Feeling bloated, foggy, drained, anxious or depressed? Gaining weight around the belly?
Chances are your hormones are trying to tell you something.
Hormones don’t just make teenagers moody and cause hot flashes in women. They affect nearly every function in your body: man, woman, child, and teenager.
When they get out of whack, they can scream for attention. And that’s the time to consider balancing your hormones – naturally – to get things back in line.
Hormones control your metabolism (read: whether you gain or lose weight) to your digestive function (whether or not you poop everyday). Hormones even allow you to grow from a baby to an adult.
Sure, hormones do have unfortunate association with moodiness – they contribute to mood regulation, for sure – but without hormones there wouldn’t be life here on earth.
Hormones are an extraordinarily complex topic, and the details of how they work obviously can’t be summed up in one blog post.
However, I’m going to give you a brief 101 on hormones, so by the time you’re done reading this blog post you’ll understand the basics of naturally balancing your hormones.
We’re still not sure exactly how many hormones there are in our bodies but some estimate there are at least 50 different classes.
Their job is to serve as chemical messengers, communicating with each other to perform specific functions.
Hormones are produced in several glands, including your
- Reproductive organs
- Pineal gland
- Pituitary, and
- Adrenal glands
All of these glands help regulate your metabolism, sleep cycle, energy production, and stress response.
Meanwhile, gastrointestinal hormones are produced in your gut. In fact, more than 30 known hormones are produced there, which makes the gut one of your body’s largest hormone producers (1).
What Hormones Do
Each of your hormones has its own unique job to do, but each hormone depends on information that’s communicated to it from other hormones in order to carry out its tasks.
For example, let’s take a look at the thyroid hormone T3.
T3 is produced by your thyroid gland to regulate your metabolism and convert food into energy. But for the thyroid to know exactly when it needs to produce T3, it must receive proper communication from your hypothalamus – a gland that receives feedback about various things your body does.
For instance, when your hypothalamus receives the feedback that you’ve eaten a meal, it takes a look to see if there’s enough T3 in your bloodstream to metabolize it. If there isn’t, the hypothalamus will initiate a complex biochemical reaction to ensure your thyroid produces more T3 by releasing the hormone TRH (thyrotropin-releasing hormone).
Once released, TRH signals to your pituitary gland to release the hormone TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone). TSH will then tell the thyroid to release more T3 and T4 into the bloodstream to metabolize the meal you just ate (2).
Whew! That’s quite the process, isn’t it?
[Related: Not Losing Weight? Low Thyroid Might Be Why]
And with that being only one example of several chemical reactions that take place in your body each day, you can see how complex your hormonal balance can become.
In fact, I read a metaphor the other day that perfectly sums up the codependent relationship between hormones. Think of the endocrine system (which governs your hormones) as a spiderweb. You can’t touch a single strand without affecting the function of every gland.
As you can guess, when communication gets confused between hormones (and we’ll talk about how that happens in a moment), it impairs their ability to function properly. And that’s when symptoms of hormone imbalance can result.
What Are the Signs of Hormone Imbalance?
Hormone imbalance symptoms can be stubborn to get rid of, especially if you’re not sure which hormones are affected most.
The good news is that because hormones work so closely together, once you begin to use natural remedies to balance hormones, it helps all of your hormones.
That means once you start incorporating natural remedies for hormone balance into your lifestyle, there’s a good chance you can help ease several symptoms at once.
The list of symptoms of hormone imbalance is broad, and that’s because your hormones control so many different functions.
Plus, our age and lifestyle can play a huge role. For example, women entering menopause in their 50’s tend to experience hot flashes due to fluctuating estrogen levels (3). Meanwhile, teens are more likely to suffer emotional distress because of the increased secretions of sex hormones in adolescence (4).
Not only that, but there are general symptoms of hormone imbalance that can occur at any age.
Many of the symptoms below are often seen together, which is supported by the fact that all hormones work interconnectedly.
Common symptoms of hormone imbalance at any life stage include:
- Midsection weight gain, despite eating healthy and exercising
- Acne, especially around the chin, mouth and jawline
- Fatigue, despite sleeping 7-8 hours each night
- Sugar cravings
- Abdominal cramping
- Painful periods
- PMS symptoms: cravings, depression, irritability, breast tenderness
- Frequent headaches
Have you experienced any of these symptoms? Perhaps you’re battling a few of them right now.
Luckily, by understanding the root causes of hormone imbalance, you can begin incorporating natural remedies to help resolve your symptoms once and for all.
Let’s take a look at some of most common causes.
Why Stress Imbalances Hormones
If there’s one lifestyle factor that can ruffle up your hormones, it’s stress.
And as you well know, today’s hectic lifestyle forces us to be exposed to stress on a regular basis.
It’s true that your body is equipped to handle moderate amounts of stress, thanks to the primary stress regulating hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
But when the level of a couple hormones is continually high, an imbalance between the rest of your hormones can result. That’s why when cortisol is constantly being released into your bloodstream as a response to stress, it can upset the balance between the rest of your hormones (5).
Having high levels of cortisol is never a good thing. Not only does it suggest your adrenal glands are being exhausted (they produce stress hormones), but it continually sends signals to your body that you’re in danger.
Long-term, this can create a cascade of undesirable hormonal symptoms. If you’ve ever heard the saying “stress makes you fat,” it’s because of the repeated release of cortisol.
That’s because cortisol doesn’t know the difference between what kind of stress you’re under – whether it’s the constant pinging of cellphone notifications when you’re on deadline or if you’re about to be chowed down by a tiger.
Either way, your body goes into “fight or flight” mode to help you deal with the stress, thanks to the release of cortisol.
What happens when cortisol is released? First, cortisol tells your body to stop burning fat and to begin storing it for the future, in case the stress means you’re about to starve (6).
The problem with this is that our main sources of stress have evolved over the years. We’re no longer worried about being chased by beasts, but we are worried about facing an overloaded inbox, angry bosses, or getting stuck in traffic.
To our bodies, though, it’s all the same: stress.
Not only does cortisol contribute to belly fat and sugar cravings, it can disrupt the function of your gastrointestinal hormones. They are told to stop digesting food so your energy stores are reserved, in case you need to run from that tiger.
As you can see, stress creates a complex ripple effect on your hormones.
Here’s another note: not only can stress be mental (from your mean boss or rush-hour traffic), it can also be nutritional and physical.
This is why managing stress levels through your diet and lifestyle is one of the most beneficial natural remedies for hormonal balance.
To manage your stress levels, I recommend prioritizing 8 hours of restful sleep each night, making time for the activities you love, and getting outdoors to enjoy nature.
You can further support your hormones by eating plenty of nutrient-rich vegetables, fruit, and lean protein like wild-caught salmon.
Adding vitamin-packed foods to your diet is the best way to offer your body the nutrients it needs to promote healthy hormones, such as vitamin D (9).
Other Factors Affecting Hormones
Stress isn’t the only thing affecting your hormones.
For females, the standard birth control pill can contain high levels of the female sex hormone estrogen (). Since your hormones function optimally in specific ratios to one another, elevated levels of estrogen may upset your body’s balance between the other sex hormones, such as progesterone.
Your lifestyle and diet also plays a role. Contributors to hormonal imbalances include:
- Diets high in processed foods
- Inadequate sleep
- Lack of exercise
- Chemicals found in our environment
I’ll explain how these factors can cause hormone imbalance, and tell you exactly what to about them in the tips below.
The 7 Best Tips for Balancing Hormones Naturally
1. Increase Your Fiber From Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
A low-fiber diet can contribute to hormone imbalances. Fiber matters because we need it to keep our gut healthy by sweeping away toxins and debris from the digestive tract.
Since many hormones are produced in your digestive tract, a healthy gut can help maintain proper communication between your hormones, especially when it comes to regulating your appetite and energy balance (11).
There isn’t much fiber in processed foods – not to mention the fact the manufacturing process often robs them of their vitamins and minerals, while adding harmful ingredients like food additives and preservatives. Additives can act as toxins, further disrupting hormones (12).
Processed foods include all foods made with white flour, like boxed granola, cereals, cookies, candy, muffins, pasta, and bread.
One of the best ways to avoid processed foods is by preparing your own meals at home with whole food ingredients that still have their fiber, vitamins, and minerals intact.
Fiber Starter Breakfast Bowl
The best part about these recipes isn’t just that they include hormone balancing ingredients, but they’re also quick and easy to make.
2. Replace Refined Sugar With Natural Sweeteners
Eating refined, white sugar on a regular basis doesn’t do your hormones any favors.
Not only is refined sugar void of nutrients, it acts as an anti-nutrient, robbing your body of essential nutrients you need to keep your hormones in balance, like the probiotics (or friendly bacteria) found in your gut (13).
While sugar negatively impacts all your hormones, insulin really takes a beating. That’s because insulin removes sugar from your bloodstream and either sends it to your cells to be used as energy, or stored as fat to be converted back to energy later on.
Because there’s nothing to slow it down – like fiber or protein – your body digests it quickly, which means your blood sugar levels spike. That forces your body to pump out excess insulin to remove it – causing a blood sugar crash shortly thereafter.
Those fluctuating blood sugar levels can upset the communication between other hormones, especially if insulin stops responding to the sugar in your bloodstream, which can eventually result in a metabolic condition like type 2 diabetes.
Not only do blood sugar spikes and crashes cause weight gain by signaling to your body to store sugar as fat, but elevated insulin levels can also upset the balance between your sex hormones, like androgens (14).
The best way to avoid refined sugar for hormone balance is to make your own meals at home for better ingredient control, and use natural, plant-based sugar substitutes like green leaf stevia, coconut nectar, pure maple syrup, and raw honey.
3. Beware of Xenoestrogens and Phytoestrogens
Some substances – called xenohormones – in our environment and food supply can mimic estrogen in the body. And as you now know, elevated estrogen levels throw off the delicate ratio between the rest of the sex hormones.
Phytoestrogens and xenoestrogens are two xenohormones considered to be endocrine disruptors.
Xenoestrogens are found in plastic containers, water bottles, cosmetics, body care products, and aluminum cans. Phytoestrogens occur naturally in foods like soy products, beans, and legumes.
Factory-farmed (meaning non-organic) animal products like chicken, beef, dairy, farmed fish, and eggs have become another major source of phytoestrogens because they’re injected with growth hormones to grow faster and bigger – and we ingest these hormones when we eat them.
The best way to avoid xenoestrogens is to switch from plastic to glass containers for food storage, and to use chemical-free body care products wherever possible.
In fact, many chemical-laden body care products can be replaced with ingredients from your kitchen. For example, plain coconut oil makes a great chemical-free makeup remover, moisturizer, and natural sunscreen.
Meanwhile, you can avoid phytoestrogens by replacing soy and dairy products with non-dairy milk alternatives, like almond milk or cashew milk.
If possible, choose organic meat and wild-caught fish to avoid ingesting extra hormones that can contribute to hormone imbalance.
Now, I understand that organic meat and wild fish is typically sold at a much higher price that may not always be affordable, especially if you eat meat at every meal.
In this case, it may be helpful to switch to high-quality meat for two or three meals per week and choose vegetarian options for the rest of your meals.
Your hormones will benefit by reducing your phytoestrogen exposure while simultaneously increasing your fiber through additional plant-based meals.
4. Increase Clean and Lean Fats
Healthy fats are the precursors for building healthy hormones, which is why it’s imperative to include them in your diet.
Healthy fats or, as I like to call them, “clean and lean fats” refer to foods that contain omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids. These fatty acids are called “essential” because your body can’t produce them on its own, so you have to get them from your diet.
Omega 3 essential fatty acids have been proven to help clear up acne. In fact, using fish oil supplements that contain omega 3 fatty acids was shown to improve skin appearance and help clear up inflammatory acne when taken for a minimum of 12 weeks (17).
The best dietary sources of healthy fats are wild-caught salmon and cold-water fish, coconut oil, avocado, hemp seed oil and hemp hearts, flax, pumpkin seeds, and algae such as chlorella and spirulina.
Aside from the fish, all of these ingredients can be rotated between your favorite smoothie recipes for an instant hormone-balancing boost.
5. Balance Blood Sugar Levels
Now that you understand how the hormone insulin regulates your blood sugar and communicates with other hormones, you can see how balancing blood sugar through your diet is essential for hormone balance.
Since white sugar is the worst blood sugar disruptor, avoiding it by eliminating processed foods – and replacing it with natural sweeteners wherever possible – is the first step to balancing your blood sugar.
You can further promote blood sugar balance through your diet by adding protein or a healthy fat at every meal.
For hormone and blood sugar balance, it’s essential to pair any sugar source – such as starchy carbs like sweet potatoes or fruit – with protein or healthy fats to help slow the release of sugar into your bloodstream. This will prevent sugar from rapidly entering your bloodstream.
Fiber is another important nutrient when it comes to balancing your blood sugar. Since fiber is slow to digest, foods with a lot of it have less impact on blood sugar levels. This explains why the sugar in fibrous fruit has a different impact on the body than white sugar, which has no fiber at all.
Good fiber sources: fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and unprocessed whole grains such as brown rice or buckwheat.
6. Avoid Caffeine
That’s why I recommend replacing caffeine with decaf herbal teas. Or, if you really enjoy the taste of coffee, you can drink swiss water decaf.
High-Protein Decaf Mocha Recipe
Dandelion coffee is another excellent caffeine-free alternative to coffee which, believe it or not, tastes just like the real thing (but without the negative impact on hormones). Dandelion coffee can be found at your local health food store for less than $15 per bag.
If energy is the main reason you include caffeine in your diet, you may be surprised by how fueled with energy you will feel by replacing your morning coffee with a green smoothie that incorporates hormone-balancing nutrients like chlorella and healthy fats from avocado.
7. Add Gentle Exercise
Not only is exercise one of the most effective natural remedies for stress relief, it also promotes hormone balance by balancing your blood sugar (20).
If you’re under a lot of stress, I recommend adding gentle exercise like yoga to your routine to start, rather than intense exercise like high-intensity interval training, which can initially cause more physical stress to your body, promoting the release of even more cortisol.
Yoga helps destress both your mind and body. It’s safe to practice multiple times per week to promote hormone balance, without adding additional physical stress to the body.
In fact, your body can benefit from as little as 5 minutes of yoga each morning.
Additional Hormone Balancers
For even more hormone-balancing help, some herbs – like maca root and burdock root – are considered effective natural remedies.
That being said, since the cause of hormone imbalance can be different for each person, I recommend consulting a qualified healthcare practitioner before adding a new supplement to your diet. Checking with your provider will also help best determine which herbs are the most helpful for your symptoms.
Your naturopathic doctor or gynecologist can test for hormone imbalances through blood tests, hair follicle (or FSH) tests, and your saliva.
The average cost of getting your hormones tested can vary, but is usually within the $300-$400 range. These cost of the tests can even be covered by some health insurance companies.
Happy Hormones, Happy Body
As you can see, there are many safe and effective natural remedies you can start incorporating right away to promote hormone balance.
Since hormones are directly involved in how you feel on a day to day basis, the benefits of balancing hormones naturally are endless.
Not only can you expect to have natural energy that lasts longer, but you can also experience clearer skin, improved digestion and a greater sense of well-being overall.
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Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.