Your body is continually trying to keep you in a state of balance. Unfortunately, our fast-paced lifestyles, everyday stressors, and not-so-good-for-us daily choices can cause this delicate balance to go awry, leading to a tonne of unwanted side effects.
For me, my skin is the ultimate tell-tale that I’ve indulged a little too much, stressed out over something too much, or am simply not taking care of myself as best I should. I get breakouts, inflammation and puffy eyes. Sometimes PMS gets worse, with extra bloating and water retention, moodiness and pain. And my troublesome gut loves to play up too!
These type of niggling issues are temporary and come and go as part of life, but if we’re continually not looking after ourselves, that’s when these issues become way more of a burden, and the underlying problems can lead to more serious issues.
Find out the juggling act of hormone balancing and my top nutrition tips for getting back on track below!
What is hormone balance and why is it important?
Hormones are chemicals that are produced by glands that make up the body’s endocrine system. They regulate most major bodily processes, ensuring your body works the way it should.
As the body’s chemical messengers, hormones transfer information and instructions from one set of cells to another. Many different hormones move through the bloodstream, but each type of hormone is designed to affect only certain cells, telling them what to do and when to do it.
When in balance, hormones give us energy, keep us happy, help us sleep, keep us warm, control hunger and satiety; they regulate our periods, ensure ovulation, control menstrual symptoms, contribute to conception and pregnancy, initiate menopause, and much more.
What affects hormone balance?
Hormonal imbalances occur when there is too much or too little of a hormone in the bloodstream. Because of their essential role in the body, even small hormonal imbalances can cause side effects throughout the body.
Your hormones are impacted by so many aspects of your lifestyle – what you eat, how much you quality sleep you get, where you live, what you store your food in, what chemicals you come into contact with, how active you are, medications you might be taking, natural supplements, and so much more.
When high levels of stress, a poor diet, lack of exercise, and environmental pollutions come into play, hormone production can be thrown out of whack and unwanted symptoms arise.
Factors that alter hormone balance, resulting in a range of unwanted side effects, include:
- Autoimmune conditions
- Environmental factors
- and Lifestyle choices
What are the signs and symptoms of hormone imbalance?
As each hormone affects the body in different ways, the symptoms of a particular hormonal imbalance depend on which glands and hormones are affected.
Hormone imbalances can be the culprit for a variety of niggling symptoms that might not necessarily be considered medical issues, but can impact your health and wellbeing – especially on a monthly basis.
Signs of a hormone imbalance can include:
- Breast tenderness or pain
- Fluid retention
- Sugar cravings
- Digestive disturbances
- Weight gain
- Thinning hair or hair loss
- Skin tags or abnormal growths
- Deepening of the voice
- Heavy, irregular, or painful periods
- Osteoporosis (weak, brittle bones)
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Breast tenderness
- Constipation and Diarrhoea
- Reduced sex drive
- Erectile dysfunction (ED)
- Low sperm count
- Reduced muscle mass
- Reduced body hair growth (in men)
Can hormone imbalance cause anxiety?
Yes, it has a role in increasing anxiety. According to CalmClinic.com, while there is no doubt that hormone problems can cause anxiety and stress, in many cases it is believed that what most hormonal imbalances do is not create anxiety necessarily, but rather make anxiety worse.
This is especially the case with the menstrual cycle. Experts believe that most women that experience anxiety as a result of menstruation often have lower levels of anxiety before their periods, and then when their period comes the changes in emotional sensitivity may lead to strong anxiety sensations.
Hormonal imbalances can affect both men and women, and hormonal imbalances can cause anxiety even if no anxiety is present. But it is likely that many of those suffering from hormonal issues have anxiety or stress already, possibly in a lesser form, and that eventually is what creates further anxiety when hormones are unbalanced.
Can hormone imbalance cause weight gain?
Yes, it plays a role! Hormone imbalances can highlight an overload of inflammation in the body which can result in leptin resistance, blocking its ability to suppress your appetite.
Sleep also helps regulate your appetite hormones ghrelin and leptin. If you’re not getting enough sleep, your hormone production can be thrown out of whack, increasing cravings for high sugar foods, contributing to inflammation, cortisol and insulin release, and decreasing the motivation to exercise making it harder to maintain a healthy body weight.
Can hormone imbalance cause digestive problems?
Yes, a number of hormones can cause digestive imbalances including oestrogen, progesterone, ghrelin and leptin. Imbalances can lead to symptoms such as bloating, diarrhoea and constipation.
Can hormone imbalance cause acne?
Yes, hormonal acne is caused by specific bacteria, nutrient deficiencies, inflammation or excess androgen hormones. Imbalances can result in the odd breakout on occasion or contribute to consistent acne, that worsens at specific times of the month.
What causes hormonal mood swings?
Changes in hormones including progesterone and oestrogen can cause moodiness. Oestrogen affects key brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, so if it’s too low or too high it can result in depression, anxiety and insomnia.
Will a hormone imbalance fix itself?
When your body is healthy and happy, hormonal balance tends to take care of itself. Unfortunately, because of today’s fast-paced, modern lifestyle, hormonal imbalances are common. But thankfully, your lifestyle choices, including what you eat each day can make a big difference to your hormonal health and help you feel back in control.
How to balance your hormones with your diet
Aim to eat a nutritious, anti-inflammatory, wholesome diet that includes fruit, and plenty of vegetables as the focus, lean protein (such as salmon, oily fish, chicken, lean beef, eggs, and tofu) as well as a variety of healthy fats (including olive oil, butter, avocado, nuts, and seeds), can go a long way in supporting your overall health and keeping your hormones in check.
High fibre foods including vegetables, legumes, leafy greens, whole grains and fruits, as well as probiotic-rich foods such as kefir, kombucha, fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, cultured dairy and yoghurt are also important to support gut health, and in turn, help to keep inflammation down, regulate your sleep, mood and your appetite.
Reducing your intake of refined sugars, caffeine, alcohol and processed foods is important for keeping inflammation at bay, and managing your stress, mood and energy levels.
However, you don’t have to avoid all of these completely to see significant improvements in your health, and it’s unrealistic to expect yourself to do so! An 80/20 approach can do wonders. Simply choose the lower sugar, lower caffeine options and alcohol-free choices 80% of the time, and enjoy your favourites on the odd occasion.
What vitamins and nutrients support hormone balance?
The energy and nutrients you obtain from your diet are used to produce the hormones necessary for your body to function. Make sure you include the following to help with the production and balancing of your hormones naturally:
- Vitamin B6 – Aids in the manufacturing of serotonin, the ‘happy’ hormone. A deficiency of this B vitamin can reduce serotonin production and affect your mood and food cravings.
The richest sources of vitamin B6 include fish, beef liver and other organ meats, potatoes and other starchy vegetables, and fruit (other than citrus).
- Omega 3s – Known for their anti-inflammatory properties, omega 3 fatty acids are also are precursors of hormones produced in the body that help to prevent and treat various diseases, especially in women. Aim to eat fatty fish such as salmon or tuna 3 times a week.
- B Vitamins – They help the body produce hormones, support your body through stress, provide you with energy, improve your brain function and play an important role in detoxification. Eat a mix of nuts, seeds, wholegrains, eggs, leafy greens, poultry, and legumes.
- Vitamin D – It aids hormone production and supports your immune system. Expose your bare skin to sunlight for 15-20 minutes each day – it’s the best way to boost your intake. Being outdoors in the sunshine can boost your mood too!
- Protein – Influences the release of hormones that control appetite and food intake, helping you stay fuller for longer and stabilising your blood sugar levels.
- Fibre – Aim for 30g of fibre a day from wholesome, high fibre foods such as berries, oats, avocado, nuts, and legumes. Fibre helps clean out waste, toxins, and excess hormones; reduces appetite and improves insulin sensitivity.
If you’d like more information, I was lucky enough to work with the wonderful team at Women’s Weekly to co-write the Balanced Hormone Diet book. It has 100 delicious recipes and even more nutritional guidance, including an easy 7-Day Hormone Reset Challenge.
So, regardless of whether you’re looking to alleviate PMS symptoms, support the health of your thyroid, minimise sugar cravings, reduce hormonal acne, or simply feel more in control of your hormones, this book is designed to help you on your way to hormonal balance naturally. Click here to take a look!