During and after menopause, many women experience symptoms related to progesterone and estrogen decline. This is a time where there are also changes in types of estrogen, which may cause inflammation. Many women experience migraines, hot flashes, brain fog, and irritability during this period. In the short term, balancing hormones with supplements, herbs and minerals supports healthy transition into menopause. Long term, it is possible for most women to balance hormone levels through diet and lifestyle alone.
Hormone balance through diet, lifestyle, & herbs
Although progesterone is not found in foods, there are many ways to balance progesterone with nutrition. Primarily, if the body is in an estrogen dominant state, balancing excess estrogen metabolites is the first step. Post-menopause, too much of 4 and 6 hydroxy-estrogen is inflammatory, and also antagonizes remaining progesterone. To reverse estrogen metabolite dominance, weaving in nuts and seeds can support healthy estrogen and progesterone levels. If you are approaching menopause and still have an active cycle, then adding flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds days 1-13 will boost healthy estrogens, then shifting to sesame and sunflower days 14-28 will boost progesterone. After menopause, including all seed types in the diet is beneficial.
Foods high in selenium support the corpus luteum, which is the region of the ovaries where progesterone is formed. Adding four Brazil nuts to the diet will provide enough selenium, or supplementing with 200 mcg per day.
Vitamin B6 also supports the corpus luteum in the ovaries. To build levels, supplement with B6 in the short-term. Then, add in foods rich in vitamin B6, which include turkey, wild-caught tuna and salmon, beef, chicken, pistachios, chickpeas, potatoes, eggs, and dark leafy greens. Adding in 3-4 servings per day of high B6 foods will help sustain healthy levels. Beyond progesterone, B6 also supports serotonin balance and melatonin conversion, promoting sound sleep and balanced mood. Speaking of sleep, getting enough sleep supports neurotransmitter and hormone balance, along with healthy weight. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
Herbal medicines can help with menopausal transition and treating symptoms as well. In particular Vitex, or chasteberry, supports progesterone production and decreases symptoms of menopause in clinical trials. Black cohosh and blue cohosh balance estrogen dominance and decrease hot flashes. Raspberry leaf is a gentle tonic that supports the female the reproductive system. Talk with your doctor about an individualized herbal and nutritional approach that works for you.
Focus on healing the GI. If you have a history of GI symptoms and inflammation, soothing the digestive system is a key step in hormone support. Healing the GI is vital to allow for nutrient absorption. Food provides the building blocks for our hormones, neurotransmitters, and tissue health, laying the foundation for overall wellbeing. To heal the GI, avoid fried foods, refined ingredients, excess acidity, and heavily processed foods. Focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, complex grains, and adequate protein (around 60 grams per day). Specific foods that heal digestive function include aloe juice, coconut, cinnamon, turmeric, peppermint and chamomile tea, and probiotic foods like yogurt & kefir.
Get regular exercise. Gentle exercise supports immune system health, metabolism, and healthy weight, which helps balance estrogen and progesterone. Try hiking, light jogging, eliptical machines, swimming, and resistance exercises. For simple home resistance exercises, pick up a theraband for upper and lower body workouts. However, avoid overexercise, as this places stress on the body that decreases pregnenolone and hormone synthesis. Long distance running, Cross-Fit, and intense cycling classes may cause more harm than benefit when dealing with low hormone function.
Natural progesterone cream. While implementing these lifestyle steps, adding in extra hormonal support may be necessary for a short period. Natural progesterone creams containing bio-identical progestins help replenish levels. Monitoring progesterone levels is important once per month to keep progesterone in a healthy level. Long-term, use of progesterone cream is tapered down. Yam and soy based creams are not effective. Taking pregnenolone and DHEA also supports progesterone by providing the building blocks for production.
Xenoestrogens and phytoestrogens
Along with managing hormones in the body, monitoring input of hormones from the environment is also key. Xenoestrogens are synthetic estrogen-like compounds produced in manufacturing. They are commonly found in makeup, packaging, pesticide residue, and plastic products. Certain xenoestrogens act as estrogen-disruptors by blocking or binding estrogen receptors. They have detrimental effects on the immune system, bone health, and the female reproductive system. To avoid xenoestrogens, choose additive-free makeup and bath/body products, organic produce, and glass bottles versus plastic.
Also, taking phytoestrogens has a protective effect. Phytoestrogens are plant-based estrogen-like compounds that occupy receptors and prevent xenoestrogens from binding. Moderate amounts of soy, alfalfa, brassicas, and clover taken in the diet as sprouts, food, and supplements protects the endocrine system.
By working with nutrition, herbal medicine, and lifestyle, it is possible to support the body while transitioning into menopause. This is a natural part of the lifecycle, and in most cases the body’s intelligence knows what to do. When extra support is needed, there are safe and effective treatments available.
Dr. Shawn Morris, ND
Estrogen & Progesterone
Dr. Shawn Morris is a native of Whidbey island where he lives with his wife and son.