Seven Ways to Help Balance Hormones
Hormones are chemical substances that travel through the bloodstream to tissues or organs throughout the body, affecting fertility and reproduction, sexual function, physical development, sleep, metabolism and weight, mood, and other vital functions.
Hormones work within a very balanced chain of actions and reactions, and even the slightest misstep can wreak havoc on the body’s systems. Fortunately, there are simple ways to help stem the tide of hormonal imbalance, and improve your quality of life in the process.
Symptoms of hormonal imbalance
Hormonal imbalance affects both women and men. Symptoms include weight gain or weight loss, lower threshold for stress, metabolic syndrome (increased risk factors for heart disease, diabetes and stroke), fatigue, insomnia, and sexual problems.
There are medications that were created to boost or replace missing or depleted hormones. One example is hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for women in menopause, whose declining levels of estrogen and other sex hormones cause distressing and uncomfortable symptoms, as well as potentially dangerous complications such as osteoporosis (bone loss) and heart disease.
The Women’s Health Initiative Study of post-menopausal women found that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) resulted in increased risk of stroke, blood clots, and breast cancer, compared with the group taking a placebo. For women taking estrogen plus progestin, there was also an increased risk of heart attack.
This widely-publicized and cited study has led women of all ages to seek alternatives for treating hormonal imbalance. Here are seven natural ways to help balance hormones.
1. Get more sleep
Consistently skimping on sleep and ending up with low energy levels will have detrimental effects on most of your body’s systems, including your hormones. A 2009 study published in Pediatric Neuroendocrinolgy found that hormones that influence glucose regulation and appetite control (such as leptin and ghrelin), are affected by sleep.
Establish sound sleeping habits to make the most of your nightly rest. Avoid bright screens that can reset your circadian rhythm and consider reading a book or drinking a glass of yogurt milk, rich in tryptophan, to help ease your body into rest. A regular sleep schedule will help put your hormones on a regular schedule and beat insomnia to the punch.
2. Manage stress
Sleep problems can impact our stress levels as well. Most of us have experienced how much more difficult it is to cope with even the smallest stressor when we’re sleep deprived.
When cortisol, a key stress hormone, is out of balance, it can lead to anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, memory and concentration impairment (Mayo Clinic).
Beat these effects with the activity of your choice. Take a bath, meditate, read a book; find what stems the tide of stress in your life and make it a regular habit. Doing so will not only give you some personal time to reflect on the day, but will help balance your chemicals to great effect.
3. Avoid hormone-disrupting chemicals
More and more research is revealing just how harmful the chemicals are in common household products. Some of them even mimic the body’s natural hormones, creating imbalance that can lead to serious illness and dysfunction.
As reported in Scientific American, in October 2013 the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a list of the “Dirty Dozen” endocrine disruptors (hormone-altering chemicals) to avoid, including BPA (found in many canned foods and plastic containers), phthalates (common in “fragrance” used as an ingredient in personal care products) and fire retardants (common in furniture, carpets and electronics). EWG also shared the extensive list of scientific references they used to create their Dirty Dozen list.
Simple ways to avoid these synthetic chemicals include clean eating and bathing. As stated, purchase natural soaps and fragrance-free options that keep those substances from absorbing through your skin. In addition, look for antibiotic and hormone free meats at the supermarket in order to avoid the unknown effects of these hormone-mimicking chemicals.
4. Limit or eliminate hormone-disrupting foods
Foods that interfere with hormone production or function include artificial sweeteners, alcohol, sugar, caffeine, refined carbohydrates, and vegetable oils that are high in omega-6 fats (e.g., peanut oil, soybean oil, canola oil, margarine, shortening).
If you can’t give up your coffee addiction, consider adding milk to your coffee instead of creamers. For sweets, stick to fruits and for carbohydrates, stick to whole grains that have not received the bleaching or processing treatment of other options.
5. Add or increase hormone-balancing foods
Food that assist with healthy hormone function include healthy fats and essential fatty acids (e.g., coconut oil, avocado, walnuts, wild cold-water fish, chia seeds, flax seeds), phytonutrients (e.g., tomatoes, greens, berries, green tea, citrus fruits, grapes), and phytoestrogens (e.g., sunflower seeds, soy foods (careful not to overdo these, avoid processed soy), bean sprouts, chick peas and other legumes).
6. Watch your weight
Carrying extra weight actually prompts the body to produce more estrogen (in both genders), leading to a hormone imbalance. Obesity also increases the risk of many serious disorders including cancer.
Remember that it is easier to stay in shape than get in shape. Watch your caloric intake and take regular daily walks to aid in digestion and stimulate your metabolism. Find activities that fit your lifestyle in order to prevent your physical activity from becoming a chore.
7. Speak to your healthcare practitioner about supplementation
There are different types of tests to measure hormone levels in the body (U.S. National Library of Medicine). Based on your specific symptoms and hormone levels,
your practitioner will likely recommend a combination of the above strategies, along with supplements that address whatever deficit or imbalance you’re dealing with.
If you’ve been feeling off balance and out of sorts, consider which of your hormones might need some extra attention and help. Utilize the steps listed above to help balance your chemicals and your life to the betterment of your well-being. And consider a consult with our Nutritionist/RD to help you with the best supplements and strategies for your particular situation if you do not have a practitioner or just would like some guidance.