It’s easy to overlook the role hormones play in our health and wellbeing. Yet hormonal imbalances affect millions of people worldwide, in the forms of common conditions like diabetes, thyroid disorders, menstrual irregularities, infertility, low testosterone and estrogen dominance.
What are they?
Hormones are special chemical messengers that are produced in the endocrine glands. They control all our bodily functions, from hunger, to reproduction – and even our emotions and mood. Understanding how they work will help you take control of your health and avoid common side effects of hormonal imbalance like weight gain, poor libido, depression and premature aging.
It’s all linked
Hormones are secreted by various glands and organs throughout your body; including your thyroid, adrenals, pituitary, ovaries, testicles and pancreas. The endocrine system works interactively to control circulating levels of hormones. If one hormone is even slightly out of balance it can cause major health problems in another area of your body.
Hormonal imbalances are typically treated with synthetic hormones replacement therapies (HRT), birth control pills, insulin injections, thyroid medications and more. Unfortunately, relying on unnatural, synthetic treatments can have the following negative effects:
- It makes you dependent on taking drugs for the rest of your life.
- It simply masks the symptoms. It doesn’t solve the underlying issue.
- It can increase the risk of side effects such as a stroke, osteoporosis, cancer, depression and more.
As a nutritionist, I’m used to treating people with hormonal imbalances. Signs and symptoms can range drastically depending on what type of disorder they cause. Here’s a brief guide to help you identify what specific hormonal imbalance your symptoms might be linked to and help you solve the problem without resorting to synthetic treatments.
Common hormonal imbalances
- Estrogen Dominance: changes in sleep patterns, changes in weight and appetite, higher 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, mood-related problems.
- Hyperthyroidism (Graves’ Disease): anxiety, hair thinning, weight loss, IBS, trouble sleeping, irregular heartbeat.
- Diabetes: weight gain, nerve damage (neuropathy), vision loss, fatigue, trouble breathing, skin problems.
- Adrenal fatigue: fatigue, muscle aches and pains, anxiety and depression, trouble sleeping, brain fog, reproductive problems.
What causes hormonal imbalances?
A combination of factors come into play – diet, medical history, genetics, stress and exposure to environmental toxins. Here’s a breakdown:
- Food allergies and poor gut health: Gut health plays a significant role in regulating hormones. Conditions such as “leaky gut” and “dysbiosis” (an imbalance in gut bacteria) cause inflammation from the gut to spread to other parts of the body.
- Being overweight: Increases levels of the storage hormone insulin and reduces levels of the satiety hormone leptin. High levels of insulin make it a lot harder to absorb nutrients and to control body fat and low levels of leptin result in food cravings, high insulin and inflammation.
- Poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle: increases inflammation in the body, which has an adverse effect on hormones.
- Genetic susceptibility: Yes, genes do play a role – but they are greatly influenced by your diet and lifestyle.
- Toxic exposure: pesticides, toxins, viruses, cigarettes, excessive alcohol and harmful chemicals negatively affect your thyroid and reproductive hormones.
- High stress (and lack of enough sleep and rest) result in elevated cortisol levels, adrenal fatigue, high ghrelin levels (the hunger hormone) and higher levels of the appetite stimulating hormone neuropeptide Y (NPY)
10 Ways to naturally help balance your hormones
- Eat healthy fats: Your body needs various types of fats to create hormones, including saturated fat and cholesterol. They are the fundamental building blocks for hormone production and help reduce inflammation, boost your metabolism and promote weight loss. Good sources are: coconut oil, avocados, nuts, seeds and oily fish.
- Supplement with Adaptogens. These plant compounds promote hormone balance, improve immune function and protect the body from the negative effects of excess stress. My favorites are maca powder (easy to add to a smoothie)and rhodiola (great support for the adrenals).
- Balance your omegas: These days we tend to eat too many omega 6 fatty acids and not enough omega 3s. Elevated omega 6 levels promote inflammatory conditions such acne, eczema, heart disease and cancer. Omega 3s help reduce inflammation, are vital for cell to cell communication and are vital for proper hormone health. Avoid vegetable oils high in omega 6 fats (safflower, corn, canola, soybean and peanut) and increase foods that are high in omega 3s (wild fish, flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts and grass-fed animal products). Supplement omega 3s and GLA (gamma linoleic acid), which helps support healthy progesterone levels.
- Improve your gut health: Conditions such as “leaky gut” or intestinal permeability compromise your digestion and contribute to hormonal issues. Leaky gut is a condition where partially digested food particles “leak” through the intestinal wall and trigger immune reactions and inflammation that affect your entire body, especially sensitive glands like the thyroid. Probiotics can help improve the bacterial balance in the gut. They can also improve your production and regulation of key hormones like insulin, ghrelin and leptin. Avoid foods that damage your digestive tract including: processed foods, gluten, hydrogenated oils and added sugar. Include foods that support intestinal healing like kombucha, fermented vegetables, and high-fiber foods like vegetables and sprouted seeds. Supplements and probiotics can aid in repairing your gut lining, which in turn helps balance your hormones.
- Eliminate Toxic Products: Avoid conventional body care products that are made with potentially-harmful chemicals including parabens, propylene glycol and sodium lauryl sulfate. Use natural products made with ingredients like essential oils, coconut oil, shea butter and castor oil. Another wise precaution is to switch from non-stick pans to stainless steel, ceramic or cast iron.
- Exercise: Exercise in general is great for balancing hormones because it reduces inflammation, can help you maintain a healthy weight, lowers stress, helps regulate your appetite and improves sleep.
- Reduce Stress & Get More Sleep: Lack of sleep is one of the worst things for hormone imbalance because all hormones work on a schedule! 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. To maximize hormone function, ideally try to get to bed by 10 pm and stick with a regular sleep-wake-cycle as much as possible.
- Watch Your Caffeine & Alcohol Intake: Moderate amounts of caffeine are okay for most people, but drinking too much caffeine is almost as bad as not getting enough sleep. Caffeine, which can stay in your system for up to six hours, is a chemical that affects the central nervous system (CNS) and raises your heart rate, increases alertness, and changes the way your brain produces hormones. Caffeine has been shown to increase insulin levels, reduce insulin sensitivity, and increase cortisol levels. It also increases nervousness and anxiety in many people, and is linked with insomnia. Ideally switch to matcha green which is much lower in caffeine. Watch your alcohol intake too, since high levels of alcohol (above about 2 drinks daily) can negatively impact liver function, which is vital for proper hormone balance. Chronic alcohol consumption can contribute to estrogen dominance and has been found to interfere with pancreatic functioning, increase liver disease risk and lower testosterone levels and contribute to anxiety and malnutrition.
- Take Vitamin D3: Vitamin D acts like a hormone inside the body and helps reduce inflammation. Sunshine is really the best way to optimize vitamin D levels because your bare skin makes vitamin D on its own when exposed to even small amounts of direct sunlight. Most people should supplement with around 2,000 IU to 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.
- Eat phytoestrogens Many vegetables contain plant compounds that exert a weak estrogenic effect on our cells and are useful in protecting against many kinds of estrogen-dependent cancers. Some of the highest concentrations of phytoestrogens can be found in: Soybeans and soy products, tempeh, flax seeds, oats, barley, lentils, sesame seeds, yams, alfalfa, apples, carrots, pomegranates, wheat germ and coffee.
Of course, sometimes synthetic hormonal treatments (such as insulin or thyroid medication) are necessary to treat a hormonal imbalance. The natural approach I suggest can still help you overcome conditions related to hormonal imbalance and greatly reduce symptoms – but these recommendations shouldn’t take the place of medical supervision. Either way, making the lifestyle changes described above will go a long way towards helping most people feel a lot better.
For nutritional consultations on a wide range of health issues contact Susan Tomassini, Licensed Nutritionist BSc (Hons) Dip BCNH @ 06 17481114 or visit www.foodwise.life for your personalized nutritional program!
Kiwi and Maca Powder Smoothie
Macapowder is an adaptogen – a substance that exerts a beneficial influence on our hormonal system, thus helping our body adapt to any kind of change or stress. It also helps boost fertility and libido and is useful in treating symptoms of menopause.
- 1 cup almond or soya milk (unsweetened)
- 2 cups fresh spinach (or use frozen organic cubes)
- 1 kiwi (peeled, sliced and frozen)
- 1 banana (frozen)
- 1 tbsplucuma powder
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
- ½ tsp maca powder
- ½ tsp matcha green tea powder
- ½ cup cold filtered water
Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Enjoy immediately. Makes 1 serving.