Our hormones are basically little chemical messengers that tell the body what to do. They are a communication system for the body, similar to the nerve impulse messages that move our muscles, but rather than through nerves, the message is sent by the endocrine glands secreting hormones, sending them from one set of cells to another. The balance of our hormones is a very, very delicate orchestra of lots of organs and lots of hormones (over 100 different kinds!), all playing together. A combination of lifestyle and environmental factors can throw this delicate balance off, and it can lead to a whole bunch of symptoms, such as:
- Low libido
- PMS/Menopause (mood swings, menstrual cramps, hot flashes, night sweats)
- Fertility struggles (women AND men)
- Multiple trips to the bathroom
- Prostate problems
- Endocrine imbalances
- Cardiovascular disease
- Immune problems
A lot of these things are considered to be “inevitable”, “genetic”, “bad luck”, or “just part of getting older”, but they aren’t! They are actually symptoms of underlying hormone imbalances. The good news is that it is possible to bring your body chemistry back into balance through nutrition and lifestyle. Through nutritional therapy, the balance of the hormone systems can be restored, allowing them to work optimally and function as intended. Instead of masking or circumventing symptoms, we believe that it’s about understanding the underlying cause, the root of the issue, and using that as a guide for a path back to optimal wellness.
How can I balance my hormones?
We do this by strengthening the weaknesses and removing the stressors. We focus on bringing back balance to the foundational aspects of health. These are:
- A properly prepared, nutrient-dense diet
- Blood sugar regulation
- Mineral balance
- Fatty acid balance
When one or more of these things are out of balance, signs and symptoms start to develop, and can progress into a disease. By focusing on the foundations, we support the body’s natural balance. Everything comes back to these fundamental aspects of health! (This is why I named my nutritional therapy practice Flourish Fundamentals. :))
Before we dive into how these foundational aspects affect endocrine health, let’s have a quick science lesson. I won’t bore you, I promise!
There are five kinds of hormones in our bodies, some that are “lipid soluble” and some that are “water soluble”. They are made with different building blocks, depending on the type they are. We get these building blocks from our diet.
- Steroid hormones, made from cholesterol.
- Thyroid hormones, made from iodine plus an amino acid called tyrosine
- Amines, made from modified amino acids
- Peptides, made from chains of amino acids
- Eicosanoids (also called prostaglandins), made up of fatty acids (think Omega-3 and Omega-6s).
Steroid and thyroid hormones are lipid soluble, which means they can be transported through lipids or fat, and the remaining through water.
So, looking at this list, for a healthy hormone balance, we know right off the bat we are going to need from our diet:
- Cholesterol: often demonized, it’s actually protective and it’s used in the body for many things, including making the sex hormones which are responsible for libido and reproductive cycles
- The mineral iodine, found in seafood and seaweed
- High quality, properly sourced animal proteins (plant protein is NOT as bioavailable to the body), which will break down into amino acids
- Good fats (especially animal fats, which are high in the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K2)
The Modern “Healthy” Diets
Unfortunately, I see a lot of people eating a low-cholesterol, low-animal protein, low-fat diet because we’ve been told it’s “healthier.” What is this doing to our hormones? I see couples desperately trying to conceive, doing everything they can to get pregnant, but they just can’t. 1 in 8 are infertile. The grief and pain is devastating for these couples, yet they are strong and brave and keep their chins high and keep going. I am so moved by their strength! But I also want to help them. They don’t have to feel out of control. They don’t have to feel like it’s too late. Taking a nutritional therapy approach to balance body chemistry and restore nutrients can increase the chance of conception and reduce the chance of loss, naturally.
Here’s What To Do
Here’s how implementing some aspects of this foundational approach of nutritional therapy can help YOU support your own hormone balance.
- Make sure you’re getting a properly prepared, nutrient dense diet: getting the right fats, proteins, and minerals in the diet will give the body the building blocks it needs to make good functioning cells and good functioning hormones. Make sure you are reaching for the most nutrient dense-foods, and pass on the refined ones. Leafy greens, grass-fed organ meats, butter, cream, eggs, seafood, shellfish, seaweed and live fermented foods like sauerkraut are all great choices. Stay away from refined flour and refined sugar products. A common belief is that meats and animal products “create an acidic body pH” and that TTC (trying to conceive) women should stay away from it because it will create an acidic environment in the body, which is less hospitable to sperm. The truth is that your body has more than one pH for different functions, and its range is tightly regulated by the brain. Whether a food leaves an alkaline or acidic ash doesn’t have anything to do with the body’s many different pHs. It needs both alkaline and acidic ash foods – balance, yin and yang. Please don’t pass up on these nutritional powerhouses because you are afraid of creating an “acid state” in the body: your body needs these nutrients to flourish and to procreate! If you don’t like the taste of organ meats, you can always hide it in other meats, or make liver pills like I do! Buy organic, buy local, and know your farmer.
- Support your digestion: a very acidic stomach environment is necessary for the body to break down proteins into amino acids and to absorb minerals. Putting yourself in a relaxed state when you eat, chewing thoroughly, and possibly supplementing with Betaine HCl (which you can find at any health food store) can help raise your stomach acid to a sufficient level so you can break down your food and your body can use it. (If you think you have too much stomach acid, you probably have too little. Heartburn and acid reflux are signs of too little stomach acid.) People who find that they don’t do well with meat, don’t have a taste for it, or get constipated from it, likely do not have enough stomach acid to break it down and should supplement with HCl. Sufficient stomach acid and the presence of fats also triggers the gallbladder to release its bile, which is a substance that breaks down the fats in our food into tiny tiny usable bits. Insufficient stomach acid means insufficient bile release, and we’re not able to use our dietary fats. Bile is also where our liver dumps our toxins for removal through excretion, so we want to make sure that bile is being released so we are getting our toxins out! Eating beets, and drinking beet kvass, a probiotic beet drink easy to make at home, is one of the best things you can do for gallbladder health. If you don’t have a gallbladder, supplement with bile salts to replace that function in the body so you can still use your fats (look for this at a health food store).
- Stabilize your blood sugar and manage stress: this one is HUGE. Any attempt to normalize hormonal balances is futile until blood sugar/adrenal issues are addressed. A diet high in refined sugars and refined carbohydrates, juices, and even high-sugar fruits spikes blood insulin and throws off the other hormones (and caffeine does the same thing). Let’s say we drink a glass of orange juice. Insulin works hard to put away all that glucose, but it overcorrects and we’re exhausted because we have no blood glucose. The adrenals then have to get involved, kicking out cortisol to raise blood sugar again after our sugar crash. This has an effect on aaaaalll the other hormones, throwing our orchestra into discordance. Sugar also depletes the body of precious nutrients. Avoid sugar, even less refined ones like coconut sugar. Save it for special occasions. And don’t drink juices! Besides the fact they are dehydrating to the body, there is no fiber as is in whole fruit to buffer their effect on the body. You wouldn’t eat thirteen oranges in one sitting, but you’ll drink the sugar of thirteen oranges in a glass of orange juice. A sugar detox is one of the best ways you can get your blood sugar under control. (Here’s my story with my own battle of addition to sugar!) Instead of relying on sugar to keep your energy going, add more fat into your diet. Eat coconut oil, nut butters, plenty of animal fats, fatty cuts of meat, cream and butter (if you can tolerate dairy), good quality olive oil, and avocado oil. All of this will give you slow-burning, long-lasting energy, and it WON’T throw off that delicate hormone balance. A guided meditation daily, such as with the Calm app or Headspace app, can also help switch your body from a “fight or flight” stage to “rest and digest.”
- If you are TTC, a word about stress: I know TTC is the most stressful thing in the entire universe. I know you have to go through every stage of grief over and over every. single. month, and it is hell. The last thing I want to do is add more stress to your life. I am not telling you you have to do this 100% all at once. But, if you can just make small steps with a little less sugar and try to throw in a meditation for even 5 minutes a day, I guarantee it will help you to not feel so much like you’re going crazy. You don’t have to do this all overnight. Even small changes still make big progress over time. Hang in there. You’ve got this.
- Make sure you’re getting a mineral-rich diet: each endocrine organ has a mineral that it is particularly dependent on. For the thyroid, it’s iodine. For the prostate, it’s zinc. For the pituitary, it’s manganese. For the pancreas, it’s chromium. For the gonads, it’s selenium. For the adrenals, it’s copper. Isn’t that beautiful, in a way? We need to be getting a mineral-rich diet, plus making sure we have sufficient stomach acid to be able to break the minerals off of the parts that carry them so we can use them in our own bodies. Liver, especially, is rich in most of these minerals. It’s good to get liver in your diet at least once a week, even if you have to hide it in ground beef to hide the taste or look of it! Brazil nuts are also great for selenium, and oysters and pumpkin seeds are high in zinc. Seaweed and seafood are high in iodine.
- Eat good fats; avoid bad ones: As we know, fats are crucial for the building of prostaglandins, which are the hormones that help with healing: they allow our body to inflame and anti-inflame. Neither is bad or good, necessarily; it’s the balance that matters. Fats also make up our cellular membranes, which allow the transport of nutrients and hormones into and out of the cell. The wrong kinds of fats make stiff cell membranes that don’t allow for transport. We want to make sure we’re getting plenty of fats, and the good kind. Take out refined Omega-6 oils. Canola oil, grapeseed oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, corn oil: these are not your friends. They are highly unstable and rancidify easily. Never, ever, EVER eat trans fats/hydrogenated fats. They disable your body’s fat-metabolizing enzymes: they can’t “put it down” once they’ve picked it up. You don’t want to gum up your machinery! Eat meat from grass-fed cows and wild-caught fish (which are higher in Omega-3 fatty acids). Eat plenty of the fats mentioned above in the sugar section. Eat lightly cooked or raw fish, and raw, grass-fed dairy (Don’t worry about the fact it’s raw. Sufficient stomach acid — which we talked about in digestion — is a defense against pathogenic bacteria).
- Stay hydrated: Proper hydration allows for the transport of hormones throughout the body by making sure the blood is free-flowing rather than viscous. Make sure that you drink half your weight in ounces of water every day. If you have a diuretic drink like coffee, drink 1.5 times that amount in water to replenish. Drink extra if you’re exercising and sweating. A good electrolyte drink, and a natural alternative to Gatorade, is water + a pinch of good quality sea salt + a splash of lime or lemon juice. My favorite recipe is here.
What’s Coming Next
In Part 2 to this post, I talk about how chronic stress also affects our hormone balance and what you can do to help mitigate its effects, and also about Hormone Replacement Therapy/Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy and if it actually can help.