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5 Foods That Can Mess With Your Hormones & 5 That Can Help, According To A Functional Medicine Expert

Michelle Sands, ND
Co-founder of GLOW Natural Wellness By Michelle Sands, ND
Co-founder of GLOW Natural Wellness
Michelle Sands is the co-founder of GLOW Natural Wellness, a board-certified naturopathic physician (ND) and the #1 international best-selling author of Hormone Harmony Over 35: A New, Natural, Whole-Body Approach to Limitless Female Health
Woman And Friends Cooking And Having Lunch Together

If you are feeling a little bloated, crampy, fatigued, sweaty, or just off, chances are it has something to do with your hormones. Our hormones fluctuate and cycle constantly. And their levels can undergo dramatic changes during puberty, pregnancy, postpartum, perimenopause, and menopause. Sometimes our hormones are like a beautifully synchronized symphony, and others like a chaotic festival.

Hormones are so important that they can influence nearly every aspect of your life—from your mental clarity, your body composition, the texture, thickness and quality of your skin, and even your mood.

Most women have no idea their food choices can have such a huge impact on hormonal balance. The good news is that eating for hormone health doesn't have to be complicated or restrictive to make a difference. You just need to know what foods to choose and which ones might be messing with your hormones.

5 foods that can mess with our hormones.

While I never like to label foods as "good" or "bad," in my experience, there are some choices that may damper your efforts to balance your hormones. I would recommend limiting or minimizing these foods, replacing them them with hormone-helping foods instead.

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1. Sugar 

It's hard to believe that just 200 years ago, Americans consumed only two pounds of sugar per year. Today, according to the USDA, the average American eats over 100 pounds of sugar every year. This may not seem like a lot, but when it comes to your hormones, even small changes can have big consequences.

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When you eat a lot of sugar, your pancreas releases insulin to help control your blood sugar levels. The more sugar you eat, the more insulin is released and the more your blood sugar levels can drop. This can cause fatigue and mood swings. This can even lead to insulin resistance.  

Insulin resistance is when our cells become less sensitive to insulin, so we have to make more of it to get the same results. This causes the body to produce more insulin, which can contribute to a number of health issues, including diabetes.

Sugar also affects your leptin levels, which can cause cravings for more sweet stuff. If you have high insulin levels all the time, your body will fail to recognize when you are full and you'll eat more than you actually need. 

Sugar also increases your body's production of cortisol, which is the stress hormone that makes us crave food when we're stressed out—among other impacts.

Another issue with sugar is that it causes inflammation in the body. Inflammation is a key factor in many chronic health conditions and plays a role in hormone imbalances.

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2. Caffeine 

When you drink coffee or tea, it triggers the release of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones make you feel alert but they can also raise blood pressure, increase heart rate, and cause muscle tension and headaches.

It's important for your body to have low levels of cortisol when you are sleeping because it can interfere with deep sleep cycles and make it harder for you to fall asleep at night. This can lead to more daytime fatigue and more trouble staying focused during the day as well as nighttime insomnia. And when you don't get enough sleep, the levels of ghrelin (the hunger hormone) rise while leptin (the satiety hormone) drops—which means you're more likely to eat more than your body needs.

Like sugar, caffeine may also increase insulin resistance.

3. Artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are often marketed as being a healthier alternative to sugar, but they can actually mess with your hormones.

When you ingest artificial sweeteners, they're broken down in your digestive system and then absorbed into your bloodstream. Once there, they trick the pancreas into thinking there's too much glucose in your blood—which causes it to release insulin. But because there's no real sugar for the insulin to break down, the hormone doesn't have anything to do—and so it stays in your bloodstream for longer than normal.

In addition to potentially increasing insulin resistance, artificial sweeteners can also cause problems with your gut microbiome (the community of microorganisms living in your digestive tract) by altering the balance of bacteria present there. 

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4. Alcohol

Alcohol is a hormone disruptor, but some alcoholic beverages cause more harm than others. Drinking organic, properly sourced red wine in moderation could be good for your health, but cocktails every evening or multiple glasses of wine may come with hormonal consequences.

Alcohol can increase levels of estrogen by interfering with estrogen metabolism. This can lead to bloating, menstrual irregularity, weight gain, and water retention, especially in women.

Alcohol consumption has been linked to elevated levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), impacts on thyroid function, and issues with liver health, which is responsible for regulating many of the hormones you need to stay healthy.

Alcohol can also disrupt the hormones that help regulate mood and sleep, plus it causes inflammation in the body, which is not good news for your hormones.

5. Conventionally grown fruits and vegetables.

Thanks to modern farming practices, conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are often treated with pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides to keep them from getting sick or dying—all of these interventions can negatively impact our hormones.

They are actually part of a classification of chemical known as EDCs: endocrine-disrupting compounds. This is because the chemicals can disrupt our hormones in several different ways including mimicking our hormones such as estrogen, binding to hormone receptors, impairing thyroid conversion, and reducing androgen production.

They impact our gut flora, which further influences our hormone metabolism, hormone production, and hormone conversions. These toxins also create inflammation and additional burden on our liver.   

The good news is that there are ways you can avoid these harmful chemicals in the foods you eat by choosing organic whenever possible. If you don't have access to organic produce near you, consider growing your own or seeking out a community garden.

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5 foods to support your hormones.

We're not talking about those super-expensive "superfoods" that are available only at specialized health food stores. These are foods you probably already have in your kitchen right now but didn't realize their full benefits. By choosing the right foods, you can help your body stay balanced and feel better than ever! 

1. Cruciferous vegetables

Broccoli, broccoli sprouts, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, and bok choy are all known as cruciferous vegetables—and they're some of the best things you can eat if you want to support healthy hormone levels.

Cruciferous vegetables are packed with Indole-3-carbinol (an indole) and sulforaphane (an isothiocyanate) that help balance out the effects of estrogen in your body and can even help alleviate symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes and night sweats. In addition, these veggies contain fiber, which helps digestion, energy levels, blood sugar control, and reduces constipation.

They contain micronutrients, phytonutrients, fiber, vitamins K and C, and folate, which are all great for reducing inflammation in your body. They also contain antioxidants, which help prevent free radical damage from occurring in your body and protect against cancer growth. Cruciferous veggies are also packed with B vitamins, which help with stress management and mood stabilization.

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2. Avocados 

Avocados are a staple in many people's diets—they're full of healthy fiber and fats and are perfect in sandwiches, salads, smoothies, and more.

Avocados are specifically a great source of oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat, which may reduce the risk of cognitive decline and heart disease. This type of fat helps lower (LDL) cholesterol while raising (HDL) cholesterol levels in your body—and that's a good thing! Avocados are one of the best sources of potassium—a mineral that helps balance out sodium levels in the body and helps maintain healthy blood pressure levels. 

The healthy fats in avocados also support healthy hormone levels when consumed on a regular basis. They're full of vitamins A through E that help fight inflammation—a major cause of hormone imbalance!  

3. Salmon and tuna 

Salmon and tuna are high in omega-3 fatty acids—which can help reduce cortisol levels and may even be effective in managing depression symptoms.

The plant-derived omega-3 ALA is essential, which means the body cannot make its own, so you need to get it from food. Eating wild salmon or tuna at least twice per week can help support these healthy levels in the body.

Omega-3s are great for hormone balance because they promote healthy cell function throughout the body, but they’re especially helpful for balancing hormones because of their anti-inflammatory properties.

They have also been shown to help regulate menstrual cycles as well as mood swings associated with PMS or menopause.

4. High-fiber carbs 

High-fiber carbohydrates are high in fiber and low in sugar—such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, and nuts. Carbs are not your enemy, and in fact, in the quest to balance your hormones, high-fiber carbs can be your best friend.

High-fiber carbohydrates are a great way to help your hormones because they keep your blood sugar levels steady by slowing down how quickly food moves through your digestive tract. This is important for your hormone health, because when your blood sugar levels are too high or too low, it can lead to hormone imbalances.

5. Probiotic and prebiotic foods. 

Probiotics and prebiotics are two of the best foods you can eat to help keep your hormones in check. Probiotics, or good bacteria, live in your gut—and you can ingest them through fermented foods (such as yogurt, kimchi, kombucha) or supplements.

Prebiotics are largely non-digestible fibers that provide nourishment for beneficial bacteria. Some of the best sources of prebiotics include green bananas, raw asparagus, raw garlic, onions, and more. These fibrous foods feed the good bacteria in your gut to support a healthy balance.

Probiotics and prebiotics have been shown to have a positive effect on our hormones because when we have a healthy balance of good bacteria in our gut, it helps to regulate digestion and inflammation. What's more, these good bacteria help manage cortisol levels.

Researchers have also found that the gut microbiome houses a collection of microbes called the estrobolome, which maintains estrogen balance in the body.

Takeaways

The foods you eat can have a major impact on your hormones and quality of life—especially if you struggle with PMS, PCOS, endometriosis, perimenopause, or menopause. It may not be necessary to completely overhaul your diet to get results. Simply focusing on eating more of the hormone-helping foods, and less of the hormone-hurting foods, can make a big difference in your energy levels, hormone balance, and quality of life.

Get the Full 21-Day Hormone Harmony Meal Plan, Hormone Imbalance Quiz, and a free digital copy of Sands' internationally bestselling book: Hormone Harmony Over 35–A New, Natural, Whole-Body Approach to Female Health.

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