Imagine with us, that with the touch of a button, you could reduce PMS, regulate emotions, boost your energy levels, and improve fertility. It’s possible, by merely making tiny tweaks to your diet and lifestyle – no buttons required.
This is not a 90s-style infomercial, we swear.
Learning how to recognize and balance your hormonal highs and lows can have a lasting impact on your mind and body. Although most of us only think about our hormones once a month, or during pregnancy, our hormones fluctuate dramatically throughout a month.
Let’s start by answering the following:
What are Hormones and How do They Affect Your Health?
Think of hormones as chemical messengers produced by several glands and organs in your body. They influence energy levels, sex drive, moods, digestion, sleep patterns and even how you look.
Learning how your hormone cycle works and how to balance your hormones is a proactive way to take charge of how you look and feel.
It’s nice to feel proactive rather than at the whim at your hormone levels, isn’t it?
Breaking Down Your Monthly Hormone Cycle
Your monthly menstrual cycle is regulated by hormones that are controlled by the pituitary gland (which is located in your brain) and your ovaries. Each month, these hormones prepare your body to support a pregnancy. When there’s no pregnancy, menstruation occurs. Here’s an overview of how your hormones change throughout the menstrual cycle.
- Days 1-11: The average menstrual cycle is usually about 24 to 35 days, and Day 1 is the first day of your period. On day 1, your estrogen and progesterone levels are low, which signals the pituitary gland to produce a hormone called FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone). The follicle is a fluid-filled sac in your ovary that contains the egg.
- Days 12-14: At Day 12 to 14 of your cycle, your rising estrogen levels trigger an increase in Luteinizing Hormone (LH), which triggers ovulation. The follicle then secretes progesterone and estrogen in preparation for pregnancy.
- Days 14-28: If the released egg isn’t fertilized after ovulation, the estrogen and progesterone levels slowly drop until around Day 28, when menstruation is triggered, and the cycle begins all over again.
Recognizing Hormonal Imbalance
Fluctuating hormone levels play a significant role in your energy level and how you look and feel. Even the slightest imbalance can have a substantial effect on outcome of your cycle.
Here are some signs that may indicate a hormonal imbalance:
- Mood swings and PMS
- Painful or heavy periods
- Low libido
- Insomnia and difficulty sleeping
- Unexplained weight gain
- Skin issues, including acne and dry skin
- Fertility problems
- Vaginal dryness
- Weak bones
If you suspect you have a hormonal imbalance, consult with a healthcare provider to rule out an underlying health issue.
How to Support Healthy Hormone Levels with Nutrition
Eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise is key, not just for overall health, but for regulating hormones.
Certain nutrients and lifestyle factors are beneficial for your lovely hormones (changing the language changes the attitude!):
- Selenium: This mineral is required by the thyroid gland, which produces hormones that influence metabolism, moods, bone and muscle strength, brain health, digestion, and more. Selenium also plays a crucial role in fertility and the production of female hormones. Selenium can be found in fish, lean meat, whole grains, dairy products, and brazil nuts.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These healthy fats are essential for reducing inflammation in the body, which is crucial for healthy hormone levels. Omega-3s are also effective for reducing pain, even during your period. They are also necessary for producing certain hormones. According to nutrition experts and creators of SmartyPants Organic Vitamins, the best dietary sources of Omega-3 fatty acids are wild-caught fatty fish and certain types of algae (nori, spirulina, and chlorella). Many adults don’t eat fish (or algae) regularly, so deficiencies are common, especially for those on a vegan diet. A high-quality supplement that includes Omega-3s is essential for overall health and balancing hormone levels.
- Probiotics: Our gut health and hormone levels go hand in hand. Probiotics are crucial for maintaining balanced hormone levels. Nourishing your gut with probiotics can also boost your energy levels, strengthen your immune system, reduce migraines and chronic headaches, and correct skin problems like acne. Fermented foods like yogurt, kombucha, and sauerkraut are all rich in probiotics.
- B-Complex: B vitamins play a crucial role in maintaining healthy hormone levels, including estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. They are also used to produce hormones like serotonin, growth hormone, and adrenal hormones. B-complex can also assist with detoxing the liver, optimizing nerve function, regulating moods, and boosting energy. To increase your intake of B vitamins, eat more leafy greens, whole grains, legumes, and lean protein, or take a B-complex supplement.
- Iodine: Iodine is used by your thyroid to make hormones, so having too much or too little iodine can affect your hormone levels. Not only do thyroid hormones impact your monthly cycles, they also impact your brain, bone, and metabolic health. Those who use non-iodized salt, such as sea salt, are more likely to be deficient in this essential nutrient.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D is essential for many body functions, and the human body actually converts it into a hormone. Vitamin D is necessary for the production of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and more. It is also essential for your bone, heart, and mood health. If you live in a northern climate or don’t spend much time in the sun, you are likely deficient in vitamin D.
- Sleep: Proper sleep is vital for managing stress and regulating hormone levels. Shoot for at least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. If you have trouble falling asleep, establishing a sleep schedule by going to bed and getting up at the same time each night and eliminate bright light, especially blue light, in the evenings.
- Vitex (Chasteberry): Vitex is a popular supplement for regulating female hormones, reducing PMS and hormonal acne, and treating some menopausal symptoms. It works by decreasing the release of a hormone called prolactin from the pituitary gland. For regulating hormones, the recommended dosage is 400 mg per day in tablet or capsule form.
Foods to Avoid if You Suspect a Hormonal Imbalance
If you’re dealing with a hormonal imbalance, you might want to consider eliminating, or at least cutting back on certain foods.
- Raw Cruciferous Vegetables: Raw cruciferous veggies like cabbage and broccoli contain goitrin, which is a chemical compound that may inhibit the absorption of certain hormones. Those who have issues with proper thyroid production and hormone production should cook cruciferous vegetables before eating them.
- Processed Soy: Processed soy products, like soymilk and tofu, may also interfere with hormone health. Whole food soy, such as edamame, doesn’t seem to have any detrimental effect on hormone levels, so it’s a much better option.
- Processed Foods: Processed foods, including refined carbs and sugar can interfere with healthy hormone levels. Try to eliminate them from your diet as much as possible for your overall health.
It is nice to believe that we don’t have to feel accosted by our own bodies. The next time someone suggests you are hormonal, you can maturely retort, “Thank you. I am so glad my healthy lifestyle is working.”