Having balanced hormones is essential for a well-functioning body. They are responsible for many physiological processes and when out of balance can cause adverse side effects. We often associate hormonal imbalances with illness or age, and that is true in many cases. However, lifestyle habits may also be a contributing factor. Here are some areas to consider:
1. Nutrition and Diet
Your diet can have a big effect on the processes within your body. What you put into the body to fuel it will have an impact on how it functions.
A healthy diet is important to maintaining good gut health, which is a lot more necessary for overall health than you might think. Poor gut health is linked to inflammation, which is the root of many health issues including hormonal imbalances. By making your immune system work overtime, an unhealthy gut can affect your hormone levels.
To avoid a diet-related hormonal imbalance here are some tips:
- Balance the macronutrients you eat. Macronutrients are carbs, fats, and proteins.
- Reduce the amount of inflammatory foods you consume. The foods that cause inflammation differ from person to person. So if your diet is causing health issues like hormonal imbalance, your doctor may test you for food sensitivities or put you on an elimination diet to determine what might be causing you problems. Common inflammatory foods include refined grain products like white flour, trans fats, hydrogenated oils, added sugar, and sometimes dairy.
- Increase your probiotic intake with the following types of foods:
- Fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, and kimchi. A lot of people also tout kombucha as a good source of probiotics because it is fermented, but some recent research suggests the amount may be negligible.
- Prebiotics like oats, bananas, onions, and chicory root, garlic, leeks, savoy cabbage and water.
- High-fiber fruits, legumes, and whole grains (provided you do not have a gluten sensitivity).
- When getting the fiber mentioned above, keep in mind that you should aim to consume 25-30 mg per day. Other sources of dietary fiber include avocados, raspberries, and psyllium husk.
- Consume healthy fats in healthy quantities. Some sources of healthy fats include:
- Fish like wild-caught salmon
- Nuts and seeds
- Dairy (organic and grass-fed is recommended to avoid additional hormones)
- Grass-fed meat
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
- Drink enough water to hydrate properly. Adequate water supply is critical for proper bodily function. The conventional wisdom suggests 64 oz a day, or eight servings of 8 oz.
Related to diet, the amount of alcohol and caffeine you consume can have an effect on your hormones. When too much caffeine is consumed it increases the amount of stress hormones the adrenal glands produce. This can lead to sleep loss, appetite changes, digestive issues, and ultimately energy levels, which is the opposite of the reason you likely consume caffeine in the first place.
Limiting caffeine intake to one to two servings per day is helpful in avoiding these problems. Some people also have caffeine sensitivities that mean it should be avoided altogether.
3. Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol consumption can also contribute to hormonal imbalance. Often this takes the form of estrogen dominance and can lead to an increase in risk of serious problems like abnormal pancreatic function, insulin resistance, liver disease, anxiety and malnutrition. This can also lower testosterone and interfere with your sex drive.
The recommended healthy alcohol intake is one drink per day for women (so seven or fewer weekly) and two per day for men (fourteen or fewer weekly). But in general, the less alcohol you consume, the better your internal balance will be.
It’s no secret that smoking is detrimental to one’s health. Not only is it associated with an increased risk for lung cancer, but it can affect the body in places beyond the respiratory system. Smoking affects reproductive hormones like estrogen and testosterone. It has been linked to decreased fertility in women, shortening her reproductive period by up to 10 years.
When you are stressed, your body reacts physically via the production of stress hormones. The US National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine has many published studies on the relationship between stress and hormones.
As mentioned before, stress hormones are at the top of your body’s priority list. Therefore, when you are going through a stressful time period, you might experience hormone fluctuation and imbalance.
The increase in the stress hormone cortisol can lead to the following:
- Decreased immunity
- Weight gain (and high-calorie intake)
- Decreased focus, memory and concentration. This can lead to poor work or academic performance.
6. Inadequate Sleep
Inadequate sleep essentially has the same effect on the body and hormone levels as stress. Your body needs the right amount of rest to function properly and when it does not get enough, the stress reaction is triggered. In addition to a feeling of exhaustion, lack of sleep will cause the same problems as stress.
7. Exposure to Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs)
Like their name suggests, endocrine-disrupting chemicals are chemicals that affect the function of your endocrine system. EDCs can increase and decrease levels of hormones because they can change how they are made, broken down and stored in our bodies. Other ways EDCs interfere with hormonal balance are changing our hormonal sensitivities and mimicking real hormones.
Lifestyle habits like diet and the products we use at home and work can lead to exposure to EDCs. Cleaning products, pesticides, personal care products, certain antibacterial products, food storage and wrappers, old cookware, and textiles can all have EDCs in them. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a helpful resource for more information about choosing safer products.
If you are worried you might have a hormonal imbalance, lifestyle-related or otherwise, call Chapel Hill Gynecology at (919) 960-2720 to schedule an appointment. We specialize in accurate hormone testing and using the results of those tests to come up with a treatment plan. Treatment may include hormone therapy, recommendations for lifestyle changes, or a combination of both.