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:
- 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 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 estrogen levels decreasing.
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 and in men can reduce the risk of prostate cancer. 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 balance 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? 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 doing much to get you close to your daily 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.
3 cups (about 1 pound) dried apricots, roughly chopped 1 cup chopped pitted dates 1 cup shelled hempseeds 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg 1 teaspoon gluten-free vanilla extract
Line an (8-x-8-inch) pan with parchment paper and set it aside. Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until mixture forms a chunky paste. Transfer to prepared pan and press with a spatula to create an even thickness. Cover and chill until firm, 1 to 2 hours, and then cut into squares for serving. Serves 24
Per serving (1 chew/34g-wt.): 100 calories (25 from fat), 2.5g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 3g protein, 18g total carbohydrate (2g dietary fiber, 13g sugar), 0mg cholesterol, 15mg sodium