Lately I have been treating a lot of women who have started on a low carb high fat (LCHF) diet to help correct hormonal imbalances but who either haven’t been seeing results, or have seen their results plateau. I wanted to share some insights that may be helpful to others.
The LCHF diet is my preferred dietary pattern for treating hormone imbalances. If you’re not already following a LCHF diet it’s a great starting point. By eliminating grains and refined carbohydrates you help improve insulin sensitivity which reduces insulin levels in turn reducing body fat and estrogen levels. The LCHF diet also has a secondary benefit, providing the body with the raw materials it needs to manufacture hormones, in this case fats. Standard dietary advice is to reduce fats, but this has proved to be one of the biggest mistakes in health history as fats have been replaced by sugars.
The LCHF diet though is just a starting point. I’ve found it needs a few changes to really help correct hormone imbalance. I’ve found these changes are particularly important when estrogen levels are high, which is most people.
Firstly though it’s important to have a benchmark. In the clinic I do this through salivary testing of hormones. Most doctors will suggest blood testing, while these can give a useful indication they don’t tell the full story. Salivary testing gives the other half of the story giving a picture of the biologically active hormones in the body. It’s also always vitally important to test cortisol, either blood or salivary is fine for cortisol, but failing to take cortisol into account is the number one reason I’ve found people don’t see improvements in hormones while on an LCHF diet.
With a clear picture of the current state of your hormones you can really start to dial in the LCHF diet properly. I’m only going to deal with the most common situation I see – low progesterone and high estrogen.
Choose Fats Carefully
When your estrogen levels are high and progesterone levels are low you need to be very careful where you choose to get your fats from. Typically the LCHF diet doesn’t differentiate between animal and non-animal fats. In fact, in the more paleo / primal versions of LCHF there is a distinct emphasis on animal fats (butter, ghee, bacon, cheeses) to try and increase the saturated fat intake. With high estrogen levels I have found it important to avoid or limit intake of animal fats and concentrate on non-animal fats. Animal fat products (ie: butter, ghee, cream, yoghurt, and cheese, made from dairy) will all contain hormones and these will largely be estrogenic.
Secondly, fats are where your body stores toxins! The same applies to animals and toxins are wrapped in fat and stored, unless eliminated properly, to avoid further damage to your body. Milk is often the most contaminated! In mammals, including humans, a nursing mother’s toxic body burden will DECREASE by 50% during breast feeding as it’s passed onto the baby in milk! Most toxins are estrogenic and will act like estrogens in your body.
Coconut oil and coconut products are a great choice for people with high estrogen. It’s compatible with the LCHF diet and still maintains a good ratio of saturated to unsaturated fats. Choose to cook with coconut oil rather than butter and ghee, and swap your cream or butter in coffee for coconut oil. There are also some great coconut yoghurts that you can use. Just make sure to avoid coconut yoghurt with added sweeteners.
Other good sources of healthy fats that I particularly enjoy include avocado, olives, nuts and seeds. You can also have nut butters and spreads, however ensure these are eaten fresh, as otherwise oxidation occurs.
If you’re estrogen levels aren’t high, or as they start to come down, you can afford to be a little less fussy on this and start to introduce animal based fats.
I have heard over and over again about clients that have swapped to an LCHF diet and within two to three days stopped going to the toilet regularly. By regularly I mean formed movements at least once per day.
Often, most people’s primary source of dietary fibre, is from bread and other grain products. Take the fibre out of the diet and it causes your bowels to slow down. Once your bowels slow down the body is not eliminating waste products as well. These waste products will not only include hormones but also include estrogenic toxins. A slow or sluggish bowel will increase the re-absorption of these whilst in the colon and they will re-circulate.
When making the change to a LCHF diet make sure yo replace grains and other non-LCHF carbs with high fibre vegetables. This includes things like broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables. This has a dual benefit, firstly the extra fibre intake will help to keep your bowel regular and improve elimination, but secondly cruciferous vegetables contain nutrients like indole–3-carbinols that help the liver to detoxify estrogens into other less potent forms.
Support the Adrenal Glands & Reduce Stress
The reason I always insist on testing cortisol levels is that when you are in a stressful situation your body will use progesterone to make cortisol. This leads to the typical pattern of high estrogen, low progesterone, and high cortisol.
I often find that in people who have been on the LCHF diet for over 3 months, but haven’t seen improvement in their hormone balance are under a lot of stress. Often, this will be long term stress, situations you no longer consider stressful but still lead to elevated cortisol.
One of the cornerstones of LCHF is the healthy fats. Unless you are eating pastured and organic meats, or lots of wild caught fish, though the fat profile is likely to be largely saturated fats and omega 6 fatty acids. One of the first steps in supporting the adrenal glands is to increase the intake of omega 3 fatty acids. This means swapping to grass fed, pastured meats, or increasing the amount of oily fish you eat. Organic, grass fed meat has been said to have a fat profile resembling oily fish. This can also be achieved, and often more easily, by supplementing with fish oil.
Finally look at supplementation if stress levels are not being managed. Herbs are fantastic for supporting adrenal glands and helping to improve stress response and ensure all those healthy fats are going to making the right hormones. Herbs like withania, licorice, rehmannia, lavendar and ginseng are really effective.
Make an Appointment to See Me
The last important step is to work with a Naturopath! I’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg in this article. When treating hormonal imbalances, I’ve found regular contact, testing and symptom review is important to make sure that together we’re moving in the right direction. I also ensure your diet, nutritional, and supplementation program is going to give the best results for your lifestyle and current hormonal levels / symptom picture.
Call the clinic today, I’m looking forward to working with you! Did you know I also do skype consultations if you can’t get to my clinic? If you are in Australia, I will send you the referrals and test kits needed to get the appropriate testing done. If you are outside Australia I can recommend laboratories in your country.