Back in February I went for a nutrition consultation focused on fertility with Jessica Ferrari-Wells who focuses primarily on hormonal health. Once you start studying how to balance your hormones and the female body it’s simply amazing at the intricate role that hormones play in female health and wellness. Hormones control so many things so when they are out of whack it can cause a whole host of issues. For me that has been melasma and also a mild case of endometriosis and ovarian cysts, not to mention fibroids and uterine polyps.
It’s important to note how important hormones are when you are trying to become pregnant or want to start a fertile lifestyle on your journey towards becoming pregnant. I found out about my ovarian cysts in the worst way possible – one of them actually burst on my way to work one day, leaving me in the most pain I’ve ever been subjected to in my whole life. However, that pain was worth something because it meant that I was then aware of the issue and since then have had my ovarian cysts monitored and checked and even had a Laparoscopy to have it removed.
I’ve had my uterus scraped as well from the polyps and to be honest, it has been quite the journey. So, I tip my hat at female hormones, they deserve a place at the table simply because they rule so many things.
My goal when seeing Jessica was to get some tips to support fertility, find out how to balance my hormones and address those possible hormonal imbalances.
Initial focus areas: At this initial consultation we focused on the following key areas:
- Key hormones which might be out of balance and having a detrimental effect on fertility
- Dietary and lifestyle factors most relevant to my possible hormone imbalances
- Key recommendations to help address these possible hormone imbalances
- The importance of cycle tracking and understanding the fertile window
- Optimum fertility diet
- Changes to make to your current supplement regime
I really wanted to share the tips I received from Jessica in the hope that it may help you on your fertility journey or if you suspect you have any hormonal imbalances that it may shed some light on how you can help yourself through diet.
Key hormones which might be out of balance and having a detrimental effect on fertility
The primary root cause of ovarian cysts, endometriosis and fibroids is oestrogen dominance (otherwise known as excess oestrogen). This means your body is holding onto too much oestrogen rather than processing and eliminating this oestrogen correctly.
There are a number of factors which contribute to oestrogen dominance such as progesterone decline, elevated insulin, dysbiosis and constipation but based on my discussions with Jessica the most likely one in my case is compromised detoxification so it’s very important for me to choose supplements and foods that support liver detoxification.
Based on my discussion with Jessica at my consultation, my most likely hormone imbalance is excess oestrogen. This is a very common hormonal imbalance, especially in women after the age of 30. So first let’s get into the science of excess oestrogen a little. Please note these are Jessica’s words and tips!
What happens in your body to cause excess oestrogen? Simply put, you need to efficiently metabolise your oestrogen to break it down and then eliminate it from the body i.e. you need to use it and then lose it. This breaking down process occurs mostly in the liver via phases: hydroxylation and conjugation. Then there is the elimination phase. Bear with me on this as understanding the science is helpful…
Phase 1: Hydroxylation – in this phase, detoxification enzymes (CYP, to be exact) convert oestrogen to 2OHE1, 4OHE1 and 16OHE1 metabolites. These metabolites are like the offspring of oestrogen – some are well behaved, and some are unruly. The most beneficial metabolite is 2OHE1, whereas 4OHE1 and 16OHE1 are associated with swollen, tender breasts, menstrual clots, painful periods and cancer. Eating plenty of cruciferous vegetables (see below) helps our body to convert oestrogen to the beneficial 2OHE1 rather than the other metabolites.
Phase 2: Conjugation – in this second phase of oestrogen metabolism, the oestrogen is bound to glucuronic acid. This binding process enables the oestrogen to be excreted in our poop. Goodbye old used up oestrogen. Focusing on our gut health is important for supporting this conjugation phase because our gut bacteria play a role.
The final phase of removing old oestrogen is the actual elimination out of the body – via poop or urine so supporting these excretion pathways is also important.
If any of these phases is impaired, then this can result in a build-up of oestrogen which can affect fertility and contribute to conditions such as painful periods, endometriosis and fibroids.
So how does our diet and lifestyle impact these phases when looking at how to balance your hormones? Here’s an overview of the key areas:
- Foods we eat and supplements we take impact how well our detoxification enzymes are working. To encourage the production of the more beneficial 2OHE1 form of oestrogen metabolite you need to be eating plenty of cruciferous vegetables. Taking a DIM (diindolylmethane) supplement can also be very beneficial for helping with oestrogen metabolism issues.
- Converting oestrogen metabolites to a form which can be excreted via urine requires magnesium and B vitamins, so these nutrients are key. Taking a good quality multivitamin will improve your level of these nutrients.
- Supporting our gut bacteria and regular bowel movements is really important
- Your healthy gut bacteria play a role in oestrogen elimination. Remember how in the conjugation phase oestrogen is bound up for excretion. If you have a bacterial imbalance (i.e. too many bad bacteria and not enough of the good guys) then this can raise levels of an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase which unbinds the oestrogen, meaning this old oestrogen is back in circulation rather than being eliminated as it should be.
- Your bowel is the main elimination pathway for old oestrogen so if you are constipated (i.e. pooping less than once a day) then this can contribute to a build-up of old oestrogen.
So far, we’ve covered the importance of eliminating the old oestrogen that your body has made and used. But there is another really important aspect to excess oestrogen which is relevant to you and that is xeno-oestrogens.
Xeno-oestrogens are synthetic chemicals which mimic oestrogen in our body. We are exposed to hundreds of these chemicals every day. Think of them as uninvited guests at a fancy dress party – they are dressed up as oestrogen and massively disrupt your hormone balance – contributing to the sorts of conditions associated with excess oestrogen such as endometriosis and painful periods.
So reducing your exposure to these xeno-oestrogens where you can is key to hormone balance.
Other factors to bear in mind with excess oestrogen
- Caffeine and alcohol raise oestrogen levels and put additional strain on our already overworked livers so best to keep your consumption low as it already is.
- Exercise has been shown to decrease oestrogen levels so and it is an important part of any endometriosis programme – encouraging circulation to the pelvic area, moderating the overproduction of hormones and facilitating regular bowel movements.
- Melatonin (our sleep hormone) helps to lower oestrogen levels so taking steps to support melatonin production is beneficial. Getting out into natural daylight each morning, avoiding blue light emitting screens after 7pm and being asleep by 10pm when you can are all beneficial to melatonin production.
There was so much amazing information in my consultation with Jessica I will have to do a part 2!
For more information about her services make sure to visit her website.