The level of hormones in your body can be affected by many things including nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress, genetics, aging, environmental factors, gut health and lifestyle choices. Moreover, the fluctuation in one hormone has a knock-on effect on other hormones, creating further imbalances. Although medications can be prescribed to balance hormone levels, altering your diet and lifestyle habits is a more effective, sustainable and beneficial way to improve your hormone health as well as your physical and mental health.
Your body produces hormones from the foods you consume. Therefore, it is vital to maintain a healthy energy and nutrient intake. As we have evolved to rely on stress hormones rather than reproductive or metabolic hormones for survival, the synthesis of stress hormones is prioritised. When your body experiences stress, due to inadequate nutrient intake or sleep for example, your hormone levels will likely fall out of balance. To minimise these unhealthy fluctuations, both a healthy diet and lifestyle are essential.
Common hormone imbalances include low testosterone, high or low oestrogen, low progesterone, high cortisol and high or low thyroid. Symptoms of such imbalances include changes in appetite, weight and mood as well as digestive issues, sexual dysfunction and decreased libido and irregular periods in women. High cortisol levels are typically associated with chronic stress and poor sleep while other hormone imbalances are primarily affected by your diet and can be rebalanced by consuming a wide range of nutrients.
The different glands in your body require different nutrients to produce different hormones, making variety a crucial component of your diet. To prevent overactivation of your immune system as this can lead to an autoimmune response against your own hormone-producing glands, you should focus on maintaining a healthy gut through consuming mainly anti-inflammatory foods and minimising stress. A hormone healthy diet comprises a balance of macronutrients, sufficient micronutrients, plenty of probiotic foods, healthy sources of fat, at least 25g of fibre and 8 cups of water a day. Alcohol and caffeine can be consumed in moderation however inflammatory foods such as refined grain products, hydrogenated oils, processed sugars and trans-saturated fats should be avoided. Whole foods are nutrient dense and hence support healthy hormone production.
Managing stress through fostering positive lifestyle habits such as exercising regularly, practising yoga, getting enough sleep, meditating, being social and spending outdoors will also contribute to healthy hormone levels. Avoid smoking as it interferes with your body’s reproductive hormones and immune system as well as posing other health problems. Exposure to certain chemicals in plastic containers, pesticides and contaminants can also interfere with your hormones.
Achieving hormonal balance requires dedication and perseverance. To prevent the mental and physical health problems caused by hormone imbalance your lifestyle must be tailored to prioritise your nutrient intake, physical activity, sleep and stress management. Creating habits that promote necessary hormone production and avoiding factors that contribute to unhealthy hormone fluctuations will ensure that your body can carry out the essential biological functions that keep you healthy and happy.
+ Words: Yasmin Razzaque
Yasmin Razzaque is a Biochemistry graduate with a keen interest in health and nutrition. She uses her scientific knowledge and ability to critically analyse research to write articles about healthy and sustainable eating and wellbeing.