Our hormones impact everything from reproduction and sex drive to body weight, mood, and stress response, so it’s no wonder we feel seriously off when they’re out of whack. And, unfortunately, between working overtime, not getting enough sleep, and rushing our meals, modern life often isn’t too hormone-friendly, leaving many of us dealing with related complaints such as fatigue, bloating, changes in mood, and acne.
While balancing significant hormonal issues typically requires a targeted approach, there are a number of everyday lifestyle tweaks we can all make in order to support healthy hormone function. Use this guide to get a clear sense of just how much your hormones impact your health, plus how you can help these important chemicals do their thing so that you can feel your best.
How Hormones Rule Your Health
Levels of different hormones—such as cortisol (the primary “stress hormone”), as well as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone (the main reproductive hormones)—all play a role in maintaining your body’s homeostasis (a.k.a. balance). Other neurochemicals that act as hormones, including serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin, meanwhile, are involved in regulating your mood, emotions, and social behavior.
- Regulating your metabolism, including your appetite and how well you use calories for energy
- Facilitating communication between different glands, organs, and tissues (for example, the “HPA axis” refers to communication amongst the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands, which involves many hormones)
- Supporting a normal libido, menstrual and sperm health, and reproductive function
- Regulating growth, maturation, and development throughout life’s stages
- Carrying out the body’s stress response, such as by preparing it to cope with physical or emotional challenges, threats, or emergencies
- Supporting the immune system and controlling inflammation
- Helping to regulate your sleep-wake cycle
- Maintaining balanced mood, energy, and focus
- Balancing electrolyte levels
Lifestyle Tweaks That Support Hormonal Balance
To support healthy hormone production and balance, you’ve got to approach your health in a holistic way, meaning you take into account various aspects of your lifestyle, such as your diet, sleep, and exercise patterns. “No single supplement, herb, nor medication will ‘fix’ your hormones,” says dietitian Emily Fultz, M.S., R.D.N., founder of Fit with Food. “The key to improving hormone health and balance is literally balance in every aspect of your overall health and nutrition.”
Here are some tips to help you maintain and improve your hormone health:
1. Consume More Healthy Fats
In general, eating a nutrient-dense diet rich in whole foods is a must for optimal hormone function, according to naturopathic doctor Dr. Olivia Rose, N.D. In particular, though, you’ll need to get plenty of healthy fats if you want healthy hormones. “Healthy fats are needed to produce reproductive hormones, help control inflammation, and support brain function,” says Rose.
Avocados, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish are some of the best sources of healthy fats out there. Fall short and you’ll not only experience out-of-whack hormones, but issues like brain fog, changes in cholesterol, and nonstop hunger, too.
To get ample healthy fats, Rose recommends consuming at least two servings of fatty fish (such as salmon, mackerel, or sardines) per week and incorporating a handful of nuts or seeds into your daily diet. “A good rule of thumb is to aim for 25 to 35 percent of your daily caloric intake from healthy fats,” she notes.
2. Cook With Turmeric, Ginger, and Cinnamon
Not only do these popular spices add lots of warmth and flavor to whatever you’re cooking, but they’re also friends to your hormones. “Certain spices, such as turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon, which contain anti-inflammatory compounds, have been shown to support hormonal balance,” Rose explains.
Rose particularly loves turmeric for its ability to support healthy estrogen levels. Meanwhile, ginger can help to ease menstrual pain, and cinnamon promotes insulin sensitivity and healthy blood sugar.
Some ideas for adding these spices to your diet: Try cinnamon on oatmeal, yogurt, or healthy baked goods, ginger in smoothies or herbal tea, and turmeric in stir-fries, soups, or omelets. You can also add all three to warm milk to make a calming nighttime beverage.
3. Swap Caffeinated Coffee And Booze For Decaf And Mocktails
Hate to break it to you, coffee lovers, but caffeine can potentially negatively affect blood sugar levels, reduce insulin sensitivity, disrupt sleep, and more. More bad news: “Caffeine can increase cortisol levels, which can lead to imbalances in other hormones such as estrogen and progesterone,” explains Rose. It’s a similar story for booze: “Alcohol can disrupt liver function and lead to increased levels of estrogen,” she adds.
While you don’t have to go cold turkey on coffee and cocktails to maintain healthy hormones, it is important to be conscious of your intake and how it makes you feel. “Consuming high amounts of caffeine or alcohol can disrupt hormonal balance, so it’s important to be mindful and limit consumption as much as possible,” she says. Basically, opting for decaf and mocktails more often is a good move for supporting that delicate hormonal balance.
4. Figure Out What Helps You Manage Stress
Managing stress is one of the first things Fultz focuses on with clients working to improve hormone levels. We all inevitably deal with stress, but when left unchecked, it can alter energy, mood, concentration, appetite, and much more. This is why practicing stress-management techniques is critical.
And while, yes, deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and mindfulness have all proven themselves powerful tools for easing the grip of stress, you can start elsewhere if they don’t resonate. Even laughing, playing with your pet or kids, listening to music, and acupuncture can help, according to the American Institute of Stress. These will raise “feel good” endorphins and reduce cortisol levels. So, find whatever helps you feel at ease and schedule it into your day as regularly as possible.
5. Create A Bedtime Routine
Proper sleep is essential for the regulation of hormones, including cortisol, growth hormone, and insulin. Most adults need between seven and nine hours of quality sleep each night, yet issues like busy schedules and stress can interfere with getting adequate rest.
Since how you prepare for sleep can make a big difference in the quality (and quantity of) shut-eye you get, do yourself a favor and set aside at least an hour or two before bed to unwind with journaling, stretching, taking a warm shower, meditating, or reading something relaxing. Because electronics, such as your tablet or phone, emit blue light that can be stimulating and interfere with sleep, it’s best to shut these off at least 30 minutes before going to sleep (though ideally you’d give them the boot an hour or more beforehand.)
6. Listen Carefully to Your Body’s Hunger Cues
Research shows that both high and low body fat levels can affect reproductive hormone levels. In women, for example, being under or overweight can alter estrogen production, interfering with menstrual cycles and other functions.
Obesity can negatively impact levels of insulin, estrogen, testosterone, and leptin, creating a vicious cycle that makes it tough to lose weight permanently. To reach and stay at a healthy body weight, experts suggest you improve your diet (nixing processed foods is huge here), get more exercise, and avoid sleep deprivation.
One important piece of the healthy weight puzzle, according to Fultz: listening carefully to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. “Honoring your hunger cues and eating at regular times (meaning not skipping meals) are easy steps you can take to regulate your blood sugar and balance your hormones.” What does doing that actually look like, though? Start by choosing healthy foods that also feel satisfying. From there, remove distractions during meals, avoid rushing through meals, and chew your food thoroughly.
7. Ditch Toxic Household and Beauty Products
Certain chemicals, sometimes referred to as “toxins” or “endocrine disruptors”, can disrupt hormone function by affecting the immune system and mimicking the effects of natural hormones, including estrogen. Some of the best-known of these endocrine disruptors include bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, pesticides, methylisothiazolinone, oxybenzone, parabens, and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
These chemicals are found in some non-organic foods, household products, plastics, and beauty products. The best way to limit your exposure is to choose organic foods, use BPA-free plastics or glass storage containers, and avoid using products on your skin or in your home that contain these harmful chemicals. If you’re not quite sure whether a product’s ingredient list passes muster, check in with a resource like the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which rates a whole host of personal care and home products based on their safety.
8. Finally Start Taking a Multivitamin
A number of different vitamins and minerals play integral roles in hormone production and function, and taking a multivitamin can help you meet the daily nutritional requirements for keeping your hormones on track. “Multivitamins provide baseline antioxidants, B vitamins, and mineral support for proper body function, including those nutrients needed for hormonal health,” Michels explains. “They are designed to fulfill potential nutritional gaps in the diet.”
Depending on your diet, age, and specific needs, it may also be wise to supplement with other nutrients that support hormone health, such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. Your best move is to get started with a quality multivitamin and consider getting tested for deficiencies if you suspect you’re lacking in any particular nutrients. From there, you can supplement accordingly.
9. Stop Overlooking Gut Symptoms
As inconvenient as gut issues (think diarrhea, constipation, reflux, and bloating) may be, they’re still all too easy to write off if they’re not constant or severe. Well, it’s time to stop brushing your stomach symptoms under the rug!
“A recent review found evidence that the gut microbiome can play a role in sex hormone-related diseases, such as ovarian cancer, postmenopausal osteoporosis (PMOP), polycystic ovary syndrome, and type 1 diabetes,” says Fultz. Since symptoms like those listed above can indicate that your gut health is suffering, don’t hesitate to reach out to a care provider about them, recommends Fultz. Since gut health strongly influences hormone health, a happy gut is nonnegotiable for hormonal balance.