I treat many women who suffer from fatigue, sleep disturbances, weight gain, irregular menstruation, and mood disorders. While the causes of these symptoms can vary, often the underlying issue is some kind of hormonal imbalance.
Poor diet and gut health, insulin resistance, stress, an underactive thyroid, and environmental toxins can all lead to an imbalance of our body’s hormones.
When our hormones are out of balance, your mental and physical health inevitably suffer. The good news is that there are many steps you can take to optimize your hormone health. I’ve advised many women over the last decade of my naturopathic practice with the following six steps, and I’ve been pleased with the progress I’ve seen in my patients feeling vibrant and healthy again.
STEP 1: Optimize Nutrition
Cleaning up your diet can bring the body back into a state of wellness. By being mindful of your intake of certain foods and nutrients, your body can regulate its natural production of hormones, namely estrogen and progesterone. Here’s what to keep in mind:
- Ensure you’re getting enough protein. Lean, organic, grass-fed animal protein, free-range eggs, nuts and seeds and legumes and wild caught fish are some of the recommendations for my patients. Adequate protein helps to balance blood sugars, provides energy for hormone production and healthy immune function.
- Include dietary fats, which help to reduce inflammation in the body. Adequate intake of fats helps improve mood and memory, ease PMS symptoms, and aid fertility. Healthy fats are also the building blocks for your hormones.
- Include supplements, such as B-vitamins, magnesium, vitamin D, and iodine in your diet. These supplements help with sleep, supporting the stress response, reducing inflammation and a healthy thyroid gland.
- Avoid dairy, especially for those who struggle with endometriosis, and symptoms of estrogen dominance, such as heavy, painful periods, fibrocystic breasts, or uterine fibroids.
STEP 2: Balance Blood Sugar
Balancing blood sugar levels is crucial in reversing insulin resistance. When you have insulin resistance, you often carry weight around your central abdomen, have intense sugar and carb cravings, can have skin disorders, and have difficulty losing weight. Balancing your blood sugars is especially important for PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome). Reduce your intake of sugar and simple carbohydrates to ease these symptoms.
STEP 3: Support Gut Function
Hormones are detoxified first in the liver, and then the colon. If your digestive system is out of whack, this can enhance your dominance of estrogen, causing mood swings and difficult periods. Support your gut health by including a high-quality probiotic into your diet, eating fermented foods, and minimizing your sugar, dairy and gluten intake. Another tip is to add a digestive enzyme supplement before each meal to help your body better absorb nutrients.
STEP 4: Manage your stress
Since hormones are intricately connected, an imbalance in stress hormones can lead to changes in your cycle and overall well-being. Stress can impact your hormones in many ways, including increased menstrual pain, irregular cycles, PMS, infertility, exacerbated menopausal symptoms, and anxiety.
Stress can also lead to changes in sleep cycles. Getting a quality, deep restorative sleep every night is essential for hormone balance.
Reduce your stress by incorporating yoga, meditation, exercise, time in nature, and socializing with the people you love.
Supplements for stress reduction include: B vitamins, magnesium and adaptogenic herbs such as Rhodiola and Ashwagandha.
STEP 5: Test & Optimize Thyroid Function
Thyroid function can definitely impact hormone balance. When the thyroid is underactive, it can lead to heavier periods, longer cycles, infertility, difficulty losing weight, constipation, dry skin, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and feeling cold. Every woman should be getting their thyroid tested every year in order to address these underlying issues. Make sure you ask your ND or MD to order a full thyroid panel which includes TSH, Free T4, Free T3 and thyroid antibodies.
STEP 6: Reduce Toxins & Support Detox Pathways
Your estrogen levels depend on how much estrogen your body produces, how well your liver and digestive system detoxify your hormones, and your exposure to chemicals.
When these factors are out of balance, your body ends up in an estrogen - dominant state, creating heavier and more difficult cycles.
To help support liver detoxification pathways, include turmeric, cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, and supplements such as DIM, Indole-3-carbinol, calcium D-glucarate, and sulforaphane.
To reduce toxins, minimize your exposure to chemicals. Be wary of phthalates in plastics and fragrances, bisphenol A in the plastic lining of canned foods and hard plastic toys, perfluorinated chemicals in nail polish, makeup, and beauty products, triclosan in antibacterial products, and parabens, the preservative in many shampoos, sunscreens, deodorants and toothpaste.
Check out www.ewg.org for more information about protecting you and your family from these hormone-disrupting chemicals.
Don’t let these six steps overwhelm you; start by making small shifts in your diet, and then incorporate the following steps on the list. While making any changes to our health can be challenging, I promise that once you’re feeling good and back in balance, the hard work will payoff.