Hormones getting you down? How to eat to restore balance
Written by Miriam Jacobson, MS, RD, CNS, CDN. Miriam is a triple board certified clinical nutritionist – she works with individuals struggling with digestive problems and mood and energy imbalances. Find more from Miriam here – www.everybodybliss.com.
Brain fog, bloating, PMS and erratic mood swings are signs that you might be struggling with a hormonal imbalance. Despite what your doctor said, these symptoms are not ‘normal’ and there are ways that you can eat to help balance your hormones naturally.
Western medicine often focuses on how to eliminate symptoms, which is why you might walk out of your doctors’ office with a birth control prescription after complaining about your lady problems. Although every body is different, birth control tends to mask many hormonal problems without addressing the root cause.
As a functional nutritionist, I seek out the underlying causes of these symptoms and work with foods and nutrients to help restore optimal health.
The hormone triad
Healthy adrenal glands, digestive tract, and liver are the foundation to a well-balanced endocrine system. Hormones are secreted into the bloodstream by endocrine glands – and they all speak to one another. Let’s dive a little deeper into the important role of these organs:
The adrenals are major endocrine glands that sit on top of your kidneys. They release adrenaline and cortisol, hormones that adapt the body to stressful situations. The pathways that help make these stress hormones share the same chemical precursors to those that make sex and thyroid hormones. This shared pathway means chronic stress can affect the production of multiple hormones, and ultimately shifts the body’s natural hormone balance.
Gut & Liver
Hippocrates was the first to state that “all disease starts in the gut” and modern medicine is beginning to catch up to this ancient concept. The liver and gut work together to first detoxify excess amounts of hormones and then eliminate them. Digestive problems, like constipation, can prevent the elimination of hormones and cause them to re-circulate between your gut and liver.
In addition to digestive regularity, a healthy gastrointestinal (GI) tract aids the liver by preventing the reuptake of inflammatory molecules. This allows the liver to optimize its essential functions, including the hormonal expression, detoxification, and regulation.
The nutrition connection
A nourishing diet and balanced lifestyle are the foundation to happier hormones. Here’s a DIY approach for hormonal balance through food and movement.
Control your starches
Apart from the instant gratification that comes from eating carbohydrates, there is little reason to include starches in your diet. Carbohydrates are inflammatory and can stress both the digestive tract and liver.
Limit the amount of starches to ½ c per meal for women and 1 c per meal for men. Emphasize complex starches like quinoa, brown rice, black beans, hummus and sweet potato. These take longer to break down into blood sugar and are preferred over more refined starches like breads and pastas. Layering these complex grains and legumes with non-starchy vegetables, protein, and anti-inflammatory fats will also better control your blood sugar levels. Choose a multivitamin with chromium, vanadium and biotin to support blood sugar metabolism.
Eggs for breakfast
Eating eggs, or another form of whole protein, for breakfast helps provides the body with amino acids. These are essential for literally every biological process in our body, including the formation of hormones. The benefits are two-fold because amino acids also help control blood glucose and prevent late afternoon sugar cravings.
Try an elimination diet
Even if you don’t have celiac disease, a food allergy, or lactose intolerance, you might benefit from an elimination diet. A healthy GI tract contains tight junctions that prevent protein from entering the blood stream and protects the body from inflammation. An inflammatory diet or stressful lifestyle can cause these junctions to become permeable and cause a ‘leaky gut’, a condition associated with stomach bloating, skin irritation, brain fog, anxiety, pain and arthritis. The idea is to eliminate food sensitivities that are triggering a hyper-immune response and reduce the burden on your liver.
The act of completing an elimination diet may seem overwhelming. Luckily, 90% of food sensitivity reactions are caused by eight foods, namely: gluten, dairy, soy, corn, peanuts, excess sugar, alcohol, and eggs. By eliminating these foods for 2-3 weeks and slowly adding them back one at a time, you can assess your body’s reaction. It can take anywhere from 24 hours to 7 days for a reaction to manifest, so I recommend waiting a week between re-introducing foods. If you still feel overwhelmed by this challenge, you can start with just a few; I usually recommend gluten, dairy, and added sugar.
Bowel regularity is the cornerstone to good health and balanced hormones as it prevents toxins from recycling between the gut and liver.
To improve your elimination, include at least ½ plate of non-starchy vegetables (leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, peppers, green beans) with every meal. If you’re constipated, you can also be dehydrated, so drink at least 2 L of water every day. If you’re still struggling, I recommend magnesium - a natural relaxant that helps to improve regularity. Try klaire labs magnesium citrate.
Cook with functional foods
Many foods have therapeutic effects, which is why I like to include functional foods in nutritional recommendations. Functional foods provide the body with health promoting nutrients that have a medical benefit.
- Turmeric: contains curcumin, a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound that benefits the gut microbiota, digestion, as well as functioning of the GI tight junctions . Traditionally an Indian herb, it pairs well with curries but can also be enjoyed with roasted vegetables, eggs, smoothies. Try this delicious new trend golden milk latte (good for sleep, too!).
- Cruciferous vegetables: vegetables in the cruciferous family include broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and radishes. They contain a functional compound called sulforaphane that supports the liver detoxification (part of our hormonal regulation triad, see above).
- Fermented foods: high in probiotics, these include sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir and kimchi. They promote the growth of healthy bacteria in gut, which works to strengthen your immune system, reduce inflammation, and support digestive regularity.
- Bone broth: this is a fantastic source of glutamine, a gut healing amino acid that helps to heal leaky tight junctions contributing to a higher toxin load. Learn how to make your own.
Meditate: just 10 minutes per day
Chronic stress is not only harsh to the body’s adrenal glands, but also to the digestive tract. It wears down the tight junctions that keep the body safe from foreign molecules. Consistently meditating between 10 to 20 minutes every day can lower your stress levels, reduce GI permeability and allow your hormones to function more harmoniously. Read how integrative meditation can affect your GI immunity.
Want to learn even more about balancing hormones naturally? Take my free e-course: Happier Hormones in 30 days!
This article is not meant to treat or diagnose specific illnesses or disorders. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read on this website.