How To Balance Your Hormones Naturally, For Better Mood, Sex Drive + Energy
During our initial consultation, Vanessa told me she frequently felt anxious or depressed the week before her period. Her energy ebbed and flowed, and her sex drive had gone kaput. And, despite trying "every diet out there," as she put it, she couldn't lose weight.
What Vanessa didn't realize was that a lot of things she did daily—things she considered harmless or even healthy—were messing with her hormones and causing these issues. The late-night TV watching, anxiety-driven insomnia, the cosmetics she used, and even some foods she ate were all contributing to the problem.
In all fairness, none of us can totally escape these things: Even the air we breathe and the water we drink contain chemicals, microplastics, and other things that mess with our hormones. As a naturopathic physician who helps women eliminate unwanted symptoms of hormone imbalance, I encourage my patients to focus on what they can control and get educated, so they can make an informed decision about their daily habits.
Symptoms of hormonal imbalance.
The culprits might be sneaky, but the repercussions are all too apparent. Among the many signs that your hormones are out of whack are:
- Temperature dysregulation, like hot flashes or feeling cold all the time
- Feeling exhausted, no matter how much you sleep
- Heavy or painful periods
- Acne and other skin problems
- Anxiety, depression, and mood swings
- Inability to lose weight
- Digestive issues
- Changes to hair, skin, and nails
- Inability to sleep
Exactly which hormones are behind your symptoms.
Let's dive into exactly which hormones are behind these pesky symptoms:
Too much estrogen (often called estrogen dominance) can be behind heavy periods, irritability, and weight gain (especially around the butt, hips, and thighs). Too little estrogen can be equally bad with symptoms of joint pain1, more fine lines and wrinkles, and vaginal dryness.
Progesterone is the "chill" hormone that helps create a calm mood. When it falls too low, we see women feeling anxious, having trouble sleeping, and their periods may come too frequently. While low progesterone is much more common, high progesterone can make you weepy, create breast tenderness, and you may even find yourself waking feeling groggy.
Insulin regulates how much glucose, or blood sugar, actually gets into your cells. Insulin resistance can manifest as feeling tired after meals, irregular or missing periods, and, for women with PCOS, excess hair growth2 on the face and abdomen. Even with a stellar diet, inflammation can occur and create issues with insulin.
Testosterone plays a role in sex drive, bone health, and more. Too much testosterone is a big reason us ladies get offered birth control to "fix" their acne, and create a regular withdrawal bleed (sometimes incorrectly referred to as a period). But because birth control also disrupts other hormones, we often swing to having too little testosterone, which can spell bad news. Too little testosterone looks like fatigue, crying all the time, and a missing libido.
Cortisol gets a bad rep as your stress hormone, but like any hormone, it's all about balance. When cortisol goes high at night and crashes in the morning (exactly what it shouldn't be doing), your sleep and energy levels often take the hit.
Thyroid issues are incredibly common in women and can be an underlying cause of irregular periods, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and hair loss.
Why hormonal balance is so important.
Let's back up a minute and talk about how you should feel when your hormones are in balance.
Healthy, happy hormones mean you feel on top of your game, invincible, and ridiculously happy. That's because your hormones influence your mood, your libido, how your period is, your energy, your blood sugar, and more. In other words: Hormones are kind of a big deal.
But hormones are very sensitive, especially when you're eating the wrong foods, getting poor sleep, exposing yourself to toxins, and all the things that go along with being a human. They also play together. So when one gets out of balance, others often follow.
Eventually, unbalanced hormones can become like an unruly mob of adolescent teenagers in the back seat of your car. They don't play nicely, and they can create massive havoc.
How to balance your hormones naturally.
Hormones can feel complicated, and balancing them is oftentimes not a quick fix. For my patient Vanessa, and nearly every other patient, I always start with the foundations to fix those hormonal imbalances: nutrition and lifestyle.
Balancing your hormones and keeping them balanced begins with what you put on the end of your fork. Leveraging food as medicine can support hormone balance naturally. In my women's health medical practice, I often find that once women begin tracking their cycle and evaluating how they feel, they intuitively begin eating and exercising in a way that better serves their hormones.
Here's what to eat to support your hormones:
Aim for 3 to 6 cups of vegetables daily. Choose organic as often as you can. Be sure to pile on those leafy greens, along with beets, carrots, garlic, onions, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, and artichokes. The more variety, the better! I recommend all women incorporate ¼ cup of broccoli sprouts at least three times weekly to support estrogen metabolism and for its cancer-protecting effects3.
High-quality protein helps your liver activate powerful detox pathways, keeps you full, and balances blood sugar levels: all keys for balanced hormones. Eat organic, 100% grass-fed meats and pasture-raised eggs as well as wild-caught fish, legumes, nuts, and seeds. (If you don't eat meat, dial up those last three and consider a plant-based protein powder.) Incorporating Brazil nuts is a great way to supply your thyroid with selenium, which can lend itself to more sustained energy.
Hormone-healthy fats help regulate your blood sugar and supply your body with the energy it needs to create hormones. You'll find them in flaxseeds, avocados, cold-pressed olive oil, coconut oil, macadamia nut oil, and olives. Avocados are also a great source of B6, which supports optimal estrogen and progesterone levels!
Fiber warrants its own special category to balance hormones. Among its roles, optimal fiber levels help you have regular bowel movements to remove excess hormones like estrogen. Aim for a minimum of 25 grams daily. Fiber A-listers include avocado, berries, nuts and seeds, and tons of leafy and cruciferous veggies.
Clean, filtered water
You should drink at least half your body weight in fluid ounces daily. Keep a BPA-free canteen near your desk or in your car and sip liberally! Add a lemon or lime squeeze for extra zing.
Also worth noting: How you buy and store your food can also affect hormones. Avoid storing or purchasing food in plastic containers if possible. Placing plastic containers with fat-containing foods in the microwave is a source of xenoestrogens, which can create hormone havoc. As often as possible, avoid plastic straws too.
For Vanessa, we got her going on a hormone-balancing nutrition plan, and within one cycle her energy was climbing, anxiety was more than cut in half, and she wasn't tossing and turning at night. In addition, we incorporated lifestyle practices to help her manage her anxiety and build better hormones.
Other ways to build healthy hormones.
When it comes to restoring hormonal balance, food matters. But so do other things like how you live, think, sleep, and move. These four foundational strategies provide maximum bang for your hormone-supporting buck.
Exercise correctly. Both cardio and strength training can improve hormone balance and avoid metabolic mayhem. Aim for at least 20 minutes of daily movement. You can alternate between cardio and strength training. Or try yoga, Pilates, Zumba, Barre3, or martial arts. If you aren't used to regular exercise, start out with walking and stretching, and work your way up to other, more intensive activities.
Dial up your rock-star sleep. Struggling with low libido? Feeling that midafternoon mood crash that leaves you bolting for a latte and the vending machine? When too little sleep messes with your circadian rhythm, your hormone balance (and lots more) suffers. I can't think of anything that solid, consistent sleep can't fix. Quality sleep—aim for eight hours—revitalizes your body and helps rebalance your hormones.
Crank down your stress levels. When you're stressed out, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode, spiking and subsequently crashing cortisol levels. Other hormones also take the hit. Make a concerted effort to reduce stress by taking deep breaths, incorporating adaptogenic herbs, meditating, exercising, eliminating toxic relationships and negative self-talk, and carving out time in your schedule for activities you enjoy.
Get the right nutrients. When it comes to supplements and hormone balance, working with a naturopathic or functional medicine practitioner can help create a plan that works for you. That said, I've found nearly everyone benefits from a few hormone-balancing foundation supplements. They include a professional-quality multivitamin, omega-3 fatty acids, extra vitamin D and magnesium, and a B complex.
It may sound like a lot of work to upgrade your diet and ditch some of these hormone-harming habits, but as you increase your energy, your mood, and your mojo and create better hormone balance in your body, I'm pretty confident you'll say, "That was so worth it."
Jolene Brighten, N.D., is a women’s health expert currently working as the President and Chief Medical Officer at Rubus Health in Portland, Oregon. She received her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine at the National University of Natural Medicine and a bachelor’s in Nutrition Science from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. She is the best-selling author of Beyond the Pill, in which she shares her clinical protocols aimed at supporting women struggling with symptoms of hormone imbalance, including Post-Birth Control Pill Syndrome and birth control related side effects. Dr. Brighten has been featured in the New York Post, Cosmopolitan, Forbes, ABC News, and The Guardian.