormones are part of the endocrine system and are constantly present, however they rotate dominance in alignment with your cycle. They also play an important role with androgens (testosterone), which can cause certain symptoms (e.g. breakouts). 

A regular cycle is between 21 – 35 days, where Oestrogen and Progesterone rotate dominance. During the Follicular phase (day 1 – 14), Oestrogen levels increase and start to decrease at the beginning of the Luteal phase (day 15-28), where progesterone levels rise. 

The imbalance of these hormones can be the reason behind some of the discomforts and bodily symptoms. 

So what is seed cycling? 

There are 4 seeds that contain specific nutrients that support balancing this hormonal process. 

Flax seeds – contain lignans that block excess oestrogen. Recommend grounding. 

Pumpkin seeds – extremely high in zinc and supports progesterone production. 

Sunflower seeds – high in selenium for hormone metabolism and liver detoxification. 

Sesame seeds – contain lignans that block excess oestrogen. 

These nutrient-dense seeds can have powerful effects on regulating your hormones. A clinical evaluation, where the effect of ingested flax seed powder on 18 women, suggests a significant specific role for lignans in the relationship between diet and sex steroid action (Phipps, Martini, Lampe, Slavin & Kurzer, 1993). 

The recommended guide for incorporating these into your diet is: 

Follicular phase (day 1-14) 

  • 1 Tbsp of flax seeds Note: it is recommended to ground the flax seeds or buy LSA. 
  • 1 Tbsp of pumpkin seeds. 

Luteal phase (day 15-28) 

  • 1 Tbsp of sunflower seeds 
  • 1 Tbsp sesame seeds. 

Now, not everyone enjoys eating 1Tbsp of seeds on their own…I know – I gave it a go and felt like a bird. Here are some suggestions for incorporating these into your diet: 

  • Smoothie 
  • Oats 
  • Stir-fry 
  • Chia pudding 
  • Homemade protein bars 
  • Granola 

I also like to buy good quality seeds and divide them into small jars, that way they are easily accessible. 

Using the diet to address concerns and imbalances is a traditional holistic method and is cost effective, however changes will take time (roughly 3 months/3 cycles). If you are looking for a natural method to balance and control menstrual discomforts, than this is certainly worth a try. 

Reference 

Phipps, W., Martini, M., Lampe, J., Slavin, J., & Kurzer, M. (1993). Effect of flax seed ingestion on the menstrual cycle. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article-abstract/77/5/1215/2649961

THE BENEFITS OF MEAL PLANNING

Planning my meals for the week is a balance between being a control freak and being obsessed with food. The best part is that there are so many benefits for planning your meals, including:

  • Time
    • By committing one hour a week to preparing your meals, you allow for so much more time to yourself or your family during the busy week.
    • This always results in less stress.
  • Cost effective
    • As you are buying similar ingredients and at times in bulk.
  • Health success
    • Remaining in control of your meals and having food prepared will save you from reaching for the alternative quick option.
  • Environmental benefits (no food waste)
    • You are buying food/ingredients to be consumed and not sit at the back of the fridge and go to waste.

A quick guide to meal planning:

  • Pick your battles: you don’t have to prep every meal. If you have time to whip up a smoothie in the morning then focus on the other meals that will save you time. If you like to have options for dinner then create a list of options and prepare parts of those meals to save time.
  • Check your equipment: If you move around a lot like me then your equipment may be the deciding factor as to what you can produce that week. I have learnt miraculous things about sandwich presses. Also consider your containers to store your meals.
  • Check for foundation ingredients: Check the pantry/fridge for those staple ingredients (salt, pepper, oil) that you may need.
  • Begin list: think of meals that have similar ingredients. Use Pinterest, magazines, this website 🙂
  • Transfer ingredients to your shopping list and write out your meals for the week. This can be placed somewhere on display like the fridge.

Items that are always on my shopping list:

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Proteins – chicken, fish (love salmon and barramundi),
  • Nuts and seeds – mainly sunflower, pumpkin, flax, chia, sesame
  • Almond milk
  • 80% dark chocolate
  • Natural PB
  • Eggs
  • Canned tuna
  • Coffee and green tea
  • Frozen berries

Go-to Smothies

  • Berry: ½ frozen banana, ½ cup frozen berries, handful spinach, 1 large Tbsp PB, chia seeds, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, almond milk and protein (Pranaon salted caramel – delicious)
  • Green: ½ frozen banana, ½ avocado, handful spinach, 1 large Tbsp PB, chia seeds, almond milk, protein (Pranaon), greens powder (optional)

Protein Oats

  • ¼ cup GF oats, almond milk, protein (Pranaon salted caramel). Topped with berries, natural PB, seeds

Work-week Lunch

  • Large amount of baby spinach, ½ avocado, 3-4 cherry tomatoes, handful cooked sweet potato, goats cheese, canned tuna, seeds (sesame, flax, hemp). Dressing: 1 Tbsp olive oil, lemon, tahini

Dinner varies, some examples are:

  • Teriyaki salmon: Salmon fillet, cauliflower rice, asparagus. Teriyaki sauce: Soy sauce or coconut aminos, raw honey, garlic, ginger, sesame seeds & water to thin sauce.
  • Satay Buddha bowl: Chicken, cauliflower rice, mix of vegetables. Satay sauce: Natural PB, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, SF maple syrup, lime juice & water to thin sauce.Teriyaki salmon: Salmon fillet, cauliflower rice, asparagus. Teriyaki sauce: Soy sauce or coconut aminos, raw honey, garlic, ginger, sesame seeds & water to thin sauce.

Snacks

  • Air-popped pop corn
  • Homemade banana muffins
  • Celery & natural PB
  • Mixed nuts

See the Meal Plan section for some examples.

DAY ON A PLATE

Have you read about a diet and convinced yourself that would be your life now, then read another one and thought the same thing?? I certainly have. We have access to a wide variety of eating plans or diets that all provide benefits in their own right, so how do you know what works for you?

I love to experiment with diets and educate myself on the philosophy behind this way of eating. I have also given the following diets a good hard crack:

  • Vegan
  • Ketogenic
  • Vegetarian
  • Paleo
  • Tracking calories/macronutrients
  • Carbohydrate cycling
  • Intermittent fasting

This has also made me very annoying to dine with as you never know what band-wagon I’m on that week.

There are many reasons behind dietary choices, from personal beliefs to medical conditions. Therefore, the different options serve an important purpose as the diet plays such an important role in our wellbeing.

I want to discuss my favourite eating plan – Conscious Eating !

You can follow any and all eating regimes and still be conscious, as this is more directed at connecting with your body and being aware of the foods you consume.

What is Conscious Eating?

My interpretation

  • Keeping it simple. I eat enough food to support my energy levels and to support my day. I listen to my body and stop eating when I am full.
  • Selecting foods that provide a health benefit. If I want chocolate, I will have chocolate, however I will reach for a 70-80% dark chocolate that has antioxidants and minimal sugar. This rule applies to all foods.
  • Do not deprive yourself. This follows on from the previous point. Get creative when recreating your favourite comfort foods in a healthy version and allow yourself to have a ‘treat’.

In term of ‘my day on a plate’, I eat 3 main meals a day, a snack and a dessert.

Breakfast: Green smoothie or protein GF oats and a black coffee

Snack: green tea and protein ball

Lunch: Big salad with a source of protein (tuna, chicken), green tea.

Dinner: Lots of vegetables and another source of protein. I like to have cooked vegetables at night and this may be a curry, stir fry, soup.

Dessert: Dark chocolate and peppermint tea.

ADAPTOGENS

‘A substance that increases the body’s resistance to physical, environmental, emotional, or biological stressors and promotes normal physiological function’ – Bone, 2003

A common denominator in a lot of imbalances/illnesses/diseases is stress. We stress over day-to-day issues, as well as the health concern we may be battling ourselves. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I’m told to ‘reduce my stress’, I end up stressing over reducing my stress (?!?!?).

So what is stress?

Stress is your body’s way of responding to an kind of demand or threat. It is a state of threatened homeostasis caused by intrinsic or extrinsic factors and is counteracted by a repertoire of physiological and behavioural responses aiming to re-establish the optimal equilibrium.

Key components of the stress system are the hypothalamic-pituitary-system (HPA) axis and the autonomic nervous system (ANS, which interact with the central nervous system (CNS).

Introducing Adaptogens!

Adaptogens are non-toxic plants that have been used for centuries in Chinese and Ayurvedic healing traditions. Adaptogens were recently defined as herbal preparations that increased attention and endurance in fatigue, and reduced stress-induced impairments and disorders. This definition was based on evidence obtained from clinical trials.

Adaptogens exhibit neuroprotective, anti-fatigue, antidepressive, anxiolytic, nootropic and CNS stimulating activity. The stress-protective activity of adaptogens was associated with regulation of homeostasis via several mechanisms of action, which was linked with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the regulation of key mediators of stress response.

In other words, adaptogens normalised your physiology – Stressed àCalm, Hot àCool.

Favourites and how to incorporate

A few of my favourite adaptogens are:

  • Ashwaganda Withania somnifera
  • Rhodiola Rhodiola rosea
  • Schisandra Schisandra chinensis
  • Astragalus Astragalus membranaceus

Add ½-1tsp of the powdered plant mixture to hot beverage. This can be done at any time of the day, when feeling stressed, headaches, or at night to help sleep and wake up refreshed.

I have experienced noticeable results from including Ashwaganda into my daily routine. I have ½ a tsp in the afternoon and if I need help winding down, I will have some before bed.

You can find different types of adaptogens at your local health store.

It is important to note that supplements are just that –supplements. They are there to supplement a deficiency and assist you in that moment. To experience optimal effects, you must aim for your lifestyle to align with your goal.

These are a few lifestyle habits to incorporate that are shown to provide calmness and reduce the severity of stress.

  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Device free time
  • Reading

Adaptogens not only provide therapeutic effects in stress-induced circumstances, they can improve quality of life due to the multiple pathological effects. If you are looking for a holistic way to manage stress and adapt to circumstances, I encourage you to give an adaptogen supplement a try.

FUN-TIONAL MUSHROOMS

The use of functional mushrooms has drawn a lot of attention recently and for good reason. Functional mushrooms are specific mushrooms that are used for their medicinal benefits.

These mushrooms (listed below) have been studied and used in Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic Medicine for thousands of years.

There is deep scientific research that indicates the healing properties of mushrooms including immune system support and prevention of cancer. Several mushrooms are considered adaptogens, meaning they help us cope with stress.

Fun fact: the mushrooms are also low in calories, high in protein and are great sources of B vitamins, minerals and fibre.

Benefits:

Functional mushrooms contain antioxidants, amino acids, proteins, digestive enzymes, prebiotics and beta-glucans (an enzyme that helps balance blood sugar, cholesterol, boost immune system).

A few benefits include:

  • Increased Energy
  • Anti-ageing
  • Cognitive function
  • Immune support
  • Reduce blood sugar levels
  • Gut health
  • Boosting nutrient absorption
  • Aid digestion
  • Reduce inflammation

Some mushrooms such as Reishi have over 150 proven health benefits.

Types:

  • Reishi:
    • Used in TCM for over 2000 years.
    • An adaptogen – great for stress and improved sleep. Great to have at night (add to hot chocolate).
    • Digestive issues- Great for leaky gut (intestinal permeability), helps modulate inflammation in the colon.
  • Cordyceps:
    • Used to support stamina and endurance.
    • Beneficial effects on the adrenal glands, helps to adapt to physical and environmental stressors.
    • Fights flu symptoms, protects liver, improve kidney function.
  • Lions mane:
    • Brain booster! Used for focus, creativity, productivity.
  • Chaga:
    • Antioxidant properties and beta-glucans, used for immune system.
  • Turkey tail:
    • Prebiotics and antioxidant properties, therefore fantastic for supporting the gut.
    • Powerful effects on the immune system.
  • Enokitake:
    • Excellent source of niacin  Lowers LDL cholesterol, brain booster, improves skin function
  • Maitake:
    • Antioxidant, beta-glucan, great for fasting
  • Shiitake:
    • Vitamin D, B and many minerals.
    • Great for skin.
    • Improved bone formation.
    • Anti-inflammatory, digestive, immune function, overall immunity.
    • Antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral.

Incorporating into our diet

There are various forms that these mushrooms can be obtained. I like to use the powders as I like to add them into my food and drinks.

By understanding some of the actions of the mushrooms, you can incorporate these in your daily routine to receive optimal benefits. For example, including Lions mane in the morning will boost brain function and energy, and adding Reishi at night can help relax and improve sleep.

Other options: coffee, any hot beverage, smoothies, bone broth, gravy.  I’m sure there are endless ways to add these treat into your meals.

Recommended companies that offer functional mushrooms:

Further reading:

This is an interesting review highlights the findings on pharmaceutical potential of mushrooms and anti-cancer compounds.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3339609/

BEAT THE BLOAT!

Eat the right foods & live an active life yet still bloated?? This is very common and very frustrating. The good news is that there are foods and habits that will help.

What is bloating?

Bloating is a build of gas in the abdomen – awesome! This is usually caused by digestion or swallowed air. A build-up of bad bacteria in the small intestine can also be a result – hello probiotics !

The foods that can cause bloating are:

  • Excessive fructose: Fruit, dried fruit, juices, honey.
  • Lactose: Not everyone has an intolerance to lactose, however if you are consuming a lot of dairy and feeling bloated then it may be worthwhile reducing/eliminating for a period of time.
  • Garlic and Onion: Due to the fructans.
  • Artificial sweeteners: These can be difficult to absorb due to the chemical compounds (sucralose, aspartame, cyclamate).
  • Fast eating: We are all busy and eating can seem like a time consuming task. However, if you are stuffing your face at a fast pace then the food has time to break down and absorb, reducing the risk of bloating.

Recommended habits to manage bloating.

  • Probiotic: This Holy Grail contains good bacteria which help the gut to restore balance, absorb nutrients and reduce overall inflammation just to name a few benefits.
  • Sip lemon water. Excellent source of Vitamin C, encourages the liver to produce more bile for easier digestion. Warm lemon water in the morning promotes digestion and helps maintain the pH balance in the body.
  • Diuretic foods: Celery, fennel, asparagus. These wonderful foods assist flushing excess water from the body. Asparagus also acts like a probiotic by providing good bacteria.
  • Ginger: Contains anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic qualities. Try adding fresh ginger to your tea or cooking.
  • Papaya: Contains an enzyme called papain, which assists digestion and the breakdown of protein.
  • Pineapple: Contains bromelain, which is a digestion-promoting enzyme. Try pineapple 20-30min before a meal, or embrace your inner Hawaiian!
  • Peppermint tea. Peppermint is a carminative and therefore relaxes/calms the digestive tract. Try peppermint tea after meals or at night time.
  • Drinking enough water. Ensure you are drinking a minimum of 2L of water. The body struggles to digest food without sufficient water.
  • Apple cider vinegar: Last but not least! ACV may not be for everyone and studies have shown that the benefits for bloating/gas are dependent on the individuals stomach acid levels. If you have low stomach acid and a build-up of bacteria in your stomach then ACV will help increase stomach acid and theoretically help. When buying ACV ensure that it contains ‘the mother’, which is a layer composed of yeast and acetic acid bacteria. ‘The mother’ contains prebiotics and beneficial bacteria. Try adding 1Tbs to water in morning, 20-30 min before eating.

The most important focus is the way we feel. If you are uncomfortable and consistently bloated there may be an underlying cause that stems from your diet.

Try the following de-bloating day-on-a-plate

MORNING ACV with water 20-30min before breakfast
Warm water with lemon  
Breakfast: 2 eggs scrambled with baby spinach, tomato, avocado and asparagus spears and peppermint tea
SNACKCelery stalks with natural peanut butter
LUNCH Garden salad with protein (chicken, tuna, tofu…)
ACV dressing (ACV, lemon, mustard, rice malt syrup, salt
and pepper)
DINNERGinger Stir fry
Protein (chicken, fish, beef, lamb, tofu…)
Mixed vegetables (zucchini, carrot, capsicum, asparagus,
kale, boc choy)
Marinade: Ginger, olive oil, rice malt syrup, salt reduced
soy sauce, water.
DESSERTPeppermint tea with 2 piece dark chocolate

HORMONES & ACNE

What causes hormonal Acne?

Hormonal acne is triggered by your body producing either too much or too little of your reproductive hormones – Oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone or dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).

These triggers cause the pores in your skin to become larger and secrete oil (sebum), which clogs the pores and creates pimples.

Common hormonal imbalances:

  • High Androgens: Androgens are male and female sex hormones. The most common is DHEA and Androstenedione. When women produce too much this can cause terrible consequences for the skin. Common causes: contraceptive pill, genetics and increased production of insulin.
  • Low Progesterone: Progesterone reduces pore size and sebum (oil) production. The synthetic progesterone in the pill can clear up acne, and because of this, once you stop taking the pill, your oil production can go crazy.
  • Low Oestrogen: Oestrogen heals the skin and improves texture. The synthetic Oestrogen in the pill clears up acne and stops the male hormones exerting a strong oil production. Again, once this is taken away, a rebound effect can occur.

Contraceptive pill

A fun fact that I have recently learnt is the effects of coming off the contraceptive pill. I was originally prescribed Yasmin to help my skin, and in combination of other lifestyle and dietary choices – this worked. However, there will be a time to come off the pill and I can say that all of the original problems came back with a vengeance. My skin began to severely break out again and I had the added bonus of hair loss. These are common symptoms from coming off the contraceptive pill, and are due to removing the ‘treatment’. The symptoms can occur 3-4 months down the track.

Whilst taking the pill the synthetic hormones can suppress androgens, but then when you stop, you get a rebound in androgen production and your levels shoot up triggering excess oil production.

The pill can also make your cells insulin resistant causing your body to produce excessive amounts of insulin. Excess insulin causes your ovaries to overproduce testosterone and this can also cause excess oil.

The pill treats acne by reducing the effects of testosterone on the skin at the skin receptor level, along with other actions, resulting in clear skin. Testosterone can cause congestion as it is pro-acne which has the opposite effect of oestrogen. Once you stop taking the pill your hormones may appear a little ‘crazy’ and have effects on your skin, however this is the result of hyper-sensitive skin receptors for testosterone, which have been blocked by the pill.

Because you have changed your hormonal profile, it may take time to find a hormonal balance.

While the contraceptive pill is a very common treatment option for acne, it does not solve any hormonal imbalances, it only masks symptoms. As soon as you stop taking the pill your hormonal imbalances will still be there and often worse than before.

What to do before ceasing the pill

  • Be prepared. Start mentally preparing yourself.
  • See a naturopath/GP in advance to request any support to transition
  • Monthly facials can help to address issues on a regular basis and can be a useful preventative tool
  • Address stress. Incorporating an Adaptogen or sleep tonic into your daily regime can help balance your nervous system.
  • Probiotic. Encouraging healthy micro-flora.

Foods that cause hormonal acne

Certain foods cause inflammation and make the androgen (male sex hormone) receptors on your skin cells super sensitive to androgens. This results in excessive oil and can cause white heads and/or cystic acne.

If you remove potential inflammatory foods (gluten, dairy, highly processed, high sugar) and this does not clear your acne, then your acne is not a result to your diet.

How to balance hormones for acne

  1. Discover what hormones are out of balance via testing.
    1. Salivary testing for Testosterone, DHEA, Progesterone, Oestrogen and cortisol
    1. Qualified Naturopath, GP, and Dermatologist – research local practitioners that conduct hormonal testing.
  2. Blood test
    1. Iron, zinc and Vitamin D levels

Best herbs for hormonal acne

Fresh herbs in first aid kit
  • Vitex/Chaste Tree: This herb works by indirectly raising your progesterone levels. Less progesterone means more oil and more acne, therefor Vitex prevents this happening.
  • Liquorice & Paeony: Suppress androgen (testosterone) production in women
  • Saw Palmetto: Stops testosterone exerting strong effects on your cells. Weaker testosterone = less oil production
  • Blue flag: Helps decongest skin

Minerals

  • Zinc: Ideal for ovary function and a potent anti-androgen, making cells less sensitive to androgens.
  •  Iron: ideal for optimal ovary function.
  • Magnesium: Great for insulin problems, and reduced insulin prevents ovaries from overproducing testosterone. 

Vitamins

  • Vitamin A: helps control and minimise oil production.
  • Vitamin D: useful for optimal ovary function, to make optimum amounts of oestrogen and progesterone.