A Teenage Girl’s Guide to Happy Hormones:
From Nutrition to Periods and Everything in Between.
Part 1: Nutrition and Acne
The teenage years can be a tricky time for many young women. Hormonal surges can be intense as your body finds its groove, all while studying, navigating relationships and your responsibilities at home. This is an important time to establish a healthy foundation that you will stand on for years to come. You may be in the thick of it as you’re reading this, or just approaching your first period. This is an exciting time, as your mom might say! I remember feeling just plain weird about bleeding once a month, but very excited to finally be sprouting breasts! Whether you have mixed feelings about your body changing, or you’re welcoming the shift whole-heartedly, this post is for you. I’ll be covering everything from acne breakouts and nutrition to PMS and period problems in a two part series.
Nutrition is Everything!
When you read through this section, I want you to set it in stone. Proper nutrition is the foundation to everything. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you can “eat whatever you want when you’re young”. This quote is common but frankly not true! Sugar, processed foods and for some, dairy and gluten will absolutely affect your gut, hormones and organs of detoxification, and program you for issues down the track. I’ve chosen to pinpoint four big dietary intolerances that I see the most issues with amongst my patients. If you have a host of gastrointestinal symptoms and several food intolerances, I always recommend seeking guidance from a qualified dietitian. Food really is a science!
Here are the big 4:
- Too much sugar will spike your insulin (a hormone that allows your body to use sugar, known as glucose, from carbohydrates in food that you eat for energy, or to store for later use). Over time this can lead to insulin resistance, a main driver in Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which we’ll cover in part two. If you’re eating foods high in sugar daily, then consider cutting it out of your routine. Cake at a party or chocolate at a movie night is totally fine. Food is for enjoying and the occasional treat stays a treat! Naturally occurring sugars, like those found in fruit, is healthy and not the same as sugar from a candy bar. Your body needs glucose from healthy sources to get nutrients into your cells in order to give you the energy you need to function.
- Processed foods (Ie. Packaged foods that have several ingredients you can barely pronounce the name of and very little actual food) are just as sugar because they are often full of hidden sugars. In addition, there are hidden hormone disrupting chemicals present in processed foods that over time change your hormonal messaging system because they flood your body with chemicals that mimic them, making your body confused. This is significant because over time hormone disruption and changes in the gut microbiota (the hard-working organisms in your gut that play a crucial role in digestive and immune health) can lead to conditions like endometriosis, PCOS and autoimmune diseases. That’s all a bit of a mouthful, so to put it simply, processed foods negatively affect your gut health and result in hormone and immune dysregulation. Avoid eating processed foods and eat fresh foods instead.
- Cow’s dairy can cause problems for some people. You may not be lactose intolerant, but the protein A1 casein found in dairy products is inflammatory for those who don’t have the enzyme to break it down. There is no conclusive way to test this currently, so elimination of dairy for a minimum of 8 weeks is the best experiment (Sheep and goat’s dairy have no casein, and cow’s butter and heavy cream have little to no casein). Dairy + sugar is a big contributing combo to acne breakouts. Combine that with the fact that dairy is mucus forming, and you may see acne. Now that you know casein can be inflammatory consider how this may be affecting your gut – the place where all your food is absorbed and made into nutrients your body uses for all its processes, including hormone production. If you suffer from acne, painful periods, heavy periods, or skin rashes and have a history of recurrent tonsillitis, chest and ear infections then consider cutting dairy out for a minimum of 8 weeks to see how you benefit.
- Gluten can trigger an inflammatory response in some people, and you don’t need to be coeliac to react to the protein in gluten called, gliadin. For some, leaky gut is the culprit. The tight junctures of the gut lining have become loose and allow food particles into the blood stream. This can lead to inflammation in the body and contribute to autoimmunity. If you have symptoms such as, painful periods, acne, heavy periods, irregular periods, PMS, skin rashes – just to name a few, then you may want to speak to your doctor about testing for gluten sensitivity and coeliac disease. Simply eliminating gluten from your diet for a minimum of 8 weeks to see how you fair is also an option. You may find after a couple months that your periods are much less of a drama and your acne has cleared.
Now you must be wondering what you should be eating!? Simple, everything! Eat something from every food group in moderation. If you’re cutting out dairy or gluten for some of the reasons mentioned above, then just omit it and any other foods you know you don’t tolerate.
As a general rule to help with moderation, you can measure recommended portions for each meal with your hands:
A palm of protein
A fist of carbs
2 fists of non-starchy vegetables
To summarize: Avoid processed foods and sugar. Have dairy and gluten in moderation, unless you’re intolerant, allergic or you’re working to eliminate symptoms like, acne, painful periods, heavy periods and PMS. Remember, there is no perfect diet. Eat seasonally, chew your food well, buy as locally as you can, vary your choices, limit eating late, tune into how you feel and eat accordingly.
It’s so common for teenage girls to experience acne at some point, but why? A combination of factors contributes to acne including, hormones, diet, stress and sometimes exacerbated by the wrong skincare.
For young women acne tends to start from a surge of androgens (ie. Testosterone) that increase sebum (oil) production. Sebum is good, but too much can cause blockages and infections in the skin we know as acne. This is where diet is so important! In order to balance excess oil production, you need to ensure you’re not ingesting the inflammatory or mucus forming foods, that I mentioned above. Your body will find a balance quicker if you take the burden off it. Step number one for my acne patients is, no dairy and no sugar for 8 weeks.
It’s no secret that too much stress can affect us negatively. Young women experience so many new things in a short period of time, making emotions heightened and intense. Fights with friends, boyfriends and parents can be overwhelming in the moment and with the added pressure of school and extracurricular activities, it can put a lot of pressure on your body to perform optimally. If your body is sending you signals, like acne, then work to find a way to be more at ease. Maybe that means taking more time to rest and digest. For the rest of your life you can count on your body to tell you what it needs, just pay attention.
In terms of skincare, it should help not hinder and be simple not complicated. My only advice is, keep it low tox and choose skincare that suits your skin-type. Cleanse and moisturize morning and night and leave it at that. A toner (containing no alcohol – as this can be too drying) can be used to mop up excess oil, without over-drying your skin and is to be used after cleansing, before moisturizing. There are some great low-tox brands out there, too many to name in this post! If you want some suggestions pop in for a skin consult and I’ll give you my top 3.
To wrap up part one of this two-part series I’d like to point out why I’ve started with nutrition. As I mentioned it’s the foundation to everything. What you put in your mouth fuels your body, keeps you alive and can be the difference between you thriving or struggling. I can throw all the herbs and supplements at your acne, but if you don’t clean up your diet then my approach might not be as effective or perhaps won’t last. Keep this foundation in mind as we transition into part two.
Next up: Period problems, PMS and birth control.
Andrea is available at Mornington Chinese Medicine on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
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