Many women feel like they are on a hormonal roller coaster with mysterious symptoms that can change daily and each month’s cycle feeling different from the next during perimenopause. The symptoms I see commonly in my practice are caused by the two distinct hormone changes that define perimenopause – progesterone level declining and estrogen levels going haywire. Combined, these two hormone shifts lead to heavier periods, less predictable periods, worse PMS symptoms and PMS symptoms that last longer each month.
Even though perimenopause is a natural transition that can last for years, even up to a decade, it doesn’t mean you have to suffer each month on the hormonal roller coaster. These 5 foods will help your hormones balance each other, support your body’s response to your hormones at the right times and help shorten and lessen your PMS symptoms each month.
#1 Ground Flax Seeds
Ground flax seeds contain a good amount phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are compounds in plants that can have similar actions as estrogen in our bodies; however, phytoestrogens are much more gentle than our own estrogen so their effects are less dramatic than our own hormone.
Phytoestrogens are helpful especially in perimenopause because they help to temper the estrogen activity in our bodies by attaching to our cells and maintaining a steady-state. During the perimenopausal years, estrogen levels make dramatic swings from day to day and month to month. These shifts are to blame for many of the symptoms women experience in their 40s such as worse PMS and heavier periods. When you don’t have enough estrogen, the phytoestrogens will add to your total estrogen pool in your body and help out with some of estrogen’s functions such as lubricating your joints, keeping your brain sharp, protecting your heart and bones, and preventing wrinkles as well as promoting a healthier menstrual cycle. When you have too much estrogen, the phytoestrogens will compete with your own estrogen and help to protect your cells against it – this helps to lessen PMS symptoms and prevent heavy bleeding.
It is the compounds that give pomegranate, goji berries, blackberries, raspberries and blueberries their bright hues that have earned them the number two spot on my superstar list. Pomegranate, in particular, has specific compounds that help your liver enzymes balance estrogen and testosterone levels.
All of the fruits and vegetables with a dark blue purple or fuchsia in color are ideal for blood vessel support and reducing inflammation – that’s why they’re promoted so often for brain and heart health. However, most women don’t realize they are just as beneficial for uterine health. The pigments in blackberries, elderberries and blueberries can dramatically reduce heavy bleeding that might be happening to women in perimenopause by strengthening blood vessels in the uterus.
While at first it may seem difficult to incorporate at least ½ cup of these fruits into your diet daily because of their short growing seasons, it doesn’t have to be that hard. I implore you to take advantage of the frozen food section where you can find blackberries, raspberries and blueberries year-round and in recent years I’ve even seen pomegranate seeds in the frozen berry section. I routinely make blackberry lemon smoothies throughout the winter with frozen blackberries and fresh squeezed lemon from my backyard lemon tree.
Beans, including soy beans and green peas, are all fabulous sources of not only fiber but also protein, which make them pillars of a plant based diet. This might surprise you because most people think of green peas as a green vegetable lacking protein and not of the protein packed veggie that it actually is!
All of these beans also include phytoestrogens. Yep that’s right. Soy is not the only bean containing phytoestrogens. You might remember that flax seeds have phytoestrogens but did you also know these hormone balancing compounds are also in apples, chickpeas, onions and oats? Soy foods such as tofu, tempeh and edamame have risen to fame because they have higher concentrations of phytoestrogens than other foods. Still, the phytoestrogens in soy are only between 1/10 and 1/100 as strong as your own estrogen hormone so you do not need to worry about a strong effect of soy in your diet, it is still a subtle hormone support. I recommend a serving of soy twice per week for this purpose.
Eating other beans daily such as pinto beans, chickpeas, black beans and kidney beans can be a great source of fiber, phytoestrogens, B vitamins and magnesium. Magnesium is a mineral your body needs not only to relax your muscles and promote sleep, but it is also crucial to making the hormone, progesterone. Progesterone deficiency is a common hormonal imbalance pattern that develops in perimenopause causing breast tenderness, bloating and headaches. Increasing magnesium-rich foods in your diet is one way to help support progesterone in your body and lessen PMS symptoms.
#4 Cacao & Chocolate
Another food that is very high in magnesium and comes in as the fourth superstar food to rescue PMS is chocolate. The magnesium and iron in chocolate is possibly why women crave it in the few days leading up to their periods when their progesterone level naturally takes a dive to send the signal to begin your next period. You’ll get the most bang for your nutritional buck by choosing chocolate made with at least 80% cacao and less than 4 grams of sugar per serving.
#5 Butternut Squash & Yams
Now we are getting to my very favorite group of superstar foods. Partly because I find these foods so satisfying in the colder months but also because this group of foods is unique in that it actually helps boost your progesterone production. Progesterone is a hormone that helps us maintain a sense of calm, sleep deeper and it also helps prevent water retention and bloating. Progesterone levels rise and fall each month in your menstrual cycle however, during the perimenopausal years your progesterone levels are declining slowly overall. This leads to symptoms that may begin slight and small but gradually build up each month such as fatigue, headaches, insomnia and nervousness.
Sweet potato, pumpkin, winter squash, carrots and yams are chock-full of beta-carotene which gives them their vibrant orange hues. Beta-carotene not only helps your liver detoxify hormones it also concentrates in your ovaries to improve ovulation and boost progesterone levels in each menstrual cycle. Fertility studies have actually shown that ovaries with the highest concentrations of beta-carotene have the best egg release and highest fertility percentages. Even if you’re not interested in fertility right now, having these foods routinely will help to improve your cycles, counteract some of the natural shift in perimenopause and reduce PMS symptoms.