We are made up of a complex symphony of hormones – estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, thyroid, cortisol, insulin, to name just a few. These chemical messengers must play in harmony with each other for us to function optimally.
However, many of us deal with hormonal imbalances that lead to mood swings, brain fog, irritability, fatigue, skin breakouts and issues, and weight gain. Once we hit 35-40, hormonal balance can become elusive as these hormones go out of kilter. It can be gradual for some and dramatic for others, but hormonal imbalance need not be a torturous battle. The body prefers to be in hormonal homeostasis – a state of equilibrium. Our job is to provide the right conditions to restore hormonal harmony. Here are 10 ways to balance hormones with nutrition and lifestyle medicine:
Optimise your gut health
The gut controls our hormone levels and our hormones strongly influence our gut function. For example, not eating enough fibre or consuming excess red meat can raise estrogen unfavourably by stimulating the estrobolome – the aggressive microbes in your gut that affect estrogen levels.
The estrobolome is the collection of (mostly) bacteria that modulates estrogen levels in the body. And these bacteria determine whether estrogen keeps re-circulating in the body instead of being excreted. The estrobolome helps metabolise excess estrogen to keep it from causing problems (1). This is a great protective mechanism because too much can cause weight gain, mood swings, painful menstrual cycles and potentially breast and endometrial cancers.
Furthermore, the gut-brain axis puts our gut function at the centre of any mood, weight and energy issue that a woman faces. For example, excess stress and cortisol can poke holes in the gut, leading to symptoms such as constipation, gas, bloating, loose stools, diarrhoea and feeling tired and foggy-headed. Nutrient deficiencies can then start to show up, causing moodiness, weight gain, and even autoimmune issues such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
The gut microbiome may be the most important organ of the endocrine system – yet is is often overlooked (2). Many hormones are produced and impacted by our microbiota, so hormone imbalance should always start with the gut (3, 4). Gut bacteria control how the body responds to the food we eat; whether we store it as fat or use it as fuel. Eating for optimal digestive health creates a cascade effect that touches how all our hormones are produced and used.
Eat probiotic-rich foods
Probiotics are the good bacteria that support your gut, which in turn, balances hormones. They are found naturally in fermented foods such as organic fermented miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir. Aim to consume a serving of these foods each day.
Support your liver
The liver is the body’s master filter and detoxifier; it’s where the body cleans out toxins we are exposed to. The liver is also crucial for hormone metabolism. If your liver is stressed, it affects hormone balance throughout the body. Ultimately, an over-burdened liver can lead to problems with how you utilise hormones. Avoid fructose, refined sugar, and sugar substitutes. Focus on increasing liver detoxifiers such as dandelion tea, parsley and coriander.
Healthy fats – drink your oils!
Healthy fats are the building blocks of all hormones. Omega-3 fatty acids in particular make such a difference to healing the gut. They have also been shown to lower the main stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline and raise lean body mass in randomised trials. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in a range of plant-based sources including: nuts and seeds (especially walnuts and pumpkin seeds) and cold pressed oils, (especially flax seed oil). Other rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids include chia and hemp seeds.
Avoid inflammatory foods
Avoid processed foods, refined sugars and carbohydrates, red meat, excessive alcohol, gluten, and cow dairy, which can set off inflammation because these foods disrupt or damage digestion. When the gut is compromised or damaged, it switches on an inflammatory cascade, which then adversely affects hormone balance and production. The same applies if we are chronically stressed. Turmeric (curcumin) is one of the most potent natural anti inflammatories we can include in the diet that can calm down the gut, so that we can assimilate and absorb the food we need to build happy hormones.
Protect your thyroid
If you struggle with your weight, you may need to restrict your grain intake. Focus instead on low-starch vegetables and clean protein, eaten slowly and mindfully. After a reset period, you can re-introduce grains back in to the diet, but focus on slow-burning wholegrain types, especially sprouted grains that do not contain gluten. Key thyroid nutrients include; magnesium and iodine. Almonds and dark leafy greens are rich in magnesium. Iodine rich foods include sea vegetables such as kombu, nori and kelp. Aim to consume 3 times a week.
Create healthy plates
The best way to reset your hormones efficiently and permanently is what you choose to put on your plate. Food is medicine and information for your body and you want to be sure you are conveying the right information. Both the 3 Sources Game Changers guide and Thrive Tracker tool show you easy ways to eat optimally at every meal, with detailed information of the amounts you should aim for to ensure you are hitting all nutrient bases and nourishing yourself adequately.
Fire up the fibre
Fibre is super important for re-setting your estrogen levels. Increased fibre intake has been shown to reduce cortisol, stabilise insulin and blood sugar, and lower estrogens. Regardless of age, you should aim to consume 30-45 grams of fibre per day as part of an optimal eating plan. To compare, most women consume as little as 13 grams each day. Eat a combination of fibre-rich foods, such as vegetables, chia seeds, psyllium husks, and flax seeds. But be aware; increase your fibre intake gradually – by no more than 5 grams a day. Going too fast too soon may cause gas, bloating, and even constipation.
Start your day with a tonic
To flush out your liver and fire your digestive system. Here are some of my favourites:
- Lemon tonic: squeeze the juice of 1/2 lemon into a mug and add hot water
- Apple cider vinegar (ACV): Add 1 tbsp ACV to 3 tbsp warm water for a shot, or add to a mug of hot water. ACV can help with fatty liver and gut health by improving the gut microbiome, whilst helping to metabolise fat. Choose raw and organic (unpasteurised).
- Ginger tea: Finely grate 1 tbsp ginger. Add to a mug of hot water
- Flax tea: for estrogen clearance and gut/bowel cleansing (especially when constipated). Boil 1 tablespoon of flax seeds in a cup of water for at least 2 to 3 minutes. Then drink the whole cupful, including the tea and seeds.
- Miracle broth: reduces inflammation, alkalises the body, supports the adrenal glands, healthy digestion, and is rich in iodine to support the thyroid. You can find the recipe under the “Miracle Broth” highlight icon on my Instagram feed.
- Adaptogenic elixirs: adaptogens are known as the superheroes of the herbal world and help to increase energy, strengthen the immune system and improve our ability to withstand and recover from stress. I have created 5 ‘nutritive elixirs,’ which include ashwagandha, reishi, maca, liquorice, turmeric, rosemary and other spices, which all have adaptogenic qualities that can play an important role in supporting health and wellness during times of stress. Download the free Ebook here.
Eliminate endocrine disruptors
The elephant in the room when it comes to hormone imbalance. The average woman applies 168 synthetic chemicals on her skin, every single day. I believe the skin is a hugely important subject to be thinking about with regards to where you might be exposing yourself. Most people have bought the message they need to eat organic food to reduce pesticide and herbicide toxicity, yet they are still putting toxic shampoo or nail polish on. See the article I wrote about clean beauty from the outside in here.
To address the symptoms of hormonal imbalance, start with nutrition and lifestyle interventions. When you begin to work upstream, small tweaks can really swing big doors. And when you are changing diet and healing the gut, you will start to notice the difference almost immediately. There are many other ways to upgrade your hormones, but the quick win priority is to choose your food carefully and to eat it mindfully. Looking at lifestyle practices to balance cortisol is also essential because cortisol pulls the other hormones off line and must be addressed when endeavouring to reset hormonal harmony. See journal post here and here.
(1) Kwa M, et al. “The Intestinal Microbiome and Estrogen Receptor-Positive Female Breast Cancer.” J Natl Cancer Inst. 2016 Apr 22;108(8). doi: 10.1093/jnci/djw029. Print 2016 Aug.
(2) Clarke, G et al. “Minireview: Gut microbiota: the neglected endocrine organ.” Mol Endocrinol. 2014 Aug;28(8): 1221-38.
(3) El Aidy S, et al. “Gut Microbiota: The Conductor in the Orchestra of Immune-Neuroendocrine Communication.” Clin Ther. 2015 May 1;37(5):954-67. doi: 10.1016/j.clinthera.2015.03.002. Epub 2015 Apr 3.
(4) Neuman H, et al. “Microbial endocrinology: the interplay between the microbiota and the endocrine system.” FEMS Microbiol Rev. 2015 Jul;39(4):509-21. doi: 10.1093/femsre/fuu010. Epub 2015 Feb 19.