Female Health Q&A with Nutritionist Libby Limon

28th February 2020 / Health

Female Health Q&A with Nutritionist Libby Limon

Emily Shannon

As we’re celebrating female health this February, who better to catch up with than our favourite nutrition expert, Jessica! Female health is so important, and here at Link Nutrition it's one of our favourite topics, and we feel it’s one that should be spoken about more! So we sat down with Jessica for a Q&A to get the low down on all things hormones, PMS, and energy levels!


1. What are hormones, and what role do they play in the body?

 Hormones are chemical messengers that are produced in our glands and are released directly into the blood. The blood then carries them to organs and tissues of the body to exert their specific functions.


There are many types of hormones that act on different parts of the body as well as different processes. Some of these include:

  • Reproductive health and growth
  • Energy metabolism
  • Blood sugar balance
  • Stress response
  • Mood and mental health
  • Development and growth
  • Maintenance of body temperature and thirst

Whilst they each have specific functions in the body, most also have wider reaching effects including everything from sleep, body composition, energy to fertility and mood. 


 2. How do I know if my hormones are out of balance?


Medically recognised hormonal imbalances in most pathways are fairly rare, however there are two common exceptions to this; these include diabetes and thyroid problems.  


  1. Diabetes - this is where the hormone insulin is out of balance.
  2. Thyroid problems - either high (hyper) or low (hypo). 

The first port of call should be your doctor who will take a blood test to check your hormone levels. However, hormones can be out of balance at a subclinical level leaving us feeling out of whack even though blood tests come back as normal.


The main symptom I come across that is linked to subclinical hormone imbalance is energy and fatigue that is otherwise unexplained. For example, waking up feeling exhausted even with a good night sleep is often linked to stress and/or thyroid hormones.


Equally being ‘tired and wired’, meaning being fatigued but unable to get a restful night’s sleep, is also linked to our stress hormones. Another common issue can be energy dips during the day alongside sweet or refined carbohydrate cravings can be associated with blood sugar hormones. Finally, as a woman if your energy levels are strongly linked with your menstrual cycle this could be linked to your reproductive hormones.


There are many other symptoms linked which different hormonal pathways e.g. PMS, poor libido, hormonal acne or severe period pain are associated with sex hormones or with hypothyroid problems. A thorough investigation with your doctor as well as nutritional therapist would be able to get to the bottom of any issues.


3. Which foods can best help to support hormonal balance, are there any nutrients that I should be making sure I include?


With all hormones a healthy balanced diet with regular meals that contain lots of plant foods along side lean proteins, healthy fats and lots of fibre is what the body needs.


Quite a few hormones are made from fats and cholesterol (the good kind) so if you are on a low fat or cholesterol diet it is important to make sure you are still including foods with plenty of healthy fats like avocado, nuts and seeds and extra virgin olive oil.


For female hormone balance magnesium, B vitamins, green leafy vegetables and fibre are a good place to start. For blood sugar balance chromium is key nutrients alongside some adaptogenic herbs and mushrooms such as ginseng and reishi which can be helpful for balancing stress. 


4. Is exercise beneficial when it comes to supporting my hormones?


Yes, exercise is the right amount is helpful. Exercise works because it has a hormetic effect which means it gently stresses the body so it can grow stronger and more efficient. It can however be counterproductive if the body is too out of balance or already in a stressed state. It is important to listen to your body. Forcing yourself to exercise when you are totally exhausted is probably not going to help.


5. Are premenstrual symptoms (PMS) linked to hormone imbalance?


Yes, researchers think that PMS happens in the days after ovulation when you are not pregnant, because the hormones oestrogen and progesterone levels begin to drop dramatically. This fall can affect moods and feelings of physical health.

PMS is so common that often it is thought to be an inevitable part of being a menstruating woman. However, diet and lifestyle can play a huge influence on symptoms, making them much less severe and in some cases negligible. 


6. Are there any foods that can worsen premenstrual symptoms?


Yes, a diet in refined sugars and simple carbohydrates as well as alcohol and in some cases, caffeine can have a negative effect on symptoms. Sugars and simple carbohydrates can overstimulate insulin production, which in turn reduces something called SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin). Low SHBG effects circulating sex hormone levels and therefore can worsen PMS symptoms. This is a good example of how one pathway affects another in the body, and nothing works in isolation.


There plenty of nutritional things that can also help such as looking after your liver and digestive health to help balance hormones via detoxification. Eating foods such as beans and lentils that are high in phyto (plant) estrogens can really help.


7. I really struggle to sleep when I experience PMS, what can I do to help this?


The first thing to think about is magnesium. Magnesium is commonly deficient and two pathways it expresses itself in is poor sleep and PMS. The best way to make sure you’re getting plenty of magnesium is to eat plenty of magnesium-rich foods including dark green leafy veggies, dark chocolate, nuts and legumes and to supplement with easily absorbable form, like Link Nutrition’s Food Based Magnesium.


8. How can I support my hormonal balance when I’m out of my normal routine, say if things are really busy at work or I’m going on holiday?


Understanding your body and what it needs to stay healthy on a day to day basis is really important. A nutritional DNA test can be a good place to start and seeking the advice from a nutritional therapist can also help. Once you have that knowledge it is much easier to work with whatever resources you have at your disposal.


For one person in might mean making sure they also take their magnesium supplement with them all the time, for another making sure they have 3 regular meals with a protein source might be the key. It’s important to work with your body to find out what works for you.


9. Are there any key supplements that I can take to support my hormone balance and menstrual cycle?


As an initial guideline I would recommend Magnesium, a B complex, Omega 3 and Vitamin D alongside a health balanced diet and regular exercise. 


10. I often get cravings for foods that are high in sugar, could this be because my hormones are unbalanced.


 Yes, sugar craving can be related to stress, blood sugar balance and thyroid hormones and it is often a combination of these, but almost always at a subclinical level.


11. Sometimes I really struggle with my energy levels when I have PMS, is there a natural way to combat this?


In the short term listen to your body and rest as much as you can. In the medium and long term, look at creating a lifestyle and nutritional support to reduce the effect of PMS hormones.


If you’re looking for more information about hormones and female health they 're very excited to be focusing on all things women’s health this February with a very exciting blog series. So make sure you keep your eyes peeled for new blogs coming your way this February! Equally you can keep up to date with all the latest over on our Instagram and Facebook pages.