Got HRT? Here are seven functional foods to help process your meds, speed up changes and reduce side effects:
1. Walnuts for Quick Changes, skin health & Stable Moods
Traditional naturopathy uses the doctrine of signatures which says that you can tell which foods and herbs will work on certain parts of the body, just by looking at them. Walnuts look like wrinkly brains and sure enough, they're packed full of nutrients that our noggins need.
Omega-3 fatty acids help to support neurological rewriting, and are essential for cell-to-cell communication. Walnuts are also rich in zinc, protein, and biotin - essential nutrients for building the basic structures of new tissue (hello, changes). This is a great combination that works closely with the brain and the skin to prevent second-puberty side effects of HRT like acne and mood swings.
2. MatchA For Weight Redistribution
The idea of "fat redistribution" is slightly erroneous - fat cells don't actually move. While your previous hormone profile promoted fat storage around the hips, thighs and butt OR around the waist, your new hormone profile will promote the opposite. That means that new fat will accumulate in these areas. I get a lot of clients looking for advice on how to shift the old stuff in a safe, body-lovin' way -- NO diets, thanks!
Matcha is a secret weapon. It is a bright green powder created by grinding and processing the whole leaves of the green tea shrub (Camellia sinensis) using traditional Japanese methods. Not only does matcha deliver the same water-soluble extracts found in brewed green tea, it also provides the entire nutrient content of the leaves. We're talking ten times the concentration of antioxidants to green tea, and soothing amino acids like L-theanine.
Because it contains caffeine, matcha can boost your resting metabolic rate. This means that you'll burn more calories while going about your daily activities, and even while sleeping; but here's the key: The caffeine in matcha is mostly metabolised into theophylline – a stimulant that sustains a gentle effect across 4 – 6 hours. Caffeine in coffee, on the other hand, is mostly metabolised into theobromine which causes vasoconstriction, racing heart-rate, frequent urination, and the classic caffeine peak and crash. Coffee's theobromine also causes a rise in cortisol, a stress hormone that causes serious issues with weight distribution. Cortisol causes fat around the hips and waist to resist oxidation – this means that fat in these areas refuse to be metabolised into energy. The L-threanine in matcha can lower cortisol levels, and green tea has been shown to specifically fat in these areas to be burned for energy .
Matcha contains catechins which works on hormone balance, and can also protect against long-term trans health concerns with HRT (and, well, the entire population): heart disease, depression, and dementia.
3. Tempeh for energy & New Tissues
Experiencing a shift in hormone dominance is hard work. If you went through a puberty before this medically-induced one, you might remember it as an energetic time. But remember that you had a smaller body with different nutrient requirements; this second time around, the body needs a little extra oomph of support from foods. Tempeh ticks most of the boxes of what you need to keep your energy levels up and support the creation of new tissues.
Tempeh is a fermented soy product from Indonesia, and popular in macrobiotic cooking. Like tofu, tempeh is made from whole soy beans but the different processing results in a different nutrient profile. Tempeh is super rich in complete protein and delivers 2.4g of iron per 100g. Its fermentation process produces some rare plant-based vitamin B12, and it's packed with a lesser-known but incredible nutrient called manganese. Vitamin B12 + manganese is a great recipe for two things:
1. Building new tissue
2. Producing healthy red blood cells.
Blood carries oxygen throughout the body for the production of energy -- more blood = more energy = faster physical changes. (And less risk of fatigue, mood issues, and complications)
4. Berries for Glowing, Acne-Free Skin
Sex hormones work on all tissues in the body, and some of the earliest changes in medical gender transition are seen in the skin. Oil gland production sky-rockets for a short time, hair follicles grow or shrink, the structure of the skin itself changes and is stretched in new ways as underlying tissues change shape. Nutrients can help promote these changes and keep second-puberty acne to a minimum.
Berries are rich in quercetin -- an antioxidant that has been shown to destroy the bacteria that causes acne and to reduce inflammation in the skin. This means fewer spots, and the ones that do pop up will be less red and painful. Berries are also packed with vitamin C - an essential nutrient for the synthesis of collagen that gives skin its firmness and plumpness, to support the skin adapt to long-term changes to your body and face shape.
5. Cabbage, kale & broccoli for liver support
Cruciferous vegetables (aka brassicas) help the liver to process hormones. They contain a compound called indol-3-carbinol (or I3C for short) which acts on the enzymes that metabolise estrogen. These veggies are also rich in nutrient co-factors such as sulphur which is essential for liver detoxification pathways. The balance between oestrogen and testosterone can use a little help during early HRT, especially if your liver is already having a challenging time (maybe bc of alcohol, caffeine, other medications and drugs, or infections). To give your liver some love, eat cruciferous veggies every day, but be sure to cook them -- many raw brassicas can interfere with thyroid function and seriously mess up your hormone profile.
Caution: Some anti-androgen medications are potassium-sparring diarrhetics. If you take those, you may need to reduce your intake of potassium-containing foods, such as cabbage, to avoid a toxic overload of potassium. There are plenty of cruciferous veggies that are low in potassium -- speak to your doctor or qualified nutritionist (hi!) for personalised advice.
6. Whole Grains
TThe body needs a lot of energy to grow new tissues and create new nerve connections. The liver also demands a lot of energy to process endogenous hormones and exogenous hormones (the stuff you make + the stuff you take), especially during early HRT.
B vitamins are the juice that cellular energy production and liver processes run on, but they are quickly eliminated when we're stressed (hello, uh... going through early transition). Oestrogen and anti-androgen meds further deplete B vitamins; and testosterone HRT increases your daily requirements too.
Boost your intake by opting for whole grains instead of refined flours. Brown rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat and are great sources of B vitamins -- plus they are rich in fibre and complex carbs to give you steady mood and sustained energy throughout the day.
For an extra ~nutrition hack~, eat brown rice that has been cooled and reheated -- it contains resistant starch that feeds the good gut bugs in the colon. Promoting a healthy microbiome in the gut has been linked to mood, mental health, energy, immune health, and pretty much every aspect of feeling good in your body. There's no research yet, but I'd bet my bottom dollar that body's microbiome goes through some intense changes during gender transition. You can support your happy-bugs with lots of fibre, cut out alcohol, and incorporate a little fermented food into your daily eats.
7. Wakame, Kelp & Dulse for Literally Everything
Sea vegetables are chock full of essential minerals for growth, metabolism, and hormone balance -- three key areas of a swift, balanced, and enjoyable medical gender transition. Generally speaking, brown types of sea vegetables (e.g. kelp, wakame) are richer in key nutrients like iodine than red types but adding any sea veg to your diet will boost your iodine intake so grab any that take your fancy. Sea veggies are also packed full of magnesium -- a superstar mineral that soothes the nervous system, regulates hormone balance, releases muscle tension, and supports bone health. Thanks, ocean! Add these true superfoods to your daily diet in soups, salads, and even sandwiches.