I have taken this info and condensed it, from Cytoplan Blog. I wanted to share some of the points they suggest, but their blog is very long and at times a bit complicated. So here are the main things to think about for your hormones and health through the year.
Evolution & why our bodies are affected by the seasons
- In order to cope with dynamic seasonal changes in the environment, seasonal behaviours, including reproduction, migration, hibernation, and moulting, have evolved as adaptive strategies by which animals adjust their physiologies and behaviours based on the time of year.
- Studies have shown that there is a drop in follicle stimulating hormone in the winter which can lead to reduced fertility and a longer cycle worsening symptoms of PMS. Also, oestrogen receptors were shown to be more sensitive in the summer leading to improved fertility in summer compared to winter
- from an evolutionary perspective winter is not an optimal time for reproduction – men have lower testosterone production, in the winter
Physiological changes to hormones
- FSH – one epidemiological study found that sunshine increased FSH, which causes an egg to develop. This means women may not ovulate as frequently during the winter, so menstrual cycles may be longer and PMS symptoms worse. This is due to the fact that if ovulation rates are lower, less progesterone is produced and a high oestrogen to progesterone ratio can be a consequence of this
- Oestrogen – as well as the indirect effect on oestrogen by changes to FSH, additional studies have identified that sunlight plays a role in directly affecting oestrogen. Research showed that receptors for oestrogen were more sensitive in the summer. Therefore, women are more fertile in the summer months.
- Testosterone – other studies have also shown that men produce less testosterone in winter, leading to reduced libido and sperm production and therefore reduced fertility.
Other effects of sunshine on our hormones
- SAD – we have heard how darker days can lead to seasonal affective disorder
- Serotonin & Dopamine – exposure to sunlight is known to be essential for the production of serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter. Studies have confirmed that with shorter days and reduced sunlight exposure during winter, levels of both serotonin and dopamine (also important for mood) are depleted.
- Vitamin D – Vitamin D elicits multiple effects on the body including supporting bone health, immunity and mood. It has also been shown that vitamin D influences many other hormones including thyroid, insulin, oestrogen, and testosterone, as well as the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) – five elements and seasons
Each element (wood, earth, fire, metal, and water) corresponds to a season, each of which has its own traits. At the heart of TCM philosophy is the balance of yin and yang. To put it very basically, yin describes cooling and descending energy and looking inward, and yang describes heat, rising energy projecting outward.
- Wood – Spring: time of new life and rising energy (yang). Considered a time to support the liver and gall bladder with light cleansing foods, young plants and fresh greens.
- Fire – Summer: period of luxurious growth, expansion, lightness, and outward activity (extreme yang). Nourish the fire elements with brightly coloured summer fruits and vegetables. A lively time of fun, joy and outward energy. The fire element rules the heart and small intestine.
- Earth – Late summer: this is the interchange of all seasons. This is the point of transition from yang to yin, between expansive growth and inward cooler seasons. Foods that support the earth season should be harmonised and represent the centre and include sweet yellow or golden foods such as squash, carrot, cabbage, and sweet potatoes. It is considered the season of the spleen and pancreas, important for vital energy but also immunity – so interesting that nourishing foods are beta-carotene and vitamin C rich.
- Metal – Autumn: this is when the harvest comes in and to pull inward and gather together, on all levels. The focus should be on fuelling and stocking up but also to study and prepare for the stillness of winter. Nourishing foods become heartier and warmer but also more astringent. Cooking methods should be more involved to supply a greater energy to the cooler season, which means longer slower cooking. Autumn is a time to support the lungs, which are associated with grief and sadness, and it is often a time when respiratory infections prevail.
- Water – Winter: this is the end of all seasons and is an introspective time to reflect, contemplate and meditate. Energy is descending (yin) and it becomes more inward, so it is a time to become inward focused. Salty and bitter flavours support the cold season as they promote a sinking, centering quality. The kidneys and bladder are the organs of winter and are seen as the root and foundation of the body.
- Some components that may help to nourish during the cold months:
- Choose slowly cooked warming foods, stews, curries and soups, and include sweet yellows and oranges in autumn
- Choose astringent (bitter and contracting) foods such as green tea, broccoli, cranberries and grapes
- Choose bitter and salty foods in winter such as chicory, burdock, cabbage, miso and seaweed
- Use Autumn and winter as a time to look inward, practice meditation and take up study
- Aim to rest and take things more slowly but continue to move and stay mobile. Choose more yin activities such a walking, yoga and stretching
Additional activities and interventions to support during winter
- Ensure you get adequate exposure to sunlight/daylight during the winter. This helps to stimulate serotonin production, which in turn helps with melatonin production thereby supporting the sleep/wake cycle.
- Support thyroid health with nutrients including tyrosine, iodine, zinc and selenium (ingredients and cofactors for thyroid hormone production)
- Support a healthy stress response with relaxation techniques, regular exercise, ensuring stable blood sugar. You can use nutrients such as vitamin C, B5, B6, magnesium and zinc to help support the adrenal glands (responsible for our stress response) as well as adaptogenic herbs such as ashwagandha or rhodiola
- Look after the gut and liver, which are responsible for excretion of waste hormones and therefore hormone regulation
- Consider supplementing vitamin D3 as endogenous production is greatly reduced. It is now recommended that everyone should supplement 10ug per day
- Above all, it is important to be kind to ourselves, nurture and nourish our bodies and those around us.
- We can look forward to the cold season accepting that we may have a change in hormonal regulation and feel less energetic in the knowledge that the year will cycle around again. If we focus inwardly in winter, we will be more vital in the spring.
You may want to read my other blogs on nutrition and energy and women’s health so have a look at these:
Here is the full blog: