Hormonal imbalances affect both men and women and can be a common reason for depression and mood swings. This is because hormones act as chemical communicators that tell the body and brain how to behave, and if they are out of balance, your mood can also go out of balance. These symptoms can be made worse if the body is deficient in nutrients, especially certain vitamins and essential fats.
Women can sometimes experience hormonal imbalances and fluctuating hormone levels during menstruation or the menopause. Making sure the body is well-nourished can alleviate some of the unpleasant side-effects of these conditions.
Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) is a condition that affects many women in the days leading up to menstruation. It is believed that fluctuating levels of hormones, i.e. high levels of estrogen and low levels of progesterone, are mainly responsible for this condition, and some of the common symptoms may include:
- Depression, anxiety and irritability
- Fluid retention and bloating
- Mood swings
- Weight gain
- Cravings for sweet foods
The best nutrients for relieving PMS-related symptoms are:
Each of these nutrients has been proven to reduce symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome when taken on their own, but they are more effective taken in combination [1,2].
It is important to maintain a constant blood-sugar level and not go without eating for long periods of time. Avoid the intake of high-sugar foods, and limit intake of stimulants like tea, coffee and chocolate. Instead, eat foods that give you a slow release of energy.
Keep drinking water, as this will help to flush out salts that are responsible for fluid retention.
Research has also shown that evening primrose oil (a plant oil containing essential fatty acids) is a highly effective treatment for symptoms associated with PMS. This is available in supplement form or as oil. zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6 are known to increase the utilization and effectiveness of evening primrose oil.
Levels of the reproductive hormone estrogen can rise and fall sharply during the years leading up to the menopause, and then decline steeply afterwards. This can cause unpleasant symptoms in some women including depression, hot flushes, a drop in energy levels, mood swings, joint pain and dry skin.
Many women resort to Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) for relief, but conventional treatments can include synthetic progestins, which not only don't work so well, they've been linked to increasing risk of breast cancer . These symptoms can naturally be alleviated through healthy eating, especially of phytoestrogens, which help to replace some of the missing estrogen. Some good sources include chickpeas, lentils, mung and aduki beans.
The same nutrients as above- B6, zinc, magnesium and essential fats- all greatly help to reduce menopausal symptoms and allow the body to better adapt to changing hormonal levels.
Foods rich in Vitamin E can reduce the severity of hot flushes and night sweats. The best sources are cold-pressed oils like corn, safflower, wheatgerm, sunflower and olive oil, almonds hazelnuts, sunflower seeds and pine nuts. Cutting down on coffee and spicy food can also help. These cause the blood vessels to dilate, which means more sweating.
Ensuring you eat a regular healthy and balanced diet means that your body can adapt to changing hormonal levels naturally without the unpleasant side-effects associated with these changes.
 BE Abraham, Nutritional factors in the etiology of the premenstrual tension syndromes, J Reprod Med, Vol 28(7), 1983, pp.446-64.
 MG Brush, M Perry, Pyridoxine and the premenstrual syndrome, Lancet, Vol 1(8442), 1985, p.1399.
 GA Colditz et al. The use of estrogens and progestins and the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women, N Engl J Med, Vol 332 (24), 1995, pp.1589-93.