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When it comes to health, hormones and gut microbiome play a big role. Even if everything else is dialed in, these factors can destroy health. On the flip side, regulating hormones and fixing our gut can do a lot to boost health. Even if your supplements and diet aren’t optimal. There are even studies about using certain hormone reactions to treat brain trauma!
Here’s how to balance hormones the natural way.
Why Hormones Matter
If you doubt the power of hormones to affect everything from mood to weight, to breast health, ask the nearest pregnant woman if she’s noticed any difference in these areas. Or ask the nearest 13-year-old girl… carefully…
What factor contributes to weight gain during pregnancy? Hormone balance. What causes weight fluctuations, bloating, and other health symptoms throughout the month? Hormones. What’s a huge contributing factor of growth in children? Hormones.
Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance
When it comes to losing weight or improving health, what do we focus on? Calories, micronutrients, or diets. If you have symptoms like fatigue, PMS, PCOS, or infertility, you’ll find balancing hormones is vital for recovery. Here are some other signs you’re dealing with a hormonal issue:
- Hot flashes during menopause or perimenopause
- Mood swings
- Fluctuating blood sugar levels or high insulin levels
- Insulin resistance
- Menstrual cycle symptoms like painful cramps or irritability
- Weight gain or obesity
- Lack of sex drive
- High-stress levels (which also affects cortisol levels)
- Hair loss or hair growth in unwanted areas (like facial hair in women)
It’s All About the Hormones
Hormones are the body’s chemical messengers. They travel in the bloodstream to tissues and organs and affect many different processes. Everything from metabolism to sexual function, mood, and much more.
Endocrine glands, which are special groups of cells, make hormones. The major endocrine glands are the pituitary, pineal, thymus, thyroid, adrenal glands, and pancreas. Additionally, men produce sex hormones in their testes and women produce them in their ovaries.
Our adrenal glands can really take a beating in modern society. Chronic stress, not enough sleep, and busy schedules trigger excess cortisol. This leads to insulin resistance, belly fat, and other health conditions.
It’s a complex process, but hormone production depends on beneficial fats and cholesterol. When we don’t have enough of these dietary factors it can cause hormone problems. The body doesn’t have the building blocks it needs (fats) to make hormones.
Phytoestrogens and toxins that mimic these building blocks or hormones themselves are also a problem. The body can try to make hormones using the wrong building materials. Estrogen dominance anyone?
Many people start eating a healthy diet and exercising but still can’t lose the weight. After talking with many of them it seems the underlying common factor is hormone imbalance.
I’ve written about Leptin and thyroid hormones before. These are a small piece in the complicated hormone system in the body. Female hormones have their own considerations. In a given day or month, a woman’s body will have fluctuations in hormones like estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, and thyroid hormones, to name a few.
How to Balance Hormones Naturally
The endocrine system is complex and we’ll probably never completely understand it. However, there are basic things you can do for overall health to help create hormone balance.
1. Eat Enough Healthy Fats
Our bodies aren’t made to eat man-made fats from vegetable oils. Most of the fat in our body is made up of saturated fats. Only 3% comes from polyunsaturated fats, aka Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats. Ideally, we need a balanced ratio of omega fatty acids for our well-being.
Seed-based vegetable oils, like canola and soy, are really high in Omega-6 fatty acids. Modern diets have replaced traditional fats like butter and olive oil with processed vegetable oils. This is one reason why many don’t get enough high-quality Omega-3 fatty acids from their diet.
These healthy fats are vital for proper cell function and especially for hormone function. They’re literally the building blocks for hormone production. When we don’t give the body adequate amounts of these fats, it uses what’s available, relying on lower-quality polyunsaturated fats.
Polyunsaturated fats are less stable and oxidize easily in the body. This can lead to inflammation and mutations in the body. Emerging evidence suggests this inflammation can occur in arteries, potentially increasing clogged arteries. The problem extends to skin and reproductive cells. These may be connected to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and other hormone problems.
Healthy fats, saturated fats included, are vital for hormone health. As this article explains the loss of saturated fatty acids in our immune cells causes a decline in white blood cell function.
For this reason, fats like coconut oil can be amazing for hormone health. It helps us make hormones, can aid in weight loss, and reduce inflammation. You can even blend it into coffee or tea.
Other healthy fats include:
- Avocados and avocado oil
- Animal fats from grass-fed meat, pastured eggs, and raw dairy
- Butter and ghee
- Tallow and lard
- Olive oil
- Seafood for Omega-3s
2. Limit Caffeine
I love coffee, but too much caffeine can wreak havoc on the endocrine system. Especially if there are other hormone stressors, like pregnancy, toxins, or stress. It can also further tax our adrenal glands, which are responsible for releasing stress hormones.
Cut back on coffee if you can or replace it with beneficial herbal teas. My favorite coffee brand has a healthy decaf option that also tastes amazing! There are also some great mushroom coffee options with stress-relieving adaptogens mixed in.
If you do still want some coffee, use it as a way to sneak some healthy fats in. I’ll add some coconut oil to my coffee and blend for a healthier version of a latte!
3. Avoid Harmful Chemicals
Harmful chemicals from pesticides, plastics, household cleaners, and even mattresses can contain hormone disrupting chemicals. They can mimic hormones in the body and keep it from making real hormones. Things like hormonal birth control can (obviously) do the same thing.
If you’re struggling with hormonal imbalance or infertility, avoiding these chemicals is important! Opt for glass or non-toxic metal pans and skip the Teflon and most non-stick coatings. Avoid heating or storing foods in plastic. Find organic foods (or grow your own!) whenever possible. And of course, skip the pesticides and toxic cleaners.
Here are some more tips for avoiding indoor toxins:
Beauty products are another big source of toxins for many people. There are tens of thousands of chemicals in the personal care products we encounter daily. And most haven’t been tested for long-term safety. Avoiding these products can make a tremendous difference in achieving hormone balance.
Start by making simple switches like homemade deodorant or homemade lotion. There’s even DIY makeup if you’re feeling adventurous. Check out my full index of natural beauty recipes here.
4. Prioritize Sleep
I can’t emphasize this one enough! Without adequate sleep, hormones will not be in balance. Period. While this has often been a struggle for me I’ve been able to really dial in my sleep with the below tips.
When we’re asleep our body is busy removing toxins, recharging the mind, and creating hormones. Just one night of missed sleep can create the hormone levels of a pre-diabetic. Try some of these tips to help improve sleep:
Better Sleep Tips
- Improve your sleep environment – Remove artificial light, use blackout curtains, and create a quiet space. Choose a non-toxic mattress and sheets.
- Sleep cool – We actually sleep better if we’re in cooler temps. This bed cooling system creates your perfect sleep temp. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done for my sleep!
- Daily routine – Create a daily routine to help support your natural circadian rhythms. Wake up and go to bed at the same time, even on weekends to keep your hormone cycle regular.
- Protein and fats – Eat a high protein/high fat snack 3-4 hours before bed or at dinner. If you have trouble falling asleep, try these four tricks.
- Morning Sunlight – Getting natural sunlight outside is key for setting circadian and hormonal rhythms for the day. Natural light boosts serotonin and cortisol levels to balance nighttime melatonin.
- Ditch artificial light – Avoid artificial light as much as possible after the sun goes down. Use night mode on electronic devices to reduce blue light and help you sleep better. I also turn off the overhead lights and have lamps with red lights.
- Hydrate – Drink enough water during the day. Stop drinking about 2 hours before bed so you don’t have to wake up to use the bathroom.
- Salt bath – Take a soothing salt bath about an hour before bed with some relaxing music or a great book.
- Breathe – Pray, meditate, use journaling, or find a way to reduce stress. Get a massage or stretch before bed.
5. Supplement Wisely
Unfortunately, we live in a world where food is often depleted of nutrients due to over-farming. ur water is often contaminated with chemicals. Even the air can have compounds that cause havoc in the body.
Ideally, we’d get all of our nutrition from food and get enough vitamin D from the sun every day. Since this rarely happens supplements are sometimes needed. I’ve shared what supplements I regularly take, but here are some more options for hormone balance.
Be sure to check with your healthcare practitioner before starting new supplements. Especially if you’re on medications or contraceptives.
This powerful adaptogen has a long history of use in places like Peru. Women often see improvements in fertility, less PMS symptoms, and healthier skin and hair. In men, it can help with sperm production, testosterone levels, and muscle composition.
Maca is a good source of minerals and essential fatty acids to support hormone balance. You can get it in powder form or capsules. It easily blends into smoothies, tea, or coffee. Maca should be discontinued during pregnancy.
Magnesium is vital for hundreds of functions within the human body. Many of us are deficient in this master mineral (here’s how to tell if you are). There are several different ways to get Magnesium, but a combination of topical and oral magnesium works best to boost levels.
Vitamin D and Omega-3s
I try to eat lots of healthy seafood, like sardines, for Omega-3s. You can also supplement with good quality fish oil. Vitamin D is a pre-hormone we need for hormone function. The sun is the best source, but you can also use a D3 supplement.
Gelatin and Collagen
These are a great source of minerals and necessary amino acids. Gelatin and collagen support hormone production and digestive health in various ways. Gelatin powder can actually “gel” and is useful in recipes like homemade jello and probiotic marshmallows. Collagen doesn’t gel but is easily added to soups, smoothies, coffee, or any other food.
Natural Progesterone Cream
PMS and menstrual troubles are often linked to specific hormone imbalances. Especially for those with short cycles or a short second phase of their cycle (ovulation through the start of menses), progesterone can be the issue. Sometimes just adding natural progesterone cream can greatly reduce symptoms.
If you do opt for hormone replacement therapy be sure to choose a good brand. It should only be used from ovulation through menses. Check with a doctor or professional before using any hormone supplement.
6. Exercise The Right Way
If you’re struggling with hormone imbalance, intense cardio can make it worse. This further stresses the adrenals and releases more stress hormones. Sleep is much more important, at least during the balancing phase. Focus on relaxing exercises like walking or swimming and avoid extended running and cardio.
I like rebounding, which is great gentle exercise and has additional health benefits. Yoga and gentle bodyweight exercises are also great options.
While extended cardio can be bad, short bursts of heavy lifting (kettlebells, deadlifts, squats, lunges) can be beneficial. These trigger a cascade of beneficial hormone reactions. Aim for a few sets (5-7) at a weight that really challenges you. Make sure to get help with form and training if you haven’t done these before as bad form can be harmful.
7. Consider Adding Herbs
Certain herbs and plants can also help the body bring hormones into balance. Of course, it’s important to talk to a doctor before taking these. Especially if you’re on hormonal contraceptives or other medications. Some herbs I’ve used are:
- Vitex– Nourishes the pituitary gland and helps lengthen the luteal phase. It lowers prolactin and raises progesterone. For some women, this alone will improve symptoms.
- Red Raspberry Leaf– A well know fertility herb that’s also helpful in reducing PMS and cramping. It has a high nutrient profile and is especially high in calcium and is a uterine tonic. You can get it in capsules, but it makes an excellent tea.
- Adaptogens– Herbs that help the body handle stress and support the adrenals. They’re a natural way to work toward hormone balance for many people.
8. Support Digestive Health
Our digestion impacts hormones more than we realize. Not only is it a source of vital neurotransmitters, but an imbalance can translate to a hormone imbalance. We need serotonin, a neurotransmitter for sleep and stress balance. Serotonin is more concentrated in the gut than the brain! 70% of our immune system is in the gut and it’s the motherboard of our bodily functions. Even thyroid health is linked to gut health.
What Hippocrates knew thousands of years ago seems just as true today… that “all disease begins in the gut.” Those who struggle with gut problems may have trouble ever achieving hormone balance without first addressing gut health.
Many programs and diet experts recommend getting fiber from whole grains. These aren’t the best option when trying to heal gut flora though. Dark leafy greens however provide fiber, supply calcium, and help with healthy estrogen levels. If you’re struggling with thyroid issues, be sure to cook them first.
This is the most comprehensive program I’ve seen for addressing gut health issues.
9. Fix Your Leptin
Leptin is a master hormone. When leptin’s out of balance or if you’re resistant to it, no other hormones will balance well. If someone is overweight and really craving the carbs, then they’re likely leptin resistant. Fixing leptin will also help boost fertility, make weight loss easier, improve sleep, and lower inflammation. Dr. Jack Kruse, a neurosurgeon, has a whole system for getting leptin into balance.
10. Continue With a Hormone-Balancing Diet
This isn’t a one and done diet! The ideas above need to be part of a whole lifestyle change to keep hormones in balance. Take it from a recovering perfectionist, though… baby steps are just fine!
Once you master these tips (or even just a few of them) make the changes stick. Support your body with a whole foods, hormone-friendly diet. For in-depth guidance, I recommend my friend Magdalena Wszelaki’s Cooking for Balance course. It’s targeted help that leads you through every (baby) step of the process.
Bottom Line on Hormone Balance
Balancing your hormones can seem like a daunting process, but the small changes add up. Thanks to all the toxins around us it’s an ongoing process. With the right steps though hormone balance is achievable.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician, and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
The infographic below is a quick overview of the steps to balance your hormones. Pin it or share it to save for later!
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