Hormonal health is all over TikTok, and its latest obsession is far cheaper and simpler than usual. The question is: does it work?
Fifteen years ago, the thought of turning to social media to diagnose a medical condition would have seemed ludicrous. Yet, in 2023, sites like TikTok have become a doctor’s waiting room of sorts – a place for people to drop in and find others with similar symptoms and shared conditions. From chronic acne to eczema, hair loss and thyroid dysfunction (to name a very select few), there’s an abundance of online communities to scroll through when looking for support.
One area, hormone health, has seen a tremendous surge in popularity, with fresh videos about balanced and imbalanced hormones flooding TikTok each day.
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A substrate of #healthtok, this hormone-focused branch of TikTok spans everything from dealing with hormonal conditions such as PCOS and endometriosis to living with oestrogen dominance and otherwise undiagnosed hormonal concerns. If you have a hormonal issue, you will find plenty of others experiencing similar symptoms and issues.
A few key techniques have pushed through the hormonal cacophony, including cycle syncing (exercising and eating in specific ways depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle) and the anti-HIIT movement (high impact = high stress).
For the past couple of months, however, one trend has dominated:a single-ingredient ‘hormone-balancing’ salad that “women should be eating every day”. Meet the raw carrot salad.
Over the last few months, this ‘salad’ – a bowl of shredded carrots – has exploded in popularity with women claiming that eating it daily has helped remedy the symptoms of imbalanced oestrogen levels, including acne, bloating, breast tenderness and more.
And, while there are qualified voices sharing expert advice in these groups, much of the information distributed is highly anecdotal. Obviously, your best bet for proper medical advice is to see your GP who’ll be able to refer you for tests, but what’s the truth behind this TikTok trend? Can carrots really help to flush oestrogen from the body, alleviating ailments associated with PMS? Or is their effect being overstated in the pursuit of online virality? Let’s dig into it.
What is oestrogen?
“Hormones are essential chemicals in the body that regulate a whole host of different processes,” explains Dr Charlotte Norton, co-founder of the at-home hormone clinic, BioID Health. “They impact our fertility, menstrual cycle and mood. When we see an imbalance of any hormone, that’s when we notice an impact.
“Oestrogen, like all hormones, is a chemical messenger. It’s one of the main female sex hormones and tells your body when to start and stop processes affecting your sexual and reproductive health. It also plays an important role in puberty, menstrual cycles and pregnancy.”
What role does oestrogen carry out in the body?
“Oestrogen is one of the most commonly known and essential hormones in the human body,” explains Dr Asha Chhaya,a specialist in integrative women’s health and bioidentical hormone balancing for the Marion Gluck Clinic.
While oestrogen has long been associated with playing a crucial role in the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, perimenopause and menopause, it also helps to regulate:
- Heart health
- Bone density
- Skin health
“It waxes and wanes throughout the menstrual cycle and levels gradually decrease as we age, which is why women find themselves suffering from a myriad of symptoms as they enter menopause,” says Dr Chhaya.
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Symptoms of oestrogen imbalance
“Too much or too little of anything is never a good thing,” explains Dr Chhaya.
Excess oestrogen, commonly referred to as ‘oestrogen dominance’, can manifest itself as:
- Irregular periods
- Breast tenderness
- Weight gain
“It may be a contributing factor in conditions such as endometriosis, PCOS, fibroids and thyroid imbalances,” explains Dr Chhaya.
Too little oestrogen can lead to:
- Irregular periods
- Fertility issues
- Low bone density
- Hot flushes
- Dry skin
- Vaginal dryness
“It is worth noting that not everyone who has too much or too little oestrogen will present with the same symptoms and often these symptoms may overlap, which is why it is recommended to speak with a hormone specialist should you feel that a hormone imbalance is at play.”
The exact number of people in the UK living with excess oestrogen is unknown, especially as many will be undiagnosed or unaware. According to Dr Chhaya, however, the number of patients she sees presenting with oestrogen dominance would indicate a “modern-day epidemic” and is likely far more common than we think. Having said that, the only way to be sure of an oestrogen imbalance is to be tested.
How do you test for a hormonal imbalance?
If, like me, you spend a sizeable portion of your day scrolling through made-for-you algorithms, it can be easy to unknowingly get stuck in an echo chamber, where it seems that everyone has [insert condition] and therefore you probably have it too.
However, no two people are the same and symptoms may not present in the same way. Dr Chhaya recommends comprehensive testing before embarking on any ‘hormone balancing’ protocol, not least to ensure you are, in fact, having the desired effect on your body.
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“It is very easy to look at a set of symptoms and think that you fit within that category, but without proper testing and advice, you could end up causing more harm than good,” she says. “At the Marion Gluck Clinic, if we suspect oestrogen dominance, we usually refer our patients for a blood test to assess hormone levels.
“We may also recommend a DUTCH (Dried Urine Test for Comprehensive Hormones) test, which is a comprehensive hormone analysis done via a urine sample which is brilliant to not only investigate if an individual has high levels of oestrogen but also to see how oestrogen is being metabolised within their body, which is just as important to know.”
Will eating carrots help to ‘flush’ or eliminate excess oestrogen from the body?
The viral carrot salad, said to help eliminate oestrogen by binding excess quantities to a specific fibre that is then excreted, may play a role in helping to keep hormones balanced, but it isn’t the full picture.
Dr Chhaya confirms that certain foods really can “help to support oestrogen metabolism (in people with established oestrogen dominance), for example, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and flax seeds”. However, she has her doubts that eating raw carrot salads will help regulate your hormones.
“Although fibre is very beneficial when it comes to oestrogen dominance, it is not enough alone to treat oestrogen dominance.
“It’s always best to consult with a hormone specialist before embarking on any dietary changes in relation to hormonal imbalances because no two people are the same and each person requires a plan that is tailored to their individual hormone profile and needs.”
What role does gut health play in flushing out excess oestrogen?
From mood to skin health, the role your gut plays in your overall wellness cannot be overstated. A ‘neural network’ that transmits vital messages to the brain via bacteria, the gut is responsible for creating the happiness hormone (serotonin), as well as basic processes such as memory. (If you need a refresh, this guide to gut health unpicks it more.)
“As much of our used oestrogen is excreted through the gut, it is important to eat foods that support your overall gut health,” recommends registered nutritional therapist, gut and women’s health specialist Alli Godbold. “Eating plenty of plant foods will provide essential fibre, and including fermented foods will also help to encourage a healthy gut microbiome. Fermented foods include natural yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut and kimchi pickles.
“Dark-skinned berries, beetroot and eggs also provide valuable nutrients for oestrogen metabolism in the liver.”
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What other habits can help eliminate excess oestrogen?
A holistic approach to our health will always reap the greatest rewards. Instead of focusing solely on one area, looking at how each interlinks and supports the other is how we build healthy, sustainable habits and systems. With that in mind, here are a few more ways to help your body efficiently metabolise excess oestrogen.
“There have been some studies that have suggested that aerobic exercise (walking, swimming, cycling, for example) can help to reduce excess oestrogen levels as it helps the body to break oestrogen down,” says Dr Norton.
“The liver is responsible for clearing and flushing out toxins from the body, including excess oestrogen. Therefore it stands to reason that a diet high in antioxidants can help the liver to act efficiently,” Dr Norton continues.
Antioxidants in foods are powerful compounds that mitigate damage (oxidative stress) caused by free radicals associated with fast or commercial fried food. A diet rich in antioxidants may include fruits and vegetables such as cauliflower, carrots, sweet potato, pumpkin, tomatoes, watermelon, beetroot and blueberries.
“Additionally, alcohol triggers stress responses in the adrenal gland. These stress responses lead to an overproduction of cortisol which contributes to lowered progesterone. Lower progesterone levels lead to oestrogen dominance,” continues Dr Norton.
“Vitamin B6 and magnesium have also been shown to help balance hormone functionality and improve symptoms of PMS,” adds Dr Norton.
Can we really solely focus on food to balance hormones?
“The limitations of relying on nutrition to balance hormones would be that we don’t really know what’s going on within the body to be able to balance them in the first place. I would recommend anyone who thinks that they may be experiencing a hormonal imbalance see their doctor or book in for a hormone test. BioID Health offers a very simple hormone mapping treatment – all carried out from the comfort of your own home,” says Dr Norton.
The BioID Health hormone mapping treatment provides a full blood count and biochemistry (including liver function, kidney function, a full cholesterol and lipid profile and calcium levels), an advanced thyroid check, adrenal hormone function tests, sex hormone assessment and vitamin level assessment.
What other non-food related habits are important for healthy hormones?
Forgive me if what I say next sounds like a persistent drum banging: your health is an ecosystem and caring for multiple parts of it will help you remain in balance overall. Unless advised by a medical professional, going all in on one area is never the answer. The following suggestions are just as important as what’s on your plate.
“The endocrine system is a system of glands that make the hormones that allow cells to talk to each other,” explains Dr Norton. “They’re responsible for virtually every cell, organ and function in the body. While a hormonal imbalance may be to blame for lack of sleep, not sleeping can also cause hormones to become imbalanced too. Sleep is important for hormones to function effectively, as many are dependent on the sleep-wake cycle,” says Dr Norton.
If establishing a healthy sleep schedule is something you struggle with, focus on sleep regularity and try not to stress too much about quality – to begin with anyway. Once you find yourself in a regular rhythm, the quality of your sleep should catch up.
“Our bodies respond to stress with a fight-or-flight reaction. In this case, the stress response causes the body to release several stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline (or epinephrine) into the bloodstream. These hormones do a number of things; they increase concentration, as well as improve your ability to react to things and your strength. Your heart rate and blood pressure increase too and your immune system and memory are sharper. After you’ve dealt with this short-term stress the body, and hormone levels, usually return to normal,” says Dr Norton.
Unsurprisingly though, sustained stress doesn’t do your hormones any favours.
“For some people, though, if the hormone levels don’t naturally return to normal, a hormone imbalance can occur. Again, this can be addressed with bio-identical hormones after a full hormone test.”
Will the viral carrot salad heal hormonal imbalances?
TikTok can claim responsibility for a number of things and, if alerting you to a potential hormonal imbalance or associated symptoms is one of them, then that’s fantastic.
However, trying to overhaul your life or adopt multiple new habits in a short period of time will likely lead to a meltdown. Instead, look at what you can add to your routine – perhaps an earlier bedtime, a dedicated phone-free period before bed and, after waking, a more versatile weekly vegetable intake or, indeed, a carrot salad – and build from there. No one habit in isolation will be the answer to your issues.
“My philosophy is to keep it simple,” says Dr Chhaya. “It really doesn’t need to be anything overly complicated, just ensure that you are looking after yourself in the best way you can. If you feel you need more support and advice on these factors, it is definitely worth reaching out to a hormone specialist who can help guide you.”
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