AUTHORITY NUTRITION

12 Natural Ways to Balance Your Hormones

Written by Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE on May 15, 2017

Hormones have profound effects on your mental, physical and emotional health.

These chemical messengers play a major role in controlling your appetite, weight and mood, among other things.

Normally, your endocrine glands produce the precise amount of each hormone needed for various processes in your body.

However, hormonal imbalances have become increasingly common with today's fast-paced modern lifestyle. In addition, certain hormones decline with age, and some people experience a more dramatic decrease than others.

Fortunately, a nutritious diet and other healthy lifestyle behaviors may help improve your hormonal health and allow you to feel and perform your best.

This article will show you 12 natural ways to balance your hormones.

Consuming an adequate amount of protein is extremely important.

Dietary protein provides essential amino acids that your body can't make on its own and must be consumed every day in order to maintain muscle, bone and skin health.

In addition, protein influences the release of hormones that control appetite and food intake.

Research has shown that eating protein decreases levels of the "hunger hormone" ghrelin and stimulates the production of hormones that help you feel full, including PYY and GLP-1 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).

In one study, men produced 20% more GLP-1 and 14% more PYY after eating a high-protein meal than after eating a meal that contained a normal amount of protein.

What's more, participants' hunger ratings decreased by 25% more after the high-protein meal compared to the normal-protein meal (6).

In another study, women who consumed a diet containing 30% protein experienced an increase in GLP-1 and greater feelings of fullness than when they ate a diet containing 10% protein.

What's more, they experienced an increase in metabolism and fat burning (7).

To optimize hormone health, experts recommend consuming a minimum of 20–30 grams of protein per meal (8).

This is easy to do by including a serving of these high-protein foods at each meal.

Summary: Consuming adequate protein triggers the production of hormones that suppress appetite and help you feel full. Aim for a minimum of 20–30 grams of protein per meal.

Physical activity can strongly influence hormonal health. A major benefit of exercise is its ability to reduce insulin levels and increase insulin sensitivity.

Insulin is a hormone that has several functions. One is allowing cells to take up sugar and amino acids from the bloodstream, which are then used for energy and maintaining muscle.

However, a little insulin goes a long way. Too much can be downright dangerous.

High insulin levels have been linked to inflammation, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. What's more, they are connected to insulin resistance, a condition in which your cells don't respond properly to insulin's signals (9).

Many types of physical activity have been found to increase insulin sensitivity and reduce insulin levels, including aerobic exercise, strength training and endurance exercise (10, 11, 12, 13, 14).

In a 24-week study of obese women, exercise increased participants' insulin sensitivity and levels of adiponectin, a hormone that has anti-inflammatory effects and helps regulate metabolism (14).

Being physically active may also help boost levels of muscle-maintaining hormones that decline with age, such as testosterone, IGF-1, DHEA and growth hormone (15, 16, 17, 18).

For people who are unable to perform vigorous exercise, even regular walking may increase these hormone levels, potentially improving strength and quality of life (19).

Although a combination of resistance and aerobic training seems to provide the best results, engaging in any type of physical activity on a regular basis is beneficial.

Summary: Performing strength training, aerobics, walking or other forms of physical activity can modify hormone levels in a way that reduces the risk of disease and protects muscle mass during the aging process.

Sugar and refined carbs have been linked to a number of health problems.

Indeed, avoiding or minimizing these foods may be instrumental in optimizing hormone function and avoiding obesity, diabetes and other diseases.

Studies have consistently shown that fructose can increase insulin levels and promote insulin resistance, especially in overweight and obese people with prediabetes or diabetes (20, 21, 22, 23).

Importantly, fructose makes up at least half of most types of sugar. This includes natural forms like honey and maple syrup, in addition to high-fructose corn syrup and refined table sugar.

In one study, people with prediabetes experienced similar increases in insulin levels and insulin resistance whether they consumed 1.8 ounces (50 grams) of honey, sugar or high-fructose corn syrup (23).

In addition, diets high in refined carbs like white bread and pretzels may promote insulin resistance in a large portion of adults and adolescents (24, 25).

By contrast, following a low- or moderate-carb diet based on whole foods may reduce insulin levels in overweight and obese people with prediabetes and other insulin-resistant conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) (26, 27, 28).

Summary: Diets high in sugar and refined carbs have been shown to drive insulin resistance. Avoiding these foods and reducing overall carb intake may decrease insulin levels and increase insulin sensitivity.

Stress can wreak havoc on your hormones. Two major hormones affected by stress are cortisol and adrenaline, which is also called epinephrine.

Cortisol is known as "the stress hormone" because it helps your body cope with stress over the long term.

Adrenaline is the "fight-or-flight" hormone that provides your body with a surge of energy to respond to immediate danger.

However, unlike hundreds of years ago when these hormones were mainly triggered by threats from predators, today they're usually triggered by people's busy, often overwhelming lifestyles.

Unfortunately, chronic stress causes cortisol levels to remain elevated, which can lead to excessive calorie intake and obesity, including increased belly fat (29, 30, 31).

Elevated adrenaline levels can cause high blood pressure, rapid heart rate and anxiety. However, these symptoms are usually fairly short-lived because, unlike cortisol, adrenaline is less likely to become chronically elevated.

Research has shown that you may be able to lower your cortisol levels by engaging in stress-reducing techniques like meditation, yoga, massage and listening to relaxing music (32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37).

A 2005 review of studies found that massage therapy not only reduced cortisol levels by an average of 31%, but also increased levels of the mood-boosting hormone serotonin by 28% and dopamine by 31%, on average (37).

Try to devote at least 10–15 minutes per day to stress-reducing activities, even if you don't feel you have the time.

Summary: Engaging in stress-reduction behaviors like meditation, yoga, massage and listening to soothing music can help normalize your levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Including high-quality natural fats in your diet may help reduce insulin resistance and appetite.

Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are unique fats that are taken up directly by the liver for immediate use as energy.

They have been shown to reduce insulin resistance in overweight and obese people, as well as in people with diabetes (38, 39).

MCTs are found in coconut oil, palm oil and pure MCT oil.

Dairy fats and monounsaturated fat in olive oil and nuts also seem to increase insulin sensitivity, based on studies in healthy adults and those with diabetes, prediabetes, fatty liver and elevated triglycerides (40, 41, 42, 43, 44).

Additionally, studies have shown that consuming healthy fat at meals triggers the release of hormones that help you feel full and satisfied, including GLP-1, PYY and cholecystokinin (CCK) (44, 45, 46).

On the other hand, trans fats have been found to promote insulin resistance and increase the storage of belly fat (47, 48).

To optimize hormone health, consume a healthy fat source at each meal.

Summary: Including healthy natural fats in your diet and avoiding unhealthy trans fats can help reduce insulin resistance and stimulate the production of hormones that help control appetite.

Eating too much or too little may result in hormonal shifts that lead to weight problems.

Overeating is shown to increase insulin levels and reduce insulin sensitivity, especially in overweight and obese people who are insulin resistant (49, 50, 51, 52).

In one study, insulin-resistant obese adults who ate a 1,300-calorie meal experienced nearly twice the increase in insulin as lean people and "metabolically healthy" obese people who consumed an identical meal (52).

On the other hand, cutting your calorie intake too much can increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is known to promote weight gain when it's elevated.

One study found that restricting food intake to less than 1,200 calories per day led to increased cortisol levels (53).

Interestingly, a study from 1996 even suggests that very low-calorie diets could potentially trigger insulin resistance in some people, an effect you might expect to see in people with diabetes (54).

Eating within your own personal calorie range can help you maintain hormonal balance and a healthy weight.

Summary: Consuming too many or too few calories can lead to hormonal imbalances. Aim to eat at least 1,200 calories per day for optimal health.

Green tea is one of the healthiest beverages around.

In addition to metabolism-boosting caffeine, it contains an antioxidant known as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which has been credited with several health benefits.

Research suggests that consuming green tea may increase insulin sensitivity and lower insulin levels in both healthy people and those with insulin-resistant conditions like obesity and diabetes (55, 56, 57, 58, 59).

In one detailed analysis of 17 studies, the highest-quality studies linked green tea to significantly lower fasting insulin levels (60).

A few controlled studies found that green tea didn't seem to reduce insulin resistance or insulin levels when compared to a placebo. However, these results may have been due to individual responses (61, 62).

Since green tea has other health benefits and most studies suggest that it may provide some improvement in insulin response, you may want to consider drinking one to three cups per day.

Summary: Green tea has been linked to increased insulin sensitivity and lower insulin levels for people who are overweight, obese or have diabetes.

Fatty fish is by far the best source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which have impressive anti-inflammatory properties.

Research suggests they may also have beneficial effects on hormonal health, including reducing levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.

A small study observed the effect of consuming omega-3 fats on men's performance on a mental stress test.

The study found that after men consumed a diet rich in omega-3 fats for three weeks, they experienced significantly smaller increases in cortisol and epinephrine during the test than when they followed their regular diet (63).

In addition, some studies have found that increasing your intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids may reduce insulin resistance related to obesity, polycystic ovary syndrome and gestational diabetes (64, 65, 66, 67).

Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy in women who did not have diabetes prior to becoming pregnant. Like type 2 diabetes, it is characterized by insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar levels.

In one study, women with gestational diabetes took 1,000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids daily for six weeks.

The omega-3 group experienced significant reductions in insulin levels, insulin resistance and the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP) compared to women who received a placebo (67).

For optimal health, include two or more servings per week of fatty fish like salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel.

Summary: Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids may help lower cortisol and epinephrine, increase insulin sensitivity and decrease insulin levels in obese and insulin-resistant individuals.

No matter how nutritious your diet is and how much exercise you get, your health will suffer if you don't get enough restorative sleep.

Poor sleep has been linked to imbalances of many hormones, including insulin, cortisol, leptin, ghrelin and growth hormone (68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74).

In one study of men whose sleep was restricted to five hours per night for one week, insulin sensitivity decreased by 20%, on average (69).

Another study looked at the effects of sleep restriction on healthy young men.

When their sleep was restricted for two days, their leptin declined by 18%, their ghrelin increased by 28% and their hunger increased by 24%. In addition, the men craved high-calorie, high-carb foods (72).

Moreover, it's not only the quantity of sleep you get that matters. Quality of sleep is also important.

Your brain needs uninterrupted sleep that allows it to go through all five stages of each sleep cycle. This is especially important for the release of growth hormone, which occurs mainly at night during deep sleep (73, 74).

To maintain optimal hormonal balance, aim for at least seven hours of high-quality sleep per night.

Summary: Inadequate or poor-quality sleep has been shown to decrease fullness hormones, increase hunger and stress hormones, reduce growth hormone and increase insulin resistance.

Sugar in any form is unhealthy. However, liquid sugars appear to be the worst by far.

Studies suggest large amounts of sugar-sweetened beverages may contribute to insulin resistance, especially in overweight and obese adults and children (75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81).

In one study, when overweight people consumed 25% of their calories in the form of high-fructose beverages, they experienced higher blood insulin levels, a reduction in insulin sensitivity and increased belly fat storage (81).

Additionally, research has shown that drinking sugary beverages leads to excessive calorie intake because it doesn't trigger the same fullness signals that eating solid foods does (82, 83).

Avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages may be one of the best things you can do to improve your hormone balance.

Summary: High intake of sugary beverages has consistently been linked to higher insulin levels and insulin resistance in overweight and obese adults and children.

Fiber, especially the soluble type, is an important component of a healthy diet.

Studies have found that it increases insulin sensitivity and stimulates the production of hormones that make you feel full and satisfied (84, 85, 86, 87).

Although soluble fiber tends to produce the strongest effects on appetite and eating, insoluble fiber may also play a role.

One study in overweight and obese people found that consuming a type of soluble fiber called oligofructose increased PYY levels, and consuming the insoluble fiber cellulose tended to increase GLP-1 levels.

Both types of fiber caused a reduction in appetite (87).

To protect against insulin resistance and overeating, make sure you eat fiber-rich foods on a daily basis.

Summary: High fiber intake has been linked to improvements in insulin sensitivity and the hormones that control hunger, fullness and food intake.

Eggs are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet.

They've been shown to beneficially affect hormones that regulate food intake, including lowering levels of insulin and ghrelin, and increasing PYY (88, 89, 90, 91).

In one study, men had lower ghrelin and insulin levels after eating eggs at breakfast than after eating a bagel for breakfast (90).

What's more, they felt fuller and ate fewer calories over the next 24 hours after eating the eggs (90).

Importantly, these positive effects on hormones seem to occur when people eat both the egg yolk and egg white.

For instance, another study found that eating whole eggs as part of a low-carb diet increased insulin sensitivity and improved several heart health markers more than a low-carb diet that included only egg whites (91).

Most studies have looked at the effects of eating eggs at breakfast because that is when people typically consume them. However, these nutrition powerhouses can be eaten at any meal, and hard-boiled eggs make a great portable snack.

Summary: Eggs are extremely nutritious and may help reduce insulin resistance, suppress your appetite and make you feel full.

Your hormones are involved in every aspect of your health. You need them in very specific amounts for your body to function optimally.

Hormonal imbalances may increase your risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other health problems.

Despite the fact that aging and other factors are beyond your control, there are many steps you can take to help your hormones function optimally.

Consuming nutritious foods, exercising on a regular basis and engaging in other healthy behaviors can go a long way toward improving your hormonal health.

An evidence-based nutrition article from our experts at Authority Nutrition.

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