2020 has been a doozy of a year for me. I’m not usually one to celebrate on New Year’s Eve, but this year I’ll be making an exception and ringing in the new year with snack and singing, safely at home... with some relief that 2020 is over and hope for 2021.
If you’re like me, you might have let some healthy practices slide over this year, and you might have started some unhealthy habits. But I’m ready for a fresh start, and if you’d like to improve your hormone health in 2021 here are some ideas. Let’s mix it up with some things to avoid and some things to pursue. That way you can opt for the approach you prefer to start off with! If it’s easiest to cut something out, start with that and then add on when you’re ready. Or if it’s easier to add something, get that boost to your health for the New Year and ride it to the point of cutting down on some unhealthy habits.
REDUCE OR STOP 1. Ditch the drinkies
Ok, this one is probably the most pertinent to me in 2020. Pre-pandemic I consumed a glass of wine with dinner once or twice a week. But by December 2020, I was in the habit of having a drink at the end of the day, almost every day. I had to admit that to the nurse practitioner doing my yearly physical in December and she told me that she’s seeing many people saying the same thing, and that her own intake of alcohol has increased while her levels of exercise decreased.
There are lots of anecdotal reports from people who are managing lockdowns or self-medicating their anxieties or boredom with some extra alcohol consumption. We are human and it is understandable, but we understand too that it’s not healthy. The effect of alcohol on your hormones can be significant, and excessive or binge drinking could actually affect your cycle. Consider giving your body a break and reducing your alcohol intake or dropping the drink entirely for a while. Given time, this may improve your egg quality too. Soda is not going to be a super healthy replacement for your hydration, so consider water, seltzer, or unsweetened tea. I’ll be getting my relaxation from guided meditations rather than the bottle.
2. Stress less
Speaking of meditation, constant stress and the elevated cortisol levels that go with it are bad for your body in general, and bad for your reproductive health. Inflammation and hormonal imbalances can go along with elevated stress levels. Short periods of high stress may affect a particular cycle, often delaying ovulation. But long-term stress can put pressure on your endocrine functions. Some ways you can reduce stress are reducing your time on social media or even turning off all devices for some time every day, getting some time outdoors in the natural light, and—yes—meditating. Prayer or meditation can be wonderfully calming, as can a good soak in the tub or a mindful walk outside. In fact, exercise is a great stress-buster, and moderate exercise is excellent for your hormonal health. (Too much exercise or too strenuous exercise isn’t so good for you in that respect, so you might be happy to hear me say you shouldn’t overdo it.) START OR ADD
3. Start a seed fund
A varied healthy diet supports healthy endocrine function. Though there’s little scientific proof of effectiveness as yet, you may want to practice “seed cycling.” For those of us who don’t obsessively stay up to date with every Pinterest craze [raises hand], seed cycling means periodically introducing different types of seeds into your diet. Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and on and on until you’ve tried all of those fatty little dietary guardian angels. The idea is that you add certain seeds to your diet prior to ovulation, and switch to different seeds after ovulation, to support the different hormonal profiles of these phases of your cycle. Barring any allergies, there’s no harm to be had in upping your seed intake and it can be fun to see if there’s any impact on your cycle presentation for the better!
4. Food is medicine
If you want to look at diet in improving hormonal health, in general, you’ll want foods with lots of natural folate, vitamins, and healthy fats. Brussels sprouts, kale and cauliflower are all good contenders for folate. Cauliflower has folate and B6 and fatty acids too, which can also be found in various seeds. (Did I mention you may want to try seed cycling?) Vitamin D is vital to hormonal health and much of the population has sub-optimal levels. If you’re supplementing vitamin D (as many may want to do especially over the winter), don’t forget you need good magnesium levels to process that vitamin D and avoid muscle cramps!
If you have PCOS and need to manage your insulin levels, make the switch to healthy carbs. Beans, brown rice, apples and some other whole fruits are examples of healthy carbs, as well as berries. Don’t forget to combine them with protein! Along with fiber, of course, protein with your carbs will help balance your blood sugar. Do some research, consult with your trusted healthcare provider, and see what healthy foods you can add to your diet. Your body will thank you.
5. Got milk?
This one’s especially for those looking to conceive in 2021. There is evidence showing that the addition of some servings of full fat dairy positively affect cycles and fertility. If you’re lactose intolerant, this won’t be for you, but if you digest dairy well, then whole milk, whole plain yogurt, and cheese are great options. If you’re due for a sweet treat [RAISES HAND], you could even consider a little ice cream as your fertility dairy serve of the day. You can look into the Harvard Fertility Diet for a rundown of this approach.
And a BONUS option to consider!
6. Start a chart!
Did you know that charting your cycle does more than just help you plan pregnancies? It can also be a useful way of monitoring your health. Charting basal body temperature can help clue you in if you’re not ovulating, you have a fever, or your thyroid is out of whack. Charting cervical fluid observations can give you insight into things like estrogen and progesterone levels and hydration. Improving your hormone health starts with knowing yourself. You already know yourself pretty well (you’ve had your body awhile now), but charting can provide greater self-knowledge in some remarkable ways. A fun fact from me is that about a week after ovulation each cycle, coffee tastes too bitter to me and remains bitter until my next menses. During that time, for me to drink coffee, it has to be sweetened. Thanks to my husband who knows this and tries his best to get my coffee just so each morning.