Nicki Williams, an award-winning nutritionist, author and hormone expert, was among the first to advise women on how to make the transition into menopause smooth and successful.
Following her experience of the lack of support and help when her own symptoms appeared – and the all-too-common prescription of anti-depressants from her GP – she set up Happy Hormones For Life. Her mission is to show women what a powerful role hormones play in how one looks and feels – from weight and energy levels, to our immunity and ability to sleep. She speaks to Leapfrog founder Stephanie Drax about what signs to look for, what strategies to adopt and how Lactoferrin may have a positive role to play.
Stephanie: In the last 5 years there’s finally been a spotlight on hormones
and menopause – how far have we come on this subject?
Nicki: The landscape has changed very dramatically – 8 years ago, very few companies acknowledged that their workforce was struggling at work to perform. Nowadays, lots of companies are much more proactive. In fact, the over 50s women workforce is the biggest growing sector of the UK economy, so they need to retain that talent. Sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming and quite confusing.
Where can we get accurate information on the subject?
There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Try experimenting, because every woman will have a different experience going through menopause. That’s difficult and can take time.
What are the tell-tale signs that our hormones are out of balance?
There are more than 100 hormones running around the body. They’re chemical messengers that tell us what to do – so they don’t just affect your monthly cycle, but they also affect how we think, breathe, immunity, digestion, sleep, energy, cravings, weight and so much more. They affect everything we do and are often misunderstood.
Premenopausal symptoms tend to be PMS, heavy periods, and rollercoaster emotions (which are your sex hormones). In your thyroid, you can experience hair loss, energy loss, brain fog, slow digestion, anxiety and depression. Insulin (your blood sugar regulator) can have huge implications on how you sleep, your cravings, and your mood.
As you start your perimenopausal journey (which tends to be over 40s into your 50s), your symptoms tend to fluctuate. Symptoms are often fatigue, weight gain, mood swings, brain fog, and poorer sleep.
Postmenopause can cause bone issues, heart issues, hot flushes, dryness, and ageing issues that can be exacerbated by the decrease in hormones.
How often have people gone to a GP and been misdiagnosed?
It happens a lot, but doctors are now more educated. Less “severe” symptoms can get missed and put down to ageing, or just that you’re a woman. People can get prescribed antidepressants when actually it’s a hormone imbalance.
Things like low thyroid can reflect perimenopause. A stress imbalance (cortisol) can look like different things – such as depression, anxiety, and menopause. It’s hard to pin down, which is why we do a lot of testing. Most of the time, women are tired which could be caused by a nutritional issue, or it could be a hormone issue or purely a lifestyle thing.
How can we test our hormone levels and what’s the process?
It depends on your situation – your symptoms, how understanding your doctor is, and if you have money to invest in the private sector.
Doctors have access to blood tests, but they’re not that helpful. If you can go privately and get a urine test, we use the Dutch test which samples the urine over 24 hours. This looks at hormone levels in the urine, blood levels (to look at thyroid levels) and nutrient levels. We also do gut health testing.
There are various packages, it starts at £495 and goes up to £2,500 for DNA and genetic testing.
How long does it take to see a difference?
The 24 tests allow us to see what happens naturally and how your body deals with the excess hormones. For example, you might be producing too much cortisol in the evening so you can’t sleep. Then we can work out the weak links.
We measure all 3 oestrogens (note that doctors will only look at one!) and you may need hormone replacement, depending on your levels.
What are the Feisty Four you speak about at Happy Hormones for Life?
The Feisty Four are Eat, Rest, Cleanse, and Mood. You need to look at your diet, lifestyle, stress, sleep, exercise and movement, and your chemical environment.
Starting with nutrition, which foods are good for our system?
There’s no deprivation here, but we do recommend coming off gluten for a while to see the effects. For some women, it’s a gut issue rather than a hormone issue.
Simple things like plant-based compounds can make you feel better. You can find that in organic soy milk, edamame beans, tofu, flax seeds, chickpeas and lentils. They produce some of the oestrogens but also massively help digestion which also helps reduce excess oestrogen. Vegetables also help feed your gut microbiome which feeds your gut fibre and plant nutrients.
Is there anything that works against us in our diet?
Sugar and refined carbs are the obvious one. The most important thing is to keep your blood sugar stable. When your blood sugar’s unstable, you’re going to be tired, moody, foggy, and putting on weight. Low blood sugar also really helps with our sleep. To do this, increase your protein, increase healthy fats, and replace slow carbs with complex carbs such as sweet potatoes. The other thing we need to be aware of is alcohol. Alcohol can affect anxiety and cause sleep problems.
Heating vegetable oils is really damaging to your cells, your mitochondria, and your hormones. Look for anything that’s olive oil-based, or coconut oil-based. Look for foods that are cold-pressed and not heated. The Mediterranean diet is the healthiest!
What else do you look at besides nutrition in your Happy Hormones course?
Step one is about nutrition and meal plans.
Step two is about rest – if you don’t manage your stress, cortisol has such a dominating effect on the other hormones. That includes sleep and properly turning off that fight or flight response and making that a non-negotiable. That means having 10 minutes to yourself every day – doing yoga, having a bath, or listening to some music. That allows your body to reset.
Step three is cleanse, in which we’re looking at our environment – we tend not to know about the “invisible hormone wreckers” which are a huge group of chemicals called EDCs. There are lots of them – the main ones are plastic (BPA), pesticides (choose organic where possible), and phthalates (found in perfume, makeup, skincare, candles, air fresheners, laundry products, cleaning products, etc). If it’s not made with essential oils then it’s likely to be synthetic. Phthalates are the biggest causes of hormone disruption.
My advice would be to replace one thing at a time. Method is a good brand for cleaning, and there are candles made with essential oils. If you can’t ditch the perfume then spray it on your clothes. Know that inhaling is the quickest way in, and then through your skin.
Step four is move. There’s a lot of research on NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) which means anything that’s between sitting down and formal exercising. The more that you move around, the more you raise your metabolic rate and burn calories.
Be wary that over-exercising (too much cortisol) can be counterproductive because cortisol stops weight loss in its tracks. Walking and yoga can be so beneficial to you.
Have you come across Lactoferrin?
We’re looking into it at the moment because we’ve seen some of Lactoferrin’s effects on bone health which really affect us as we go through menopause. When we go through declining levels of oestrogen, our bones can suffer and get more brittle. There’s also an effect on inflammation which can be affected by oestrogen.
Can we talk about the immune system and hormones?
The immune system and hormones are linked. Too much cortisol can have an effect on how you fight infections. This often happens before a holiday when your immune system runs on adrenaline to try and get the work done, you start to relax on holiday, and you get ill.
Oestrogen has a role to play in controlling inflammation. We’ve also seen that when your oestrogen is low, your white blood cell count is low.
Any other myths you wanted to spell?
Yes, the two extreme camps of “you can only take HRT” or “you mustn’t take HRT”. It all depends on the individual. There’s a myth that HRT is a medicine, but it’s exactly the same as what’s in your body. Just like taking Vitamin D, which is a hormone!
Start with the very basics – hydration, controlling your blood sugars, and making sure you’re getting the right nutrients on your plate.
Nicki Williams and her team offer 1:1 coaching, personalised testing, workshops, online programmes and talks. Try Nicki’s 30-day programme, or read her book, “It’s Not You, It’s Your Hormones” to find out more.
What’s The Science On Bone Health & Lactoferrin?
Studies show Lactoferrin is anabolic (building) to bone via a variety of actions – proliferative, differentiating and anti-apoptotic actions – in the osteoblasts.
An in vivo study showed that following the administration of lactoferrin in ovariectomized mice, bone homeostasis was preserved. Lactoferrin was shown to significantly improve bone mineral density and enhanced the max load and max stress values of the femur. The study concluded that Lactoferrin may be useful in the “prevention and treatment of oestrogen-dependent bone loss”
And in a smaller human study conducted in 38 postmenopausal women, lactoferrin supplementation significantly improved their bone health and stimulated bone formation.