By Heidi Gunderson, MS, RDN, CDCES; April 19, 2022
Living with the ups and downs of hormone levels can feel like riding a rollercoaster. Emotions and energy levels soar and drop suddenly. Then, skin screams with extreme dryness or breakouts. Finally, body aches and pains make us want to close our eyes to escape the intensity!
Rollercoasters have always been my favorite amusement park ride, but I wouldn’t want to ride one every day! That would be exhausting, even sickening.
If you’re ready to pull your hair out because of your hormonal rollercoaster, I can help! As a registered dietitian, I have a round up of 5 key nutrients and vitamins to balance hormones and manage annoying hormonal symptoms. Relief might be right around the next bend.
Read on to learn about the connection between nutrition and hormonal stability.
Nutrients and Hormones: how do they relate?
Before we dive into the nutrients, let’s define a few terms so that we’re all on the same page.
First of all, what is a hormone, exactly? A hormone is a chemical messenger in the body that travels through the bloodstream to tissues, muscle, skin and organs to provide information- to tell that part of the body what to do. Kind of like your brain sending a text message to your stomach. Hormones are involved in hundreds of different body processes, from energy metabolism to reproduction.
There are over 50 hormones in the human body. Some top hormones for women to think about include:
Why? Because these powerful hormones affect metabolism and weight, energy levels, mood, skin and bone health, menstruation, fertility, menopause, temperature regulation, stress management, a healthy immune response, and more!
So – how is that different from a nutrient?
A nutrient is a chemical substance found in food (or supplements) that is necessary for life- to survive, grow and reproduce. Nutrients provide energy and are involved in every process of the human body. Nutrients are the building blocks to make hormones. Therefore, nutrients are needed for hormones to work efficiently.
If your diet is lacking in certain nutrients, there are consequences. Nutrient deficiencies and hormonal shifts may lead to health symptoms.
Let’s explore that next.
Hormonal imbalances and health symptoms
Hormonal imbalances can lead from mildly annoying symptoms to more serious problems that require medical management. One example is PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, which frequently causes mood swings, food cravings, bloating and cramps a few days before or during a woman’s period. Usually, treatment consists of over-the-counter pain relievers and extra rest.
Another example of hormonal imbalance- this one needing medical intervention- is hypothyroidism (low thyroid). Many women, including me, have thought their thyroid was not working at one time or another! After all, unexpected weight gain, feeling cold more than others, or dealing with brain fog could be due to low thyroid functioning.
Yes, there are lots and lots of health issues caused by hormonal imbalance, and it’s important to see your healthcare provider if you are suffering from long-term symptoms. In any case, a healthy diet and lifestyle can help stabilize the symptoms that hormonal shifts might trigger.
Keep reading to learn about specific nutrients and foods that are needed for hormonal balance, plus one big lifestyle factor that affects all of us- and our hormones too.
Focus on these nutrients and vitamins to balance hormones
Ready to learn about which nutrients you might need more of? Let’s start with magnesium…a good reason to eat more dark chocolate perhaps?
Magnesium is a mineral that helps suppress the release of stress hormones. Chronic stress can deplete magnesium. It also helps reduce premenstrual symptoms of fluid retention caused by hormonal shifts.
And yikes: One study has shown that 75% of women do not meet the recommended dietary intake of magnesium. That means most of us are not consuming at least 310-320 milligrams per day.
Where is magnesium found? Here are several good sources:
- Nuts and seeds, especially pumpkin seeds and almonds
- Dark chocolate (PMS craving anyone?)
- Fortified cereals (shredded wheat, oats, and raisin bran are good options)
- High fiber grains such as quinoa and whole wheat
- Dark leafy greens like spinach
- Legumes, such as black beans
If you choose to take a supplement, opt for magnesium citrate or glycinate which are both easily absorbed forms. Avoid taking more than 350 mg per day to skip gastrointestinal side effects- most commonly diarrhea. (PS: Most multivitamins, especially gummies, are low in magnesium)
Omega-3 fatty acids are necessary for hormone production and function.They are also effective at reducing inflammation, which is commonly linked to hormonal conditions. The Standard American Diet (SAD) that many adults eat in the US is low in omega-3 fats.
Best food sources include:
- Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, sardines
- Nuts and seeds
- Fortified foods such as some eggs
There is no established RDA for total intake of omega-3 fats, and expert recommendations vary.
If you are not a seafood lover (eating fish at least 2 times per week), a supplement may be your best choice to maintain a consistent, balanced intake of omega-3 fats. In general, 1000 milligrams of fish oil will provide the typical recommended amount of omega-3 fats.
The importance of enough Vitamin D for hormonal balance cannot be overstated. The chances of you feeling your best with a low vitamin D level are slim to none.
Low vitamin D levels are associated with estrogen imbalance and insulin resistance, among other hormonal shifts. (not to mention anxiety, depression, body aches and more)
We get vitamin D through sunlight, diet and supplements. The RDA is 600-800 IU (international units) for adults. Best food sources include:
- Oily fish like salmon, tuna, herring, sardines, cod liver oil
- Egg yolks
- Wild mushrooms
- Fortified milk and yogurt
- Other fortified foods like some cereal and orange juice
Many adults in the US are deficient in Vitamin D or have sub-optimal blood levels and a supplement may be recommended. Standard supplement doses are 1000-2000 IU per day, although a higher dose may be prescribed by your healthcare provider based on your needs. A simple blood test can tell you if you’re low in vitamin D.
You may not have heard of GLA before. Gamma-linolenic acid, or GLA, is an omega-6 fat that may help relieve hormone-related PMS and menopausal symptoms.
GLA is found in small amounts in many foods, but is primarily a component of botanical plant oils such as:
- evening primrose oil
- black currant oil
- borage oil
The food with the highest source of GLA may not be well known either: hemp seeds and hemp oil. Hemp seeds, often sold as hemp hearts, may be used in much the same way as chia or flax seeds- by adding them to smoothies, cereal, yogurt, salads or salad dressings. One or two tablespoons per day is the usual recommended serving.
In case you are wondering, although hemp seeds are from the same species of plant as marijuana (cannabis), they do not contain the compound that has psychological effects. Hemp seeds are from a different part of the plant.
Supplementing with the GLA-containing plant oils mentioned above should be done under the supervision of a healthcare professional with expertise and practice in this area. That’s because supplemental GLA may interfere with some medications and pre-existing conditions.
For more information on the effects of GLA and dosing guidelines, check out this article.
Technically not a nutrient, adaptogens are herbal ingredients in certain plants and mushrooms that may help relieve stress, which in turn, helps balance hormones. To be called an adaptogen, the ingredient must be non-toxic, help the body cope with stress, and return the body to a state of balance by balancing chemical reactions in the body.
There are many types of adaptogens. A few of the more well-known ones are
- holy basil
They are added to functional foods and beverages such as some types of bottled waters, teas and coffees. For a closer look at some of these beverages, check out this article.
Adaptogen supplements are available too. Although generally considered safe, it is wise to consult with a healthcare professional with knowledge of dosing and potential side effects. You may want to consult with a naturopathic doctor or registered dietitian who works in the area of functional medicine.
Adaptogen supplements, like other dietary supplements, are not regulated by the FDA. Some supplements may interfere with medications or affect health conditions.
For more information on adaptogens, click here.
The use of adaptogens is on the rise, and likely will become a more familiar nutrition term in the near future.
Easy ways to add hormone-supporting nutrients
Wondering how to incorporate these nutrients in your daily life? Here are some ideas:
- avocado toast with hemp hearts (seeds) sprinkled on top
- omega-3 enriched eggs (read the food label to identify this type)
- oatmeal with ground flax added, topped with chopped walnuts
- whole grain toast with peanut butter
- smoothies made with spinach, fruit, hemp seeds, vitamin D-fortified milk
- strawberry spinach salad sprinkled with chia seeds
- black beans and brown rice bowl with cooked spinach
- tuna (albacore) sandwich on whole grain bread
- Greek yogurt topped with blueberries and chopped nuts
- grilled or baked wild-caught salmon
- quinoa with sautéed kale
- tofu stir fry with broccoli, peppers, mushrooms and sesame seeds
- Snacks: (to limit excess calories, eat small servings)
- dark chocolate (at least 50%-70% cocoa solids)
- trail mix made with mixed nuts and seeds, whole wheat cereal, and semi-sweet chocolate chips
- roasted pumpkin seeds
- Brazil nuts
- Adaptogen supplements: consult with your healthcare provider for recommendations and dosing guidelines
One huge impact on hormonal balance
Now that I’ve reviewed the nutrients and vitamins to balance hormones, let’s discuss one major lifestyle factor affecting nearly everyone that can really mess with our hormones.
Just reading that word probably brings to mind some of the stressors in your life.
Stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing or always associated with negative situations. Planning a wedding, moving into a new home, or starting a job can all be enjoyable and exciting, yet stressful too.
Often, it is the never-ending busyness of our lifestyles that lead to chronic high stress levels.
The stress response disrupts hormonal balance. Cortisol, a primary stress hormone, increases. Other hormones, including thyroid, insulin, and the reproductive hormones, may decrease.
The good news is that healthy diet and lifestyle habits can manage stress better, and this helps to maintain hormonal balance too. It may surprise you to learn that even taking a few slow, deep breaths helps to reduce stress and cortisol levels!
Key takeaways: Nutrients and vitamins to balance hormones
In conclusion, hormonal balance is going to be affected most by a woman’s total nutrition and lifestyle habits. Stress is one major lifestyle factor that can have significant effects on hormones.
A well-balanced diet provides the nutrition and vitamins necessary to balance stress and hormones. And by focusing on key nutrients that are involved in the stress response we may get even more benefits. Increasing dietary intake of foods high in magnesium, healthy fats, and vitamin D, and adding adaptogens have been shown to help.
If you need help to balance your eating habits and nutrients for hormonal health, contact me for a complimentary discovery call. Get clarity on exactly what steps to take to start feeling better soon!