Sudden weight gain, mood swings and other unwelcome symptoms? We look at how your hormones could be wreaking havoc on your body and what you can do about it.
"Cortisol is biologically programmed to help us cope with stressful flight-or-fight situations,” says Brisbane dietitian Kate Di Prima.
In caveman days, a stressful event meant fighting a bison. These days our ‘bisons’ are more likely to be a cranky boss or a crying child."
"These situations still require our stress hormones to react, but don’t require the same amount of energy to burn off,” she says. “But because your body is biologically programmed to think a stressful situation requires extra energy, you tend to refuel with food, usually carbs.”
To distract yourself from food when stressed, try to conjure up the smell of eucalyptus. Studies show such sensual distractions.
“Other symptoms may include hair loss on the scalp and absent or irregular periods.”
PCOS affects one in five women of child-bearing age, says the Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Association of Australia. It’s thought PCOS develops when ovaries react to excessively high insulin levels.
"Apart from often large and unexplained weight gain, some women with PCOS also seem to have a greater risk of developing insulin resistance, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and endometrial disease,” adds Dr Pecoraro.
Dr Pecoraro adds that several other hormonal medical conditions are linked to unexplained weight gain, including hypothyroidism, (an underactive thyroid – symptoms include feeling cold, low energy, depression, dry skin and hair loss, and enlarged thyroid). See your doctor if you’re concerned.
Hormones can also cause mood swings, as well as weight gain, during perimenopause and menopause.
“Exercise can make a difference, but some women have such severe symptoms they opt to take a very low-dose antidepressant, just in those few days of the month beforea period,” says Dr Pecoraro.
“Some women sail through menopause, but about 20 per cent will have severe mood issues. Especially with hot flushes and insomnia, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may help – taken for the shortest period possible, between two and five years. There is some extra risk of breast cancer from HRT,” Dr Pecoraro says.
“But to put it into perspective, the extra risk means a 6.7 per cent chance of getting breast cancer at age 50, compared to 6.1 per cent for women who don’t take it. Other risk factors, such as drinking, say, three glasses of wine a day, are a much greater risk factor for breast cancer.”
- Excess coffee can put the adrenal glands into overload.
- Excess alcohol is not good for fluctuating hormones.
- Spicy foods and Hot drinks can trigger flushes, as they raise your body temperature.
So what can you eat? Here are the foods which Narelle says are hormone-friendly:
- Beries are antioxidant-rich and may help counteract excess oestrogen.
- Nuts and seds contain phytoestrogens and essential fatty acids for hormonal support.
- Oysters contain selenium, to support healthy thyroid function.
- Leg umes keep bowels regular, which removes excess hormones.
- Salmon can promote insulin balance due to protein and omega-3 fatty acids.