Achieve Hormone Balance with Food
By Sarah Axtell, ND • February 3, 2016
When levels of just one of your hormones fluctuate, the shift can have significant consequences on your mental, emotional and physical health. The endocrine system is an intricate triad of adrenal, thyroid and sex hormones, and when one system is out of balance, mood, sex drive, sleeping pattern and metabolism are affected. If you suffer from weight loss resistance, brain fog, insomnia, fatigue, PMS, hair loss, food cravings, or PCOS your hormones are likely out of balance. The first step to achieving hormonal balance is to change your diet.
Here are the top food triggers that are sabotaging your endocrine system:
1. Sugar– When your body has to constantly process sugar, your cells become resistant to insulin (the hormone responsible for pushing sugar into cells). This results in excess insulin which translates to fat storage.
Insulin resistance is thought to play a prominent role in the development of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). In my experience, women with this condition respond beautifully to a low glycemic (ie. low sugar, low carb) diet.
Ask your doctor to test your insulin. Goal is less than 10.
2. Grains– One of the reasons to ditch the grains is because of grains effect on insulin. Grains, such as rice, wheat (bread, pasta, wraps, cereals are all high In carbohydrates), barley, rye, and oats, are all high in carbs. Carbs break down into sugar which then cause a spike in insulin. Your bagel or morning bowl of cereal is no better than that soda, candy or sweetened yogurt.
Grains not only affect insulin but also increase your risk of thyroid problems, most notably autoimmune thyroiditis or Hashimoto’s. It is well established that gluten sensitivity and celiac disease are more common among people with Hashimoto’s. See here for more on gluten and thyroid.
We can take a gluten-free diet one step further by removing all grains (even the gluten-free ones) to see more dramatic results in not only insulin (and thus weight loss) but also your thyroid hormones and female hormones. Why? It comes down to a leaky gut. If you’ve ever taken multiple rounds of antibiotics, NSAID pain relievers, or antacids your gut is likely leaky. When you have a leaky gut undigested food particles, such as hard-to-digest grains, cross the gut barrier into the bloodstream and your body starts to attack them as if they were a foreign invader. This leads to an autoimmune attack on your tissues, most notably on your thyroid. If you have already been diagnosed with thyroid disease, it is likely autoimmune in nature. It is estimated that 90 percent of patients with hypothyroidism have Hashimoto’s.
3. Conventional meat– If you you are overweight, moody, foggy, or suffer from breast cancer or insomnia, estrogen dominance could be the culprit. Conventionally raised meat is a common source of exogenous estrogen (ie. estrogen you got from the environment). If you are going to eat meat, always choose organic. Conventional meat contains steroid hormones, PCBs and dioxins. PCBs and dioxins are synthetic chemicals that act as xenoestrogens (or fake estrogens).
4. Dairy– The casein in your cow milk, cheese, and yogurt could be the culprit for your systemic inflammation. Inflammation is essentially a cascade of body chemicals that’s set off the fire throughout your body and can make you more prone to fat storage.
If you must have an occasional piece of cheese, choose organic to reduce your exposure to estrogen or even better goat dairy, which has very minimal amount of casein.
5. Coffee– Chronic stress increases appetite and food cravings. It also leads to insomnia and thus more of a draw toward caffeine. An occasional cup of joe is not problematic if your adrenal glands are in good shape. If you suffer from adrenal fatigue, however, coffee is one if the worst things your can grab. Coffee further stimulates your struggling adrenal glands to pump out more cortisol (stress hormone). Excess cortisol over an extended period of time leads to abdominal weight gain, anxiety and insomnia. Adrenal fatigue can also lead to PMS, infertility and hypothyroidism.
It is worth a trial of 3 weeks of coffee avoidance. You may notice an initial drop in energy, but after about 3 days people typically feel more energy and experience a wonderfully restful sound sleep.
Adaptogenic herbs and active B vitamins can also help further repair your struggling adrenal glands.
Here is more info on the connection of coffee and adrenal fatigue.
So now that you know what not to eat, here are the 5 best foods to include in your diet for hormonal and metabolic balance:
1. Seeds– Seed cycling can be an effective way to balance hormones. This consists of rotating seeds with either your cycle (if you are getting your period) or with the lunar cycle (if you are not currently cycling). Consume 2-4 tbsps of ground flax seeds for the first half of your cycle (days 1-14) or from the new moon to the full moon. Consume 2-4 tbsps of ground sunflower seeds the second half of your cycle (days 15-30) or from the full moon to the new moon.
3. Coconut oil– Mix 1 tbsp of coconut oil in warm water and drink 15-30 minutes before meals. This promotes leptin sensitization and down-regulates ghrelin. These two hormones are involved in appetite control. First, leptin is a hormone made by fat cells that tells us to “put the fork down.” The second hormone involved in weight regulation is ghrelin. I like to refer to it as “grehmlin.” This is the hormone that is produced in the stomach and makes you hungry. It fights for common receptor sites as leptin and often wins, making you feel like a bottomless pit. Coconut oil will help promote feelings of satiety.
4. Green tea
5. Cruciferous vegetables– Cruciferous vegetables contain the anti-cancer substances, sulforophane and indole-3-carbinol. Sources of cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, broccoli sprouts, collard greens, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and kale.A study in China found an inverse relationship between cruciferous vegetable intake and breast cancer risk. In addition, the Nurses’ Health Study revealed the association between a high intake of cruciferous vegetables (defined as five or more servings per week) and a 33% reduction of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The flavonoid indole-3-carbinol found in cruciferous vegetables modulates several nuclear transcription factors. Indole-3-carbinol also induces phase 1 and phase 2 enzymes in the liver that metabolize estrogens and other carcinogens.
But you’ve heard you should avoid broccoli if you have thyroid disease, correct? NO! Here is why.
Labs to have your doctor order to assess your hormones and the state of your metabolism:
- Salivary hormone testing
- Full thyroid panel including Free T3, Free T4, TSH and thyroid antibodies (TPO and TG Abs)
- Salivary cortisol test (to assess adrenal function)
Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.