“It just feels like there should be a way to naturally achieve harmony here.”
This is what Emily said when she came to see me. She’d been told by someone she knew that, based on her symptoms, she may have estrogen dominance– too much of the sex hormone estrogen relative to progesterone– and that she should start on progesterone therapy.
Sometimes, hormone therapy is the right option. But Emily, like many of my patients, wanted to see if she could solve the problem on her own first.
“I’ve always felt very connected to my body,” she told me, “and I know how important it is for my hormones to be balanced. I just want to work with my own system to make that happen.”
I still remember exactly what she said, because it was all so poetic! But it also reflected a mindset I often see with my most health-conscious patients.
The interplay between various hormones is such a fundamental and important part of our health. And when we’re in tune with our own bodies, we want to be able to positively influence that interplay.
The good news– as I happily reported to Emily– is that there are several effective ways to balance your hormones naturally. Today, let’s take a look at five of the best methods.
Hormonal balance as a key to health
Hormones are like delivery drivers in your body. They carry messages through your bloodstream to every part of your body, impacting all of your tissues and organs.
So many of your body’s processes rely on hormones to deliver the correct message: metabolism, mood, reproduction, sexual functioning and so much more.
An imbalance of these hormones can result in some serious symptoms, but you can always learn ways to naturally balance hormones.
Women come into my office all the time complaining that they simply don’t feel right. They’ve had test after test, but come away with no solid diagnosis.
Often, they find themselves frustrated and discouraged, with no hope that they’ll ever feel good again. Some of them have felt poorly for so long, they tell me they can’t even remember a time when they felt truly healthy.
And with each passing day, they find themselves with less energy, more pain, more anxiety, and more depression. I tell them that there’s no reason for them to continue feeling this way. There IS something that can be done about it.
I’ll give you some tips on how to balance hormones, but first, let’s take a look at how hormones work, and how to know if something may be off with yours.
How hormones function
How do hormones carry messages throughout your body, and what can throw them off course, causing hormonal imbalance?
Hormones are manufactured by endocrine glands: the pituitary, pineal, thymus, thyroid, and adrenal glands, as well as the pancreas, are your major endocrine glands. In women, hormones are also produced in the ovaries.
When your brain sends a signal, specific hormones are secreted by these glands – they are sent out on a delivery.
Ideally, they find and bind to their receptors in their target cells, causing the proper biological response. But sometimes, the driver can’t find the right address. Endocrine disruptors (chemicals which disrupt hormones) may block delivery of the message or bind to the receptor themselves, producing the wrong signals or changing how a hormone can be used.
When delivery of appropriate messages is blocked, or the message becomes muddled, your body will likely respond with physical and psychological symptoms to let you know something has gone wrong. It’s up to you – and your health care partners – to pay attention to these warnings.
Hormones have some natural fluctuation throughout a day, week, and month. And every woman’s body processes hormones differently – so no two women will have the exact same hormonal makeup, even if they follow the same eating and exercise patterns. There are simply too many factors – genetics, sleep patterns, and stress among them – to assume things will function as they should.
How hormones impact your health
When talking about hormonal imbalances, the conversation often centers around sex hormones. However, your hormones are all connected and thus all affect each other. For true good health you can’t focus on one hormone and ignore the others. Here are three essential hormones beyond your sex hormones, and their roles that help your body function properly:
- Insulin: Insulin is a critically important hormone manufactured by the pancreas. It allows your body to both use the sugar from consumed carbohydrates for energy and store glucose for later use. Insulin regulates your blood sugar level, preventing levels that are too high or too low. Without insulin, your cells cannot absorb sugar.
- Cortisol: Cortisol is known as the stress hormone due to its relationship to the stress response. But Cortisol has a lot more functions than simply responding to stress. Most of your body’s cells have cortisol receptors, which means this hormone impacts a diverse range of body functions. Cortisol can help regulate metabolism, reduce inflammation, control blood sugar levels, and help in forming memory, among other things.
- Adrenaline: Adrenaline is another hormone seriously impacted by stress. The primary function of adrenaline is to activate the “flight or fight” response, getting your body ready for sudden or rigorous action. You’ve likely heard stories of a mother who displayed “super human” strength in emergency situations to protect her child; that’s adrenaline at work. While the reactions adrenaline creates can be essential to survival, if your body is producing too much constantly due to everyday stressors, problems can develop.
Signs & symptoms of hormonal imbalance
Because your body has so many hormones at play, the list of symptoms that could indicate some type of imbalance is extensive. Some common signs that you are experiencing some hormonal imbalance include:
- Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
- Hair loss
- Skin changes
- Hot flashes
- Irregular periods
- Fuzzy head
- Sleep issues
- Digestive problems
- Anxiety, depression and mood swings
That’s a long list – and it’s not comprehensive. There are just too many symptoms that could be related to hormonal imbalance to list. Fortunately, there are some steps everyone can take that will address hormonal imbalance and combat these symptoms.
5 Ways to Balance Hormones Naturally
While hormonal imbalances can wreak havoc on your health, the good news is there are ways to address the issue and balance hormones naturally. Your diet and lifestyle makes all the difference in maintaining proper balance. While these steps might seem daunting at first, stick with them — even small changes can make a big difference!
1. Get Quality Sleep
I’m sure you know that sleep is important — but do you realize just how important? Your body cannot maintain proper hormonal balance when you aren’t getting adequate sleep. Why? Because while you sleep, your body is hard at work – removing toxins, repairing tissue, consolidating memory and producing hormones. Even one night of poor sleep can impact your hormones — just imagine what several nights in a row does!
If you are awake at night, when you should be sleeping, your cortisol levels rise. And that can send you into a terrible cycle of flip-flopped cortisol levels. If your cortisol levels are already upside down, you may need some gentle support, like my Stress Ease supplement, to get them back on track.
Make sure your sleep environment is conducive to good rest: keep it cool, dark and free of electronics. Find a consistent bedtime routine that works for you. Turn off electronics at least an hour — preferably two – before bedtime. Spend plenty of time outside during the day, to maximize natural light which boosts serotonin and balances melatonin levels at night.
If you wake up and can’t get back to sleep — don’t just lie there getting frustrated. Get up and sip on a cup of herbal tea, listen to soft music, try meditation or reading a real book. But whatever you do, don’t turn on your electronics!
2. Identify and eliminate toxins (including emotional ones)
So many things can impact our health if we aren’t paying close attention and making conscious choices about what we will allow into our lives. When you hear the word “toxins”, you may be thinking about things like chemicals– which, yes, are best avoided.
But many women I know who are extremely careful about what kinds of chemicals they let into their homes are significantly less discerning when it comes to the toxic people and excess stress they allow into their lives.
Believe me, I understand that doing away with the latter can be much harder. But it might also be the best thing you can do to balance your hormones and improve your health. Here are a few categories of toxins and triggers to pay attention to:
Stress is everywhere, and chronic stress will send your hormones spiraling out of control. It’s essential to find something that you love that helps you de-stress. If what you are doing to try to relax just makes you more anxious, it’s not the solution for you. The idea is to reduce stress, not make it worse!
Dancing is my stress relief — I simply can’t think about anything that is worrying me while I’m on the dance floor. Find what allows you to let go of your worries — then make it a priority to do it often! Some options are meditation, massage, listening to music, aromatherapy, and spending time outside in bare feet. Practicing deep breathing helps reduce stress levels, as well. Take a few moments while standing in line and try the 7-7-7 breathing method – breathe in for seven through your nose, hold for seven, and then breathe out through your mouth for a count of seven.
Do you have a friend you dread talking to, family that undermines you at every turn, or a partner who drains you rather than supporting you? All of these situations can create stress and cause hormonal imbalance. You do have a choice about who you allow into your life. Unraveling complicated relationships can be overwhelming, so you may need to seek professional support. There is simply no need to allow others to rob you of your vitality, health and joy.
Our world is constantly changing, and it’s not always in a positive direction. The amount of toxins that surround us now, as compared to our ancestors just 100 years ago, is staggering. You may not be able to eliminate all of them, but making conscious choices to balance hormones by avoiding as many as you can will go a long way. That means looking at what is in your beauty products and fragrances, avoiding microwaves and plastics, and eating organic foods whenever possible — especially the dirty dozen!
Staying active can significantly help balance hormones. Studies have shown that exercise such as strength training, aerobic exercise and endurance work reduces insulin levels and can increase insulin sensitivity. Physical activity may also help boost levels of hormones like testosterone, DHEA and growth hormones that impact muscle maintenance.
Exercise is good for your body in so many ways, but again it’s essential to find something you love. If you have to force yourself to do something, you simply won’t have the motivation to keep at it. And when exercise becomes a chore, stress levels — and cortisol — will increase, which is the exact opposite of what you are trying to accomplish.
4. Be prepared
Planning ahead can make a huge difference to stress levels, what you eat, and how you sleep – all important aspects of helping balance hormones.
Taking a few minutes to plan your weekly schedule allows you to include time for self-care. Looking ahead can also help you take stock of your available time and choose priorities. Don’t think you have time to exercise? Look at how many hours you spend watching television or surfing the web.
Preparing food ahead of time means you don’t have to worry if you’re held up at the office. Instead of hitting the drive through on your way home. Using a crock pot or air fryer can make meal time quick and effortless. Set aside a couple of hours on the weekend, and your weekday dinners could be so much more manageable. Having a bunch of healthy snacks ready to go is also a great way to prepare. – especially if you can “grab and go” on your way out the door.
5. Eat for optimal hormonal health
Sugar and refined carbohydrates are key culprits in hormonal imbalance. It’s best to avoid these foods, and lower overall carb consumption to keep insulin levels where they should be.
Protein helps balance hormones so much that you should be sure to eat some at every meal. Protein impacts the release of hormones that control your appetite. And if you feel appropriately full, you are far better equipped to make good choices about what you are eating. Some good sources of protein include eggs, almonds, lean grass fed meats, and nuts and seeds.
Healthy fats are also important to a diet that promotes balanced hormones. So often, women are consuming too many Omega 6s and not enough Omega 3s; a 50/50 ratio is ideal. Try adding coconut oil or MCT oil to your coffee for a boost of healthy fats. Fatty fish (wild caught), avocados, chia seeds, and nuts are other great options.
Changing your eating habits can be tough, and you have to know what you enjoy. If you hate carrots, you won’t be able to force yourself to eat them day after day. And you probably won’t be able to quit your favorite foods cold turkey. Try finding acceptable alternatives to refined sugar, like sweets baked with xylitol. Find a diet plan that works for you, rather than jumping on the latest bandwagon. There are so many options available, and plenty of great recipes to help you on your journey.
Balance hormones naturally and feel great
Discovering what is at the root of feeling poorly can be a long and frustrating journey. There are so many hormones to think about, and so many factors that can make balancing hormones tricky. But with some persistence and attention to lifestyle habits that might be causing hormonal imbalance, you can turn a corner. And when you do, it’s time to celebrate how great you feel!
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD