Winter Majorly Affects Your Hormones, But THIS Food Brings Them Back Into Balance

Photo: Darren Muir

Your hormones, according to conventional practices, are the chemical messengers secreted in your blood that tell your body what to do and how to feel. The most common course of action with Western medicine is to check lab values and then prescribe medication for any imbalances. While many conventional doctors still primarily rely on drugs to treat hormonal imbalances, that's changing. Today, more than 50 percent of doctors answer in the affirmative when asked if they support traditional Chinese medical techniques, according to a survey of more than 3,000 physicians. These physicians also said that they’d start using or increase use of TCM in the upcoming year. That’s good news, but you don’t have to wait any longer to start incorporating the wisdom of Chinese medicine for hormonal balance in your own life.

How does Chinese medicine view the seasons?

There are five seasons of the year according to TCM: winter, spring, summer, late summer, and fall. When TCM was being developed thousands of years ago, people lived with the natural rhythms of the seasons: They slept when it got dark, arose with the dawn, dressed in accordance with the temperature and weather, participated in activities demanded and allowed by the natural day, and ate the foods that were naturally available at that time of year. These practices, once done naturally, can now be implemented purposely to balance the health and wellness of your mind, body, and hormones.

What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?

TCM was developed in China and is based on traditions and practices that have been used for more than 2,000 years, including nutritional strategies, herbal supplements and techniques, acupuncture, tai chi, meditation, and more. Your life energy in TCM is called chi, and it is believed to be gifted at birth and is dependent on the chi of your parents. You can replenish or deplete your chi throughout your life continuum. If you are out of balance, your chi is blocked. Your chi runs through your body in an electrical circuit—almost like highways that traverse the body. The quality of your chi is determined by the Chinese philosophy of yin-yang balance.

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What is yin/yang?

This is the belief that harmonious yet opposing forces make up the universe and balance each other out to create harmony. Yin is believed to be the nurturing female energy, while yang is the more aggressive male energy, and perfect balance between the two is the ultimate goal. In other words, balance for the mind, body, and life in general is a delicate dance of yin and yang. Too much stress, overwork, and aggression is an indication of yang excess, which affects your chemistry and physiology all the way down to your cellular functions. On the other hand, too much yin energy can sometimes lead to a deep depression

What does TCM believe about hormones?

In TCM, the approach to hormones is holistic. Chinese practitioners see your chemical messengers as a manifestation of the orchestra at work in your body—a reflection, in a sense, of your diet, sleep, lifestyle, and passions. All together your hormones are seen as your chi. Your body’s harmonious symphony is in turn affected by seasonal fluctuations.

So what's the secret to balancing your hormones in the winter, according to TCM?

The key to preserving and nourishing healthy hormones from a Chinese medicine perspective is striving for yin-yang balance by focusing on the right diet, digestive health, and strategies that promote stress management.

During this cold time of year, there are many winter foods that are naturally abundant and available to incorporate to heal and harmonize your hormones the TCM way. The goal during this cold time of year is to eat warming, healthy foods that nourish—soups and stews are perfect and can be made with naturally abundant produce including root vegetables, winter squashes, winter greens, carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, potatoes, apples, and pears. I especially love to eat sweet potatoes in the winter. They are packed with natural hormone-balancing nutrients including vitamins A and C, potassium, and manganese. I usually roast up a bunch ahead of time and then make this fast, hearty, and rich winter soup:

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Sweet Potato Soup

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 3 large sweet potatoes, roasted (scoop out the flesh, discard the skin)
  • 6 to 8 cups chicken broth
  • ½ cup cilantro, chopped
  • Salt and pepper

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat and sauté onions and carrots for about 5 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and stir for a minute more.
  2. Add the flesh from the sweet potatoes and the broth. Use a potato masher to blend gently as you continue to heat on medium (adjust amount of broth until you have the consistency you want) until heated. Salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Serve with cilantro garnish.
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The other important ingredient? Self-reflection and sleep.

Remember, TCM supports activities that balance with the seasons. In wintertime, when it is dark and chilly (and the perfect time to snuggle up), the focus is often on introspection through journaling and meditating. It’s a time to slow down and feed yourself spiritually as well as physically. During this time of year, I love to focus on writing out daily gratitude lists.

Sleep is especially essential during this time of year. It’s a stressful time, with lots of gatherings and obligations. Keeping yourself and your hormones balanced requires at least seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Aim to go to bed earlier and sleep later to give yourself the necessary healing.

Dr. Taz created a (totally free!) three-day gut reset to nourish yourself from the inside out. Try it here!

And are you ready to learn more about what anxiety, brain health, and your diet all have in common? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Dr. Mark Hyman.

Taz Bhatia, M.D.

Integrative Medicine Doctor
Dr. Taz Bhatia, MD, is a board-certified physician, specializing in integrative and emergency medicine, pediatrics and prevention, with expertise in women’s health, weight-loss, hormone balance and nutrition. She is the author of the best-selling books “Super Woman RX” and “The 21-Day Belly Fix.” Personal health challenges in her twenties combined with a broken health care system motivated Dr. Taz to pursue an alternative definition of health and healthy living. As a young resident, she was sick and without answers, and began searching for help to heal her health issues. Studying various systems of medicine including Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture and Ayurveda, she found a wealth of information not yet taught in conventional medical schools. It led her to opening her now nationally-recognized practice, CentreSpring MD (formerly Atlanta Center for Holistic and Integrative Medicine). Today, Dr. Taz and her team work relentlessly to find a patient’s core health problems, their centre, in order to spring them forth in health, pulling from multiple systems of medicine, including integrative, functional, Chinese and holistic medicine.
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Taz Bhatia, M.D.

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