Common hormonal imbalances include:
- Estrogen dominance: changes in sleep patterns, changes in weight and appetite, higher perceived stress, slowed metabolism
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS): infertility, weight gain, higher risk for diabetes, acne, abnormal hair growth
- Low estrogen: low sex drive, reproductive problems, menstrual irregularity, changes in mood
- Hypothyroidism: slowed metabolism, weight gain, fatigue, anxiety, irritability, digestive issues, irregular periods
- Low testosterone: erectile dysfunction, muscle loss, weight gain, fatigue, mood-related problems
- Hyperthyroidism & Graves Disease: anxiety, thinning hair, weight loss, IBS, trouble sleeping, irregular heartbeats
- Diabetes: weight gain, nerve damage (neuropathy), higher risk for vision loss, fatigue, trouble breathing, dry mouth, skin problems
- Adrenal fatigue: fatigue, muscle aches and pains, anxiety and depression, trouble sleeping, brain fog, reproductive problems
Risk Factors & Causes of Hormonal Imbalances
Hormonal imbalances are caused by a combination of factors such as diet, medical history, genetics, stress levels and exposure to toxins from the environment. The most common contributors are:
- Leaky gut from food allergies and a lack of beneficial probiotic gut bacteria in the lining of the intestinal wall, makes us more susceptible to hormonal problems. Believe it or not, inflammation usually starts in the gut and then impacts nearly every aspect of your health
- Toxicity (exposure to pesticides, toxins, viruses, cigarettes, excessive alcohol and harmful chemicals)
- High amount of stress, and a lack of enough sleep and rest
- Being overweight or obese
- High levels of inflammation caused by a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle
- Genetic susceptibility
10 Ways to Balance Hormones Naturally
- Eat Healthy Fats
Eating a variety of foods high in short, medium and long-chain fatty acids is key to keeping your hormones in check. Your body needs various types of fats to create hormones, including saturated fat and cholesterol. (Yes, cholesterol is a hormone, in fact cholesterol sulfate is the mother or all hormones and is absolutely essential for good heart health. The body produces it when skin is exposed to the sun. The by-product is vitamin D3.) Not only are these essential fats fundamental building blocks for hormone production, but they keep inflammation levels low, boost your metabolism and promote weight loss.
The best anti-inflammatory super healthy fats include: coconut oil, ghee or butter from 100% grass fed cows, avocados and wild-caught salmon.
I led with coconut oil, because it is far and away the most beneficial. Coconut oil has natural anti-bacterial and fat-burning effects. It is the only thing ever shown to reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s, it does not store as a fat but is metabolized in the liver as almost pure energy. I cook everything but fish in coconut oil. I add a third of a cup to my coffee or tea every day. I also use it as a carrier oil for essential oil treatments.
(I sustained a very bad burn of the tongue, lips, and gums and I immediately went for the coconut oil. It offered instant relief, was moisturing and I believe prevented me from having to deal with infection. My tongue was so badly burned that it was lacerated. But the coconut oil started the healing process immediately.)
Avocado also has impressive benefits that include improving heart health, lowering inflammation, controlling your appetite and contributing to your daily intake of fiber and nutrients such as potassium.
Salmon is also impressive: it’s one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to lower inflammation and help with cognitive functions.
In terms of supplements, I use fermented cod liver oil, and Krill oil.
- Supplement with Adaptogen Herbs
Adaptogens are a unique class of healing plants that promote hormone balance and protect the body from a wide variety of diseases, including those caused by excess stress. In addition to boosting immune function and combating stress, research shows that various adapotogens — such as ashwagandha, medicinal mushrooms, rhodiola and holy basil — can:
- Improve thyroid function
- Reduce anxiety and depression
- Lower cholesterol naturally
- Reduce brain cell degeneration
- Stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels
- Support adrenal gland functions
- Balance Your Intake of Omega-3 to Omega-6 Fats
The ideal ratio of Omega3 to Omega 6 fats is 1:1. Since the early 20th century, the use of refined vegetable oils and intake of omega-6 fatty acids in our diets have skyrocketed, going from 1:1 to 1:20-30. This appears to be one of the primary dietary factors causing degenerative and chronic disease in America.
So, stay away from safflower, sunflower, corn, cottonseed, canola, soybean and peanut oils, and load up on rich sources of natural omega-3s instead like wild fish, flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts and grass-fed animal products.
- Get More GLA
There is a type of omega-6 fat called GLA (gamma-linoleic acid) that can be taken in supplement form by using evening primrose oil or borage oil, or by eating hemp seeds. Studies show supplementing with GLA can support healthy progesterone levels which is important for males as well as females.
- Improve Gut Health & Heal Leaky Gut Syndrome
To date every patient I have seen in the last 4 years that was tested, had a leaky gut. Many doctors still do not know what a leaky gut is. In a study of critical care patients, researchers found that 100% of the patients in the ICU, all of whom were there for a variety of reasons, did in fact have a leaky gut. None had ever been diagnosed with a leaky gut.
Why is this so important? In a nutshell, it is a condition that not only affects your digestive tract, but also drives hormone issues. Gut problems have been found to trigger autoimmune reactions, including arthritis and thyroid disorders.
In my practice, it appears to have the greatest impact on patients trying to lose weight. They do everything right and still do not lose the weight. You might imagine how frustrating this is. It puts them at risk for giving up and assuming that clean eating is not helping them so why bother. It takes a long time to create a leaky gut and it takes a year or so of clean eating to clear it up. Once it is cleared up, hormones stabilize and achieving a healthy weight is very doable.
So what exactly is leaky gut syndrome?
When undigested food particles, like gluten for example, leak through your gut into your bloodstream, the inflammation that results impacts the entire body — especially glands like the thyroid, which is very susceptible to heightened inflammation.
Most people with leaky gut have a deficiency of probiotics in their guts. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that can actually improve your production and regulation of key hormones like insulin, ghrelin and leptin. (For more information, see my Leaky Gut Chapter.)
To heal the gut: Steer clear of the foods that damage your digestive system including: almost all processed foods unless they are non-GMO and organic, gluten, hydrogenated oils and added sugar.
The best foods to eat to heal a leaky gut are bone broth, goats milk kefir, fermented vegetables, and high-fiber foods like vegetables and sprouted seeds. In addition, supplements like digestive enzyme and probiotics can aid in repairing your gut lining, which in turn can balance your hormones.
- Eliminate Toxic Kitchen, Beauty and Body Care Products
Another way to eliminate toxins in your body is to avoid conventional body care products that are made with potentially-harmful chemicals including DEA, parabens, propylene glycol and sodium lauryl sulfate.
A better alternative is to use natural products made with ingredients like essential oils, coconut oil, shea butter and castor oil. I make a lot of my own ointments and buy organic cosmetics online. They are actually less expensive than what I used to buy in department stores and have far fewer ingredients and almost nothing questionable. The only tricky thing is getting the right color, but these companies go the extra mile to accommodate you. Juice Beauty is one of my favorites. I also found an organic beauty parlor two blocks from my house that uses awesome hair and nail products and is a local family-owned business, called Alba Beauty Studio.
For more information on products that are endocrine disruptors and/or toxic, go to The Environmental Working Group evaluated over 72,000 products and ranked them in an easy-to-understand guide to make sure you have a resource to keep your family safe. Check out EWG’s “Skin Deep Cosmetic Database” today for recommendations for which products to use and avoid.
- Switch to Glass and Stainless Steal
Getting rid of plastic bottles, aluminum cans and containers is essential. It’s best to replace plastic and aluminum with glass and stainless steel because of the toxic effects of BPA. I think a lot of people think that they are harder to store, but they aren’t really. Costco has really good deals on stackable glass container sets. I also strongly recommend switching from teflon pans to stainless steel, or even better, ceramic or cast iron. A relatively good source for cast iron in the Cincinnati area that is fairly inexpensive is Jungle Jims. When I changed, I just did it slowly, a pan at a time. TJMax has amazing deals on such things. This is where I got most of my pans which were 1/3 the cost of regular retail. I bought the same pan for $30 that sold for $90 at Sur La Tab.
- Exercise (Especially Interval Training)
Probably the best thing you can do is invest the time in exercise. This is where you really get the biggest bang for your buck. My new favorite form is something called Optimal Prime, or Burst training. Another version is high intensity interval training (HIIT) − including one of my favorite types called burst training.
Exercise in general is great for balancing hormones because it reduces inflammation, can help you maintain a healthy weight, lowers stress, helps regulate your appetite, and aids in getting better sleep, all of which are critical for balancing hormones.
Whether we’re talking about endorphins from a “runner’s high”, testosterone, growth hormone or insulin, HIIT/burst/optimum prime training can help your body regulate the production and use of these important hormones.
For people with hormonal imbalances, the key with exercise is to be careful not to overdo it. Training for a shorter period of time (about 20 minutes three times a week) but with higher intensity works better for people who can’t afford to add any extra stress to their system. Keep in mind that optimal exercise can differ a lot from person to person however, so it’s a good idea to seek advise from a processional if you’re ever unsure.
- Get More/Better Sleep
We need 7 to 8 hours of good sleep every night to keep hormones in balance. The circadian rhythm is hard-wired into us for a reason. Sleep is a potent antioxidant. When we don’t get enough of it, we cannot fight free radicals as effectively. For example, our hormones work on a schedule that is tied to the circadian rhythm: Cortisol, which is the primary “stress hormone”, is regulated at midnight, which means that the best sleep you get is the sleep you get before midnight. Once midnight comes, cortisol levels start going back up. Therefore, people who go to bed after midnight never truly get a break from their sympathetic flight/fight stress response.
Sleep disturbances have been linked to higher levels of morning cortisol (the stress hormone) decreased immunity, trouble with work performance, and a higher susceptibility to anxiety, weight gain and depression. I try to be asleep by 9:00 ish and get up before 6:00. I usually wake between 4 and lay in bed looking at emails, or texts from the day before or doing some social media. These are the things that keep many people up late. I just do them in the morning.
- Watch Your Caffeine
Caffeine in moderate amounts might be okay for some people, but drinking too much caffeine is almost as bad as not getting enough sleep. Caffeine, which can stay in your system for up to six hours, is a chemical that affects the central nervous system (CNS) and raises your heart rate, increases alertness, and changes the way your brain produces hormones.
If you drink too much coffee or drink it too late, it can elevate cortisol levels by interfering with your normal sleep cycle. It might also have an impact on other stress hormones, such as adrenaline production. You’re probably aware that caffeine is addictive by nature, increases nervousness and anxiety in many people, and is linked with insomnia.
I drink about 4 ounces with 4 to 6 ounces of coconut milk, cacao, cinnamon oil and coconut oil added.
If you need a little boost during the day, you could try matcha green tea or tulsi tea which are much lower in caffeine. The good news is that once you’re health is back on track, small amounts of caffeine are actually beneficial.
- Avoid Alcohol
Chronic alcohol consumption contributes to estrogen dominance and has been found to interfere with pancreatic functioning, increase liver disease risk, lowering testosterone and contributes to anxiety and malnutrition. To be clear, you can be malnourished and still be overweight.
The fact that alcohol damages the liver is not insignificant when you consider that the liver is very important for hormonal balance and has over 500 different functions in the body!
- Quit Smoking
Of course it’s extremely important to quit smoking too. Studies have found that smoking interferes with normal immunological and reproductive processes. Compared with nonsmokers, moderate to heavy smokers (≥ 10 cigarettes/day) have abnormal levels of steroid metabolites and reproductive hormones that can be up to 35 percent higher than usual.
- Supplement with Vitamin D3
According to an article from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vitamin D3’s role in promoting health is more profound than previously suspected. Researchers found that vitamin D has an impact in the following ways: It affects the adaptive immune system, the innate immune system, insulin secretion by the pancreatic β cell, and vascular health (heart and blood pressure regulation.) It also plays a significant role in brain and fetal development.
Vitamin D acts like a hormone inside the body. Sunshine is really the best way to optimize vitamin D levels because your bare skin actually makes vitamin D as a metabolite of cholesterol sulfate (yes, cholesterol which we need to be healthy and to have a healthy cardiovascular system) when exposed to even small amounts of direct sunlight. Most people should supplement with around 2,000 IU to 5,000 IU daily of vitamin D3 if they live in dark areas, during the winter, and on days when they’re not in the sun.
- Back Off Birth Control Pills
In simplest terms, “the pill” is a type of hormone therapy that raises estrogen levels to such dangerous levels that it can cause many complications. It is so hard to convince women not to use the pill. There are many other (safer) ways to prevent pregnancy.
Here are just some of the risks:
- Breakthrough bleeding between cycles
- Increased risk of breast cancer
- Increased risk of uterine bleeding, blood clotting, heart attack and stroke
- Increased blood pressure
- Weight gain
- Back pains
- Mood changes
- Benign liver tumors
- Breast tenderness
Precautions When Treating Hormonal Imbalances
For people with diagnosed hormonal disorders− including type 1 or type 2 diabetes, Adrenal Insufficiency, Addison’s Disease, Graves’s Disease and Cushing’s Syndrome for example− it’s always important to speak with your doctor before discontinuing medication use. The natural treatments above can still help you overcome your illness and greatly reduce symptoms, but these recommendations shouldn’t take the place of medical supervision.
Because hormone imbalances vary so widely in terms of severity of symptoms, always keep track of how you’re feeling, do your research and evaluate how you respond to different treatments.
Dr. J. Renae Norton is a clinical psychologist, specializing in the outpatient treatment of eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder (BED), as well as obesity. She is also the author of The Sun Plus Diet, due out in 2017.
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Medical Advice Disclaimer: The information included on this site is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan. Reading the information on this website does not create a physician-patient relationship. This information is not necessarily the position of Dr. J. Renae Norton or The Norton Center for Eating Disorders and Obesity.
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