Hormones are the body’s chemical messengers and are produced by your endocrine glands, which include the pineal, pituitary, hypothalamus, parathyroid, thyroid, pancreas, adrenals, ovaries and testes. Hormones are crucial to your body’s functioning because they directly affect growth, metabolism, sexual development and energy. Your body uses cholesterol and fatty acids as building blocks to make “steroid” hormones, including the sex hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. When these hormones are out of balance, your libido and fertility both suffer. But hormone imbalance can affect much more than just sex drive and fertility; proper hormone balance is key for maintaining a healthy mood, healthy weight maintenance, digestive/bowel health, skin health and healthy energy levels.
Hormone imbalance can be caused by a variety of factors, including your diet. Eating the proper foods can be a very powerful tool in maintaining and helping to restore proper hormone balance. Eating the right foods is not only important because it gives your body the building blocks necessary to create the hormones you need, but if you are eating the wrong foods, certain components in those foods may actually hinder healthy hormone production, contributing to a further imbalance.
Foods for Hormonal Balance
Fresh fruits and veggies are great for supporting healthy hormonal balance. Fruits are naturally high in vitamins. Certain fruits have additional health benefits: Cherries actually contain a powerful antioxidant hormone called melatonin, which helps promote the healthy sleep cycles important to maintaining hormonal balance. Vegetables are also a great source of health-promoting vitamins and minerals. In particular, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts and cauliflower are not only vitamin-rich but also help promote the body’s healthy metabolism of estrogen.
Some foods contain plant chemicals called phytoestrogens, or “dietary estrogens,” so-called because of their structural similarity to estrogen results in their ability to mimic estrogen in the body. Depending on what type of hormone imbalance you’re dealing with, these foods can be beneficial. However, if you have an imbalance like estrogen dominance, they could actually throw things even more out of balance. It is a good idea to consult your physician about any suspected hormone imbalance before loading up on foods containing phytoestrogens. Some common foods containing phytoestrogens are soybeans and soy products, legumes like lentils, whole grains, oats, flax seeds, sesame seeds, yams, alfalfa, carrots, apples and pomegranates.
Because fatty acids are one of the building blocks of steroidal hormones like estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, getting enough essential fatty acids, or EFAs, in your diet is important. These fatty acids are “essential” because your body can’t produce them on its own and must get them from your diet. When it comes to EFAs, balance is key; getting too much Omega-6 in relation to Omega-3 leads to inflammation and can also adversely affect cellular health. Maintaining the correct balance of fatty acids can be difficult because Omega-6 is prevalent in the typical western diet, present in the refined vegetable oils found in many fast foods and snack foods and in processed foods like margarine. Refined oils are also highly unstable and oxidize easily, contributing to inflammation in the body. Conversely, food sources of Omega-3 are more scarce and include cold-water fish like salmon, sardines and herring. Good alternatives to refined oils high in Omega-6 are olive oil (when unheated) and coconut oil (either unheated or when used for cooking).
Healthy Supplementation for Hormone Imbalance
If you want to support natural hormonal balance, supplementing with certain nutrients can help fill in the gaps in your diet, or even provide additional support to an already-balanced system. Nutrients like Magnesium and Vitamin D can support healthy hormone balance. A multi-vitamin containing boron may also be helpful in correcting hormone imbalance, as boron helps the body retain estrogen. A good Omega fatty acid supplement can ensure you’re getting the proper Omega-3 to Omega-6 balance, for optimum hormonal balance. Aside from nutritional supplements, plant supplements like maca, or formulas containing maca, can also work to support hormone levels naturally.