There's a lot of talk about keeping your hormones in balance and being wary of the common culprits that throw your hormones out of whack, and yet so much about hormones remains a mystery. We know they can be the cause of so many of our ills—breakouts, mood swings, and random cravings—but when they're in balance, hormones are to thank for keeping our bodies properly functioning.
Even if you lead a healthy lifestyle, there are so many environmental factors and seemingly innocuous decisions that are messing with your hormones. Reset your body from the inside out by identifying these factors and incorporating the right supplements to help you balance your hormones. To dive deep into the subject, we reached out to celebrity nutritionist Elissa Goodman to provide her expertise and advice.
Keep scrolling to learn why our hormones are so often imbalanced, and discover her recommendations for getting them back on the right track.
BYRDIE: What controls hormone levels?
ELISSA GOODMAN: Your endocrine system makes and releases hormones. This includes the hypothalamus (the master gland), the thyroid, the pituitary and the adrenal glands, the pancreas, and the pineal. But hormones are even made and released by the brains, lungs, heart, kidneys, liver, and skin. In women, we also produce hormones in our ovaries and in men, the testes. Hormones are the messengers of the body—they send chemical messages and affect processes of metabolism, mood, growth and development, sexual function, and reproduction.
BYRDIE: What are the most common causes of hormone imbalances in women?
EG: The most common causes of hormone imbalances are diet, changes in the balance of minerals and hydration, stress (this could be emotional, family, work, physical, etc.), inflammation, and infection. The health of your gut has a large effect on hormones as well. Balanced levels of microflora are directly correlated to balanced hormone levels. Hormonal birth control is a common culprit because it pumps the body with added hormones (for some women their entire reproductive lives).
The Signs of Hormone Imbalance
BYRDIE: How can someone tell if they have a hormone imbalance? What are the signs?
EG: There are many symptoms. Some women have many of these symptoms and others only a few.
- PMS mood changes and irritability, sadness, or anger
- Hormonal migraines or headaches
- Digestive issues
- Weight fluctuation or fluid retention
- Breast tenderness, breast lumps, or cysts
- Heavy or light periods
- Cramps and back pain
- Adult acne
- Constant hunger
- Sleep issues
- Loss of libido
- Hair thinning or loss
- Depression and anxiety
Supplements to Balance Hormones
BYRDIE: What health supplements do you recommend to balance hormones?
EG: Probiotics. There is a notable link between gut health and hormone balance. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that can improve production and regulation of key hormones. If you can't commit to a daily probiotic supplement, probiotic-rich foods are just as good—raw sauerkraut, fermented coconut yogurt or fermented coconut water, tempeh, kombucha, or kimchi are all good options.
Magnesium. Many women are magnesium-deficient because our cells dump magnesium during stress. You push minerals out of the body just to deal with everyday life. Magnesium is dumped and the central nervous system is supercharged. But, you need to replenish magnesium to keep calming your central nervous system and prevent the overabundance of cortisol. When these things are regulated, all your other hormones will also be better regulated. Magnesium also helps you sleep better and reduces inflammation, both of which are needed for hormone balance.
Omega-3s. The body constructs hormones out of omega-3s, and it is a commonly recommended supplement for individuals with hormone disorders. Omega-3s also reduce the inflammatory damage that interferes with hormone balance.
Vitamin D3. Research shows that when taken, vitamin D3 acts like a hormone inside the body and can help to reduce inflammation levels. Sunshine is the best way to supplement this, but not all of us can get enough of it. If you can't, taking 5000 IU of vitamin D3 daily is a general recommendation.
Adaptogenic Herbs. Adaptogenic herbs promote balance in the body. In particular adaptogenic herbs help the body deal with stress and boosts immune function. I recommend several adaptogens—Tulsi Tea, Ashwagandha, and Reishi Mushroom are my favourites.
Traditional Medicinals Dandelion Tea. Dandelion's ability to support natural detoxification makes it a natural choice for hormone balancing, as it helps to flush excess hormones from the body. The vitamin K in dandelion helps with menstrual bleeding because of its blood-clotting capabilities. Dandelion has also been used for treating recurring UTIs that many women suffer from, as it helps the kidneys clear out waste and increases urine production while disinfecting and inhibiting bacterial growth.
Maca. This hormone booster, from the tuber root of a Peruvian radish, helps balance hormones by stimulating and nourishing the hypothalamus and pituitary glands. Maca works as an adaptogen, responding to your body's needs. If you're producing too much of a hormone, it can regulate production downward. If you're not producing enough hormones, adaptogens can regulate production upward. Maca has been used for fertility, better hair, skin, and nails, and treating PMS.
NOTE: Check with your doctor or health care professional before taking any new supplements, especially if you are on medications or contraceptives.
Lifestyle Choices to Balance Hormones
BYRDIE: In addition to taking these supplements, what habits should women adopt or break to better their hormone balance?
EG: Get good sleep. Without adequate sleep, hormones don't stand a chance. As you sleep, your body is cleansing, recharging, and making more hormones. Lack of sleep, poor sleep, or even going to bed too late will impact hormones.
Eat for hormone balance. If you don't eat nutrient-dense foods, your body simply cannot do its job properly—that includes producing hormones and staying balanced. The food you eat will either directly contribute to your hormone balance or imbalances. Eat a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Focus on leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, nuts and seeds, brightly coloured vegetables, herbs and spices, beans and legumes, wild-caught seafood, and organic grass-fed lean meat in moderation.
Exercise is amazing for balancing hormones. It reduces inflammation, lowers stress, and aids sleep. Just don't overdo it. The key is in training for shorter periods of time and taking breaks in between.
Cut back on coffee or cut it out. Caffeine is no bueno for the endocrine system. Couple caffeine with other stressors (toxins, pregnancy, stress) and the effect on your body can be major. If you can't cut out coffee, cut back to one cup per day and add beneficial fat with your coffee to satiate the body (coconut milk, coconut oil, ghee, or grass-fed butter).
Don't be afraid of healthy fats, but stay away from man-made and processed fats. Beneficial omega-3s and saturated fats are vital for hormone function and balance. These healthy fats are the building blocks for hormone production. If the body doesn't have enough healthy fat to make hormones, it must rely on lower-quality polyunsaturated fats that oxidize easily and lead to inflammation. This inflammation can cause further hormonal issues. Avocado, grass-fed butter, coconut milk and coconut oil, nuts, wild-caught salmon, and chia seeds are all great sources of healthy fats.
Strongly consider going off of hormonal birth control in favour of hormone-free methods. The birth control pill raises estrogen levels and has the potential of many long-term risks. Switching to hormone-free birth control is easier than it ever has been, with many options on available and doing so can decrease your risk of breast cancer, uterine bleeding, heart attack, stroke, migraines, weight gain, elevated blood pressure, and breast tenderness.
BYRDIE: Are there any products we should give up?
EG: Unfortunately, we're inundated with hidden chemicals found in cleaning products, detergents, cookware, and even all our beloved beauty products are filled with hormone disrupters. The potentially harmful chemicals need to go (as much as you can muster): parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate, DEA, and propylene glycol are some of the top culprits.
In the kitchen, making a switch from Teflon pans to ceramic, cast iron, or stainless steel is also a good step to take. Plastics are another concern. Plastic water bottles, plastic containers, plastic bags. Anything you can give up with plastic… give it up. Avoid commercially produced personal care products (deodorant, lotion, makeup) are typically filled with hormone-disrupting chemicals—just read the ingredients to figure that out. I always turn to the Environmental Working Group as my go-to resource and always recommend that my clients check out its Skin Deep Cosmetic Database.
Head here to find out what happened to one Byrdie editor's skin when she gave up coffee.