Hormones are an essential part of living in our body and are responsible for many of our bodily functions and growth. Sometimes they can get out of balance and when this happens, our body tells us using various signs, including mood swings, skin breakouts and weight gain. In this article we look at how what you eat can help to provide hormonal balance and consider other things you can do.
What are hormones?
Hormones are the chemical messengers in our bodies. Oestrogen, testosterone, cortisol and insulin are all types of hormones made by various endocrine glands in our body (like the thyroid, adrenal glands and sex glands – the ovaries or testes). They are transported in the blood and are responsible for lots of bodily functions, including growth and development, reproductive growth and health, and can make you feel happy or sad. An excess or deficiency of any one hormone can lead to ill-health or disease. For example, an excess of testosterone can affect the skin, and can cause it to break out. To be made, hormones need a source of healthy fats, which is one reason why we do not advocate low-fat diets here at La Crisalida, although we minimise our cooking with oil (and no deep frying).
Signs or symptoms of hormone imbalance
There are many signs that your body might be having difficulty with hormone balance, which include:
- Skin issues (spots, rashes, breakouts etc)
- Headaches and/or migraines
- Trouble sleeping or always sleeping
- Weight gain, particularly around the middle
- Anxiety and mood swings
- Infertility, endometriosis, PCOS, PMS
Foods that help to balance hormones
As a vegan including the following foods in your diet can help to balance your hormones:
- Quinoa, brown rice
- Broccoli and other dark leafy greens, like spinach and Brussel sprouts
- Cabbage, kohlrabi
Including a portion of these in your diet every day is the best approach. See this months recipe, for our brown rice salad (which you can also serve hot) for an easy and filling hormone balancing meal.
Foods that are natural high in fibre, like brown rice, bind to excess oestrogen and remove it naturally from our bodies. The science bit: dark leafy greens contain compounds called sulforaphane and indole-3 carbinol – these compounds help the liver to metabolise (use) oestrogen.
You might also want to consider how many sources of phyto-oestrogen you have in your diet – phyto-oestrogens are plant based substances that can help to balance hormones. Sources include soy based products, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, bean sprouts and beans. When selecting soy products, you are best to use traditional products like tofu, tempeh, miso, soy sauce etc, rather than products processed and extracted from these (like tofu sausages). Here at La Crisalida we use tofu a couple of times per week, as part of a balanced meal plan.
When you are planning your meals and want to eat for hormone balance, you might consider selecting something from each of the groups below:
A) Veggies rich in anti-oxidants: broccoli, dark leafy greens, cabbage, cauliflower
B) Protein: if you are vegan sources include beans, seeds, soaked/sprouted nuts, lentils, quinoa
C) Healthy fats: think avocado, coconut oil and olive oil (unheated, in their natural forms)
D) Herbs and spices: include a variety in your dishes like ginger, garlic, cumin, cayenne, cinnamon, turmeric, all of which are great for balancing hormones.
You might also want to consider taking a supplement for a short time, to provide additional support for your adrenal system and help with hormone balance.
- Maca – a Peruvian root which you can find in powder form (so great for adding to juices) or in capsules. Note, it might be quite tricky to find at the moment due to the high demand for this fantastic product (see our maca article)
- Magnesium – you can take tablets for a few weeks if you think you are low in magnesium and need a boost, but make sure you get enough in your diet (green leafy veggies, beans, nuts, wholegrains, bananas, dried fruit and avocados are the best sources)
- Vitamin D – if there is not sufficient natural sunlight then consider taking a good quality vitamin D supplement.
- Adaptogen herbs (healing plants that promote hormonal balance) include ashwagandha or holy basil benefit. Seek support from a local Ayurvedic doctor.
These supplements should be available at all good local health food shops, where someone will also be able to give you more advice on which products would suit you best. Remember, supplements are just that – an extra to be taken for a short period of time to boost or support the body at times of additional stress.
Other tools for balancing hormones
Other things you can do to balance your hormones include:
- Get enough sleep. Aim to get to bed by 10pm each night – it is believed that cortisol (the stress hormone) is regulated around midnight. Some endocrinologists believe that the best sleep is that between 10pm and 2am.
- Boost your vitamin D – take regular walks in the sun or take a vitamin D3 supplement when the sun is not around!
- Learn and regularly use stress management tools; meditation, yoga, switching off the phone or internet for a few hours,
- Deep breathing – can increase your sense of well-being, so include up to 15 minutes of deep breathing every day
- Cut down on caffeine – swap from drinking regular black tea to green tea or other herbal teas. Consider drinking a coffee substitute (made from cereals instead of coffee beans).
- Reduce your intake of omega-6 polyunsaturated fats (you find these in meat, processed and fatty fried foods, as well as in oils like sunflower, safflower and corn) – you need a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 (ratio of 1:1 ideally), so it´s not about completely excluding them from your diet, just bringing the intake to a balance.
- Reduce your exposure to toxins – so consider your use of household cleaners, washing powder, shampoo and move to more natural products
- Exercise – taking regular light exercise can help your body to regulate your hormones
Wishing you a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
About the author
- Lisa is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. She is an Epidemiologist, therapeutic hatha and yin yoga teacher and also teaches mindfulness meditation. Lisa has studied NLP and hypnosis, as well as nutrition (she designs the menus).