Regulate your menstrual cycle, boost mood & prevent breakouts
Hormones are chemical messengers that are secreted from endocrine glands into the bloodstream to tell organs and tissues what to do.
In the reproductive organs, hormones are responsible for reproductive growth and development, maintenance of a woman’s menstrual cycle, making healthy sperm, sexual function and fertility.
Hormonal issues occur when the ratio of hormones become unbalanced; even small changes in hormone levels can have a major effect on the body.
Learn what causes hormone imbalance and 5 foods to balance hormones. Regulate your menstrual cycle, boost mood and prevent hormonal breakouts.
What causes hormone imbalance?
The cause of hormone imbalance is often multifactorial. Diet, exercise and lifestyle play a huge role in hormone health; however, these factors are often overlooked. Other causes include injury, trauma, eating disorders, certain medications and tumours on the endocrine glands or reproductive organs. Health conditions like diabetes, thyroid dysfunction and adrenal gland disorders such as Cushing’s syndrome (where the body produces excess cortisol) and Addison’s disease (where the body produces insufficient cortisol) can also cause hormone imbalance.
Dietary and lifestyle causes of hormone imbalance include:
Poor diet. Food affects the production and secretion of hormones and how hormones circulate in the body. Insufficient nutrient intake and eating too many inflammatory foods (sugar, refined grains, white flour products, processed and packaged foods, junk food, damaged oils (margarine, vegetable/rapeseed oil) and fried foods can trigger hormone imbalance.
Dairy products contain several hormones, including oestrogen and insulin-like growth factors (ILGF) which promotes the production of androgen hormones such as testosterone. Consuming dairy (even organic and raw milk) can increase your oestrogen load so is best avoided if you have any hormonal imbalance. Milk may also contain PCBs and dioxins (toxic chemicals), Bovine Growth Hormone, zeranol and insecticides – harmful toxins you don’t want in your body. Learn how to go dairy-free.
An imbalance of gut bacteria and poor gut function. There is a link between the gut microbiome (the microorganisms that live in the gut) and hormones so when your gut bacteria are out of balance, it can affect hormone regulation, especially oestrogen, progesterone and your thyroid hormones. Learn more about gut health.
Poor liver function and detoxification capability. One of the liver’s jobs is to excrete toxins and hormones out of the body to prevent them from building up and recirculating the body. If the liver is compromised in any way, this process is not happening efficiently and the body cannot metabolise oestrogen properly. This results in oestrogen being reabsorbed in the body which can lead to hormone imbalance. Learn how to improve liver health.
Stress plays havoc with your hormones and needs to addressed if you suffer with any hormonal issues such as PMS, irregular menstrual cycles or infertility. When you become stressed, your body’s priority is to make the stress hormone cortisol to help you deal with the stressor. In doing so, it can reduce production of other hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone. Prolonged stress (and cortisol production) results in hormone dysregulation. Learn how to manage stress naturally.
Lack of exercise or over exercising can also impact hormones. Exercise is crucial for health and vitality as it helps reduce stress, improve metabolic and cardiovascular function, boost mood and regulate hormones including insulin, cortisol, thyroid hormones and the sex hormones. Light to moderate exercise helps keep hormones in check, but high-intensity workouts and excessive exercising can have the opposite effect and negatively affect your hormones. Exercise naturally increases cortisol production so, when you exercise, the body prioritises cortisol the same way it does when you are stressed. This slows down reproductive hormone production (especially progesterone) which is why some women find their periods may cease or become very irregular when they exercise too much.
Hormone disruptors (known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals – EDCs) and xenoestrogens (chemicals that mimic oestrogen) can affect your hormone levels by changing how they are produced, metabolised and stored in the body. Examples of household and personal care products that contain EDCs and xenoestrogens include air fresheners, sunscreen, cleaning products, laundry detergent, shampoo, moisturiser, perfume and nail polish.
Caffeine (coffee, black tea, energy drinks) surges adrenaline and cortisol levels in the body – these are the same hormones responsible for the stress response. As already mentioned, increased cortisol negatively affects other hormones in the body. Caffeine also impacts sleep, energy levels, blood sugar balance and digestion. Try a coffee alternative
Alcohol can also contribute to hormone issues and has shown to significantly change a woman’s menstrual cycle and her reproductive hormones (increasing oestrogen levels).
Smoking is another toxic lifestyle habit that considerably affects the reproductive hormones (as well as the rest of the body) and has been linked to decreased fertility and shortened menstrual cycles.
Lack of sleep affects the body in the same way that stress does. It dysregulates your circadian rhythm (your sleep/wake cycle) causing reduced production of melatonin (the sleep hormone) and increased exposure to cortisol. Learn how to improve sleep.
Symptoms of hormone imbalance
- Irregular or missed periods. In some cases, periods may completely stop.
- Heavy, painful periods
- Acne and frequent breakouts
- Hair loss or thinning hair
- Hair growth on the face, chin and other body parts
- Reduced sex drive
- Weight gain
- Change in bowel motions – constipation or more frequent bowel motions
- Low mood, anxiety and depression
- Vaginal dryness
- Headaches and migraines
- Night sweats
- Fertility problems
- Muscle and joint pain or stiffness
High fibre foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds help to keeps bowel motions regular which is important for clearing metabolised hormones out of the body and preventing hormones from being reabsorbed.
Consuming 2 tbs of ground flaxseeds per day has shown to decrease oestrogen levels. Fibre is also key for maintaining blood sugar levels and increasing insulin sensitivity (the way your body responds to glucose); both of which are key for hormone balance.
Brassica vegetables including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, collard greens and kale are an excellent source of indoles which are phytochemicals that help stimulate detoxifying enzymes in the liver and gut. Indoles also clear metabolised oestrogen and help maintain the correct ratios of oestrogens in the body which is particularly important if you have oestrogen dominance (heavy periods, irregular periods, PMS).
Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi are great for gut health and work in the same way that probiotics do, helping to boost the beneficial bacteria in your gut. You can easily make fermented foods at home using a few ingredients and minimal equipment. Learn more about food fermentation.
Garlic, leeks and onions are also fantastic for gut health (and consequently hormonal balance) as they provide food for beneficial gut bacteria (prebiotics) which is important to help your microbiome flourish and stay healthy. Garlic also contains antibacterial and antifungal properties to ward off harmful bacteria.
Healthy fats are vital for hormone health as all hormones are made from fats (cholesterol). Essential fatty acids (especially omega-3) are also important for brain health, mood regulation, reducing inflammation and supporting cardiovascular health.
Good sources of healthy fats include avocado, nuts, seeds (chia, flax, sunflower, pumpkin), extra virgin olive oil and flaxseed oil.
Balance your hormones naturally
The best way to keep your hormones balanced and hormonal symptoms at bay is to eat a nutritious, healthy diet that is rich in hormone-balancing foods like brassica vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, garlic and avocado. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, sugar, dairy and junk food as these dietary and lifestyle habits negatively affect hormone production and metabolism.
To learn more about nutrition and hormone health, take a look at CNM’s Nutrition for Everyday Living Short course which is available online and in-class.