In order to reach specific tissues and organs, glands secrete hormones into the bloodstream. Hormones affect a variety of physiological processes when they reach the target tissue, including metabolism, growth and development, sexual function, reproduction, and mood. As a result, hormonal balance is critical for health. Hormone imbalances or efficacy can lead to disease, and vice versa. In this article, you’ll learn more about natural ways to balance your hormones with foods and general nutrition for hormonal balance.
Foods have been shown to affect hormones. Nutrients can activate cell receptors and signalling pathways, influencing hormone production.
Western diets that are high in added sugars, unhealthy fats, and empty calories can throw off hormones and make you more likely to become overweight, go through puberty early, or develop a chronic disease.
Mediterranean and plant-based eating has been shown to improve hormonal imbalance, probably increasing healthy fats, lean protein, fiber, antioxidant compounds, vitamins, and mineral intake.
Nutrition impacts hormonal imbalance; however, the impact is caused by your diet rather than singular foods. A healthy and balanced diet provides enough macro- and micronutrients for hormone synthesis and balance.
How can nutrition affect hormonal balance?
Nutrition affects hormonal imbalances, but not because of a single food. It is because of your whole diet. Because macro and micronutrients are involved in bodily functions, too little, too much, or too few can affect hormone production.
According to studies, different eating patterns and nutrients can cause hormonal changes. There is not much evidence to support the idea that certain foods can balance hormones, but certain nutrients and eating habits can change how hormones are made.
In addition to nutrition, there are many other factors that affect hormonal balance. So, if you have or think you might have a hormonal imbalance, you should see a doctor right away.
Nutrition for hormonal balance
Nutrition impacts hormonal balance not as a singular food but as a whole. A healthy and balanced diet provides enough macro- and micronutrients for hormone synthesis and balance.
Protein consists of amino acids, which are used in the synthesis of hormones. Enough protein intake is essential for a well-functioning body.
Deficient protein intake can cause impaired hormone production, such as growth, thyroid, and insulin hormones, resulting in health problems including muscle wasting, poor nutrition absorption, disruptions in the immune system, decreased bone mass, anemia, and so on.
The average daily protein intake requirement is 0.8 g per kg of body weight, so a 70-kg person needs at least 56 grams to meet the minimum protein requirement. However, protein needs will vary according to age, gender, fitness, and general health.
Fatty acids are required for sex hormone production, absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, regulation of body temperature, protection of organs, etc.
Consuming primarily healthy fats (unsaturated fatty acids) found in foods such as fish, olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados, and some vegetable oils such as canola, flaxseed, and sunflower oil is important for hormonal balance.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to improve hormonal balance, especially sex hormones, because of their anti-inflammatory actions. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish and some nuts and seeds, including walnuts, flaxseed, and chia seeds.
Since fats are dense in energy, consuming excessive fat can cause weight gain and obesity, threatening hormone balance. Getting 20% to 35% of your daily calories from fatty acids is recommended, while keeping saturated fats to less than 10% of your daily calories.
Saturated fats are associated with cardiovascular diseases. They're naturally found in most animal foods, so it's recommended that you opt for lean protein sources. Remember that high amounts of saturated fats are found in processed foods, so try limiting processed and fast foods.
Carbohydrates cover most of our energy needs, generally 45% to 65% of our daily calorie intake. Carbohydrates stimulate the production of insulin hormones most compared to other macronutrients, so the type and amount of carbohydrates you're eating matter regarding insulin secretion.
Eating complex carbohydrates as a part of a healthy and balanced diet can support healthy insulin production, which is essential for health—consuming added sugar results in spikes in blood glucose and insulin, which promotes fat gain and obesity. It's recommended to lower added sugar intake below 10% of daily calorie intake.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant compounds called polyphenols. Fiber, a carbohydrate, can influence hormone secretion regarding its influence on gut health, nutrient absorption, and satiety. Enough fiber intake is associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases. Adults are recommended to consume 30 grams of fiber daily. You can get fiber by eating whole grains, legumes, beans, fruits, and vegetables.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are a source of not only unsaturated fatty acids but also minerals such as magnesium, zinc, and selenium. Minerals are involved in the production of hormones. For example, selenium is required for the production of thyroid hormones. Selenium deficiency is associated with infertility, musculoskeletal, endocrine, and cardiovascular problems.
Although you can get most vitamins and minerals from your diet, vitamin D is an exception. Only a few foods contain vitamin D, including fish, cod liver oil, egg yolk, and vitamin D-fortified products. Vitamin D acts as a hormone; it involves many physiological functions, including cell growth, immune function, bone and muscle health, metabolic health, cognition, etc. Vitamin D is synthesized in the body when your skin is exposed to sunlight; therefore, it's critical to get sunlight daily safely.
In conclusion, nutrition impacts hormonal balance not as a singular food but as a whole. A healthy and balanced diet provides enough macro- and micronutrients for hormone synthesis and balance. If you have a hormonal imbalance, you should consult your doctor and get treatment while keeping a healthy diet.
Mediterranean diet and hormones
The Mediterranean diet has been shown to help improve health by influencing hormones, including cortisol, thyroid, and sex hormones. Although cortisol has a bad reputation as a stress hormone, it's crucial in regulating many physiological functions, including metabolism, growth, cognitive functions, glycemic control, and immune response. Imbalances in cortisol levels can cause insulin resistance, which may cause problems in parts of the pancreas, liver, muscle, and fat tissue.
A study investigated the effects of the Mediterranean diet on fasting morning cortisol levels, which is hypothesized to increase the risk of developing metabolic and cardiovascular conditions. The study compared Mediterranean diets and a diet following healthy dietary guidelines. The results showed that participants following Mediterranean diets had significantly lower fasting morning cortisol levels than those following nutritional dietary guidelines at the end of 18 months of intervention.
Researchers suggested long-term Mediterranean diets rich in polyphenols can improve stress hormone levels. Polyphenols are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds found in plant foods. A diet containing good amounts of various fruits and vegetables and plant-based diets is generally rich in polyphenols.
After menopause, estrogen, one of the sex hormones, decreases, which makes women more vulnerable to osteoporosis, cardiovascular diseases, and cognitive decline compared to premenopause. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to improve menopausal symptoms by supporting a healthy estrogen metabolism.
Western diet and hormones
Western diets are high in unhealthy fats, added sugars, and additives. It has been associated with many health problems, including early puberty, obesity, chronic diseases, and cancer, which have a bidirectional relationship with hormones.
Many hormones, such as insulin, growth hormones, leptin, and sex hormones, affect metabolic health by influencing metabolism, body composition, appetite, etc. And high-sugar and high-fat Western diets negatively affect those hormones. Diets high in calories added sugar, and unhealthy fats cause an increase in fat mass and obesity. Adipose tissue (fat) releases hormones called adipocytokines, which affect many functions, from metabolism, appetite, growth, and sleep to the reproductive system.
Besides nutrition, factors such as a sedentary lifestyle, dysbiosis of the gut microbiota, obesity, chronic inflammation, diseases, food intolerances, allergies, and sleep quality influence hormonal balance.
- International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. Effects of a dietary intervention with Mediterranean and vegetarian diets on hormones that influence energy balance: results from the CARDIVEG study.
- Science. Food as a Hormone.
- Frontiers in Endocrinology. Long-term green-Mediterranean diet may favor fasting morning cortisol stress hormone; the DIRECT-PLUS clinical trial.
- Frontiers in Endocrinology. Mediterranean Diet: What Are the Consequences for Menopause?
- Turkish Journal of Diabetes and Obesity. Impact of Dietary Factors on Obesity Management and Its Correlation with Hypothyroidism, Dyslipidaemia and Hormonal Imbalance.
- Nutrients. Global Impacts of Western Diet and Its Effects on Metabolism and Health: A Narrative Review.
- Obstetrical & Gynecological Survey. Women and omega-3 Fatty acids.