Taking Control of Our Hormones: Nutritional Tips to Support the Delicate BalanceApr 28, 2023 ● By Sheila Julson
Think of hormones as the body’s messengers, sending signals that affect a host of functions. Produced by the pancreas, thyroid and other endocrine glands and organs, hormones drive our metabolism, impact mood, regulate blood pressure, manage our sleep cycles, influence sexual function and more. Key players are insulin, cortisol, thyroid and growth hormones, adrenaline, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.
Keeping these hormones in proper balance is critical for health, and imbalances can lead to a wide range of effects, including diabetes, thyroid disease, unintended weight fluctuations, skin problems, fatigue, mood swings and infertility. While inactivity, stress, age and genetics impact hormone production, our food choices can significantly tip the scales.
Dr. Ann Lee is a naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. When treating hormonal, thyroid and adrenal imbalances, she says it is important to focus on foods that provide the minerals and vitamins that support those systems. For women of all ages, she recommends blueberries, asparagus, lettuce, celery and papaya. Teens and women in their 20s can also benefit from apples, bananas, mangoes, avocados, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumbers, sweet potatoes and most lettuce varieties. The nutrients in these vegetables and fruits become even more important as women reach 30 and for those dealing with menopause, so Lee recommends more frequent consumption of these fresh, whole foods to support the adrenal and thyroid glands.
According to Lee, it is equally important to avoid foods that interfere with hormonal nutrition. She advises women over 50 to lower their caffeine intake. Dairy products contain naturally occurring hormones that can impede human hormone balance and should be eaten in moderation. “The less external hormonal exposure you have, the easier it is for your own hormones to balance,” Lee explains.
Despite the popularity of intermittent fasting, Lee believes that the trendy eating pattern can deny the body the vitamins and minerals it needs, causing it to produce more adrenalin and cortisol to make up for the loss. “People do intermittent fasting because it might feel good to have more adrenalin, and thus more energy, but it does come at a price—your hormones,” she says.
Most of the foods Lee recommends are low in calories. “In order to curb hunger, you have to eat them regularly, and that goes against intermittent fasting. People that do intermittent fasting often focus on proteins and fats, so they don’t have to eat for a long time, but that can cause adrenal burnout because the body is not getting what it needs,” she explains, noting that avocados and potatoes tend to help people feel full longer.
Jaclyn Downs is a functional nutrigenomics practitioner in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and author of Enhancing Fertility Through Functional Medicine: Using Nutrigenomics to Solve ‘Unexplained’ Infertility. She notes that for hormones to be produced by the body, nutritional cofactors or “helper nutrients” are required. “Magnesium, zinc and B vitamins are a few of the spark plugs that move these processes and keep the wheels spinning,” she emphasizes. “Grass-fed beef liver or capsules contain all of these.”
According to Downs, menstrual problems can be an indicator of eventual fertility issues. To support female reproductive hormones, she recommends cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, broccoli sprouts, cauliflower and brussels sprouts. These foods also support liver detoxification pathways due to their high concentrations of vitamins and sulfur. “The liver helps clear used or ‘dirty’ hormones,” she notes.
Downs also recommends pomegranates, which are rich in antioxidants and fight inflammation-producing free radicals. Healthy fats from cold-water, wild-caught fish support pregnant women and growing fetuses. “Folate is often emphasized as a nutrient for pregnant women, but choline is just as important for everybody, regardless of life stage or gender,” Downs notes. Choline is found in egg yolks, sunflower lecithin and shiitake mushrooms. For 50-plus women, Downs prescribes fish or high-quality fish oil, which can benefit brain, liver and hormonal health.
Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and contributor to Natural Awakenings.
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Adapted from MenuPause. Copyright © 2022 by Dr. Anna Cabeca. Used by permission of Rodale Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.