Whilst you may not be very familiar with the endocrine system and what it does, its effects on you and your health are undeniable. Hormones, on the other hand, I am sure you are well aware of! Through hormones, the endocrine system essentially controls all organ functions in the human body, including that of the ovaries, pancreas, thyroid, adrenals, brain, kidneys, heart, skin and muscles. The endocrine system is made up of several glands which release hormones that communicate with various tissues and organs so they can do their work or function. Based on this description, we can say that hormones act as the body’s chemical messengers.
Various bodily processes, including; metabolism, growth and development, reproduction and moods are affected by hormones. So anytime the hormones are out of balance, it can lead to certain health conditions such as weight gain (or loss), diabetes, weak bones, infertility, fatigue, irritability, depression and more. If you have been diagnosed with a hormonal issue you may have been referred to an endocrinologist. An endocrinologist is a hormone specialist and may do more thorough testing than your general practitioner as well as prescribe medications. Many of the pharmaceutical medications are wonderful and can work beautifully alongside a natural remedy and a healthy diet.
Whilst genetics may play a role in hormone-related conditions there are a couple of other factors that come into play. Certain lifestyle factors may be identified as contributing to hormonal imbalance. One of these lifestyle modifications would be integrating a hormone balancing diet plan. But before going straight to a discussion on this type of diet, let’s go over the basics first.
Factors that affect hormonal balance
It takes more than a blood test to really understand and treat your hormones. If your hormones are not behaving as they should it is worthwhile exploring what factors may be contributing to your imbalance.
When it comes to work-life balance, people tend to view stress as the enemy. However, not all stress is bad. Performing a recital or business presentation while under pressure is a type of situation where stress be your friend. You can harness your stress hormones to help stay alert and focused.
The harmful kind of stress is usually a chronic kind. In life, some of it arises from our inability to work out a proper balance between work and relaxation. Certain jobs are inherently stressful and add shiftwork to a stressful job and hormonal imbalance is almost guaranteed!
Chronic stress triggers the production of stress hormones. These stress hormones are supposed to help during stressful situations and then switch off as soon as the stress has diminished. Your body’s response to your very long to-do list, unhealthy relationships and the demanding job can be exactly the same as its response to being chased by a tiger. The difference is, you escape from the tiger (hopefully) and your stress response can switch off. Too often I see people whose stress response is not getting a chance to naturally switch off instead their body lives in a state of chronic stress which can lead to not only fatigue, depression, anxiety but also chronic health conditions.
Happiness and healthy relationships
Even if you are stressed at work, if you have healthy relationships and are happy, your body’s hormonal balance need not be upset. Conversely, when there is no work-life balance i.e. you have a toxic work environment as well as a toxic home environment or you do not have a social-emotional support network then stress can become chronic, leading to hormonal problems.
This is why it is essential to schedule in time for fun with friends and or family. People who feel alone or isolated are more likely to suffer from depression and stress-related conditions.
Hormones and the genes are inevitably linked. While hormones influence organ functions, genetic factors figure prominently in how certain tissues respond to hormones such oestrogen. We know that just because you carry a gene your health will not necessarily be negatively affected by it. Stress, nutrition and your lifestyle choices all play a part in whether your genes get switched on or not.
Your exposure to environmental toxins also impacts hormonal health. If you are constantly exposed to toxins – perhaps because of your work or home environment, you are also compromising your hormonal health. Whilst there are some types of exposure, we have less control over one area we can have control over is inside our homes. Certain endocrine-disrupting substances are commonly found in commonly used household products. Take note of the cleaning products you are using and ensure that they are natural and chemical free. It’s also worth reviewing your personal care products and cosmetics. We have SO many natural and toxin free options available to us these days that there is really no reason to use chemicals for cleaning our bodies or our homes.
Diet, herbal medicines, nutrients & vitamins
Taking healing herbs, having a healthy diet comprising of fresh whole foods, and supplementing for any vitamin deficiencies is beneficial to hormone health.
Nature has provided us with an abundance of herbs to treat hormonal imbalances no matter what stage of life you are at. From puberty to menopause there are herbs that are safe and effective to help you achieve healthy hormonal balance. I do advise that you have professional advice when supporting your endocrine system with herbs as they are very powerful and if prescribed incorrectly could cause your symptoms to worsen. I really struggle to not step in and offer advice when I see people picking up herbal remedies off the shelf at the supermarket please don’t just take a herbal supplement because a friend recommended it. We are all individuals with our own genetic make-up and what is the perfect herbal remedy for one person may be detrimental to another.
When working with hormonal imbalances in women I will commonly request blood and urine pathology for both iodine and vitamin D. These are two of the most common deficiencies I see in women impacting on not only hormones but also in the prevention of cancer.
Like herbal remedies diets are best when individually prescribed for diagnosed hormonal imbalances. To get started on balancing your hormones though I will always recommend doing a detox and focus on eating organic and hormone-free foods. If you do eat meat buy from a local butcher who you know sources meat from farms that don’t make use of antibiotics and hormones on the animals, they raise.
Alcohol intake causes congestion in the liver making it difficult to metabolise and excrete your hormones. This is especially true if you if you don’t have the recommended two alcohol free days per week or consume more than two drinks at a time. It is suggested that certain alcoholic beverages like wine (contains resveratrol) and beer (has polyphenols) offer some health benefits. It is true that they do contain resveratrol and polyphenols but you would be well and truly drunk and your liver would be well and truly congested if you chose to drink enough wine or beer to reach therapeutic amounts of these in your system! Instead I would suggest healthier, non-toxic alternatives. Foods rich in resveratrol include peanuts, blueberries, pistachios, and grapes whilst celery seeds, chestnuts and cocoa powder are excellent sources of polyphenols.
Just like alcohol, coffee severely impacts on hormonal health as it is acidic and increases cortisol levels. Reducing your coffee intake may be all you need to rid your body of premenstrual tender, painful breasts and irritability.
High cortisol levels also make it harder to get a good night’s sleep. Poor sleep will affect your mood, hormonal balance and weight.
Foods for healthy hormonal balance
We already know that diet plays a major role in the state of our health, including hormonal balance. To help restore and maintain hormonal balance in the body, there are certain dietary modifications you can make to safeguard your health:
- Maintain a diet high in fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Aim for 5 cups of vegetables per day.
- Include essential fatty acids from raw nuts, seeds, avocado, fish and lean protein sources in your diet.
- Consume cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and brussels sprouts (try them baked they are delicious!) Cruciferous vegetables are important for the detoxification of hormones.
- Eat organic foods to avoid hormone-potentiating pesticide residues.
- Include detoxifying foods such as beets, carrots, yams, garlic, dark leafy greens and lemons in your diet.
- Fibre is important as it facilitates the excretion of metabolised hormones and toxins.
- Water intake should be at least eight glasses per day or more. Add an extra litre for every hour of exercise. Note that herbal teas (drunk hot or cold) have therapeutic benefits such as balancing your hormones, supporting detoxification and calming your nervous system and also count as water.
Foods to avoid
If possible, try to eliminate the following in your diet in order to restore hormonal balance naturally:
- Eliminate foods that increase oestrogen levels in the body and affect the liver’s ability to metabolise it. These include non-organic poultry, dairy, red meat, sugar, white flour, refined foods and methylxanthines (found in coffee, tea, chocolate, colas).
- Minimise refined foods as they deplete the body of magnesium and other essential nutrients needed for normal hormone production.
- Avoid consuming saturated fats (they induce inflammatory prostaglandins that exacerbate symptoms of PMS), sugar (they increase the urinary excretion of magnesium, which is depleted in PMS sufferers) and too much salt (may cause fluid retention).
Types of hormonal imbalances
Two of the most common types of hormonal imbalance I see in clinic daily are oestrogen and progesterone. Whilst these can be tested in the blood is important to know what day of your menstrual cycle you are at on the day of testing as these two hormones change dramatically throughout the cycle. You would need to have your blood drawn on specific days of your cycle depending on what you are looking for.
Often blood tests are not needed as we can tell a lot from a woman’s symptoms.
Progesterone is a hormone that plays a major role in a normal menstrual cycle and a healthy pregnancy. You may be suffering from low progesterone levels if you have the following symptoms:
- Premenstrual migraine
- PMS-like symptoms
- Irregular or excessively heavy periods
- Anxiety and nervousness
- Shortness of breath
- Unexplained weight gain
Some of my favourite remedies for low progesterone: Vitex, false unicorn root, peony, magnesium, zinc and vitamin B6.
The hormone oestrogen plays a major role in the development of female secondary sexual characteristics i.e. breasts, endometrium, etc.. In males, it aids in sperm maturation and the maintenance of a healthy libido. The following symptoms indicate oestrogen dominance:
- Irregular periods or excessive vaginal bleeding
- Bloating, fluid retention
- Breast swelling and or tenderness
- Decreased libido
The treatments mentioned above are based on naturopathic priniciples which make use of healing herbs and nutrients in addressing hormonal imbalances and health conditions.
How to restore the natural balance of your hormones
Restoring hormonal health requires a holistic approach which includes not only a balanced diet but also certain lifestyle changes and health practices:
- Do a detox diet/cleanse
- Avoid taking recreational drugs
- Drink enough filtered water
- Detoxify your environment
- Practise dry skin brushing
- Lymphatic drainage massage
- Manage stress, sleep and rest well
- Manage your health with the help of qualified health professionals
I hope the information and tips above help you balance hormones naturally.