What your hormones are trying to tell you
If you thought PMS, bloating and zits were all just the lowlights of being a woman, Alisa Vitti would like you to think again.
“We teach our patients to think what’s normal is not to have PMS, to feel great all month, to have natural conception, not to have post partum depression,” says Vitti, a women’s hormonal health expert and the author of “WomanCode: Perfect Your Cycle, Amplify Your Fertility, Supercharge Your Sex Drive and Become a Power Source.” “What’s normal is a sex drive that increases as you age, not decreases. What’s normal is to have a metabolism that’s helping you maintain your healthy weight effortlessly. Anything that’s not that isn’t normal. We shouldn’t get desensitized to that in our bodies or in our thinking.”
In college, Vitti, a med student at the time, thought her heavy weight, cystic acne and missed periods were due to polycystic ovarian syndrome, until she came across a small article about a disease called Stein-Leventhal Syndrome. Convinced this disease was the root of her problems, Vitti took the information to her doctor, who thought the best course of treatment would be medication. But “that wasn’t a good enough answer to ‘what do we do now?’” Vitti says. Instead, she did a lot of her own research on her condition and was shocked to find that diet played a role.
“I was exposed to some of the cutting edge research that was coming out from the Human Genome Project, which discovered this protein structure that wraps around your DNA strands,” she says. “It [works] like a switch. And the only thing that they found that would turn these switches on or off — to having your body express disease or health — was what you were eating and how you were living. And I thought, ‘Oh my God: If we can manipulate our gene expression with food and lifestyle, we can apply that to entire glands and organs and entire organ systems, like the endocrine systems.”
If you currently find yourself in hormonal hell, Vitti has a plan to get back on track — and it starts with your diet.
What to avoid:
Soy, specifically soy protein isolate: “Most convenient soy products that consumers purchase are highly concentrated in soy protein isolate. They are not getting the benefits of the whole bean. Rather, they are getting soy protein isolate, which is full of concentrated estrogen and exacerbates their hormonal symptoms,” Vitti says. “They did a crazy study in Brazil on female lab rats eating tofu —the uterus changed shape and it caused male infertility.” But fermented soy, including miso paste and tempeh, is OK in moderation, as is tofu in small quantities (as long as it’s organic and GMO-free).
Dairy: “The casein in dairy has been shown to build up a plaque on the small intestine,” Vitti says, blocking absorption of vital micronutrients. Concerned about calcium? Vitti says that on her plan, eliminating dairy also means adding in more foods that are other good sources of calcium, like kale, bok choy, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds
Gluten: “Wheat-based products cause such inflammation in the intestine,” Vitti says. “Most people are gluten-sensitive and don’t realize it.”
What to load up on:
Fermented foods: “Fermented foods provide the body with probotics, which help you absorb more nutrients. They also contain called Indole-3-carbinol which breaks down estrogen.”
Green juices: “You’re getting your high levels of antioxidants that help protect the ovaries.”
Sweet potatoes: “I love them for the vitamin A to help with your liver.”
Pasture-fed eggs (with the yolks): “They help the body make progesterone, which is the hormone that opposes estrogen and keeps you balanced in terms of your mood and keeps all those PMS symptoms away.”
Avocados: “I love avocados for the EFAs That keep our hormones really, really healthy.”
Spinach, kale and collard greens: “I love dark, leafy greens for the calcium and magnesium that help our body utilize hormones as we’re producing them.”