Hormones have profound effects on your mental, physical and emotional health. These chemical messengers play a major role in controlling your appetite, weight and mood, among other things, but many people overlook hormonal issues when evaluating why they suffer from various health issues, and they tend to forget that hormones play a key role.
When the delicate balance between all these hormones gets lost due to aging, exposure to environmental toxins, illness or severe stress, physical symptoms begin to disrupt daily life activities.
Hormone imbalances more specifically can be due to issues related to adrenals, thyroid, gut, liver, diet and other lifestyle related factors. They can result in a plethora of issues in the body like anxiety, depression, mood swings, weight gain, hair fall, acne, insomnia, fatigue, energy loss, digestion issues and blood sugar imbalance.
A healthy diet is the foundation of balancing hormones naturally. Hence, consuming a nutrient dense diet which is a perfect combination of carbohydrates, proteins and good fats becomes essential. Those suspecting their body chemistry may have lost its hormonal groove can often find relief from making dietary changes that promote hormone health.
WHAT IS THE ENDOCRINE SYSTEM?
Several glands make up the human endocrine system, from the pituitary gland in the brain, to female ovaries and male testes. They’re responsible for almost every cell, organ, and function in your body.
The hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and pineal gland are in your brain. The thyroid and parathyroid glands are in your neck. The thymus is between your lungs, the adrenals are on top of your kidneys, and the pancreas is behind your stomach. Your ovaries (if you're a woman) or testes (if you're a man) are in your pelvic region.
The endocrine system regulates all biological processes in the body from conception through adulthood and into old age, including the development of the brain and nervous system, the growth and function of the reproductive system, as well as the metabolism and blood sugar levels. When the glands do not produce the right amount of hormones, diseases develop that can affect many aspects of life.
As you get older, it's natural to notice some things related to your endocrine system. Your metabolism tends to slow down and you might gain weight even though you haven't changed how you eat or exercise. Hormonal shifts also explain, at least in part, why you're more likely to have heart disease, osteoporosis, and type 2 diabetes as you age.
No matter how old you are, stress, infections, and being around certain chemicals can also mess with parts of your endocrine system. And genetics or lifestyle habits can increase your chances of an endocrine disorder like hypothyroidism, or osteoporosis.
Unbalanced reproductive hormones often result in polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) in women, a disorder that causes pain, weight fluctuations and lowered fertility levels among other very disrupting symptoms. In men, low testosterone levels can likewise impact their reproductive function and energy.
Thyroid disorders in both men and women impact metabolism. Too little thyroid hormone results in low energy, dry skin, and weight gain, while too many results in unexpected weight loss, acne, and bulging eyes.
SIGNS OR SYMPTOMS THAT YOU ARE SUFFERING FROM HORMONAL IMBALANCE
When you have a hormonal imbalance, you have too much or too little of a certain hormone. Even tiny changes can have serious effects throughout your whole body.
Think of hormones like a very fine and complicated cake recipe. Too much or too little of any one ingredient can disastrously affect the final product.
While some hormone levels fluctuate throughout your lifetime and may just be the result of natural aging, other changes occur when your endocrine glands get the recipe wrong. Your signs or symptoms will depend on which hormones or glands aren’t working properly.
Common hormonal conditions affecting both men and women could cause any of the following signs or symptoms:
- weight gain
- a hump of fat between the shoulders
- unexplained, and sometimes sudden, weight loss
- muscle weakness
- muscle aches, tenderness, and stiffness
- pain, stiffness, or swelling in your joints
- increased or decreased heart rate
- excessive sweating
- increased sensitivity to cold or heat
- constipation or more frequent bowel movements
- frequent urination
- increased thirst
- increased hunger
- decreased sex drive
- nervousness, anxiety, or irritability
- blurred vision
- heavy or irregular periods, including missed periods, a stopped period, or a frequent period
- thinning hair or fine, brittle hair
- darkening of the skin
- dry skin
- puffy face
- rounded face
- purple or pink stretch marks
Keep in mind that these symptoms are non-specific and the list is non-exhaustive, and having them doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a hormonal imbalance.
There’s no single test available for doctors to diagnose a hormonal imbalance. Begin by making an appointment with your doctor for a physical exam.
Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may suggest one or more diagnostic tests.
Along with consulting your doctor, a nutritious diet and other healthy lifestyle behaviors may help improve your hormonal health and allow you to feel and perform better.
FOOD AS MEDICINE
Some ways you can balance your hormones are by taking supplements, meditating or practicing yoga to reduce stress, and resistance training like Pilates and weight training to help release hormones in optimum levels. And of course, don't forget to get more sleep.
There's also eating the right foods to promote balance. Food as medicine is the foundation of balancing hormones naturally. Hence, consuming a nutrient dense diet which is a perfect combination of carbohydrates, proteins and good fats becomes essential.
Keep in mind that hormones didn’t fall out of balance overnight, so these dietary changes may take a while to reach maximum effectiveness. The secret is consistency.
1. HEALTHY FATS
For optimal hormonal functioning, your body needs the right amount of good fats as hormones thrive on fat production. Adding healthy polyunsaturated fats to your diet, such as omega-3 and omega-6 may help reduce your appetite and decrease your risk of obesity. Fatty acids signal the production of leptin, a hormone that reduces appetite by suppressing the area of the brain that controls our appetite and signals to us it’s time to eat. Without adequate healthy fats in your diet, you’re more likely to have low leptin levels, which can induce overeating and an inability to feel satiated.
Fatty Fish: Fish like salmon and mackerel contain a powerhouse of omega-3s for slowing cortisol production resulting from long-term stress. One study demonstrated that men who consumed omega-3-rich foods for three weeks performed better on a mental stress test than those who refrained. Fish also helps women manage PCOS symptoms, and omega fatty acids can help boost fertility in women.
Coconut Oil: It contains lauric acid and MCT which is extremely beneficial for hormonal production and promotes weight loss. It also provides a quick source of energy and speeds up metabolism.
Homemade white butter\Ghee: They provide a rich source of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K2. You can also opt for plant based healthy fats like avocado oil and olive oil. These are considered as the building blocks for hormonal production.
Eggs: They're rich in countless vitamins and minerals including A, D, E, Calcium, Iron and Selenium. They all help in naturally balancing hormone levels and having a healthy skin. While eggs have historically had a bad rap, more studies have shown they’re actually good for you. Yes, eggs have cholesterol, but it turns out they have almost no effect on your blood cholesterol levels. In fact, cholesterol is required for making all hormones, including progesterone and estrogen.
Plus, the protein in eggs can help lower levels of ghrelin and insulin, the hormones that affect hunger. When choosing the type of eggs to eat, it’s best to buy organic, free-range, pasture-raised eggs.
Nuts: Unsalted Brazilian nuts, Macadamia and Walnut are rich in Omega 3. The anti-inflammatory effects of Omega 3s contribute to hormone balance.
Olive Oil: This healthy oil provides the type of unsaturated fat fantastic for overall hormone health. Think of olive oil as a sort of catalyst that helps the body convert nutrients into a usable form.
Flax seeds are terrific for its estrogen balancing effect because they contain lignans, polyphenols, and phytoestrogen, a plant-sourced xenoestrogen. They’re also great in smoothies, or you can use them in place of breadcrumbs for a gluten-free breading on fish or chicken. There's also pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds. These seeds are high in zinc and selenium and they support the thyroid gland. You can add these seed powders to your daily meals to let them do the trick.
Consuming an adequate amount of protein is extremely important. Dietary protein provides essential amino acids that your body can’t make on its own and must be consumed every day in order to maintain muscle, bone and skin health.
In addition, protein influences the release of hormones that control appetite and food intake. Research has shown that eating protein decreases levels of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin and stimulates the production of hormones that help you feel full, including PYY and GLP-1.
By nourishing the endocrine system with hormone-happy foods, both men and women can lose weight, increase their energy and improve their sexual health.
Fiber, especially the soluble type, is an important component of a healthy diet. Fiber is a blanket term that applies to any type of carbohydrate that your body can’t digest. Studies have found that it increases insulin sensitivity and stimulates the production of hormones that make you feel full and satisfied. To protect against insulin resistance and overeating, make sure to add fiber-rich foods to your daily routine:
- pears, strawberries, apples, raspberries, bananas
- carrots, beets, avocados, broccoli, artichoke, brussel sprouts, lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, spinach, kale, bell peppers
- oats, quinoa, chia seeds, almonds, brown rice
Taking a probiotic can help balance your gut microbiome and the amount of “good” versus “bad” bacteria that lives in your system. The greater the “good” bacteria, the easier it is on your digestive system to process food. An improper digestive system and inflammation will lead to hormonal imbalances hence it becomes very important to take care of the gut.
Research has shown that estrogen-related imbalances might be able to be reversed with probiotic supplementation by restoring the set of bacteria known as estrobolome, which is responsible for metabolizing estrogen. Probiotics can also lessen the impact chronic stressors may have on the hypothalamic pituitary axis (our stress response system), which is why probiotics are starting to be considered a form of treatment for those dealing with depression and anxiety. Fermented foods, which also contain live bacteria, can also aid in the regulation of gut bacteria.
6. AVOID SUGARS AND REFINED CARBS
Sugar and refined carbs have been linked to a number of health problems, so avoiding or minimizing these foods may be helpful in optimizing hormone function and avoiding obesity, diabetes and other diseases.
Studies have consistently shown that fructose can increase insulin levels and promote insulin resistance, especially in overweight and obese people with prediabetes or diabetes. By contrast, following a low -or moderate- carb diet based on whole foods may reduce insulin levels in overweight and obese people with prediabetes and other insulin-resistant conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
7. GET CONSISTENT, HIGH-QUALITY SLEEP
No matter how nutritious your diet is, your health will suffer if you don’t get enough restorative sleep.
Poor quality sleep has been linked to imbalances of many hormones, including insulin, cortisol, leptin, ghrelin and growth hormone. Moreover, it’s not only the quantity of sleep you get that matters. Quality of sleep is also important.
Your brain needs uninterrupted sleep that allows it to go through all five stages of each sleep cycle. This is especially important for the release of growth hormone, which occurs mainly at night during deep sleep.
To maintain optimal hormonal balance, aim for at least seven hours of high-quality sleep.
Following a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep and keeping stress levels low are crucial to maintaining your hormones in balance. And don't forget to exercise regularly. Exercise, meditation, sleep and eating healthy will help boost your norepinephrine and serotonin levels.