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Impact of carbohydrate intake on female hormonal balance [Update]

by (2048)
Updated about 3 hours ago
Created June 27, 2012 at 4:46 PM

Apologies if this question is a duplicate. I searched but didn't find anything.

Does anyone have any evidence (studies, even anecdote) regarding the impact of carb intake on female hormones? When I started paleo, I read that a low-carb paleo diet would help balance female hormone levels. I have estrogen dominance that I really want to resolve. I had been eating paleo for about 4 months when I had my hormone levels tested and found I have a pretty unbalanced estrogen/progesterone ratio (both levels were in range individually). I didn't get tested before I changed my diet, so I have no hard data to compare. However, I suspect that my hormone levels have gotten more unbalanced, because my PMS seems to be getting worse. I saw an initial improvement in my PMS symptoms but now they are as bad as they ever were. What troubles me most is that I've had a bad flare-up of rosacea that seems definitely hormonal in nature (based upon the fact that it waxes and wanes along with my menstrual cycle.) I never had this before I started eating a low-carb paleo diet (no dairy) so it really worries me. Last month I had the worst rosacea symptoms I have ever had. I see a TCM practitioner who said that it's likely the rosacea is caused by my hormonal imbalance. Is it possible that my diet has created this situation? Could the cortisol production from a low-carb diet lead to the "progesterone steal" and be exacerbating my estrogen dominance? If so, what should I do?

I'm not trying to be critical of the paleo diet -- I have seen some definite improvements. Eating paleo has dramatically improved my depression and anxiety (after upping my carb intake). I'd say those have improved about 95% after four months. It's also gotten rid of some keratosis pilaris on my arms.

I don't have trouble with my weight. I don't keep track of what I eat, but most days I will eat either some white rice, a sweet potato, or fruit. I don't purposefully restrict carbs, but when your diet is mostly meat and vegetables, it's hard to eat very many. I eat a lot of vegetables of all kinds, and I put a little honey in my coffee, but I doubt I surpass 100 grams of carbs on most days. Thanks in advance.

EDIT: So after doing some more research, I'm pretty convinced that the last seven or eight months I've been doing low-carb paleo (a few cheats at first but none for the last 5 months) has really hurt my thyroid and that's what's causing the hormonal problems. My PMS is worse. My circulation is worse and I'm frequently cold. I have new light, downy hair on my face that I didn't have before. I've had a lot of hair thinning, and I'm having occasional rosacea flushing now, which is very painful and which I had never previously experienced. This week I've dramatically upped my carbs, eating white rice, fruit, and lots of sugar every day, and my mood is feeling a lot better. I had already upped my carbs from around 60 grams a day to about 100 grams a day two months ago, to address panic attacks, but apparently that is still not high enough for me. Now shooting for about 150 grams a day. I have previously been diagnosed hypothyroid so I know I have to be careful.

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115 · August 09, 2012 at 8:43 AM

Hi there!, I am eating coconut oil, eggs, fish and meat fats (fatty meat cuts) and olive oil. It's ok to eat butter or ghee if you have no problem with it. I definitely do have a problem, and I found getting off dairy was and still is one of the hardest things to stop eating. By alkaline I mean green leafy vegetable juices and green cooked vegetables. Sorry I took so long to answer I didn't realize anyone had replied. Does anyone know if there a way to be notified of this?

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159 · July 22, 2012 at 2:55 AM

Wow, thanks for this answer! I have had estrogen dominance symptoms and am trying to figure it all out. This helps so much. Question: what are you eating for your fats? Do you eat butter/heavy cream or avoid? When you say 'alkaline' are you eating more veges than meats to achieve a more alkaline state?

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1002 · July 11, 2012 at 8:58 PM

check out Stop Thyroid Madness....that site shows a link between thyroid issues and rosacea.

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2048 · July 09, 2012 at 3:34 PM

Hormones don't "cause" rosacea but I think an imbalance can trigger a flare-up. It's pretty common for pregnancy to trigger the condition. But good articles, Wowza.

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328 · July 04, 2012 at 1:41 PM

I'm glad you are finding what works for you. I feel like a disaster on low carb as well, even when I'm not running: low mood, bad PMS, low libido, anxiety.

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1528 · July 04, 2012 at 5:37 AM

Hi Happy, it's not hormones that cause rosacea. If your doctor tells you that, you may want to fire them. The cause of rosacea is apparently now known, it was discovered in 2007 by Gallo in San Diego: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070805161110.htm. It's an immune issue. Gallo's lab does a lot of research on rosacea: http://dermatology.ucsd.edu/faculty/profiles/gallo.shtml

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24538 · July 04, 2012 at 12:38 AM

I've had light rosacea off and on for years, but it seemed to flare with my current pregnancy, so hormones is a good guess. I accidentally kicked its butt into submission when I started taking nettles and quercetin for allergy issues, I'm not sure if it was one or both of those, but I'm not complaining. Nettles is about as benign as it gets for an herb, and supposedly good for female hormones, might be worth a shot.

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2048 · June 30, 2012 at 8:31 PM

I haven't tried adaptogenic herbs, though I know licorice root is often recommended for rosacea. Thanks for the suggestion. I've been supplementing with D, but very irregularly. I'd love to get more tests done. Thanks for the feedback!

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418 · June 30, 2012 at 5:31 PM

"I don't think I have PCOS." I'd get tested. It's not always something you can self-diagnose.

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5 Answers

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115 · July 11, 2012 at 3:11 PM

This is my experience of my hormonal balance on a low carb, high fat diet. I started LCHF because I had IBS but as a result of eating this way my hormones have become much more balanced as well.

I do not eat any grains including rice, and I will give you a good reason for this down the page. I eat meat, fish, eggs, plenty of good fats, lots of above ground vegetables (especially greens) and I also include onions and garlic. This is pretty well all I eat.

I am 52 years old and let me begin by saying I was a healthy eater before I started alkaline low carb, high fat (LCHF). I hadn't eaten gluten for years and I ate good food, although I had been vegetarian for a number of years to, I believe, the detriment of my health. I am not celiac by felt better without gluten. I never ate frankenfoods!

By age 52 my menses were becoming very irregular, premenstrual tension was getting worse with every year, hot flushes every night and I would spot blood at any time in my cycle.

I had been like this for a couple of years and just perceived this as a normal part of perimenopause.

After being on alkaline LCHF for 8 months my menses went back to a 28 day cycle and there was no more spotting. Prementstrual tension was a lot easier and the colour of my flow was better than it had been for years. I used to have, in my 20's, what Chinese medicine calls, blood stagnancy and I had been treated for this with acupuncture.

After more than 12 months on an alkaline LCHF I went on a trip for 6 months to Italy and while I didn't eat pasta I did eat some bread, fruit, dairy and sugar occasionally. After about 5 months of this my periods became irregular again, menopausal flushes reoccurred and premenstrual tension became worse again.

I went back on Alkaline LCHF strictly 10 months ago. I thought I would healthy again in a jiffy. I was so wrong. I paid for my Italian tour even though, most of the time, I had eaten LCHF.

I am now back to regular periods again, no hot flushes, premenstrual tension is still more than it was but getting better.

I think what happened was that I had healed to a great extent, but putting that extra load on my body was too much as my body really was still in the beginning stages of healing. Especially eating wheat was a big mistake.

When I started alkaline LCHF diet things didn't just get progressively better. There were times when things looked worse and I would freak out and think it's because the diet is not good for me.

I just want to reassure anyone starting out on LCHF hoping to get better quickly and easily that symptoms won't just go away like that. It takes time and courage to persist through what looks like things getting worse.
When I went back on ALCHF again my breasts were very sore for months. This hadn't happened the first time on ALCHF, but my body readjusting the hormonal balance now it had the correct nutrition again and the sore breasts went away and haven't recurred.

When the body starts to heal there will be healing reactions. The reason for this is the body starts to bring to the surface problems that on the old diet it just didn't have the necessary nutrition to deal with. These healing reactions are numerous but if you are on a good LCHF food program you can trust that these reactions are your body healing.

Our body just does it best and it's best, when nutrition is low and toxicity is high, is sometimes just to keep us going. It puts all the problems it can't deal with down into deeper layers of our body. For example asthmatics often get arthritis later in life.

As our diet improves radically the body can start to deal with these problems and will bring problems, we didn't even know were still in our bodies, up to the surface. We will then start to feel the uncomfortable symptoms which we thought were gone or at least had lessened. The body being able to bring things to the surface is a very good sign. The body is becoming capable of healing deep imbalances.

How long does it take to heal? A young person will heal much quicker than an older person. Youth has so much more resilience and older people have so much more 'water under the bridge', with a lot more toxins and more deeper level issues to deal with.

A word about cheating: Some people seem to get away with cheating, maybe they aren't so sensitive or perhaps their layers or illness are deeper and don't respond on the surface as much (I suspect this is the case with my husband as we have found out he has Osteoporosis and Alzheimers, very deep layer issues) He seemed to get away with cheating and I couldn't. When I cheated I would feel awful for days. When I say cheat I mean eating for instance a gluten free Cannoli. I pay big time and he never used to. But the more we are really strict and the longer we are on LCHF I notice he is starting to surface react like me. I see now this is a good sign that his body is becoming well enough to express it's pain.

Now I will explain one reason (of many: protease inhibitors, phytates, lectins, glutens(yes types of glutens have now been found in all grains) I have absolutely given up eating grains. I will only talk about grains in relation to balancing hormones as this is the question I am answering at present.

Eating any kind of grain will create high blood sugar levels, this is noted by Dr Wiliam Davis in his book "Wheat Belly". This rise in blood sugar levels will in turn raise the hormone, Insulin.

Insulin, cortisol, and the sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and all the other hormones work in a symphony of interconnectedness. Thyroid symptoms indicate a thyroid problem. Blood sugar symptoms means there is an insulin problem. Symptoms around sexual function indicate a sex hormone problem. And high stress means a cortisol problem. We are told that if your thyroid hormone, or if your testosterone was normalized, you would feel fine, but the hormonal system really does not work like this.

An enzyme system found in the liver converts cholesterol into Pregnenelone, the top hormone in the hormonal cascade. High levels of insulin will cause liver dysfunction which will prevent or severely impede this important conversion.

Sex hormone binding globulins (SHBG) are produced by the liver as well. As the livers function is greatly impeded by insulin spikes the liver won't be able to make enough SHBG. Without SHBG, too much free estrogen is available creating high levels on estrogen in the body.

The hormone DHEA "the youthening hormone", has been shown to be greatly reduced in the body by insulin spikes.

Have you noticed the increasing number of men with breasts in today's world? These men aren't necessarily fat, the breat tendency is coming from an excess of estrogen from eating a high carbohydrate diet (which is usually mostly eating grains and sugar) causing these 'man boobs' even in younger men. (adapted from Cassie Bond's blog AlkalinePaleo.com)

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159 · July 22, 2012 at 2:55 AM

Wow, thanks for this answer! I have had estrogen dominance symptoms and am trying to figure it all out. This helps so much. Question: what are you eating for your fats? Do you eat butter/heavy cream or avoid? When you say 'alkaline' are you eating more veges than meats to achieve a more alkaline state?

F694b3d8c620c7717287b32b6cac7f7e
115 · August 09, 2012 at 8:43 AM

Hi there!, I am eating coconut oil, eggs, fish and meat fats (fatty meat cuts) and olive oil. It's ok to eat butter or ghee if you have no problem with it. I definitely do have a problem, and I found getting off dairy was and still is one of the hardest things to stop eating. By alkaline I mean green leafy vegetable juices and green cooked vegetables. Sorry I took so long to answer I didn't realize anyone had replied. Does anyone know if there a way to be notified of this?

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1187 · July 04, 2012 at 2:46 AM

I'm estrogen dominant too. Going low carb fully revealed the situation, it has not cured it. Getting insulin out of the way was magnificent for stable appetite, losing weight, positive non-depressed or anxious mood, but the estrogen was still there knocking VERY loudly and causing me to go to the ER. So I can see why you would think it got worse.

Thanks to Dragonfly I am now on twice daily progesterone cream along with Diindolylmethane and I'm making progress.

The hair thinning and downy hair could point to PCOS and too much androgens which usually calls for a low carb diet.

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32518 · July 03, 2012 at 10:57 PM

Agree mostly with Stephi. You may feel better on higher carbs, but I doubt that low carb is causing the hormonal imbalance. It's more likely to be due to some missing nutrients, possibly because of no dairy and low D3.

My low carb pregnant clients have the fewest pregnancy problems, FWIW.

If you tolerate dairy, it's worth adding back in hormone-free, pastured cheese, butter & kefir.

Get your Vitamin D tested! Sun/supplement to sufficiency. Without a blood level of 50-60 ng/ml, you don't have the building blocks you need to produce sufficient Progesterone. D3 is a precursor to Pregnenolone which is a precursor to Progesterone.

You also need the co-factors for D3 of Magnesium, Vitamin A & K. If you eat liver & eggs, you are covered for A, but you may need some natto or a supplement for K2.

Sufficient dark chocolate & shellfish will cover your Magnesium, or you can take a chelated supplement. 200-600 mg in the evening.

Zinc is also essential for hormone balance. Oysters twice a week or do a zinc tally test & supplement 50 mg zinc picolinate daily if you are deficient.

Personally, I would avoid trying herbs until you get your diet dialed in.

These blog posts may be helpful (they are about fertility, but fertility is all about hormonal balance.)

http://www.sondrarose.com/optimum-fertility-nutrition

http://www.sondrarose.com/optimum-fertility-environment

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1187 · July 08, 2012 at 9:24 PM

I read this. I think you may still be PCOS and now I'm seeing your point from a different direction.

http://www.paleoforwomen.com/pcos-and-hypothalamic-amenorrhea-whats-wrong-with-the-contemporary-understanding-and-why-a-woman-can-have-both-pcos-and-ha/

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100 · June 30, 2012 at 4:34 PM

While I'm not a doctor, I think you may have a vitamin deficiency. Your body is overcompensating for something, right? It's interesting that you suggest cortisol as a possible culprit. I think it may be a factor, I had some gnarly adrenal fatigue and that put my hormone levels way out of whack... Have you tried any adaptogenic herbs like licorice root or Panax ginseng, or even black cohosh? Additionally, are you getting the proper omega 3 to 6 ratio? Those are key elements in a properly balanced body. Walnuts are an excellent source of omega 3 (if you don't like fish oil). You might also try some vitamin D3. Be sure to check that it's sourced as 'cholecalciferol' otherwise it's just cheap stuff. I'm sorry this is so choppy, I usually write much more cohesively...

Anyway, let's clarify my nonsense, eh?

I think you should try a blend of adaptogenic herbs, preferably a supplement that has the three herbs listed above.

Check your vitamin D level (if you have insurance, if not, just buy a little bottle or a tincture and see what happens). Follow the recommended dosage.

Try to increase the fats in your diet, specifically omega 3's. Good sources are walnuts, salmon, or a supplement. Throw in a few Brazil nuts (about three gives you the daily dose of selenium) just in case, so you know you aren't deficient in selenium(random, I know).

I hope this helps, good luck, and keep me posted!

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2048 · June 30, 2012 at 8:31 PM

I haven't tried adaptogenic herbs, though I know licorice root is often recommended for rosacea. Thanks for the suggestion. I've been supplementing with D, but very irregularly. I'd love to get more tests done. Thanks for the feedback!

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