Updated: Jun 14, 2019
If you’ve ever dealt with imbalanced hormones, you know how critical the adrenal and endocrine systems are to your health and wellbeing.
Hormones are chemical messengers produced by your endocrine glands that control nearly every process in your body, from #metabolism to reproduction to mood. This is a topic I know all too well as a thyroid cancer survivor. This disease has knocked my body off center for years! The endocrine system is comprised of a wide range of hormone-secreting glands that serve a variety of functions including brain function (hypothalamus), thyroid, adrenals, pancreas, ovaries (if you’re a woman), and testes (if you’re a man). Hormone imbalance can mess up your life let alone your sleep, mood, and libido, and contribute to weight gain, adrenal fatigue, brain fog, and countless chronic illnesses.
Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance
Thyroid dysfunction (hypo- or hyperthyroidism, Hashimoto’s, Graves’)
#Bloating, constipation, and diarrhea
#Weight gain or weight loss
Mood swings, anxiety, or depression
Hot flashes/night sweats
Thinning, brittle hair
Brittle finger nails
Fortunately, by making some rather minor changes to the food you buy and consume along with lifestyle, you can balance your hormones and prevent or reverse many of health issues. One of the easiest ways to restore proper hormone balance is to fill your plate with real, whole, nutrient-dense foods.
1. Wild Salmon
The #protein found in wild-caught salmon can balance your hunger hormones and increase your sense of feeling full.1 In addition, salmon provides a hefty dose of healthy fats in the form of Omega-3s, which are called essential fatty acids because your body cannot make them–you have to get them from your diet. Omega-3s are needed for synthesizing hormones that regulate blood clotting, arterial function, and inflammation.2 Salmon is known for being heart-healthy, and its ability to tame your body’s inflammatory response can also help control autoimmune diseases including lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis, and may even protect against cancer and other chronic illness.
Salmon is a source of cholesterol, which has gotten a bad rap in the nutrition world. However, cholesterol is necessary for building sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone that tend to decline in middle-age, as well as the “sunshine hormone” vitamin D, which you need to maintain strong bones.3
Supplementing with Omega 3s has been shown to reduce the release of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline during stressful situations.4 Since stress is one of the top sources of inflammation, it’s no wonder salmon has been dubbed an anti-inflammatory rockstar!
The dearest of foodies everywhere, what’s not to love about kale? Kale is an excellent source of fiber, which feeds your good gut bacteria. Research shows that friendly gut flora may play an important part in clearing estrogen from your system and encouraging hormone balance.5 Fiber also helps to increase insulin sensitivity and feelings of fullness.6
Kale offers the best of both worlds as a leafy green AND a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables. Dark, leafy greens such as kale are rich in magnesium, which supports healthy levels of estrogen and testosterone. Low hormone levels in both women and men have been linked with an increased risk of insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. On the flip-side, cruciferous veggies help your body process and eliminate excess estrogen so you can avoid estrogen dominance and reduce your risk of hormone-dependent cancers such as breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers.7
I am sometimes asked whether cruciferous vegetables are harmful to your thyroid gland because they contain goitrogens (substances that interfere with iodine uptake). However, in speaking with medical practitioners, I’ve found that the benefits of cruciferous veggies far outweigh any risks. As long as you get plenty of iodine from foods or supplements, you can enjoy as many kale salads as you’d like!
Think kale is too rough and bitter? Don’t underestimate the power of a kale massage to soften the leaves for a salad, or better yet, get your benefits in the form of an greens balance powder and drink your way to a healthier you!
3. Grass-fed Beef
As someone who suffered from thyroid dysfunction, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to include a high-quality source of animal protein in your diet. Grass-fed, pasture-raised beef is an excellent source of the four nutrients that are essential to thyroid health: iodine, selenium, zinc, and iron.
Iodine is one of the major building blocks of thyroid hormone (along with tyrosine, which is also found in grass-fed beef). Without enough iodine, your thyroid simply can’t produce its hormones. Iodine deficiency is the most common cause of thyroid enlargement, goiter, and hypothyroidism worldwide.8
Selenium helps convert inactive T4 (think of T4 as storage) hormone into active T3 (think of T3 as readily available). In my case, I have enough T4, however my T3 is low and getting a supply from storage doesn't work well. That said, I'm lucky to not be autoimmune. Insufficient amounts of selenium means your thyroid hormones are stuck in their inactive state, leading to hypothyroidism symptoms including weight gain, brain fog, fatigue, and mood swings. Eating high-quality food sources of selenium can even help reverse autoimmune thyroid conditions by lowering the levels of thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPOAb) in your system.9 A medical practitioner can test your full thyroid function if you ask.
Zinc and iron also play a role in the conversion of T4 to T3 and help the adrenals. In addition, zinc triggers your hypothalamus to increase thyroid hormone production when levels are low, and iron helps the enzyme that converts iodide (the form of iodine you eat) into iodine so it can combine with tyrosine to build thyroid hormones.
I’ve learned that it's common for women to be iron deficient, especially those who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet. For this reason, it's a good idea to eat animal protein such as grass-fed, pasture-raised beef to supply your body with the nutrients it needs to thrive.
Another great option is beef liver, which is an extremely concentrated source of these four thyroid-loving nutrients, and is surprisingly easy to prepare! Just be sure you always choose organic meats to minimize toxin risks.
If you suffer from insomnia, snacking on cherries before bed could help. Cherries are a natural source of melatonin–the “sleep hormone” released by your pineal gland. As you age, you produce less and less melatonin, which is why so many older adults struggle with insomnia and other sleep issues. Studies have found that cherries have the ability to increase melatonin levels, total sleep time, and quality of sleep (including fewer instances of waking up in the middle of the night).10
Cherries also contain other hormone-balancing nutrients including magnesium and vitamin C. Like melatonin, magnesium improves sleep by supporting optimal levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes restful sleep.11 Magnesium also helps calm the body’s stress response by preventing the release of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.12
Vitamin C is essential for creating and regulating hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. Vitamin C can enhance the effects of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and work with estrogen to promote bone growth, which is particularly important for postmenopausal women who are at an increased risk of osteoporosis due to low estrogen.13
5. Maca Root
Let’s talk about stress. We all have it, and many of us are dealing with chronic stress on a daily basis. Chronic stress is the type that never lets up, and keeps pumping out cortisol and adrenaline nonstop until your adrenals are shot. Stress hormones elevate blood pressure and blood glucose levels, and interfere with your digestion, sleep, and mood.14 Over the long term, heightened levels of cortisol and other stress hormones can wreak havoc on your health, leading to heart disease, diabetes, depression, anxiety, and autoimmune conditions.
Maca root is an adaptogen, meaning it helps your body “adapt” to ongoing stressors by mediating the body’s stress response. When used over time, maca nourishes and enhances the function of the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, which restores balance to your overworked adrenal glands.
Maca is also ideal for supporting hormone balance during menopause. In a study on early postmenopausal women, maca root significantly improved symptoms related to hormone imbalance, including hot flashes, night sweating, depression, irritability, and insomnia. In fact, maca was found to be just as effective for these symptoms as HRT–without the negative side effects. What’s more, maca supports healthy thyroid function and bone density, making it an all-around superfood for women struggling with imbalanced hormones during menopause.
Avocados are a delicious addition to any meal, but they can do a lot more for your health than you think. On top of being a great go-to brunch treat, avocados can help manage stress hormones, and even impact the hormones that control a woman's menstrual cycle.
"Avocados are loaded with beta-sitosterol, which can effect blood cholesterol levels and help balance the stress hormone cortisol," says Marci Clow, MS, RD. The plant sterols present in avocados also have an effect on estrogen and progesterone, the two hormones responsible for regulating ovulation and menstrual cycles. As a consequence of blocking estrogen, progesterone levels in women and testosterone levels in men are both increased. High levels of estrogen have been linked to weight gain, but avocados can promote weight loss by balancing hormone levels despite the fact they are high in fats.15
You may have heard of this new superfood, but did you know that flaxseed can have all sorts of benefits for your hormones?
Flaxseed is a significant source of phytoestrogens, and it specifically contains a type of phytoestrogen called lignans. Lignans have both an estrogenic and antiestrogenic effect, and they have been suggested to have protective benefits against certain types of cancer. 16
Flax seed is also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and antioxidants. The flavor alone takes an acquired taste, but try throwing it in your smoothy with lots of frozen organic berries. If you like the flavor, mixing it with red wine vinegar as a salad dressing isn't a bad way to go.
There's a reason you were always told to eat your broccoli. On top of its multitude of health benefits, broccoli can also work to balance your hormones. This cruciferous vegetable can help maintain estrogen balance, and since it is so high in calcium, it can also help with premenstrual syndrome.17 Broccoli contains phytoestogenic compounds which may promote beneficial estrogen metabolism, helping to rid environmental, or 'bad' estrogens from the body.18
But broccoli isn't alone in being able to do this. Other cruciferous vegetables you can enjoy include cauliflower, bok choy, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, turnips, and kale. You can drink the rainbow with a powder mix such as greens balance for a daily intake of key nutrients as well.
This antioxidant-filled fruit can help block excess estrogen production in the body, according to a study from the American Association for Cancer Research. The study also found that this could mean pomegranate has the potential to prevent types of breast cancers that respond to estrogen.
"Today, most references to phytoestrogens in the popular media refer primarily to isoflavones found in the lignin’s in flax, but the pomegranate’s phytoestrogenic properties are just as impressive, perhaps even more so. In our investigations, we also discovered a large store of 17-alfa-estradiol in pomegranate seed oil. This compound is a mirror image version of the estrogen produced in the highest quantities in the female body. To the best of our knowledge, this was the first time it has ever been found in plant sources". 19
10. Leafy Greens
Nutrient-rich foods such as leafy greens are ideal for balancing hormones. Because they're filled with so many antioxidants, leafy greens help prevent inflammation and lower levels of stress, which can help improve cortisol levels, according to SFGate.com. They can also help with estrogen balance.
Certain veggies like collard greens, spinach, kale, beet greens, dandelion greens, and swiss chard are also a good source of iron. Since iron deficiency can be an issue that leads to fatigue, brain fog, and headaches, it's always good to incorporate your leafy greens into your daily meals!
Nuts like almonds have an effect on your endocrine system, which can assist in lowering your levels of cholesterol, according to LIVESTRONG. They can also help lower insulin and maintain blood sugar levels.
Walnuts in particular contain polyphenols, which can protect our heart and cardiovascular system by fighting free radicals in our body. This component can also have anti-inflammatory properties, and they're rich in omega-3s which are good for brain health.
Turmeric has lately been known as a great remedy to treat inflammation. Because it is made of curcumin, turmeric is found to have many healing properties. One 2009 study even found that turmeric had the ability to ease pain in those with arthritis just as much as ibuprofen could.
Like soy, tumeric's active ingredient, curcumin, can mimics the activity of estrogen. The root can help minimize menstrual pain, such as period cramps.
Eating a good combination of healthy foods can keep your hormones balanced, however if you are experiencing anything out of the ordinary, you should always consult a medical practitioner.
Visit the Shopping page to join the Spring or Summer detox group. It's a great jumpstart to any reset diet or the continuation of a Healthy Living journey... like mine.