Females Hormones & Blood Sugar Control

As someone with type 1 diabetes, and coaching many with diabetes, we have to consider over 50 things that are non-food related that can affect our blood sugar control, and one of the most common moving variables include the female cycle.

In fact, I have to change my daily basal weekly, if not more, to coincide with my cycle and insulin sensitivity.  Along with this tweaking, I have been collecting data and savvy tips in a notebook on this topic and have organized the insights below.

Wellness for a female is different and is achieved differently than for a male. There needs to much a bigger component of emotional health and support, which is why it’s important to understand our moving hormones.

OUR PERIOD
The benefit of being a female (among many!) is we have a period. Wait, how is that a benefit? Well, our cycle is termed as a 5th vital sign per the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) Committee Opinion and this vital sign offers insight into our health, each month.

First and foremost, when assessing your period, understand our body will always choose survival over making babies. In fact, the period you have this month reflects your life 2-3 months ago. As well, if you are taking savvy hormone balancing supplements like maca, chaste tree, vitex, evening primrose oil, to name a few, give it 3-4 months to take effect.

Balanced/Balancing Hormones Involves the Combo of:

  • Daily bowel movements. If you don’t poop every day – you can’t remove the digested estrogen out of your system. Gut health is super important.
  • Modulating toxins in our life. Most environmental toxins will come from the practices women take within hours of waking up – deodorant, makeup, toiletries.
  • Sleep. If you are not sleeping 7 hours a night, you are not going to have balanced hormones. Research even shows that the liver can’t detox with sleep deprivation and liver needs to be optimal to metabolize our hormones as well.
  • Diet. Eat regular and balanced meals, emphasizing the importance to eat healthy fats. Avocado, olive oil, and organic animal fat are great sources, to name a few. The research on broccoli is so strong for detoxing estrogen and this is crucial for hormone balance. If a female is not having a bowel movement daily, the estrogen is sitting in the intestines and can be reabsorbed. We want it to move along as it should daily, and if this is not happening, consider tweaking the diet to include more vegetable fiber, remove grains in the diet and add a magnesium supplement to get things moving. Overall, lots of leafy green vegetables are key to a nourished body and healthy, fertile hormones.
  • Blood sugar stability. This is one of the most crucial things for hormone balance. Do the best you can to reduce blood sugar swings and variability. If blood sugars are too high they can structurally change the ovaries.
  • Movement. Most of our hormones won’t work unless we are moving. This is esp true w/ inactive thyroid to active thyroid.
  • Happiness: Plan a girls night and go have some fun. Or find a good book. Whatever helps you live a little and un(wine)d.
  • Sex. Yes, sex, intimacy and orgasm can help naturally balance hormones.

MONTHLY CYCLE:

While PMS is not normal it is natural to feel a shift in energy throughout the month, and that’s why it’s important to vary the amount and type of exercises you are doing and cycling your food/carbs throughout the month.

(Visual from ontrackdiabetes.com)

Week 1 (on period): MENSTRUAL

Day 1-10 females are most like males. Progesterone and estrogen are the lowest, and the first half of the cycle is called the follicular phase.

Insulin – many women may experience high blood sugars on the first day of their cycle, but it levels out the remainder of the days of bleeding. Personally, (bc I am sure you want to know), I am more insulin resistant on the first and last day of my cycle/bleeding, so therefore I may have a basal of let’s say 10 units on Day 1, drop down to 9 units, and then on the 6th day of bleeding I go back to 10 units.

Diet – Aim to eat higher fat and protein-rich meals, which means to ease up on carbs (fruit, legumes, grains, starchy veg), but do not restrict as much as you did before you started to bleed.

Protein helps to replenish lost iron. If a period is heavy – eat iron-rich foods with a focus on vitamin C. A citrus, spinach salad with some steak? Other good foods to source: seafood or seaweed, and low carb vegetables.

Exercise – slow movement pilates or yoga, stretching, walking or light hiking. A few days after the onset of your period you may feel energized and ready to pick back up your exercise routine. Movement this week can be variable from girl to girl, and from month to month. Listen to your body and what it needs.

Agenda – This is a good week to ground yourself, relax more physically and construct or address personal goals. Pull out a journal and reap the benefits of writing out your thoughts.

Seed cycling: 1T of pumpkin seeds and 1T of flax meal per day. 

Week 2: FOLLICULAR

Diet – highest carb week, lowest calorie.

Persist including protein and fat in each meal, but bring down the total fat, and increase carbs. Typically, meals will be smaller than the 2 weeks before your period/bleeding. Females are most insulin sensitive around this time of their cycle and they can tolerate more carbs without blood sugar spikes. Since the onset of your period, your estrogen will gradually rise until ovulation (which starts at the end of this week). Keep in mind estrogen has an inverse relationship to appetite. When estrogen is highest, you may notice less hunger.

Exercise – a great time to do HIIT training, challenging and longer workouts.

Agenda – it’s common to be restless and able to tackle projects and goals, including batch cooking for the week ahead when willpower is less. Right before ovulation, you may notice you feel your best, sexiest and most social. Make the most of it.

Seed cycling: 1T of pumpkin seeds and 1T of flax meal per day. 

Week 3: OVULATORY

Insulin – blood sugars can seem less seamless (to put it nicely). For 2-3 days blood sugars will run higher, and I view this as a mini period. What I do to manage my blood sugars and insulin here, I do more aggressively, and for more days, prior to bleeding.

Diet – Wind down the carbs, and begin increasing fat and fiber. You may notice some cravings for chocolate as well. Increase magnesium-rich foods, including cocoa. Five days after ovulation, you might find benefit and emotional/energy relief in eating ~30 grams of carbs at dinner (assuming you are eating a lower carb diet; less than 100 grams). This bolus of carbs (like half of a sweet potato) can support serotonin levels and improve sleep, sense of calm.

It’s not uncommon to have constipation post ovulation. Find use of chia seeds, and high fiber veggies. Focus on hydration aggressively until end of week 4.

Agenda – Ovulation is a great time to enjoy raw foods, raw salads, high-quality protein, and foods high in zinc. During ovulation, you may notice slight cramps. Your body is preparing to release 1 of 500 eggs (which is a fraction of the eggs you were born with). Ovulation is on average 10-16 days before a period. After Ovulation, this is when progesterone and estrogen increase and progesterone release a lot of sodium and holds onto a lot of water. This can lead to bloating. Your body temperature may be a degree higher as well. You want to salt (NOT table salt, sea salt please) your food here. Listen to your body needs.

The second half of a female cycle is called the Luteal phase.

Seed cycling: 1T of sesame seeds and 1T of sunflower seeds per day. I use tahini and sunbutter often during this half of the month. 

Week 4: (right before period) LUTEAL

Insulin: the 7-10 days leading up to your period, insulin demands will be the highest and trickiest. This is where I take notes on what basal totals I am taking days leading up to my period and what cravings I had and how I treated them. I personally take these notes in my calendar on my phone – and happen to miss a few months, but I always have some notes to fall back on. It’s also common to see a need to increase basal insulin the most the day before your period (thanks progesterone!). If on an insulin pump, it can be a great idea to have a separate basal pattern to switch to for these days.

Diet – Lowest carb. Eat more cruciferous vegetables, more root vegetables. Limit booze AND caffeine (even though we may be craving them more).

Start increasing fats and lowering carbs or being more strategic with carbs (aka plan out your meals).  Roasted foods are really good right now as they bring out the sweetness of vegetables. Note, however, this is a good time to eat more food period. If you limit food to amounts from prior weeks, you will indeed crave more sweets, as your body merely needs more calories. Many females deny themselves of this and end up with larger cravings. Days leading up to a female’s period, serotonin production is less. Eat high tryptophan foods (turkey, bananas, buckwheat, oily fish, flaxseed).

Studies have shown women who have a high intake of oily-fish (omega 3 fatty acids) including sardines, salmon, and mackerel, tend to have milder PMS. EFAs are also hormone regulators.

Leafy greens right before your period is helpful in calming your nervous system (due to calcium, magnesium and potassium). Even consider a green powder here, such as those sold by Organifi.

Overall understand your desires for food when it’s this time of the month. Just understanding what is going on with your body can help resolve overeating or poorer food choices. “This too shall pass.”

Exercise – step back and understand what your body needs. It could be stretching or it could be a long hard workout. This week is often a wild card.

Agenda – This is the best week to have pre-planned meals as your energy and interest in making meals will be low.

Supplements – Magnesium supplementation is important for cravings, energy, mood and blood sugar control, especially 7 days before the period. Additionally, fish oil, B vitamins, and tryptophan are recommended to help with PMS and can be used starting with ovulation (if not all month).

Seed cycling: 1T of sesame seeds and 1T of sunflower seeds per day. I use tahini and sunbutter often during this half of the month. 

Related Reading:

Diabetes and Womanhood

Granted I have yet to learn what it feels like to be in menopause and the likes, I surely know how to ride the insulin roller-coaster from past pregnancies, 12 months of nursing and frankly, being a fertile woman. It’s not an easy road, and typically, with a normalizing cycle, my first sign I need to adjust my insulin based on hormone influxes (ovulating/menstruating) is a high blood sugar reading without good reason. Also, let’s be honest, there are a few cravings too.diabetesexpertmomnutrition

So is it fair to say it’s harder to be a female than a male in controlling blood sugars because our monthly hormonal, and eventually menopause changes? I don’t know, as I only know what it’s like to be in these shoes, but I fathom we all have our own challenges. Yet, what can a solution be or a plan for keeping and having the best blood sugars possible? Let’s see:

  • Basal testing. Have you heard of this, or tried it? To have the best A1C or best blood sugars, we want to ensure we are on the right dose of insulin, let it be multiple daily injections or an insulin pump.
    • Furthermore, it can also be helpful to have a second basal rate for the week before a female’s (on insulin) period. The extent of time to use a second basal will take some individual experimenting. Some women will use a higher basal the week before and during a period, where others need less insulin as blood sugars plummet upon a period. Take notes each month, even if you just insert a few sentences in your calendar. We all say we will remember next month, but trust me, these notes will be handy. A quick example of how I use 2 basals: my normal, non-period basal is just shy of 10 units, and then my PMS basal is 11.5 units of Humalog. As you can see, I just need a pinch more of insulin, but it’s so helpful.
    • Know that with every month, the fluctuations and impact a period has on someone not only varies with the person but can vary from month to month.
  • Enhance insulin sensitivity. How?
    • First look at lifestyle. Are you moving throughout the day (get your lymph system flowing), are you active enough, drinking enough water, sleeping 7-8 hours (at least), managing stress, engaging in positive things, socializing, etc?
    • We want to move every 30 minutes. This can be as basic as standing up to fill up a water bottle or using the restroom. A fast-paced walk is even better. As soon as we start to sit, enzymes that help break down fat decrease by 90%, and if we were to sit for nearly 24 hours, insulin sensitivity drops 24%.
    • Drink half of your weight in ounces, and keep juices, coffees, sodas, caffeine to a minimum. If you want to have a cup of Joe, match that amount in water, and do not count this fluid intake towards the half of your weight/ounce goal. Being and staying hydrated is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to be your healthiest. Where is your water bottle?
    • Secondly, remove inflammatory foods from your diet. It’s becoming more common sense that processed foods and fried foods don’t optimize our health, but also assess how gluten, dairy, corn, soy, wheat, and eggs make you feel. Perhaps pull one, or all, of these out of your diet for 1-3 months to truly test. In the process flood your body with nutrient-dense foods. See below with more tips on diet.
    • How rich is your diet in magnesium? If like most Americans, it’s scarce, and therefore I have a standing recommendation for most people with diabetes to take supplements, including magnesium.
  • Decrease PMS and menopause symptoms. PMS and menopause symptoms are not normal. Heavy cycles, extreme hot flashes, mood swings, weight fluctuations can be minimized by resolving the imbalance of hormones, blood sugar variability, resolving a nutrient deficiency and or better handling stress. Some basic thought starters to get going on this:
    • Eat more real food (produce, high quality fish and animal protein, good fats, lentils, beans), than processed foods, man-made oils and grains. In all, strive for > 6 cups of vegetables a day, chew your food, enjoy the gift of having readily available food and have some delicious chocolate. Have each meal highlight vegetables as the main dish, fill up on sides with satiating and delicious protein and fat. Also, don’t shun carbohydrates, just experiement with what limit works for your energy levels, satiety and blood sugar control. Our thyroid thrives on carbs, and the best ones include starchy vegetables, fruits, and legumes (if tolerated).
    • Nurture your liver. Yup the liver, our fat-burning machine and hormone metabolizer. It’s hard to say which organ is the most important in our body, as one needs to lean on the other, but the liver is pretty high on the list. Help the liver out, by avoiding overeating, choosing high fiber foods, bypassing canola oil, sunflower/safflower oils, margarine, and fried foods. Eat colorful meals and snacks and go easy on alcohol. I love sipping on dandelion root tea too.
    • Optimize gut health. Follow the advice on eating low inflammatory food, but also foods that feed your gut. This certainly includes fiber-rich vegetables and certainly probiotic and prebiotic foods (think garlic, artichokes, onions). If consuming foods rich in probiotics isn’t realistic, consider a supplement.

While there are loads more I can list, these are the top things to consider when you are feeling moody from hormones, and maybe even moodier with blood sugars that don’t line up.

Please share your thoughts on these recommendations, and let us know what works for you.

Cheers to you and good health,

Kelly

Resources:

http://www.diabetes.co.uk/periods-and-diabetes.html

http://www.medicalbillingandcoding.org/

 

Hormonal Balance

I look forward to setting a few minutes aside most days to read one of my favorite e-newsletters from Mind Body Green. Have you heard of them? If not, head their way. They have a treasure chest of feel good health articles, covering diet to meditation to movement. Yet, getting to the topic of today’s post, after reading an article on foods to avoid for hormonal imbalance, I want to give feedback on one of the author’s, Alisa Vitti, statements. And to expand on the word “feedback,” I do not intend to suggest she is wrong, I am right, I just want to add more information to educate consumers as we are on the same team here.

The full article is here, but in summary the author suggests striving for hormonal balance by avoiding:

  • raw kale,
  • soy,
  • stevia (and I really appreciated this on the list as so many women are confused what to use as a sweetener, especially when they are pregnant),
  • red meat and
  • “cooling foods.”

Guess which one I want to address? Red meat.

I am not sure I am sold, as I have written an article on Pregnancy Staple Foods and included red meat (grassfed/organic) as a nutrition powerhouse.

After the listing of “red meat” in the hormone article, the author includes, “Many of my clients with PCOS have been told to follow a meat-heavy Paleo diet, but in my experience, this isn’t the best option.”

I agree with that –  a meat heavy diet would not be good for anyone’s long-term health, let alone hormone balance. Carbs are crucial for health. Yes, there are people fitting for a very low carb diet or a ketogenic diet, but carbs should not be the new weight-gaining phobia. In the 80s people learned to fear fat, and in the last decade or more, carbs have become the bad guy. However, carbs are needed for thyroid health, adrenal health, satiety/sleep and weight loss! Protein is needed, in a calculated/intuitive amount, and healthy red meat is a GREAT option.

All in all, I don’t have beef with beef if it’s sourced well, and I don’t want consumers to either. When able, purchase beef that is grassfed and organic (although, did you see the news on organic meat? Either way, it’s best to err on the side of caution and go with organic). So I think this is a great article, yet, I’d change up the wording of red meat, to avoid a heavy meat diet, especially conventionally raised meat.

Cheers to you and good health.