When we hear the word hormones, we often think of a woman’s estrogen and progesterone levels, and occasionally a man’s testosterone level. But there’s so much more to these naturally occurring chemicals than you may realize.
We have many different hormones that determine a state of balance or imbalance, from thyroid-stimulating hormone, which regulates the thyroid gland, to follicle-stimulating hormone, which directs ovulation in women. To achieve optimal, sustainable health and wellbeing, we need to strive for hormone health that includes the proper balance of all bodily chemicals.
Signs & Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalances
Some of the most common signs and symptoms of hormone imbalances include:
- Infertility and irregular periods
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Depression and anxiety
- Low libido
- Changes in appetite
- Digestive issues
- Hair loss or hair thinning
Symptoms of hormonal imbalances can range dramatically depending on what type of disorder or illness they cause. For example, high estrogen can contribute to problems that include endometriosis and reproductive issues, while symptoms of diabetes often include weight gain, changes in appetite, nerve damage and problems with eyesight.
Some specific problems associated with some of the most common hormonal imbalances include:
- Estrogen dominance: changes in sleep patterns, changes in weight and appetite, higher perceived stress, slowed metabolism
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome(PCOS): infertility, weight gain, higher risk for diabetes, acne, abnormal hair growth
- Low estrogen: low sex drive, reproductive problems, menstrual irregularity, changes in mood
- Hypothyroidism: slowed metabolism, weight gain, fatigue, anxiety, irritability, digestive issues, irregular periods
- Low testosterone: erectile dysfunction, muscle loss, weight gain, fatigue, mood-related problems
- Hyperthyroidism: anxiety, thinning hair, weight loss, IBS, trouble sleeping, irregular heartbeats
- Diabetes: weight gain, nerve damage (neuropathy), higher risk for vision loss, fatigue, trouble breathing, dry mouth, skin problems
- Adrenal fatigue: fatigue, muscle aches and pains, anxiety and depression, trouble sleeping, brain fog, reproductive problems
Causes of Hormonal Imbalances
Hormonal imbalances are multi-factorial disorders, meaning they are caused by a combination of factors such as your diet, medical history, genetics, stress levels and exposure to toxins from your environment. Some of the major contributors to hormonal imbalances include:
- Food allergies and gut issues: An expanding field of new research shows that your gut health plays a significant role in hormone regulation. If you have leaky gut syndrome or a lack of beneficial probiotic bacteria lining your intestinal wall, you’re more susceptible to hormonal problems, including diabetes and obesity. That’s because inflammation usually stems from your gut and then impacts nearly every aspect of your health.
- Being overweight or obese
- High levels of inflammation caused by a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle
- Genetic susceptibility
- Toxicity (exposure to pesticides, toxins, viruses, cigarettes, excessive alcohol and harmful chemicals)
- High amounts of stress, and a lack of enough sleep
Ways to Balance Hormones Naturally
Swap Carbs for Healthy Fats
Eating a variety of foods high in short, medium and long-chain fatty acids is key to keeping your hormones in check. Your body needs various types of fats to create hormones, including saturated fat and cholesterol. Not only are these essential fats fundamental building blocks for hormone production, but they keep inflammation levels low, boost your metabolism and promote weight loss. Healthy fats have the opposite effect of refined carbohydrates, which lead to inflammation and can mess with the balance of your hormones. Our top pics for healthy fats include: coconut oil, avocados, and wild-caught salmon.
Photo: Mike, The Iron You
Use Adaptogen Herbs
Adaptogen herbs are a unique class of healing plants that promote hormone balance and protect the body from a wide variety of diseases, including those caused by excess stress. In addition to boosting immune function and combating stress, research shows that various adaptogens such as ashwagandha, medicinal mushrooms, rhodiola and holy basil can:
- Improve thyroid function
- Lower cholesterol naturally
- Reduce anxiety and depression
- Reduce brain cell degeneration
- Stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels
- Support adrenal gland functions
Ashwagandha, in particular, can be extremely effective at balancing hormones. It benefits thyroid function because it promotes the scavenging of free radicals that cause cellular damage. Ashwagandha can be used to support a sluggish or overactive thyroid, and it can also help to overcome adrenal fatigue. Your adrenals can become overtaxed when you experience too much emotional, physical or mental stress, leading to the disruption of hormones like adrenaline, cortisol and progesterone.
Address Emotional Imbalances
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, internal emotions have a direct impact on a person’s health and addressing emotional imbalances, external factors and lifestyle choices can help to prevent health conditions associated with hormonal imbalances.
TCM practitioners believe that the emotions of fear cause disease in your reproductive organs, kidneys and adrenals, affecting cortisol levels.
A major component of balancing your hormones naturally is addressing any emotional imbalances that you are dealing with. You can do this by reducing stress levels, engaging in personal reflection and taking time for yourself. Practicing meditation or healing prayer can be extremely beneficial, and so can deep breathing exercises, spending time outdoors and exercising every day.
Supplement to Fill Nutritional Voids
It’s sometimes necessary to supplement in order to fill nutritional voids that can be leading to a hormone imbalance. Here are the top supplements that we recommend for your hormones:
- Evening primrose oil: Contains omega-6 fatty acids, such as LA and GLA, that support overall hormonal function. Supplementing with evening primrose oil can help to relieve premenstrual and PCOS symptoms. It also helps to create a healthy environment for conception.
- Vitamin D: Acts like a hormone inside the body and has important implications for keeping inflammation levels low. This is why people who live in dark areas often suffer from seasonal depression and other health problems unless they supplement with vitamin D. Sunshine is really the best way to optimize vitamin D levels because your bare skin actually makes vitamin D on its own when exposed to even small amounts of direct sunlight. Most people should supplement with around 2,000–5,000 IU daily of vitamin D3 if they live in dark areas, during the winter, and on days when they’re not in the sun.
- Bone broth: Soothes the digestive system and supplies the body with nutrients that can be easily absorbed. Consuming bone broth or protein powder made from bone broth is especially beneficial to your health because it contains healing compounds like collagen, proline, glycine and glutamine, which have the powder to boost your overall health.
- Probiotics: Aid in repairing your gut lining, which in turn can balance your hormones. When undigested food particles, like gluten for example, leak through your gut into your bloodstream, it causes disease-causing inflammation that impacts the entire body — especially glands like the thyroid that is very susceptible to heightened inflammation. Most people with leaky gut have an a deficiency of probiotics in their guts.
Get More Sleep
Unless you get 7–8 hours of sleep every night, you’re doing your body no favors. A lack of sleep or disturbing your natural circadian rhythm can be one of the worst habits contributing to a hormone imbalance. How so? Because your hormones work on a schedule! Cortisol, the primary “stress hormone,” is regulated at midnight. Therefore, people who go to bed late never truly get a break from their sympathetic flight/fight stress response.
Sleep helps keep stress hormones balanced, builds energy and allows the body to recover properly. Excessive stress and poor sleep are linked with higher levels of morning cortisol, decreased immunity, trouble with work performance, and a higher susceptibility to anxiety, weight gain and depression.
Top Hormone Balancing Foods
Foods high in omega-3
As previously discussed, healthy fat is one of the most important nutrients for hormonal balance. Hormones are produced by cholesterol, which is found in fat. If you eat too little fat, hormone production will suffer, especially the production of the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone. Examples of foods containing healthy fats:
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
- Salmon, and other fatty fish like herring and mackerel (preferably wild-caught)
- Coconut oil
Most processes in the body depend on proteins. The brain, for example, requires a certain level of amino acids to create neurotransmitters. Too little of the amino acids tyrosine and tryptophan, for example, leads to decreased levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenalin, which can bring on symptoms like nervousness, anxiety, sleeping problems, and brain fog. Feeling stressed causes an imbalance of your female hormones. Examples of foods rich in protein:
- Organic and hormone-free meat, chicken, eggs
- Seaweed; Here are some easy ways to incorporate seaweed into your diet.
- Chickpeas, hemp seeds, and almond milk
Magnesium, zinc, selenium, and iron are examples of minerals that are important in the production of neurotransmitters and hormones. Magnesium is the second most lacking mineral in the Western diet—only a deficiency in vitamin D is more common. Magnesium, also called the “anti-stress mineral,” and has a calming effect on your body. It relaxes nerves and muscles, improves sleep, and diminishes the effects of stress, promoting hormonal balance. Examples of magnesium-rich foods are:
- Leafy greens
- Nuts and seeds
- Cacao Powder or Nibs
Foods high in B vitamins
B vitamins are important for both your mental and emotional well-being. They can’t be stored in the body, which means you must take B vitamins daily through your diet to improve brain function. Stress leads to an increased need for B vitamins. Alcohol, contraceptive pills, sugar, nicotine, and caffeine impair their absorption, so it isn’t hard to understand why so many of us are lacking in these vitamins. Common symptoms of vitamin-B deficiency are depression, anxiety, irritability, and heightened PMS.
Good sources of B vitamins are:
- Organic, grass-fed meat
- Milk, cheese, and eggs (look for pastured, like Vital Farms), and liver
Good gut bacteria enable the digestive system to break down food to absorb its nutrients. The healthy bacteria also play a vital role in regulating your hormones (especially estrogen). They help your body get rid of waste products from estrogen once it has been used. Naturally occurring estrogen, as well as any estrogen you have ingested via contraceptive pills or hormone replacement, must be broken down in the liver, moved out through the gallbladder to the small intestine and on to the colon, and out in the feces. To ingest healthy, active bacteria via your diet, you need to eat fermented foods like:
- Pickled cucumbers
- Gut shots or probiotic chips (a favorite from Farmhouse Culture)
- Yogurt and kefir
Lack of vitamin D can cause mood swings and depression. Although most vitamin D is produced by sun exposure, vitamin D can also be found in some foods. Food sources of vitamin D are:
- Organic meat and eggs
- Fatty fish
- Vitamin-D-fortified dairy products
Inflammation is one of the major contributors to many diseases, especially cardiovascular disease, stroke, dementia, and diabetes. However, inflammation can also cause imbalances in your hormones and neurotransmitters. Common causes of inflammation are sugar, genetically modified foods, food allergies, parasites, and toxins. Examples of anti-inflammatory foods are:
- Salmon and other fatty fish like herring and mackerel (preferably wild-caught)
- Garlic, turmeric, and ginger
Simple, fast-acting carbohydrates (in foods that are loaded with sugar, corn syrup, fruit juices, alcohol, and refined wheat flour) are quickly converted to glucose, which rushes out into the blood and spikes the blood sugar. This will trigger the pancreas to excrete insulin to bring the blood sugar level down to normal. Insulin will in turn block estrogen receptors, making it more difficult for estrogen to enter your cells. Therefore, you can end up with low estrogen causing mood changes, night sweats, and hot flashes. Therefore, minimize the intake of fast-acting carbohydrates and replace them with foods high in fiber to keep your blood sugar nice and balanced. Examples of blood-sugar-balancing foods are:
- Fiber-rich vegetables
AND…. that’s a wrap! Certainly a guide and perhaps even a ‘bible’ if you will, but we hope we were able to educate and inspire you to dig a little deeper into your hormone health. As always, please share your thoughts, suggestions or comments with us!
The Blendtopia Team