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Fixing your Hormones with Fiber
Dr. Amanda Tracy, ND
Most of us think of dietary fiber as a way to maintain regular bowel movements and may have heard about fiber’s possible role in preventing colon cancer but did you know you can balance your hormones using fiber? Fiber helps to regulate levels of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone in multiple ways involving your digestive tract, liver, ovaries and blood circulation.
- Multiple symptoms and medical conditions are the result of hormone imbalances and here are some examples:
- PMS symptoms such as breast tenderness, mood changes, headaches and bloating are worse if you don’t have enough progesterone to offset estrogen.
- Acne and unwanted facial hair can be caused by too much DHEA and testosterone in your system.
- Peri-menopause symptoms like heavier menstrual bleeding, shorter menstrual cycles and spotting between periods can be the result of an imbalance between estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.
- Uterine fibroids and endometriosis can be made worse by too much estrogen.
- Your risk of breast, thyroid and prostate cancer is higher if you have excess estrogen in your body.
- Menopause symptoms such as hot flashes are caused by decreasing estrogen levels.
So how does fiber balance our hormones?
Our liver is responsible for processing excess hormones and in doing so prepares extra estrogen to be released into our digestive tract to be eliminated in our stool. If we suffer from constipation or do not have enough probiotic bacteria, the estrogen can be reabsorbed and go back into circulation. A special kind of dietary fiber called lignin, present in flax seeds, beans and lentils, binds to estrogen in the digestive tract to ensure it is eliminated and not reabsorbed into our system. Dietary fiber also feeds the beneficial probiotic bacteria living in our gut and keeps them healthy. These probiotic bacteria are important because they can also prevent estrogen being reabsorbed from our colon back into circulation. In this way, fiber and probiotics work together with your liver to reduce your risk of breast, thyroid and prostate cancers and reduce PMS and peri-menopause symptoms.
The fiber present in all vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds also helps to regulate testosterone levels by increasing the production of a protein called sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). This protein binds to testosterone in the bloodstream, rendering it inactive, which is helpful in women to reduce acne, reduce facial hair, regulate ovulation and improve fertility. This also improves estrogen: progesterone balance because excess testosterone is converted to estrogen if it is not bound to SHBG.
Dietary fiber enhances blood sugar control. This action of fiber helps to reduce your appetite, reduce your risk of diabetes, and improve ovulation which reduces PMS symptoms especially for those with PCOS(Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). By improving ovulation fiber helps to rebalance estrogen and progesterone, a key factor in reducing peri-menopause symptoms.
So now that you’re convinced you need more fiber in your diet, how are you going to get it?
While the dietary fiber recommendations for adults are between 30-40 grams a day, however, the average American diet includes between 12-15 grams of fiber a day. If you have any of the symptoms or conditions I discussed above, your goal would be between 40-50 grams of fiber a day. Here are some helpful tips to get you to your goal:
When introducing fiber to your diet, it is best to increase it slowly to reduce gas and bloating that can accompany eating too much fiber.
Drink plenty of water. Water and fiber work together to improve bowel function and balance hormones.
Do not take calcium, magnesium or a multivitamin with a high fiber meal (over 10 grams). The fiber may bind to these minerals and reduce their absorption.
Do not take fiber supplements to reach your goal. Most fiber supplements only contain 1-3 grams of fiber per serving so they are not worth their cost and not getting you closer to your goal.
High fiber foods include all beans and lentils, blackberries, apples, pears, dried apricots, prunes.
Be aware if you are on a gluten free diet. Most gluten free products are very low in fiber and high in starch and refined carbohydrates. Make sure you are meeting your fiber needs with beans and vegetables.
A word of caution, don’t just buy something because it has “fiber” in the name. I do not want to specifically denounce any products her but if it says fiber but it’s drizzled with caramel, coated in chocolate, neon colored or something you would otherwise only eat on your birthday...it’s way too processed to be considered food, do not eat it.
What about products labeled as a “Good Source of Fiber” or “High Fiber”?
Many cereals, bread products, granola bars and snacks use nutritional claims to market themselves. For a product to claim it is a “good source of fiber” it must contain between 2.5 grams – 4.9 grams of fiber per serving and labeled as “high fiber” must have at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. To put these numbers in perspective before you pay extra for something with one of these claims, here are some examples of fiber content in a serving of common foods:
Apple, 5 grams
Pear, 6 grams
Kiwi, 2 grams
Sweet potato, 4 grams
Broccoli, 3 grams
Black beans, 8 grams per ½ cup
Hummus, 4 gram
More tips to replace foods low in fiber with foods high in fiber:
- Use hummus or avocado instead of mayo in sandwiches.
Bean soup or lentil soup are good lunch options, especially in the winter months when we may have trouble digesting raw garden salads.
Adding two tablespoons of ground flaxseeds to your oatmeal adds 4 grams of fiber.
Check your “whole grain” bread products for fiber content. Sprouted bread such as Food for Life brand has 3 grams of fiber per slice and their English muffins have 3 grams of fiber per half!
Choose better cereals by finding the highest fiber and lowest sugars per serving: Nature’s Path Optimum Slim cereal has 9 grams of fiber and 6 grams of sugars per serving, Kashi brand Autumn Wheat has 6 grams of fiber with 7 grams of sugars per serving.
Anytime you are baking replace 1/3 of the called for all purpose flour with whole spelt flour or whole wheat graham flour, each has four times the amount of fiber of all purpose flour.
Dr. Amanda Tracy, ND is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor and owner of Advanced Health & Wellness in Andover, MA. With over 11 years of experience as an integrative doctor focusing on women’s health and autoimmune conditions, Dr. Tracy combines medical knowledge with a holistic approach to use natural therapies backed by scientific evidence for her patients’ success.