Hormones are crucial to your health and widely misunderstood.
My little sister has struggled with maintaining healthy hormone levels since she was in her early 20’s.
She went 4 years without getting her period and was even told by doctors at one point she might not be able to get pregnant.
A doctor even had her consider freezing her eggs for a later pregnancy.
It was devastating.
After seeing numerous doctors – from traditional Western medicine to naturopathic practitioners, I think it’s safe to say she stumbled on the solution on her own.
It was her “healthy” habits left over from being a division 1 college athlete that caused her hormones to be off balance.
First, I need to give you a little background information…
My little sister is a badass. She was ranked the number 1 defensive player in women’s soccer in the state of Maryland her senior year of high school. She was recruited and played for one of the best college soccer programs in the country. She would work out two to three times a day and was super strict about her diet.
But she was eating barely any fats, participating in high heart rate workouts, having major weight fluctuations, and on the pill.
Also, she struggled with her relationship with food because so much of the “science” behind a good athlete’s diet – during the time she was in her prime – was frankly unhealthy.
She got off the pill and started the Whole30 diet (which is practically a paleo diet but stricter).
With Whole30 you remove dairy, grain, sugar, and alcohol. Similar to paleo it encourages eating healthy fats such as avocados, ghee, seafood, meat, seeds, vegetables, and some fruits.
There is an emphasis on eating filling meals packed with healthy nutrients and substantial calories. In fact, I think using the term “diet” with regards to paleo or Whole30 is deceiving.
And after four years of not having a period, she got it back in 2 ½ weeks after starting the Whole30 diet.
She called me ecstatic about the changes that happened almost immediately. She got her period back, felt great, was enjoying delicious and satisfying meals, had increased energy, and was repairing her relationship with food.
Having been a calorie counter and exercise junkie who had switched to the paleo diet a couple months earlier, I completely understood her excitement.
Real quick – I want to emphasize the importance of the role healthy fats plays for people switching their diets to paleo, Mediterranean, Whole30, and other similar diets.
Healthy fats are not the bad guy of your meals – that’s sugar. In fact, it was recently released that the sugar industry paid scientists in the 60’s to quietly blame fat for heart disease.
Fats are essential to hundreds of bodily functions including maintaining healthy cell membranes, neurological function, and making hormones.
Hormones are vital for a healthy body. Having unbalanced hormones can lead to an array of symptoms including:
- Low sex drive
- Mood swings
- Weight gain (hypothyroidism) or weight loss (hyperthyroidism)
- Menstruation disruption
- Changes in appetite
- Digestive issues
- Hair loss
Hormones aren’t like vitamins, where you can simply take a supplement to gain added benefits.
You need to incorporate healthy habits that encourage your body to create the right level of hormones for your optimal health.
With hormones, it’s all about finding your balance.
Hormone imbalance has been associated with cancers, autoimmune disorders, endocrine disorders, and heart disease.
Alright, enough about the havoc unbalanced hormones can cause your body – let’s take a look at a few ways you can naturally balance your hormones.
11 Ways Naturally Balance Your Hormones
1. Limit Long, High Heart Rate Workouts
T3 regulates your metabolism and can make it difficult to lose or gain weight depending on if you have too much or too little of it.
This means you could be working your ass off only to undermine it all by working out too hard. Crazy frustrating to hear, right?
The best workouts are low-intensity weight training or short interval training like HIIT. My personal favorites are TRX training and HIIT YouTube videos. (Anything besides going for fast, hour long run.)
The Body Coach TV is an Australian guy who has videos for quick and effective at home workouts (plus his accent is easy on the ears).
For yoga and Pilates style workouts, Boho Beautiful has tons of videos for different goals and are all really well done.
2. Eat Healthy Fats
Healthy fats are essential to good hormone health. Without sufficient saturated fats in your diet, your hormones can be thrown off balance. Some of the best fats you can add to your diet include:
- Fish (Salmon, mackerel, albacore tuna, herring, and sardines are high in omega 3s)
- Fish oil supplements
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
- Grass-fed butter
Not only are these fats a great source of the necessary saturated fats for healthy hormones, they are also high in omega 3s and have anti-inflammatory properties.
3. Watch Your Omega 6 to Omega 3 Ratio
Omega 6 and omega 3s are both fats your need in your diet but it’s important that they have a low ratio – closer to 1:1.
Omega 6s cause inflammation, compete with omega 3s, and are more common in Western diets. In fact, most Americans have an omega 6 to omega 3 ratios of 15:1 through 17:1 and as high as 24:1 – which is terrible for your health.
Many researchers believe that this ratio is a major factor of the declining health of today.
Studies have found that people with a ratio of 4:1 have a 70 percent reduction in mortality in secondary coronary heart disease.
Lower ratios have also been associated with decreased risk of breast cancer, suppressed inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis, and had beneficial impacts on asthma patients.
Eat foods higher in omega 3s such as:
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
- Soybeans** Careful here. Between nearly all soybeans being GMO and high in phytoestrogens, you may want to skip the edamame.
- Grass-fed beef*
*I believe that if you are going to eat beef, it should always be grass-fed. Beyond the environmental and animal health implications, grass-fed beef has around a 3:1 omega 6 to omega 3 ratios compared to industrial beef, which can be as high as 20:1 depending on the breed of the cow.
The conventional beef industry is literally a horror story – for humans (meat workers and consumers), the cows, and the environment.
4. Improve Your Gut Health
Leaky gut syndrome is a condition that impacts nearly every aspect of your health. When undigested food leaks through your gut into your bloodstream, it can cause inflammation that impacts your whole body including your vulnerable thyroid gland.
What happens next is your hormones get out of balance, which can cause autoimmune reactions such as arthritis and thyroid disorders.
Foods known to contribute to leaky gut syndrome include sugar, gluten, and hydrogenated oils.
You can combat leaky gut syndrome with probiotics, bone broth, yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, grass-fed butter, and raw cheese.
When you heal your leaky gut, you might find that you’ll also correct your hormone imbalance.
5. Don’t Eat While You’re Emotional
During stressful times, your cortisol (your stress hormone) is high and your leptin (your “ok honey, you’ve had enough to eat” hormone) is low.
There’s a reason that during these times you crave fatty or sugary foods – they are effective at temporarily inhibiting the part of the brain that processes stress, causing you momentarily relief.
But because of your suppressed leptin, your body doesn’t know when to call it quits. This can lead to overeating and weight gain. It also jacks up your insulin levels and can throw your blood sugar off balance.
And though I’ve yet to read a study about it, our brains are damn good at making associations and I’d like to hazard a guess that if you stress eat enough, it would only take the presence of high cortisol and the thought of comfort food to send your hormones (especially insulin) into a tizzy.
Hormones work on an itinerary, in tune with your circadian rhythm, part of keeping them balanced is helping your body stick to a schedule – and stress is very good at throwing off schedules.
This is yet another reason it’s so important to reduce stress levels in your daily life. You’ve heard it’s important to reduce stress for better health before but now it’s time to take it seriously. Getting stressed out at work a is a big issue for a lot of people, here’s a great article on How to Deal with Stress at Work.
6. Eliminate Toxic Personal Care Products
Every day, the average woman applies 168 different chemicals to her body and men apply an average of 85 chemicals.
That’s a staggering amount of chemicals.
It’s estimated that one in five adults are exposed to all top seven carcinogenic impurities common in personal care products.
How bananas is that?
Not surprisingly, there are hundreds of chemicals permitted in American beauty products that have been outlawed in the EU. The FDA currently allows the following in cosmetics:
- Fragrance (Phthalates)
- Lead (addressed in December 2016)
- Coal tar
- Sodium lauryl (ether) sulfate
- Diethylene glycol
There are tons of resources available for each of these chemicals if you want to read more – but I recommend throwing out products that contain these first.
There’s also a wonderful app called Think Dirty, which allows you to scan the barcode of your beauty products. It will then show you all the ingredients and give it ratings based on the presence of allergens, carcinogens, reproductive toxicity, hormone impact, and an overall score.
It also has a marketplace where you can find replacements – for when you find out your lipstick… is actually a cancer stick.
7. Monitor Your Phytoestrogen Intake
Phytoestrogens are really interesting and pretty complicated. There’s a lot of mixed research out there on whether or not they are good or bad for you. My conclusion is that it’s important to be aware of them and monitor your personal intake because they can impact your hormone levels.
So what are they?
Phytoestrogens are plant-derived estrogen compounds called xenoestrogens. They have been shown to mimic estrogen and oppose estrogen – leading to seemingly conflicting information.
Some of the benefits of phytoestrogens include:
- Reduction and prevention of breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers
- Improved heart health in postmenopausal women through treating arteriosclerosis
- Relieving symptoms of menopause
Some of the negative impacts of phytoestrogen include:
- Increased infertility
- Hormone disruption
- Increased cognitive decline and dementia
The impact of phytoestrogens on your health depends on age, sex, health status, and gut microflora.
In particular, phytoestrogens seem to be most beneficial for women over 50.
And as a rule of thumb, men and pregnant women should moderate their phytoestrogen intake.
Foods high in phytoestrogens include: soy, flaxseeds, oats, yucca, yams, lentils, wheat germ, and sesame seeds.
8. Reduce Dairy Consumption
All milk naturally contains small amounts of hormones, which has caused some to worry it may contribute to elevated levels in consumers.
While estrogen levels (the primary hormone of concern) in milk are significantly lower in animal milk than produced in the body, studies have indicated that dairy products may not be great for you, for a number of reasons.
High in sugar and carbs, milk products cause your insulin levels to jump, which promotes weight gain. Also, many people have a hard time digesting lactose and casein.
Studies have shown that hormones in milk, including estrogens and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), could initiate breast, prostate, and endometrial tumors.
Hormones are tricky because everyone needs slightly different levels. Dairy could be a hormone factor that is beneficial or harmful to your overall balance.
It’s important to know this because – being aware of your own body and your intake of hormone influencing substances can help you have a better understanding of your hormone balance.
Also, similar to beef products, milk from conventional dairy operations are terrible in pretty much every way imaginable.
If you do consume dairy (I do!), the best is from grass-fed cows, goats, or sheep. Grass-fed butter, kefir, yogurt, and hard cheeses in moderation are better for your gut health and hormone levels.
9. Get More Sun
Vitamin D3, when activated, is actually a hormone. It’s vital for calcium absorption, bone growth, and is critical for good endocrine system health.
Insufficient vitamin D has been linked to breast cancer, colon cancer, and heart disease.
The best source of vitamin D is the sun, though you can also take it in supplement form. Vitamin D’s importance in human health is only recently being fully realized.
A recent study showed that high doses of vitamin D can significantly enhance cognitive functioning, suggesting we should take way more vitamin D than the daily recommended dose (currently 600 IU).
Many health professionals recommend up to 4000 IU daily vitamin D intake.
Allow yourself to get some sun before you put sunscreen on, about 20 minutes or so, and you’ll give yourself a vitamin D boost.
10. Drink Less Alcohol
This recommendation is pretty much on every “get healthy” list out there but it’s often skimmed over – because who doesn’t like a glass of wine with dinner?
But alcohol can really wreak havoc on your hormones.
Chronic alcohol consumption (2-3 drinks a day) can cause estrogen dominance, worsen symptoms of hormonal conditions such as endometriosis, fibroids, and polycystic ovary syndrome.
Alcohol lowers testosterone levels and negatively impacts liver functioning, which is vital to hormone health.
Reduce drinking to the weekends and supplement your nights out with vitamin B complex, electrolytes, vitamin C, magnesium, and reduce insulin spikes by eating fatty foods beforehand (of the healthy variety).
11. Stop Taking Birth Control Pills
Look, I know this is easier said than done. I’ve gone through my own battles trying different birth control options.
But the pill is the actual worst!
It wrecks your hormone balance and can lead to estrogen dominance.
(There are some people who use the pill precisely because it helps them balance their hormones, which is great.)
All I’m asking, is that you do your homework and pay attention to what your body is telling you.
Too often we treat symptoms with medication when the real solution is correcting a behavior or habit.
If you are suffering from the symptoms related to hormone imbalance, definitely consider getting off the pill.
Find the Right Balance for You
Your hormones impact hundreds of bodily functions. When they are out of balance, they can cause other health conditions making it tricky to initially diagnose.
It took my sister over 4 years to figure out that it was her “healthy” high-performing athletic habits that caused her symptoms.
I’m happy to say she’s now 27 years old, doesn’t have hormone imbalances, doesn’t need to regularly see a doctor, and is constantly cracking me up with her hilarious dating anecdotes.