Nutrition for Balanced Hormones
Content by: Jamie Rinaldi, RD, MS in Applied Physiology & Nutrition
Learn more about human hormones and how nutrition can support hormone balance.
We often think about how hormones affect our weight, mood, appetite, and dietary needs. What we don’t tend to focus on is how our lifestyle affects our hormones. We gravitate towards fixing them with medications, when dietary adjustments may be the answer.
There are at least 50 hormones identified in the human body, and all are important! This is just an overview of some of the hormones considered important, especially at certain stages of life.
Hormones are made from amino acids and cholesterol. Consumption of these nutrients are vital for hormone production. A diet supportive of hormonal balance includes plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and is low in heavily processed foods, added sugars, and alcohol.
Protein intake stimulates the release of leptin, the hormone that tells your body to stop eating, and reduces ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates your appetite and hunger. Consuming adequate protein is instrumental in weight management. Fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel, are ideal high protein choice, as the omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and reduce cortisol levels.
Cortisol is the “stress hormone” that favors deposition of abdominal fat. There are many other foods that reduce cortisol production, due to anti-inflammatory compounds, such as vitamins, antioxidants, and other phytochemicals. These nutrition superstars include berries, dark leafy greens, eggs, dark chocolate, whole grains, soy foods, yogurt with live active cultures, artichokes and other prebiotic-rich foods, and spices like turmeric and cinnamon.
Omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fatty acids are abundant in nuts, seeds, fish, eggs, and olive oil. High fiber foods (whole grains, vegetables, and beans) trigger the release of satiety hormones. These foods help increase insulin sensitivity, allowing the hormone to regulate blood glucose levels and the use of glucose for energy.
NOTE: Excessive consumption of sugary foods and beverages, artificial sweeteners, fried foods and heavily processed foods may promote insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance not only prevents the regulation of blood glucose, but also disrupts the balance of sex hormones, including estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone. In females, this may exacerbate menopausal symptoms and in both sexes, can trigger irritability and anxiety. Inadequate calorie consumption (NOTE: remember the female athletes) and vitamin D deficiencies hinder the production of sex hormones; therefore, it is important to consume enough food and supplement with vitamin D, if there isn’t enough in the diet.
Vitamin D can be found in egg yolks, red meat, fatty fish, liver and some fortified foods. Our bodies make vitamin D from exposure to the sun, so spending more time outside can also help prevent deficiencies. Major nutrients that support a good balance and proper metabolism of sex hormones are phytoestrogens (in flax seeds and soy foods), indole-3-carbinole (a chemical present in cruciferous vegetables), and vitamin E (in nuts, seeds, and wheat germ).
Thyroid hormones regulate metabolism, affecting the functioning of numerous organs and weight. A deficiency of iodine may cause hypothyroidism, in which inadequate thyroid stimulating hormone is produced, slowing down the body’s systems and making weight loss difficult. Such a deficiency is rare, as the majority of table salt is iodized; however, it can also be prevented by consuming sea vegetables. Selenium is essential for converting thyroid hormones into their active form and is abundant in Brazil nuts, fatty fish and meat. NOTE: With hyperthyroidism, it is wise to limit many of these foods.