Before determining the best foods for your hormones, it’s important to understand what hormones we’re talking about, what they do and how they work together. This knowledge helps us to understand how the choices we make can improve their functioning.
What Hormones Do
Hormones are chemical messengers that regulate nearly every cell in our body in some way. There are many different types of hormones. When I talk about foods and diet choices, I am often referring to appetite-regulating hormones (e.g. insulin, leptin, and ghrelin). But today I want to add in information on our reproductive hormones (e.g. estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone) and stress hormones (e.g. cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine).
Our reproductive hormones are responsible for sexual functioning and fertility, as well as in keeping our skin, hair & nails youthful.
Our stress hormones perform functions such as synthesizing proteins, maintaining water balance, and regulating our heartbeat and blood pressure.
How Hormones Work Together
When we are experiencing stress, we produce increased stress hormones. Adrenaline works on short term stress, and cortisol has high momentum and works on the long term, chronic stress. Traditionally stress hormones were produced to prepare us for a short-term physical threat, but nowadays our stresses often occur as long-term emotional worries about finances, health or other personal issues.
Unfortunately, the hormone cortisol is made at the expense of sex hormones. So, our stress levels can create a ripple effect, causing hormone imbalances and the resulting negative health symptoms. Cortisol also increases our blood sugar levels which cause increased insulin responses contributing to our carb cravings.
This interconnected nature of our endocrine system is important to understand so that we can begin to decipher the root causes of hormonal imbalances that are causing our overlapping health issues.
Signs and Causes of Hormone Imbalance
Some signs that your hormone imbalances have gotten out of control include:
- Poor sleep or fatigue that’s not alleviated by sleep
- Night sweats and hot flashes
- Excess midsection body fat
- Low libido
- Acne or other skin issues
- PMS symptoms
- Moodiness and brain fog
- Depression and/or anxiety
Do you see yourself in any of the above? While there are many causes, here are some of the most common ones:
- Chronic stress
- Endocrine disruptors like xenoestrogens
- Poor nutrition causing lack of adequate nutrients and poor blood sugar management
- Excess blue light causing disrupted circadian rhythms
- Digestive issues and leaky gut causing systemic inflammation
Foods to Support Hormone Balance
Protein. Meat, fish, eggs and hemp seeds are important to maintain muscle mass to help boost metabolic rate. (recipe here)
Healthy fats. Good fats are essential for hormonal health because sex hormones need fat as a building block. And your body can only use the ones you give it. Opt for whole food fats such as avocados, nuts & seeds, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, butter or ghee.
Foods to Avoid
Sugar and processed foods are linked to poor blood sugar management which can impact the ability to manage mid-section weight and reduce the quality of your sleep. This includes alcohol intake (sorry!).
Caffeine can worsen hot flashes; however, this may depend on how you personally metabolize caffeine. If you consume caffeine regularly and suffer from hot flashes, try eliminating caffeine for 3-4 weeks to see if your symptoms improve.
NOTE: Gluten and dairy (irritating to the gut and inflammatory) may cause or exacerbate hormonal problems for some people.
As discussed above, chronic stress is a great contributor to imbalances in our hormones. Diet changes alone can make a measurable difference, but adding in stress management will help a lot. So, try some of these additional tips to support your diet changes.
Techniques like deep breathing, Emotional Freedom Technique, meditation, and yoga practice can bring our bodies into a state of balance. This allows us to shift from a state of sympathetic nervous system dominance (i.e. fight or flight) to parasympathetic (i.e. rest and digest) which allows our body to shift into its natural state of balance.