Having balanced hormones is the key to enjoying a healthy life, but so many factors can throw your hormones off balance and wreak havoc on the way that you feel and on your overall wellbeing.
When you have too much or too little of certain hormones, the effects can be far-reaching, affecting a wide range of your bodily functions.
Medical approaches usually consist of synthetic hormone treatments to make up for low hormone levels or drug therapies which block hormone receptors when your levels are too high.
Neither approach fixes the underlying problems, and many people find themselves reliant on these drugs for many years, if not for the rest of their lives. This can be a problem because these treatments often cause side effects and can result in an increased risk for some serious disorders.
Synthetic estrogen, for example, used to minimize menopausal symptoms, has been linked to an increased risk for blood clots, stroke, dementia, and breast cancer.
Not surprisingly many people would prefer safer, more natural ways to balance their hormones, and that’s what we’ll explore in this article.
- 1 What Are Hormones?
- 2 Reduce Your Caffeine Intake
- 3 Get Enough Quality Sleep
- 4 Lower Your Stress Levels
- 5 Choose the Right Supplements
- 6 Take Care of Your Digestive System
- 7 Eat Healthy Fats
- 8 Make Friends With Adaptogens
- 9 Focus on Your Breathing
- 10 Turn to Essential Oils
- 11 Reconsider Your Birth Control Method
- 12 Quit Eating Junk
- 13 Use Soy With Caution
- 14 Embrace Yoga
- 15 Avoid Environmental Toxins
- 16 Cut Back on Alcohol
What Are Hormones?
Hormones are chemical messengers that regulate important functions in your body and tell your cells how to behave. They’re generated and regulated by your endocrine system.
The hormones that most people are familiar with are the sex hormones – estrogen in women and testosterone in men. But there are many others including:
- Insulin – a metabolic hormone
- Cortisol – a stress hormone
- Adrenaline – the fight-or-flight hormone
- Serotonin – the happiness hormone
- Thyroid hormone – a metabolic hormone
- Leptin – the satiety hormone (this tells you when you’ve eaten enough, and leptin dysfunction is a major component of weight gain and obesity).
- Melatonin – the sleep hormone
- Ghrelin – the hunger hormone
- Vitamin D – yes it’s a hormone, produced in your skin when it exposed to sunshine.
Your endocrine system is comprised of glands around your body which manufacture different types of hormones. In your brain, you have the pineal and pituitary glands. Your chest houses the thymus gland, while your adrenal glands sit atop your kidneys. Your pancreas which is responsible for insulin and glucagon production sits just behind your stomach.
Sex hormones are manufactured and stored in the ovaries (female) and the testes (male).
Aside from the hormones generated in the endocrine system, your fat cells produce estrogen, and as already mentioned, your skin makes a hormone called vitamin D.
As you’ll see from the following list, the steps that you need to take to balance your hormones are the same ones that you would generally take as part of a healthy lifestyle. None of this is rocket science!
Reduce Your Caffeine Intake
If you’re relying on caffeine to fuel your day, either from multiple cups of coffee or a six pack of Red Bull, you might want to have a bit of a rethink! Caffeine can spike blood pressure, increase anxiety, adversely affect hormones, mess up your sleep cycle, and cause a caffeine crash once it leaves your system.
Here’s how it works:
Caffeine blocks adenosine, a neurotransmitter which builds throughout the day and attaches itself to receptors on brain cells. Adenosine makes you feel sleepy.
When you drink caffeine or pop a caffeine pill, caffeine elbows the adenosine out of the way and jumps onto the receptors, resulting in an increase in nerve activity which triggers adrenaline and gives you an energy burst.
Adrenaline is your fight-or-flight hormone, and too much of it running loose in your system is bad news. Your heart rate will increase and your blood pressure shoots up. Once adrenaline drops back to normal, you feel tired and fed up again, so you head for another cup of coffee and the damaging process repeats. On a loop, all day long.
Caffeine also messes around with the stress hormone, cortisol. When you consume caffeine, cortisol levels increase. Drink too much caffeine and you’ll feel strung out. But even moderate caffeine consumption throughout the day will leave you with unnaturally elevated levels of cortisol.
The bottom line with prolonged elevated cortisol is weight gain and mood swings, and an increased risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. For women, elevated cortisol packs an even harder punch, lowering levels of estrogen and progesterone, causing fertility problems, disrupted menstrual cycles, PMS, and a wretched menopausal experience.
Finally, caffeine gives you a little dopamine rush. Dopamine is a feel good hormone and you’ll definitely feel good while it’s flooding your brain, but the effect is short lived and once the dopamine is gone, you’re more likely to feel low or bad tempered again.
Caffeine is a drug, make no mistake about that. It’s a crutch that you’ll continue to rely on unless you address the underlying problem. No one – if they’re healthy – should need a stimulant to get them through the day.
Get Enough Quality Sleep
When you build a house, you need a good foundation. Without one, the building will crack, deteriorate and eventually fall down.
Consider sleep your foundation.
Without regular, restorative sleep, you will crack, deteriorate and eventually fall down too.
Disrupted sleep, causes disrupted hormones, and since healthy hormones are the key to a healthy life, well, you get the picture.
Sleep deprivation is endemic in our modern – always on – society. Mild sleep deprivation impairs your cognitive function to the same degree that being drunk does.
Moderate sleep deprivation leaves you struggling to function well on even the most basic tasks.
Severe sleep deprivation will kill you.
Sleep deprivation has a profound effect on every hormone function in your body. If you don’t fix sleep issues, it doesn’t matter how ‘clean’ your diet is, how much exercise you get, or which supplements and herbs you take.
Lack of sleep increases stress hormones, impairs insulin function, affects reproductive hormones, and depletes your feel good hormones.
Without regular, good quality sleep, you are just building on sand, putting your body through enormous stress, that will take its toll, eventually.
How much sleep is enough? Eight hours for adults. Teenagers need closer to ten.
Lower Your Stress Levels
We’ve already touched on the damage that the elevated cortisol levels caused by caffeine can do, but caffeine isn’t the only trigger for cortisol production. Numerous situations that you face every day stimulate cortisol release and can leave you with continually elevated stress hormones.
Running late for work, relationship problems, kid problems, money problems, the depressing reports on the nightly news, sleep issues, the neighbor’s dogs that pooped on your lawn – modern life is stressful!
One way that you can increase your resistance to stress and learn to take life’s curve balls in your stride, is to meditate.
Meditation isn’t difficult once you get the hang of it, and you can find numerous excellent meditation tutorials on Youtube which will show you exactly what you need to do.
Guided meditations are another option. These can be done at any time of the day, but they’re particularly helpful at bedtime, allowing you to fully relax and destress and get the restorative shut eye that’s so important. A good meditation to start with is the Temple of Light Meditation Journey created by Dick Sutphen at Valley of The Sun.
Along with meditation, make sure that you get plenty of stress busting exercise. Choose something that you enjoy – if you can’t stand spinning or weight training at the gym then it won’t de-stress you.
Take your dog for a walk, go for a hike in the forest, put on your favorite music and dance around your living room. Just get up and get moving. Exercise will flood your body with endorphins (feel good hormones) relax tense muscles and improve your overall health and wellbeing.
Choose the Right Supplements
Eating a healthy diet often isn’t enough to ensure a good intake of essential vitamins and minerals these days.
The soils foods are grown in are seriously depleted thanks to years of plowing the ground (destroying the soil web which produces the vitamins) and using chemical fertilizers instead of building the soil with mineral laden organic matter.
Food processing and storage also destroy nutrients.
Vitamins and minerals are essential for every process in your body and that includes hormone production.
Take magnesium as an example. Magnesium is needed for serotonin production and it helps to regulate cortisol and adrenaline levels as well as levels of sex hormones. Women with low magnesium levels are more prone to the severe hormonal fluctuations which cause PMS and menopausal problems.
Vitamin C is another crucial nutrient that ensures smooth hormone function. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) lowers cortisol levels, is a cofactor needed to produce serotonin and helps to keep sex hormones at optimal levels.
Or how about vitamin B6? Researchers discovered that women with low levels of B6 were more prone to PMS. Low levels of B6 are also linked to depression because of the role that the vitamin plays in serotonin production.
By taking a good quality multivitamin and mineral supplement you’ll cover many of the deficiencies caused by poor quality food.
When it comes to supplements, you really do get what you pay for. Many cheap supplements tend to contain minimal amounts of nutrients and these are often synthetic nutrients that the body can’t absorb. But not all cheaper brands are bad.
Budget range supplements with a good reputation include Costco, CVS and Target.
Higher quality supplement brands include Solgar, Now Foods, and Swanson.
Take Care of Your Digestive System
Gut health is important for so many reasons. A healthy gut allows you to absorb nutrients and energy from your food and eliminate wastes and toxins. A healthy gut also harbors a healthy community of beneficial bacteria. And these bacteria are so important for hormone production.
When your gut flora becomes unbalanced and the good bacteria is replaced by bad bacteria, the result can be:
- weight gain due to the disruption of hunger hormones and satiety hormones
- depression due to lower levels of happiness hormones and higher levels of stress hormones
- cardiovascular disease due to stress hormones and impaired insulin function
You can help re-balance your gut bacteria in the following ways:
Avoid antibiotics unless there is no alternative. Antibiotics are indiscriminate and they kill good bacteria just the same as they nuke the bad guys.
Avoid the contraceptive pill which has a negative effect on gut flora.
Add fermented foods to your diet. These foods contain good bacteria, and by regularly replenishing your good bacteria, you keep your gut healthy.
Fermented foods include:
- Live yogurt
Eat Healthy Fats
Fats, especially saturated fats like butter, have been unfairly demonized for decades as the culprit behind weight gain and cardiovascular disease, but that’s just not true.
While nearly everyone took the ‘fat is bad’ message to heart, and fat consumption fell through the floor, obesity skyrocketed and so did every other type of chronic disease – heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, stroke, you name it, up it went.
Flawed research back in the 1960’s has a lot to answer for!
Today, we know that sugars are one of the main culprits behind today’s epidemic of poor health, and we also know that the type of fats promoted as the healthy ones are anything but healthy.
All of those cooking oils and spreads made with polyunsaturated vegetable oils are some of the worst possible substances that you can put into your body.
What do fats have to do with hormones? Certain types of fat (the saturated kind) are essential for hormone production. You need saturated fats in your diet – period.
The fat content in your body is mostly saturated fat with a small amount of monounsaturated fat. These are the types of fat that your body must have available for the smooth functioning of myriad processes.
Good saturated fats to consume include butter (grass fed is the best kind), coconut oil, lard and tallow. For monounsaturated fats, look no further than olive oil.
If you value your health, avoid sunflower oil, canola oil, soybean oil (so bad for you), and peanut oil. These oils are only available because of modern industrial extraction methods.
Unlike olive oil which is cold pressed from olives, or butter which is the lovely end product when you churn cream, the fats hailed as healthy foods have to go through a multi step industrial process. If you saw how these oils are produced you would never eat anything containing them ever again.
Take canola oil as an example. Canola is made from rapeseed and while it’s growing its blasted with pesticides and herbicides, so that’s a black mark before we’re even out of the gate.
Once harvested, the seeds are heated to very high temperatures, this oxidizes the oil contained in the seeds. Oxidization is a fancy way of saying that the oils have turned rancid.
Next, a solvent made from petroleum is used to extract the oil from the seeds. But this doesn’t produce a clean, golden oil. So, the oil is heated up once more, and an acid is used to further purify the oil, removing wax and other sludge.
Now, the oil has the right consistency for bottling, but the color is still gross and the oil stinks – if you’ve ever smelled rancid oil, you’ll know how vile it is. So more chemicals are used to improve the color and to deodorize the oil.
When ‘food’ manufacturers process canola and other liquid oils to make vegetable spreads and shortening, they use a process called hydrogenation, and that boys and girls are how those deadly trans fats are made.
Even though the process just described seems long and complicated, when employed on a massive scale, it’s actually a very cheap way to produce oils. And the food industry loves cheap.
When you’re out at the grocery store next week, do yourself (and your hormones) a favor. Pick up some butter or coconut oil, and a bottle of olive oil. And to make sure you get a healthy amount of omega 3 fatty acids, grab some oily fish too.
If you’re wondering how to cook fries without vegetable oil, here’s the secret. Use lard or beef tallow.
Make Friends With Adaptogens
You’ve almost certainly heard about herbal medicines, but you may not have heard about adaptogens. And adaptogens are something you absolutely need to know about because they’re really quite amazing.
Adaptogens are a group of herbs that have been used for thousands of years to bring balance to the body by modulating the immune and endocrine systems.
While the use of these herbs has been ongoing for centuries, it’s always reassuring to have modern confirmation that these treatments work.
Happily, we do have that reassurance because of herbal medicine, which sits on the fringes of the medical world in the U.S., is actually part of mainstream practice in some European countries – most notably Germany and France – and in China, India and Russia.
Because of this, we have a wide body of clinical expertise and scientific research to draw on which demonstrates the effectiveness of the herbs.
Russia, in the Soviet era, was a pioneer of adaptogen research and a huge group of scientists, biologists and physicians there, conducted thousands of studies into the effects of the herbs. For example:
The adaptogen Eleuthero was given to 14,000 factory workers which resulted in a 30% drop in symptoms of fatigue, anxiety and insomnia, and a 40% drop in high blood pressure and heart disease symptoms.
The most effective hormone balancing adaptogens are:
- Holy Basil
- Licorice – if you have high blood pressure, take very small amounts or use the deglycyrrhized form.
- In addition to taking adaptogens to re-balance hormones, adaptogens will:
- strengthen your immune system
- bring relief to chronic skin conditions
- improve the efficacy and reduce the toxicity of cancer treatments
- assist with asthma
- help with liver and kidney disease
- help heal wounds
- increase or decrease appetite
- benefit the cardiovascular system…
…the list goes on and on.
Adaptogens are easily found in health food stores and at online retailers. You can buy them as the dried root or herb (to make into a tea), as a liquid extract, or as a convenient supplement in tablet or capsule form.
While adaptogens are superb herbs which are very safe, they do increase the effects of many drugs. If you are taking any kind of prescription medication, you should first get advice from a clinical herbalist who will have far more knowledge about possible drug interactions than your doctor.
Then, armed with that information you can consult your doctor and decide on an informed course of action which safely combines your current medication and the adaptogens you plan to take.
Focus on Your Breathing
You probably don’t give very much thought, if any, to the way that you breathe. But the way that you breathe can have profound effects on your mind and on your body.
Shallow, rapid breaths contribute to your body’s release of stress hormones. Chances are your shallow breathing right now as you read this article.
Take a second and focus on your breathing. Is the movement associated with your breathing confined to your chest area or is your lower abdomen moving too?
To reduce stress hormone levels, curb anxiety and induce relaxation, you need to breathe deeply. A healthy breathing technique takes some getting used to, so you’ll need to make a conscious effort with this at first.
One way to do this is set an alert on your phone or computer to remind you. Set it for once an hour at first and then decrease the intervals between alerts. Start on a weekend and by the time Monday rolls around and you have to head into work or school, you’ll be well on your way to better breathing.
Okay, here’s what you need to do.
Sit up or stand up straight – no slouching. Straighten your spine, square your shoulders, and lift your chin. Adopting a good posture gives your lungs more room to expand.
Now, inhale deeply through your nose, and as you do, push your abdomen out. This engages your diaphragm and enables you to take very deep breaths. Exhale and repeat. Continue to breathe deeply as you resume focus on your normal activities. You’ll most likely slip back to your old breathing pattern, but that’s okay because your reminder will alert you again soon.
The more frequently you breathe this way the sooner it will become second nature.
Turn to Essential Oils
Essential oils can be very helpful when you’ve got hormonal problems. Some oils combat stress hormones while others affect metabolic hormones and reproductive hormones.
For stress and other emotional issues, try lavender, neroli or chamomile.
For PMS and menopausal symptoms, use clary sage, thyme or sandalwood.
For metabolic problems like insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes, try fennel, cinnamon and lemon balm.
Dilute the oils with a carrier oil and massage onto your skin, or place a few drops in an aromatherapy diffuser to infuse the surrounding air with the oils.
When you inhale essential oils, the molecules travel through your nose to the olfactory center in your brain where they immediately get to work. They also travel to your lungs, and from there they pass into your bloodstream for transport around your body. This makes inhalation a very effective delivery method for essential oils.
Reconsider Your Birth Control Method
When you use a hormonal method of birth control, you are interfering with your natural hormones every day. Hormonal birth control is convenient and effective, and you’re the only one who can decide if the benefits outweigh the long term risks caused by hormonal disruption.
There are other options.
Condoms (obviously), or if you’re in a long-term relationship and your family is complete, you could consider tubal ligation or vasectomy.
Quit Eating Junk
Junk food is highly processed, loaded with salt, sugar, artificial colors, artificial flavors, harmful oils and trans fats. Yes, it’s convenient, and yes, it often tastes very good. But it’s hurting you every time you take a bite.
Junk food spikes blood sugar, triggering the release of insulin. Abuse your body for too long in this way and you stand a strong chance of developing insulin resistance which leads to obesity and type 2 diabetes.
What’s more, researchers at Brown University found a link between junk food consumption and dementia. Insulin resistance impacts the brain which causes confusion and memory problems.
To keep insulin levels stable, make sure that most of your meals are made from fresh ingredients.
Don’t think you’ve got the time to prepare healthy meals? Get yourself a slow cooker. Seriously, get one.
Use Soy With Caution
Soy has a reputation as a healthy alternative to meat and dairy products. But all is not as it seems.
Soy contains high levels of phytoestrogens – plant hormones – and consumption of phytoestrogens is linked to estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance can cause uterine fibroids, endometriosis, breast cancer and infertility.
Soy is also goitrogenic, it suppresses thyroid hormone production.
Like all beans, soybeans contain phytic acid, which is classed as an anti nutrient because it blocks the absorption of essential vitamins and minerals from your diet. And we’ve already seen how nutrients are linked to hormonal health.
Soy also contains trypsin inhibitors. As well as being linked to digestive disorders, these can cause damage to your pancreas – the organ responsible for producing insulin.
Check the labels on any processed food that you eat because soy is hidden in pretty much everything these days.
Yoga is a great form of exercise. Whether you chose a gentle form like Hatha yoga, or a more intense form like Ashtanga, you’re working your muscles at a very deep level, improving the circulation of both blood and lymph fluid, increasing oxygen intake and lowering stress levels.
Yoga also enhances energy flow around your body and removes the blockages that interrupt that flow and cause disharmony and disease.
Various yoga positions can directly stimulate endocrine glands in your body and have a beneficial effect on hormone production.
When you practice yoga, its hormonal balancing actions will lead to more energy, better sleep, increased libido, better mood, fewer PMS symptoms, an easier menopause, lower stress, stable weight, increased strength, healthier joints, and more.
If you’re new to yoga and feel intimidated at the thought of joining a class, don’t despair, you can enjoy all the benefits of yoga from the comfort and privacy of your own living room, thanks to some of the fantastic yoga teachers who give professional level classes on Youtube.
Go to Youtube and type in “Yoga With Adriene”, or “Yoga With Tim”.
Avoid Environmental Toxins
Everyday objects like your pots and pans, cleaning products, body care products, carpets, mattresses, clothes (made from synthetic fibers) and even your food and drink packaging, are full of chemicals which are known hormone disruptors.
The less of these you have around you, the better off you will be.
Choose glass and enamel cookware instead of the nonstick kind.
Use natural homemade cleaning products – vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, and essential oils.
Make your own beauty products with coconut oil, shea butter, witch hazel, aloe vera and bentonite clay. We’ve got lots of recipes on this site so take a look around. Also, make good use of the Skin Deep Database to check out the ingredients on the products that you don’t want to go without. The database will tell you if the ingredients are safe.
Use mattress protectors for an extra layer between you and those unavoidable fire retardant chemicals.
Consider ripping out carpets and installing wood or tile floors which are long lasting, toxin free and very stylish.
Choose clothes made from natural fibers – cotton, linen, hemp, wool and silk. These are all kind to your skin and won’t outgas chemicals like their synthetic counterparts.
Stop drinking bottled water and juice and avoid food that’s packaged in plastic.
Get a good water filter and purify your tap water. Choose a glass lined flask or hiking canteen for portability. Filtering your own water works out at around 2 cents a gallon so its very budget friendly. A lot of the water on sale in stores is just bottled tap water, even if it does have a picture of a mountain stream on the label.
For juice, get yourself a juicer and go nuts.
The worst foods packed in plastic, are meats and cheese because the fat in the food encourages the chemicals in the plastic to leach out. Instead of purchasing prepacked products, have your meat and cheese cut at the counter and wrapped in butcher paper.
Finally, take a look inside your food cans, many of them are lined with plastic which leaches out endocrine disrupting BPA. Where possible, switch to products in glass jars.
Cut Back on Alcohol
If you’ve got hormonal problems, then alcohol is without question making them worse. Why? Because alcohol directly affects the endocrine glands that produce your hormones.
Alcohol impacts the hormones that regulate metabolism and blood sugar levels. It also has a detrimental effect on reproductive hormones in both sexes. One highly noticeable change in sex hormones caused by alcohol is male breast development.
Less noticeable is the effect that alcohol has on bone health. Several hormones work together to maintain a healthy calcium balance, but alcohol interferes with these hormones, and long term consumption can lead to osteoporosis.
And it goes without saying that alcohol alters your mood. It does this by altering hormones in your brain. At first, you’ll get the pleasurable rush that the first drink of the day inevitably brings, but as well as tickling your happy hormones, alcohol is also triggering cortisol production.
If you drink regularly, you’re setting the stage for the health problems caused by high cortisol levels. And if you already have health problems, the extra cortisol in your system isn’t doing you any favors.