7 Ways to Balance Your Hormones Naturally
by Venus Ramos, MD
In this article:
Your body is a complex network of glands, organs and processes that interact with each other through chemical messengers called hormones. This hormonal network makes up your endocrine system.
As the main regulator of your body, the endocrine system manages bodily functions like mood, sleep, appetite, metabolism, heart rate, sexual function, reproductive cycles, stress levels, body temperature, and your growth and development.
When the system goes out of balance you can suffer from a wide array of symptoms, depending on your gender and the affected hormone. Possible signs and symptoms include:
- Appetite changes
- Weight gain or loss
- Sleep problems
- Skin changes
- Hair loss
- Depressed mood
- Sensitivity to cold or heat
- Altered sex drive
- Water retention
- Urinary tract infections
- PMS (premenstrual syndrome)
- Changes in blood pressure or heart rate
- Mood disorders including anxiety and depression
While prescription medications may be able to help alleviate your symptoms, it’s also a good idea to learn how to balance your hormones naturally. When you address the root cause of your problem, then you can find an actual solution rather than just a mask over your symptoms.
Why Does Hormonal Imbalance Occur?
There are many reasons why a person’s endocrine system might go out of balance. While medical conditions can affect the endocrine glands and organs, your environment and lifestyle habits can also contribute to creating a hormonal imbalance.
Causes of hormonal imbalance may include:
- Poor nutrition
- Being overweight
- Severe allergy
- Chronic stress
- Injury to a gland or organ
- Exposure to toxins (e.g. BPA, phthalates, pesticides)
- Medication (e.g. birth control, anabolic steroids)
Natural Strategies To Balance Hormones
There are several strategies you can take to correct hormonal imbalances naturally so that you can address the root cause of the problem:
In the presence of sugar, your insulin level stays high. Insulin is a strong hormone that can drive five other hormones out of balance – cortisol, glucagon, growth hormone, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.
If your insulin remains elevated too often or for too long, then your body’s cells may become overwhelmed and no longer respond to insulin’s signal to take in the sugar (glucose) from the blood. When your body develops this insulin resistance, it can eventually lead to the onset of diabetes.
Food sensitivities can contribute to hormonal imbalance by increasing inflammation which can influence hormones like cortisol. So you may want to work with your healthcare provider to determine your food sensitivities with an elimination diet or a food allergy blood test. Common food sensitivities include gluten and dairy.
Since inflammation can disrupt hormone balance, incorporate an anti-inflammatory diet which includes raw nuts and seeds as well as fresh, organic fruits and vegetables.
Oily fish like salmon and mackerel provide a good dose of healthy fat in the form of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega 3s are anti-inflammatory and are essential for creating certain hormones. If you aren’t getting enough omega-3s from fish, then you should consider taking a quality fish oil supplement.
These fish are also good sources of cholesterol, which is required to synthesize sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone. Cholesterol is needed for vitamin D production as well.
Avoid fish, meats, poultry, and dairy products that may contain hormones, steroids or antibiotics. Stay away from foods like processed soy products, enriched white flour, artificial sweeteners and processed vegetable oil that can disrupt hormonal balance.
Chronic stress can be a major factor in creating hormonal imbalance. When constantly pumping out cortisol and adrenaline in response to stress, the adrenal glands can get overworked. These stress hormones signal blood glucose to increase, blood pressure to increase, and digestion to slow down. Mood and sleep can also be affected. Over time, elevated levels of stress hormones can lead to diabetes, heart disease, depression and autoimmune disorders.
In some cases, an herbal supplement may be a wise addition to a stress management plan. Adaptogens are plant substances that can provide support to the adrenals by helping the body deal with stress. Adaptogens work to help return your body to normal function. So if a hormone is deficient or overabundant, then an adaptogenic supplement will act in the opposite direction to restore hormonal balance.
Maca is an adaptogenic supplement that you may use to enhance the function of the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. These are known as the “master glands” of the body because they control the functions of many of the other glands in the endocrine system.
Chemicals which can be toxic to the body are prevalent in today’s world. They can be in the air you breathe, the food you eat, the water you drink and products you put on your skin. Many of these toxins are referred to as endocrine disruptors because they can interfere with hormonal processes. Some common endocrine disruptors and how to avoid them are listed here:
- Lead: Get rid of old, chipped paint on your walls. Install a quality water filter for your drinking water and your bath/shower.
- Phthalates: Avoid body and personal care products that list “fragrance” as an ingredient because this often means it contains phthalates.
- Organophosphate pesticides: Look at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) list called the “Dirty Dozen.” Each year, the EWG ranks pesticide contamination of popular fruits and vegetables. Choose organic options of produce on this list.
- Bisphenol A (BPA) and BPA substitutes: Do not use plastic to store your food or drink. Avoid canned goods from companies that do not specify that their cans are free from BPA and its substitutes.
- Perfluorinated chemicals (PFC’s): Avoid non-stick cookware as well as stain- and water-resistant coatings on your carpet, clothing, or furniture.
It can be difficult to avoid all toxins, so it’s important to boost your body’s detoxification methods. Increase your sweating function through exercise or sauna therapy. Exercise can also enhance the circulation of your lymphatic vessels which carry toxins away for neutralization and elimination.
Getting less than optimal sleep can play a huge role in creating a hormonal imbalance. A sleep disturbance can impact many hormone levels including cortisol and the appetite hormone, ghrelin. Aim for getting at least 7.5 hours of sleep each night.
If you’re having trouble getting to sleep, here are some suggestions that may help:
- Turn off electronics a couple hours before bedtime.
- Spend at least 30 minutes outside in natural light during the day. The wide spectrum of natural light can support your serotonin level so that your melatonin level is appropriate for good sleep.
- Stay away from artificial light as much as possible after sunset.
- Drink sufficient water throughout the day, but stop drinking about 2 hours prior to bedtime. This can help limit the number of times you must wake up to use the toilet.
- Consider temporary use of a natural supplement to help with sleep. Possible choices include GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) and melatonin. Ask your healthcare provider for guidance on the best option for your situation.
Stimulants like caffeine can trigger an overproduction of adrenal gland hormones. This is especially disruptive when other hormone stressors are involved like toxins, pregnancy, chronic stress or insufficient omega-3 intake.
Consult with a healthcare provider who is well-versed in conventional medicine and natural methods of balancing hormones. Your doctor can order blood tests to determine what your hormone levels are. Before you start any treatment (medications, bioidentical hormones, supplements or even lifestyle changes), discuss possible adverse effects. It’s important to know how anything you do or take may interact with any existing conditions or medications.