It’s one of those phrases that we throw around like confetti and accept as fate without knowing why, or what it actually means:
I’ve certainly used it as a handy excuse for starting (many) unprovoked arguments throughout various relationships. (Pour one out for the boys I’ve scared off with my hormone scaries…)
What even IS a hormone, though? What do they do?
Hormones are created by what’s called the Endocrine System. This system includes glands that many of us recognize: ovaries, testes, thyroid, adrenals, pancreas; and others that we tend to talk about less often: hypothalamus, pituitary, pineal and parathyroids. All equally important and responsible for specific tasks — creating certain hormones.
The endocrine system regulates how much of a hormone we produce and release into the blood. From there, these hormones or “chemical messengers” carry information and instructions throughout the body. Hormones regulate everything from mood (and stress!) to metabolism, reproduction and the actual function of other organ systems. NBD or anything.
What happens when they’re “out of balance”?
You’re not interested in gettin’ busy. Estrogen is the hormone that gives us women our unique shape and features; and it’s an important reproductive hormone. It’s also important for your sex drive. High or low estrogen could be equally responsible for a lack of libido.
You have all the emotions. At once. You’re exhausted but you can’t sleep and you’re happy but also crying and then you’re excited but also miserable … and that’s not even during PMS! Don’t even get me started on what you’re like during PMS!
The “muffin top”. Because hormones control your metabolism when they’re out of whack it doesn’t matter how much you’re working out or watching your diet you just can’t seem to lose a certain bit of weight, in particular that “muffin top”-type of weight — this could be the work of high cortisol, the stress hormone.
You’re cravings are intense and specific. Like wine. With chocolate. Or salt. Lots of salt, but on pasta. And coffee. OOH and a chocolate donut! Endocrine glands require specific minerals (which can be found in specific foods) for proper function — so what your craving may be telling you a lot about how your endocrine system is (or rather isn’t) functioning.
Digestion is all over the place. Issues with digestion can have major impact on your hormonal health, some hormones are manufactured in the gut. Issues like Leaky Gut and dysbiosis could mean these hormones aren’t being properly created and distributed and a cascade of issues ensue…
Essentially, our hormones being “out of balance” means that the body is producing too much or too little of a crucial hormone and a myriad of issues follows as your body tries to compensate, affecting every system. If any of these sound like you, hormone imbalance could be something to investigate.
How can we help balance our hormones?
There are tons of great lifestyle alterations that we can make to improve overall health and subsequently, hormonal health. Most of which you’ll recognize: improve sleep quality (7-9 hours in complete darkness), exercise regularly (low-moderate intensity each day is ideal when balancing hormones), and address lingering emotional issues to eliminate additional stress.
A lot of that is easier said than done. So we’ve put together a list of foods to incorporate into your diet on a regular basis to ensure you’re giving your endocrine system the fuel it needs for healthy hormone balance.
This has gotten some bad press lately being that it’s a saturated fat. In fact, the other day someone actually said to me “I heard the absolute worst thing you can put in your body is coconut oil.” I wanted to cry at this — but because my hormones are balanced in part due to my intake of healthy fats, I managed my emotions appropriately 😉 The fact is hormones are made from fat and cholesterol. We need healthy fats — cold water, northern, wild fish is also a great option, like Alaskan Salmon.
Why we love it — Coconut oil is a great source of medium-chain triglycerides (“MCT oil”, anyone?) generally missing from the western diet and more easily absorbable than long-chain triglycerides (such as from red meat). Fat is one of the building blocks of hormones. Coconut oil is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, and is stable at higher heat when compared to other oils (so it’s good for cooking). Not to mention delish. Try blending a tablespoon in your coffee each morning and you’ll see what I mean.
**Unfortunately not all oils are created equal — our bodies don’t “recognize” damaged oils (think: super high heated oil for deep-frying) or highly refined oils (such as canola or cotton seed oil) so while some oils may have similar health benefits to coconut oil, others most certainly do not.
Ground or whole is your choice, in the end it’s all still going to benefit you in many ways but one in particular when it comes to balancing your hormones. Fibre content.
Why we love it — Fibre is essential in clearing out our large intestine. Flax is a source of soluble and insoluble fibre that can both sweep through and trap excess hormones lingering in the bowels and bulk up the stool in order to remove hormones. Constipation can lead to excess hormones circulating through the system, but diarrhea or unformed stool will also mean excess hormones aren’t being trapped and removed. Flax will ideally help with both counts; bulking and moving. Mix two tablespoons of ground flax in with your daily smoothie or sprinkle it on yogurt in the morning.
Or any fermented, probiotic-rich foods really! As mentioned, hormone health starts with gut health, for example: serotonin and melatonin are manufactured in the gut, controlling your sleep cycle, without adequate sleep our body gets stressed and taxes the rest of the endocrine system to compensate. Starting to see how gut health might be so important in hormone balancing?
Why we love it — probiotic foods (like sauerkraut) are fermented, that process produces the “good bacteria” your body needs in the digestive system. Introducing fermented foods (miso, kefir, kimchi, kombucha…) on a regular basis can help improve gut health, and allow for more effective production of important hormones, while taking stress off the body and allowing the endocrine system to work more efficiently. In terms of sauerkraut in particular, cabbage is also a great source of fibre too!
Grass-fed, organic meats
We need amino acids from protein, they act like little building blocks for hormones but the type of protein definitely matters. If you eat meat, grass-fed, organic versus conventionally farmed has massive implications on microscopic levels in our bodies — the chemicals and hormones that are injected into commercial, factory farmed meats don’t just disappear, they make their way through the food chain, and when we ingest them they wreak havoc on our own hormonal balance. Opt for grass-fed, and organic meats.
Why we love it — Grain itself is heavily sprayed with chemicals that our systems don’t recognize (not to mention the injected hormones in the animal). Grass-fed on the other hand is far easier on our own digestion (less bloating for example), and by comparison contains far fewer hormones (particularly estrogen) that confuse our own endocrine system.
Arugula, endive, kale, radicchio… dealer’s choice! As long as you’re having them in some form. Once again here, we see how crucially important digestion is to hormone balancing! “Let food be thy medicine,” and all that…
Why we love it — Bitter greens and herbs, particularly at the beginning of a meal, help to set your body up to digest the rest of your meal. “Bitters” stimulate saliva, stomach acid and bile — all the “digestive juices” that allow your body to process and digest food effectively. Once again, when waste isn’t moved along through the bowels in a timely manner (ideally one to three formed bowel movements each day) toxins and excess hormones are cycled back into our bodies again and again.
Balancing hormones is just that, a balance
we want to make sure we can both create and eliminate hormones. That, like most other things when it comes to health, depends on our digestive systems functioning optimally, giving our body the proper nutrients as building blocks to manufacture what they need, and as always, allowing our bodies and minds the time to restore, relax and repair.
Stop letting hormones take control of you when you can make informed food choices that allow you to control how your body feels and functions!