There’s no way to talk about hormonal acne without menstruation. You know, Aunt Flow, moon time, that time of the month. If you’re reading this, you may groan at the thought of PMS. Uncomfortable cramps, bloating, back pain, acne—ugh. The truth is, these symptoms are just signals from your body that something internally is out of whack. Thankfully we have genius women like Alisa Vitti, functional nutritionist and author of one of the Top 50 bestselling women’s health books, Women Code, who have made it their life goal to rid the world of PMS! What a badass.
How can you tell if what you’re experiencing is hormonal acne? You may notice blemishes pop up on your jawline and chin the week before your period or mid-cycle during ovulation due to high levels of estrogen and testosterone, explains Alisa. To help get to the bottom of some fundamental imbalances that lead to PMS, here’s a guide of (really yummy) seasonal foods that can help realign your hormones and ease hormonal acne. Eating seasonally ensures you consume fresh, local, and nutrient dense produce helpful for nourishing your body this winter. Keep in mind there are many factors that contribute to hormonal imbalance (from sleep habits to stress, to environmental toxins) so it may take a combination of remedies. Food is just one!
1. Legumes to balance blood sugar
Problem: Ready for the cold hard truth about carbs? In the body, they turn into sugar. And we know sugar is a big offender when it comes to clear skin. “Not one woman who works with me to resolve her PMS, cramps, low libido, PCOS, or infertility starts out with stabilized blood sugar,” writes Alisa. True, our bodies need a certain amount of glucose as fuel, but without being mindful, it’s likely we’re over-consuming.
Here’s how it works: After munching on a baked potato or bowl of pasta, your body produces insulin to push glucose into cells for fuel. Too much glucose creates too much insulin. But the body doesn’t know to get rid of the extra. It wants to store glucose for later, so it holds onto both compounds sending blood sugar levels up up up then down down down. Too much of this roller coaster can put a wrench in ovulation and all the healthy hormones it stimulates, like progesterone. And when there’s not enough progesterone to level out estrogen, it skyrockets causing what Alisa calls “Estrogen Dominance,” which can lead to hormonal acne. Woosh. Did you get all that?
Solution: Add legumes to your diet (think lentils and beans) to stabilize blood sugar. They are rich in fiber and low on the glycemic index, meaning they steadily increase blood sugar levels leaving you with lasting energy. But don’t worry, you don’t have to give up all carbs. A recent study done by the University of Guelph found subjects who substituted half a serving of starch, like potatoes or rice, with lentils showed at positive 35% drop in high blood sugar levels.
Cooking inspiration: We love lentils in slow cooker soups, Buddha bowls, or mashed up into hummus.
2. Root vegetables to unclog a congested liver
Problem: Time to get personal. How are your ~movements? Less than two times a day? In combination with hormonal acne, this points to a congested liver. “After all, your liver is responsible for breaking down the excess hormones in your bloodstream, and your digestive tract is how those hormones get eliminated from your body,” writes Alisa.
Here’s how it works: Our liver’s main job is to filter toxins from the blood before it gets sent to the rest of the body. That includes excess estrogen, which is easy to accumulate via the environment, pesticides, and toxic skincare products. If the liver gets overwhelmed by the amount of work it has to do it starts to slow down. Then toxins and estrogen build up in the bloodstream affecting the delicate endocrine system and show up as skin irritation.
Solution: On Alisa’s genius cycle-syncing app, Flo Living (seriously, go check it out), she highlights lifestyle solutions for specific PMS issues. My personal favorite is adding well-oiled root vegetables like beets, carrots, parsnip, and sweet potato to my diet, especially the week before menstruation. They are rich in vitamin A and when dressed with healthy seed fats, like sunflower seed oil, assist the liver process and eliminate excess estrogen.
Cooking inspiration: I love a combination of root vegetables simply chopped, baked, and drizzled with sunflower or flaxseed oil. I’ve also seen friends peel them for noodles or puree them into soups!
3. Swiss Chard to boost magnesium levels
Problem: Magnesium deficiency. “I’ve never met a woman who doesn’t need to boost her magnesium levels,” writes Alisa. “It’s very easy to become deficient in this vital mineral and the symptoms often manifest as period problems and hormonal health issues.” Ding ding! Hormonal acne.
Here’s how it works: According to Alisa, magnesium plays a big part in the production of hormones via the pituitary gland, which signals other glands to get to work. The mineral regulates cortisol (stress hormones), balances blood sugar, supports the thyroid, and creates progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone. So you can see how low levels could cause PMS symptoms.
Solution: Eat Swiss chard to boost magnesium levels. This leafy winter crop has about 29 mg of magnesium per cup, which means three cups is almost ⅓ of The Recommended Daily amount for women (310 mg). Bonus: Magnesium is shown to reduce cramps.
Cooking inspiration: We love cooking Swiss chard with eggs, wilting it into pasta dishes, and stir-frying with bacon. Since it cooks down so much, it’s easy to get even more than three cups in a day during your luteal phase. But if you don’t love this green, try soaking for 30 minutes in a warm salt bath. We love magnesium flakes from Ancient Minerals. Epsom salt works well too!
4. Kimchi to strengthen the gut
Problem: Not enough good bugs in your gut. “Your microbiome is the main player in regulating your hormones, especially your estrogen levels,” writes Alisa. “Estrogen-dominance as a result of a poorly functioning microbiome can contribute to all the different symptoms of hormone imbalance, including infertility, PMS, low libido, cramps, heavy bleeding, and PCOS.”
Here’s how it works: You may have heard of having a “healthy gut” but what does that really mean and how will it reduce hormonal acne? Having a healthy gut means there are more good bacteria than bad bacteria lining the walls of your intestines and gut. “Most significantly, when it comes to hormones, an under-functioning bacterial ecosystem caused by bad diet, exposure to chemicals, chronic stress, and micronutrient deficiency, will suppress the good bacteria, promote the bad bacteria, and lead to a toxic build up of hormones as well as other signs of systemic inflammation,” explains Alisa. Fostering this balance can equal smooth digestion, nutrient absorption, energy production, hormone balance, even overall immune health.
Solution: Add some good bacteria and increase diversity with probiotics found in fermented foods. They have cultures that help your gut break down food and hormones while boosting overall health. They are also better than simple probiotic pills since they naturally contain prebiotics, an important source of food that helps probiotics thrive. If you're new to fermented foods start with a spoonful each day and work your way up to about ½ cup daily.
Cooking inspiration: Did you know October through November is pickling season in Korea? You know, the OGs of kimchi (fermented napa cabbage). This is the perfect excuse to hit up Korean BBQ with your squad. Or you can simply pick up some fermented vegetables at your local grocery store. Hell, even DIY if you’re feeling saucy! If kimchi isn't your thing, try fermented pickles, yogurt, or kombucha.