When your reproductive hormones are out of whack, the signs are glaringly obvious.
What's not so straightforward?
How to get things back into harmony. After all, there are almost as many culprits for hormone imbalance as there are symptoms, including your exercise routine, your birth control pills, stress, and—this is a big one—your diet.
Fortunately, changing up your diet can make a big difference in your hormonal health. The first step is to clear your kitchen of inflammatory processed foods and high-sugar snacks, plus meat and dairy from conventionally raised animals that have been injected with antibiotics and growth hormones.
Here are five foods that have shown to be beneficial for hormonal health.
1. Salmon - The protein found in wild-caught salmon can balance your hunger hormones and increase satiety. 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. Omega-3s are needed for synthesizing hormones that regulate blood clotting, arterial function, and inflammation. 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. Supplementing with fish oil has been shown to reduce the release of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline during stressful situations.
2. 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. Fiber also helps to increase insulin sensitivity and feelings of fullness. 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 flipside, 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. I am often asked whether cruciferous vegetables are harmful to your thyroid gland because they contain goitrogens (substances that interfere with iodine uptake). However, 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!
3. Grass-fed Beef- 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. Iodine deficiency is the most common cause of thyroid enlargement, goiter, and hypothyroidism worldwide. Selenium helps convert inactive T4 hormone into active T3. Insufficient amounts of selenium means your thyroid hormones are stuck in their inactive state, leading to hypothyroidism symptoms including brain fog, weight gain, low libido, fatigue, and depression. 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. Zinc and iron also play a role in the conversion of T4 to T3. Also, 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.
4. Cherries - Cherries are a natural source of melatonin–the “sleep hormone” released by your pineal gland. Studies have found that cherries have the ability to increase melatonin levels, total sleep time, and quality of sleep. 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. Magnesium also helps calm the body’s stress response by preventing the release of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. 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.
5. Maca Root - Chronic stress is the type that never lets up, and keeps pumping out cortisol and adrenaline nonstop until your adrenals are shot. 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 also supports healthy thyroid function and bone density, making it an all-around superfood for women struggling with imbalanced hormones.
Bottom Line: As we get older, our bodies change. Our diet lifestyle should change too. By eating foods that feel good to your body, you will be able to strengthen it by joining the #NKFITSQUAD and stave off aging a little more. Remember, there’s not a one size fits all plan, but these five ingredients are a good place to start, no matter what kind of imbalance you’re dealing with.
And, as always, you should always seek out your doctor’s advice if diet alone doesn’t start to soothe your symptoms.
Jacqueline Corbett, MS RD LD
Women's Health & Fitness Specialist.