Do you struggle with hormone imbalances like estrogen dominance? High cortisol levels? Or an underactive thyroid? Do you suspect your hormones might be out of whack? Or are you just curious to learn more about what hormones actually do?
If so, this article is for you! We’ll dive into the main causes and symptoms of the most common hormone imbalances and we’ll offer our top suggestions on how you can start to bring your hormones into alignment naturally.
What Is a Hormonal Imbalance?
Hormones are the chemical messengers in your body that control nearly everything from metabolism to mood, stress response, sexual function, and more. The pituitary, thyroid, and adrenal glands, among others, make up the endocrine system and are responsible for producing hormones.
Our hormones are constantly interacting with each other in a very delicate balance. When the production of one of these glands goes awry, it can have a snowball effect and impact the others, resulting in hormonal imbalance.
Since our hormones are so interconnected, the symptoms can be wide-ranging, vary from person to person, and depend on the exact type of hormonal imbalance you may have.
The most common hormone imbalances and some of the top causes and symptoms include:
Estrogen dominance is most common in women, and it means estrogen levels are out of whack. It can either mean that estrogen is high and progesterone is normal, or that estrogen is normal and progesterone is too low.
- Causes: The main causes for estrogen dominance are obesity, stress, and exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals called xenoestrogens that can be found in tap water, pesticides, cleaning products, plastic, and canned foods.
- Symptoms: Common symptoms include severe PMS, painful and heavy periods, mood swings, anxiety, migraines, breast tenderness or lumps, endometriosis, and bloating.
Low testosterone typically affects men and is becoming increasingly more common. Testosterone levels naturally decline as you age, but experiencing this drop in testosterone earlier in life is typically a result of lifestyle factors.
- Causes: One of the main causes of low testosterone is having too much estrogen, which can be a result of chronic stress, too much alcohol, obesity, and exposure to xenoestrogens.
- Symptoms: The main symptom of low testosterone is low libido.
While testosterone and low levels of it is most commonly associated with men, women also have testosterone and can struggle with levels being too high.
- Causes: The most common cause for this is insulin resistance. When someone develops insulin resistance, the body produces more insulin as a response and higher insulin levels cause the ovaries to produce more testosterone. High levels of testosterone are often associated with PCOS. You can learn more about PCOS and birth control options here.
- Symptoms often include irregular menstrual cycle, infertility, oily skin, acne, facial hair, and hair loss.
Insulin is actually a hormone produced by the pancreas and its main function is to regulate glucose in the body. The pancreas helps glucose from the blood enter our cells so we can turn it into usable energy.
- Causes: Insulin imbalance is often caused by excess sugar consumption, chronic stress, and lack of regular exercise.
- Symptoms: Inability to concentrate, dizziness, sweating, headaches, and blurred vision.
Thyroid hormone imbalance
The thyroid glands are another important endocrine gland. The most common thyroid imbalance is called hypothyroidism and occurs when the thyroid gland doesn't make enough thyroid hormones to meet your body's needs.
- Causes: An underactive thyroid can be caused by stress, toxins, and nutritional deficiencies such as a lack of iodine, selenium, zinc, or magnesium.
- Symptoms include fatigue, unexplained weight gain, and mood fluctuations.
Our stress hormone, cortisol, is produced by the adrenal glands and involves a lot of intricate communication between the brain and the adrenal glands.
- Causes: When we are under chronic stress, the communication pathways get interrupted and your body releases excess cortisol.
- Symptoms include fatigue, weight gain, weight loss, and cravings for sugar, carbs, and caffeine.
It’s important to note that certain periods of life like puberty, perimenopause, menopause, and pregnancy cause fluctuations in hormones. It is natural for your hormone levels to rise and fall during these times, and these imbalances are likely to be temporary.
Ways to Balance Hormones
The endocrine system is incredibly complex and one issue can lead to another, which can feel overwhelming. The good news is that there are many lifestyle and dietary changes you can make to improve symptoms and bring your hormones back into alignment.
In the modern world we live in, we are constantly surrounded by both physical and mental stressors in the form of work, social media, nutrient-depleted food, poor mental health, and more. Chronic stress forces your body to prioritize functions that are only absolutely necessary and can suppress both thyroid and sex hormones.
As a result it’s essential to establish a sustainable and consistent calm practice to balance hormones. Ways to help manage stress levels include: meditating, breathwork, journaling, exercise, listening to music, focusing on something calm or peaceful, spending time in nature, and fresh air.
Limit exposure to environmental chemicals
Environmental toxins—particularly xenoestrogens—interfere with estrogen levels, so limiting exposure to these chemicals helps to keep your hormones in check. Opt for organic foods as they contain fewer pesticides, make the switch to clean household and beauty products, and avoid plastic water bottles and food storage containers by using glass or stainless steel instead.
The Environmental Working Group is a great resource to learn how to lessen your toxic load.
Engage in regular exercise
It’s no surprise that physical activity impacts hormone health. Not only is it a great stress reliever: it also improves blood flow to your muscles, which helps boost hormone receptivity. In other words, it enhances delivery of nutrients and hormone signals. Another major benefit of exercise is its ability to reduce insulin levels and increase insulin sensitivity.
Aim to get 150 minutes of exercise per week or 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. Strength training, running, walking, biking, or pilates are all great options. Pick whatever movement you enjoy the most so you’re more likely to make it a part of your daily routine.
Eat a balanced whole food diet
Eating a balanced diet that is high in protein, healthy fats, and fiber will not only keep blood sugar levels steady throughout the day, but it will also help maintain a healthy weight. All of which is crucial to keeping your hormones balanced.
Consuming an adequate amount of protein is extremely important, as your body needs the amino acids found in protein to make protein-derived hormones known as peptides. Peptide hormones play a role in regulating physiological processes such as growth, energy metabolism, appetite, stress, and reproduction. Aim to eat 20-30 grams of protein at every meal. Wild caught salmon, pasture-raised eggs, chicken, and lentils are some of our go-to sources for protein.
It’s also important to include high-quality healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids into your diet, as they help increase insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation in the body. Try to eat healthy fats like avocados, nuts and seeds, fatty fish, and olive oil daily.
Dietary fiber is also essential to a healthy diet. Fiber supports gut health, increases insulin sensitivity, and stimulates the hormones that control hunger, fullness, and food intake. Our favorite source of fiber is from plant foods. Aim to eat 7-8 servings of fruits and veggies per day.
Check out our guide on how to build a balanced plate to learn more.
Avoid or reduce processed foods
Minimizing consumption of highly processed foods like refined grains, white flours, cereals, sweets, and baked goods is instrumental in optimizing hormone function and avoiding obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. Studies consistently show that eating refined sugar and carbohydrates promotes insulin resistance, and also interferes with the appetite hormones ghrelin and leptin that control hunger and fullness.
Processed foods have also been linked to disruption of the gut microbiome, which may lead to other hormone imbalances.
To reduce your intake focus on incorporating as many whole foods into your diet as possible. In the words of Michael Pollan, “If it came from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t.”
Limit caffeine and alcohol intake
Caffeine is a stimulant that increases cortisol when consumed, which is not supportive for people who are already under a lot of stress, suffer from anxiety, or have thyroid issues. In addition, alcohol can affect your liver, leading to estrogen build up, and it also disrupts sleep.
Limit yourself to one cup of coffee in the morning, or switch to green tea or matcha: these types of tea contain L-theanine, an amino acid that has been shown to affect brain functions by relieving stress disorders, improving mood, and maintaining normal sleep. You can also opt for alcohol-free beverages (check out what Boisson has to offer!).
Take care of your gut health
A healthy gut microbiome is not only the foundation for a strong immune system, but it positively influences hormones by reducing insulin resistance and regulating appetite. In addition to eating a diet rich in fiber, strive to incorporate natural food sources of pre and probiotics into your diet on a weekly basis.
Prebiotics feed the good bacteria in your gut and can be found in apples, dandelion greens, garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, bananas, oats, flaxseeds, burdock root, and seaweed.
Probiotics add good bacteria to your gut and include sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, miso, and kefir. You can also take probiotic supplements.
No matter how nutritious your diet is or how consistent your exercise routine is, getting enough sleep is crucial for optimal health. Poor sleep is linked to imbalances in many hormones including cortisol, insulin, and the appetite hormones leptin and ghrelin. Aim to get at least seven hours of high quality sleep per night. Learn more about why sleep matters and our tips for falling and staying asleep here.
Supplements such as magnesium, B vitamins, and vitamin D can all be supportive for hormone imbalance. Magnesium is important for many reasons, but it’s especially good for cortisol regulation. Magnesium calms your nervous system and prevents the creation of excess cortisol.
B vitamins are essential for the process our bodies use to turn food into energy that our cells can use. They’re also involved in the production of certain hormones. If you’re dealing with hormone imbalance and are deficient in B vitamins, this could be one of the underlying reasons, and supplementation might be beneficial.
Lastly, the body needs vitamin D to produce and use thyroid hormones, but most of us are deficient in it. There are few natural sources other than the sun, which is why supplementation can often be helpful for hormone balance.
Supplements are something you should partner with an expert on as it’s essential to make sure you’re taking the right amount for your specific needs. It’s also important to source them from high-quality trusted brands that are science-backed. This is something our care team at The Lanby can help with!
If you suspect you have a hormone imbalance, there are a lot of diet and lifestyle changes you can make to help bring your hormone levels into balance naturally. It’s also a good idea to work closely with a practitioner to determine the best corrective action: as you’ve learned, hormones are delicate and can be a tricky thing to navigate on your own.
The Lanby can help address hormone imbalances through advanced testing to figure out exactly what is going on, prescribe medication or supplements if necessary, and create a personalized diet and lifestyle plan that will help correct underlying causes. Book a free consult!
- Get enough protein. ...
- Exercise regularly. ...
- Maintain a moderate weight. ...
- Watch your gut health. ...
- Lower sugar intake. ...
- Reduce stress. ...
- Get enough sleep. ...
- Eat healthy fats.
Certain lifestyle practices, including exercising regularly, and eating a nutritious diet rich is protein and fiber can help naturally balance your hormones. Hormones are chemical messengers that have profound effects on your mental, physical, and emotional health.How do you reset hormonal imbalance? ›
Here's how to balance hormones naturally: Eat an anti-inflammatory diet; consume omega-3s, adaptogen herbal supplements, mushrooms, probiotics and other supplements like vitamin D; get good sleep; exercise; and control stress.How long does it take to balance your hormones? ›
How long does it take to balance hormones? As you can imagine, this varies. However, research shows that by taking a holistic, well-rounded approach, you can balance your hormones in less than four months. In fact, you can significantly reduce the amount of chemicals and pesticides in your body in one week.