Are you struggling with thyroid dysfunction, weight issues, chronic fatigue, or mood imbalances? If so, your hormones could be to blame.
Hormones are chemical messengers produced by your endocrine glands that control nearly every process in your body, from metabolism to reproduction to mood. The endocrine system is comprised of a wide range of hormone-secreting glands that serve a variety of functions including your hypothalamus, thyroid, adrenals, pancreas, ovaries (if you’re a woman), and testes (if you’re a man).1 If you’ve ever dealt with imbalanced hormones, you know how critical these chemical messengers are to your health and wellbeing. Hormone imbalance can mess with your sleep, mood, and libido, and contribute to weight gain, adrenal fatigue, brain fog, and a myriad of chronic illnesses.
Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance
- Thyroid dysfunction (hypo- or hyperthyroidism, Hashimoto’s, Graves’)
- Bloating, constipation, and diarrhea
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Insulin resistance
- Chronic fatigue
- Estrogen dominance
- Mood swings, anxiety, or depression
- Low libido
- Brain fog
- Adrenal fatigue
- Hot flashes/night sweats
- Thinning, brittle hair
Fortunately, by making some simple changes to your diet and lifestyle you can balance your hormones and prevent or reverse many of these health issues. One of the easiest ways to restore proper hormone balance is to fill your plate with real, whole, nutrient-dense foods.
There are a few foods, in particular, I would recommend for their superstar ability to regulate your hunger, sex, thyroid, sleep, and stress hormones. Let’s take a look at why these are some of the best foods to balance your hormones naturally!
1. Wild Salmon
The protein found in wild-caught salmon can balance your hunger hormones and increase feelings of satiety.2 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–you have to get them from your diet. Omega-3s are needed for synthesizing hormones that regulate blood clotting, arterial function, and inflammation.3 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.4
Supplementing with fish oil has been shown to reduce the release of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline during stressful situations.5 Since stress is one of the top sources of inflammation, it’s no wonder salmon has been dubbed an anti-inflammatory rockstar!
For a hormone-balancing dinner, try my Wild-Caught Salmon Salad with Apple and Red Onion recipe!
The darling of the foodies everywhere, what’s not to love about 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.6 Fiber also helps to increase insulin sensitivity and feelings of fullness.7
Kale offers the best of both worlds as a leafy green AND a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables. 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.8 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.9
I am often asked whether cruciferous vegetables are harmful to your thyroid gland because they contain goitrogens (substances that interfere with iodine uptake). However, in working with thousands of thyroid patients, I’ve found that 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!
Think kale is too rough and bitter? Don’t underestimate the power of a kale massage to soften the leaves for a salad, or better yet, get your kale in the form of an organic greens powder and drink your way to healthy hormones!
3. Grass-fed Beef
As someone who suffered from thyroid dysfunction after being a vegetarian for over 20 years, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to include a high-quality source of animal protein in your diet. 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 (along with tyrosine, which is also found in grass-fed beef). Without enough iodine, your thyroid simply can’t produce its hormones. Iodine deficiency is the most common cause of thyroid enlargement, goiter, and hypothyroidism worldwide.10
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.11
Zinc and iron also play a role in the conversion of T4 to T3. In addition, 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.
In my practice I’ve found that most women I treat are iron deficient, especially those who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet. For this reason, I recommend eating animal protein such as grass-fed, pasture-raised beef to supply your body with the nutrients it needs to thrive. My Paleo Protein powder is a fast and simple way to meet your protein needs, and is made with 100% grass-fed, hormone-free beef.
Another great option is beef liver, which is an extremely concentrated source of these four thyroid-loving nutrients, and is surprisingly easy to prepare! Just be sure you always choose organic meats to minimize toxin exposure.
If you suffer from insomnia, snacking on cherries before bed could help. Cherries are a natural source of melatonin–the “sleep hormone” released by your pineal gland. As you age, you produce less and less melatonin, which is why so many older adults struggle with insomnia and other sleep issues. Studies have found that cherries have the ability to increase melatonin levels, total sleep time, and quality of sleep (including fewer instances of waking up in the middle of the night).12
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.13 Magnesium also helps calm the body’s stress response by preventing the release of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.14
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.15
My Cherry Roasted Brussels Sprouts recipe combines cherries with the power of cruciferous vegetables for a double-dose of hormone-balancing potential!
5. Maca Root
Let’s talk about stress. We all have it, and many of us are dealing with chronic stress on a daily basis. Chronic stress is the type that never lets up, and keeps pumping out cortisol and adrenaline nonstop until your adrenals are shot. Stress hormones elevate blood pressure and blood glucose levels, and interfere with your digestion, sleep, and mood.16 Over the long term, heightened levels of cortisol and other stress hormones can wreak havoc on your health, leading to heart disease, diabetes, depression, anxiety, and autoimmune conditions.
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 is also ideal for supporting hormone balance during menopause. In a study on early postmenopausal women, maca root significantly improved symptoms related to hormone imbalance, including hot flashes, night sweating, depression, irritability, and insomnia. In fact, maca was found to be just as effective for these symptoms as HRT–without the negative side effects. What’s more, maca supports healthy thyroid function and bone density, making it an all-around superfood for women struggling with imbalanced hormones during menopause.
You can find maca root along with an assortment of other potent plant foods to balance your hormones in my Organic Greens Superfood Juice Powder! Just stir a scoop into a glass of water or blend into a smoothie for the ultimate hormone-balancing pick-me-up!
For more ideas on how to use foods to balance your hormones naturally, check out The Autoimmune Solution Cookbook! In there, you’ll find over 150 recipes specially designed to prevent and reverse chronic illness, including my Honey-Ginger Glazed Salmon, Winter Salad with Maple Vinaigrette, Dark Chocolate–Cherry Smoothie, and much, much more!
For more information on natural hormone balance, check out my interview with Frank Lipman, MD, where we discuss how diet and supplementation can help combat our toxic burden and the importance of healthy habits such as stress management, exercise, and diet for balancing your hormones.