By Amy Shah M.D., as told to Lindsay Kellner.
Mood swings, bloating, brain fog, "water" weight that just won't go away … if you're struggling with any of these, it could be a sign that your hormones are unbalanced.
What's the point of balancing hormones? Living a long and vibrant life is first and foremost. Hormones rule inflammation, and inflammation is at the root of many diseases like cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.
Second, of course, we want to feel good every day! As an integrative M.D., I've dedicated my life to finding the best ways to balance hormones for my patients, my family, and myself. It wasn't easy at first, but with some trial and error, I made the mistakes, discoveries, and optimizations so you don't have to.
Below are the top seven things I do every day to keep my hormone levels in check.
1. Start the day with a solo 6 a.m. barefoot stretch in the sun.
I like to enjoy a moment to myself and prime my hormones for the day. Photoreceptors in the eye link directly to the hypothalamus in the brain, where focus, attention, and memories originate. Vitamin D helps support these neural processes, so a few moments of morning sunshine are important.
2. Drink an Ayurvedic tonic with apple cider vinegar.
Every morning, I mix warm water and organic apple cider vinegar for a morning tonic. The ACV is fermented, which is beneficial for gut bacteria and key in hormone balancing. It's pretty sour, so I like to drink this quickly!
Pro tip: This is a great way to deal with an overconsumption hangover, whether it's from food, alcohol, or both.
3. Take hormone-balancing supplements.
I recommend taking a daily mix of adaptogens, B vitamins, vitamin D, and biotin for optimal hormone health. I'm asked often about which brands are best to take, and truthfully, it's hard to tell. Adaptogens can be contaminated with heavy metals, and vitamin and mineral supplements aren't as pure as we think.
Since I like Eastern practices backed by Western science, I created the formula I couldn't buy, eliminating the hassle of having to take separate supplements and the time spent researching how each one is made. With Balance & Restore, I know the ingredients are top quality and in the right proportions. Here are the four key ingredients that help balance hormones:
Ashwagandha is a hormone-balancing root with anti-inflammatory benefits that also translate to the immune system and the gut. It combats cortisol, also known as the "stress hormone," which is really important for balancing the endocrine system.
Rhodiola is understood to help mental capacity, shorten recovery time for muscles, regulate the heartbeat, and provide energy without the crash typically associated with caffeine.
Endurance athletes usually take phosphatidylserine for energy, focus, and improved athletic performance, but in my experience it's been helpful in balancing hormone levels.
I don't want to rely on red meats for my B vitamins, so I supplement with a plant-based formula.
4. Do a cortisol-reducing workout.
When we want to lose weight, we often will take drastic measures like signing up for a boot-camp-style class. For many people, though, this backfires. Since a workout like this is hard on the body, cortisol shoots up, making any existing hormone imbalance worse. You also may feel completely depleted afterward, causing lethargy and hunger instead of feeling energized.
My favorite cortisol-reducing workout is power yoga. It combines strength training with the relaxing nature of pairing the movement with the breath, which is inherently calming for the nervous system. Whether it's taking a long walk or doing a dance class, make sure your activity of choice leaves you feeling energized and relaxed.
It's a rule: For at least 15 minutes every day, I make time to play with my kids. It's nice to spend time with them, and it helps lower my cortisol levels, keeping my healthy hormone levels in check. Bonus: Take your playtime outside — it's even better for gut health to get dirty!
6. Eat dinner with the dinner trick.
I count up all the veggies I've eaten during the day and eat the remaining balance at dinner (my goal is 6 cups a day). It's my trick to make sure I'm eating enough nutrients. Veggies are prebiotics, which nourish your microbiome, and having a healthy gut prevents food sensitivity, helps regulate hormones, and promotes a good mood.
That said, dinner is also my lightest meal of the day. My current favorite dinner veggies are artichokes, asparagus, green bananas, and anything with a stalk, like broccoli.
Need a way to spice up your veggies? I love cooking with the powerful combo of turmeric, coriander, fennel, and cumin. If I don't add these spices to my meals that day, I combine them into a drinkable tonic — any way to get these energy-boosting spices in my system!
7. Wind down, and sleep a lot.
My aim is to get nine hours of sleep a night. Sometimes it's embarrassing to say, but I feel best on nine hours (everyone is different) and am a big believer in getting in as much shuteye as you need. When we sleep, our bodies really repair and heal.
I have a long wind-down routine, but here are my best tips for getting ready for bed:
- Wear blue-light-blocking glasses. Blue light can interfere with melatonin production, so it's best to shift appliances to "night mode" or wear blue-light-blocking glasses.
- Invert. Put your legs up the wall, do a headstand practice, go upside down in some way. I like to do this with my kids, and I do it nightly. It's deeply restorative for the body and balances hormone levels.
8. Practice intermittent fasting.
One of the reasons I eat dinner on the early side is so I can more easily do intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is a period of time (usually 12 hours, but with experience you can increase it) when you don't consume caloric food or drink.
Intermittent fasting helps your digestive system rest, which has anti-inflammatory effects on the body. In turn, it's inherently hormone regulating and has even been shown to benefit people with cancer — ones who fast intermittently are more likely to stay in remission.
There you have it! I know it sounds like a lot at first, but after a while, these habits become second nature. I hope you'll share your experiences with hormone balancing: Do you have any different remedies that have worked for you? Did you find success with any of these lifestyle changes? Let me know!