By Shana Tatum
Another month and more nutrition information. We continue our tour through the body and how to best support it with good nutrition. Today we will discuss hormones — sex hormones specifically.
Estrogen, Testosterone, DHEA and Progesterone are the male and female hormones that regulate many functions in the body. Most sex hormones, regardless of male or female, start out as a cholesterol molecule, classified as a steroid hormone. The cascade of hormone production is quite complex and more advanced than this article will review. However, understanding the role these hormones play can help highlight the need for specific nutrients.
Estrogen: This hormone is produced in women in the ovaries, the adrenal glands and fat tissue and in men in the testes and adrenal glands. It functions in women to regulate menstrual cycle, control lactation and is essential for bone formation. In men, it affects sperm count and may also play a role in erectile function.
Testosterone: It is produced in the testes of men and in the ovaries of women. It is related to ovarian function and bone strength in women and muscle size and strength, libido and sperm production in men.
Progesterone: For women it regulates menstruation and prepares the uterus for pregnancy. In men, progesterone is a precursor to estrogen and is made in the adrenal glands and testes. For women, it is produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands.
DHEA: This hormone is produced in the adrenal glands for both men and women. It functions to produce other hormones such as testosterone and estrogen.
To begin, let’s look at female hormones.
Keys to a balanced hormone state is to increase diversity of phytonutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, eating a variety of color every day. This provides necessary vitamins such as folate, B6 and B12 and minerals like zinc, magnesium and selenium. Green tea and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower and collard greens are two other nutritious choices to support hormone balance. Foods containing sulfur-rich compounds like onions, shallots, beans and legumes as well as beef, chicken, turkey, fish and shellfish are also important. Botanicals such as vitex, black cohosh, ashwagandha and eleuthrococcus have also been reported by the BMJ, in 2001, to be of benefit.
For men’s hormones, a diet with moderate levels of protein has been shown to be effective at supporting healthy levels of testosterone as described in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism in 2000. Additionally, higher levels of Omega 3 fatty acids as found in SMASH fish (sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon and herring) can positively impact hormone levels. Other supportive nutrition interventions include quercetin, green tea and flax seed. Including fiber as part of your daily intake has also been shown to positively affect hormones. For men, the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is 30 milligrams of fiber daily. This can be found in foods such as apples, raspberries, oats, nuts and seeds, black beans and avocados. Vitamins and minerals supportive to male hormonal balance include zinc and selenium as well as Vitamins A, D and E.
With all supplements, whether vitamins, minerals or botanicals, be sure to follow up with your healthcare provider to be sure of dose and interactions with other medications you take.
While I encourage you to consume the nutrients listed above, it is not only our nutrition that we should think about. Consideration to environmental effects that may contribute to hormone disruption is of equal importance.
– The overuse use of antibacterial soaps.
– Reading the labels on personal care products.
– Using low VOC paint in our homes and offices.
– Using glass, ceramic or stainless steel for storage of food instead of plastic that contain phthalates.
– Using nontoxic cleaning products in the home and office.
– Consider an eco-friendly dry cleaner.
– Choose organic versions of the Dirty Dozen from EWG.org.
It takes a concerted effort to keep balance in the body no matter the body system. Hormones in particular respond well to a diet rich in plants with plenty of fiber and phytonutrients. Avoiding environmental toxins and disruptors can also go a long way to preventing hormonal imbalance.