The biggest lie ever told was that hormones wreak the most havoc on adolescents. In fact, hormones can cause major disruption at any age, especially for women.
Our hormone levels, which are regulated by the endocrine system, play a massive role in how we feel, as well as how our body functions. And, unfortunately, hormonal imbalances impact many women, manifesting as menstrual cycle issues, fertility struggles, and much more.
Thankfully, there’s a whole slew of lifestyle changes women can make to promote hormonal health. Ahead, functional medicine practitioners share common signs that something’s off with your endocrine system, and offer five natural ingredients that support women’s hormonal balance.
The Endocrine System, Explained
The endocrine system is a system of glands in the body responsible for hormone production and regulation, explains holistic health expert and doctor of chiropractic Suzanna Wong, D.C., founder of Twin Waves Wellness Center in San Diego. Typically, it keeps the levels of our various hormones within whatever range is most optimal for our health and wellbeing.
However, if any of the glands—which include the pancreas, thyroid, pituitary gland, adrenal glands, ovaries, and testes, to name just a few—malfunction, the system as a whole can stop functioning optimally, says adds Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition and author of Ancient Remedies. In some cases, the endocrine gland saboteurs are lifestyle factors like excessive stress, a nutrient-poor diet, and wonky sleep, he says. But there are other things—like tumors, infection, injury, and conditions such as diabetes, Cushing disease, or congenital hypothyroidism—that can cause problems, according to Wong.
Regardless of the root cause, a malfunctioning endocrine gland either over- or under-produces one or more hormones.
Common Signs Your Endocrine System Needs A Tune-Up
There is a common cluster of symptoms an individual usually begins to experience when their endocrine system blitzes out, according to Wong. “The first signs that your hormones are not balanced are irritability and moodiness, dry skin, increased body fat, lack of sex drive, and sleeplessness,” she says.
For people assigned female at birth, menstrual changes (specifically worsened premenstrual symptoms) are also a common first indicator, she notes.
Read More: 4 Ways You May Be Negatively Impacting Your Hormones Without Realizing It
Over time, however, you might experience even more extreme symptoms and secondary ailments, such as depression, generalized fatigue, infertility, hair growth or loss, muscle weakness, and heart issues, adds Axe. Some people may even experience cognitive and neurological symptoms like headaches and myopathy.
Nutrients That Support Women’s Hormonal Balance
If any of those symptoms sound familiar, Axe recommends seeking the guidance of a qualified healthcare provider. They can then order blood and/or urine tests that will check your hormone levels, which are the only way to know for sure whether your endocrine system is operating optimally or suboptimally.
If something is off, your provider will work with you to create a plan to help your hormones find their equilibrium again. In most cases, this will involve a number of different lifestyle changes, some of which will certainly focus on nutrition.
In addition to broader dietary tweaks, prioritizing the following natural ingredients can do a woman’s hormonal balance good.
According to Wong, the mineral magnesium is involved in over 300 processes in the body, some of which—of course—are related to the endocrine system. Specifically, these include supporting insulin regulation and progesterone production. Given that, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that “if you’re deficient in magnesium, you’re likely to have issues with your hormones,” she says.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance of magnesium for women is 310 to 320 milligrams per day. Truthfully, that’s not that much. After all, just one ounce of pumpkin seeds, a magnesium-rich food, contains a whopping 168 milligrams. Still, at least 20 percent of people are magnesium deficient.
If you suspect you’re deficient, Wong recommends doing your hormone system a favor and incorporating foods like dark leafy greens, legumes, pumpkin seeds, chia and flax seeds, and avocados into your diet. All of these are good sources of magnesium, as well as tasty additions to smoothies, yogurt parfaits, and salads.
2. Vitamin B12
A powerful player in the endocrine system, vitamin B12 is essential for the production of hormones like serotonin, dopamine, and melatonin, says Wong.
As a refresher, serotonin is the hormone commonly known as the ‘happiness hormone’ because of its role in helping us feel good. Meanwhile, dopamine is a neurotransmitter that gives us the capacity for joy and motivation, and melatonin is the hormone that helps us fall asleep (among other things), Wong explains. So, without adequate vitamin B12, it’s common for individuals to experience restlessness, mental unwellness, and generalized malaise.
The daily recommended intake of B12 is 2.4 micrograms. “You can naturally find vitamin B12 in a number of foods, such as salmon, avocado, eggs, leafy green veggies, turkey, chicken, yogurt, and nutritional yeast,” says Wong. That said, people who don’t eat lots of these foods might benefit from taking a supplement, she says.
Surprising fact: 95 percent of the body’s serotonin is manufactured in the gut. And, actually, the gut and your gut health impact nearly every single hormone in the body, according to Wong. (This is known as the hormone-gut health connection).
If the gut microbiome—that’s the makeup of good and bad bacteria that keep the gut running smoothly—is operating optimally, your hormones will likely be fine, she suggests. If, however, you have too many bad bacteria, your hormones will likely be impacted
That’s why Wong recommends supplementing with probiotics. “A daily probiotic can help to support healthy hormones, because of its impact on your gut health,” she says.
DIM, short for Diindolylmethane, is a compound the body produces whenever you digest cruciferous veggies. (It can also be taken as a supplement, too.)
DIM functions like a traffic cop, helping promote healthy levels, explains Axe. Indeed, the compound is commonly dubbed an estrogen-balancer.
Read More: Signs Your Estrogen Might Be Out Of Whack
One review published in Current Pharmacology Reports noted a correlation between those who ate foods rich in DIM (specifically, cruciferous vegetables) and reduced risk of certain cancers that have been linked to estrogen (like breast cancer).
In addition to lifestyle changes like increasing the amount of fiber in your diet, eating more whole foods, and decreasing your alcohol intake, DIM can support the body’s ability to balance estrogen levels by flushing estrogen out of the body more effectively, Wong suggests.
If you’re interested in supplementing with DIM, you’ll find it in TrueYou’s Balancing Act.
Unless you’re a chemist, odds are you don’t know too much about inositol (though you’ve probably seen the name by now). An up-and-coming ingredient, inositol is a type of sugar that can be consumed in either food or supplement form. And, as you might guess, it may have perks for individuals looking to balance their hormones.
Also known as vitamin B8, inositol promotes balanced insulin, the hormone produced in the pancreas that is essential for blood sugar regulation, according to Axe. How? By helping to produce the molecules that allow the body to respond to the hormone, research suggests.
“The reason that inositol is getting so much attention as of late is that insulin resistance is a key factor in PCOS [polycystic ovarian syndrome],” according to Wong. As awareness around this topic grows, so does interest in inositol. In fact, research (see this 2017 review published in the journal Endocrine Connections) suggests inositol can support insulin function in individuals experiencing issues.
The researchers of that review concluded that, by regulating insulin levels, inositol supplementation may also support healthy testosterone and androgen levels, which are concerns for those dealing with PCOS.
You can get inositol naturally by eating healthy foods like citrus fruits, black beans, brown rice, and nuts. It’s also available in powder and pill form. TrueYou’s Helping Hand fertility support supplement contains both myo-inositol and D-chiro-inositol.