If you’ve been dealing with stress, bloating, acne, or just feeling run-down, your hormones may need a little TLC. All of us have them, but not as many of us are aware of how much they affect our overall health—and how simple it can be to support them. (It’s the whole “help me, help you” concept, but for hormones.) Ahead, a cheat sheet to what you need to know about your hormones, what you might want to eat, and whether supplements could help you get your hormones to a well-balanced place.
What are hormones?
First, a refresher on hormones. “Hormones are chemical messengers that are sent out by the endocrine system (ovaries, adrenal glands, thyroid—even skin to name a few) to perform a physiological task,” says Natiya Guin, ND, a naturopathic doctor in Southern California. When our hormones are excreted at the appropriate time at the ideal level, she says, they help our bodies and minds function optimally.
But when our hormone flow is disrupted, our bodies feel it. “For example, if we are chronically overstressed, our adrenal glands may increase excretion of the hormone cortisol at night when it is supposed to be low, confusing the body and causing us to wake up at 2 a.m.,” Guin says. Severe PMS symptoms such as breast tenderness and bloating are often caused by an overproduction of estrogen. And as for those deep, painful pimples? “Skin produces the hormone DHEA, a precursor to testosterone, which is why when androgen hormones are out of balance, acne is one of the main symptoms,” Guin explains. Those are just a few examples of why supporting hormone health is so crucial.
How to support hormone health
To support a healthy endocrine system, you’re going to need a varied diet that fulfills your body’s micronutrient needs. That means paying attention to certain vitamins that are essential for maintaining hormone health—and that starts with a little blood work.
“Having nutrients run on annual labs are helpful in knowing exactly which vitamins you need and at what dose,” Guin says. “Having a full hormone panel (run on day 21 of cycle for women) is important as well to have a base line for how estradiol, progesterone, DHEA, and testosterone are functioning. It is important to not only look to see that these values are all within normal limits but that they are balanced in relation to each other.” If doing lab work isn’t an option, Guin says, focus on eating a variety of colorful, nutritious foods. “The more we eat from the earth instead of out of a box, the more diverse and dense nutrients we will receive,” she says.
Hormone-helping nutrients (and how to get more)
A few nutrients can make a huge difference in your hormone health. Here’s an overview of the hormone VIPs, along with info on where to find them in your diet.
“Iron is especially important for menstruating women,” Guin says. It’s abundant in red meat, but you can find it in spinach, dried apricots, and figs as well. “Supplements are an option, too, but they can cause constipation,” she adds. “Taking a time-released option or pairing with aloe juice or magnesium citrate helps.”
B12 is a necessary vitamin, but your genes could be making it harder for your body to absorb and use it. “Turns out one in four people have a genetic snp (MTHFR) on one or both chromosomes,” Guin says. (A genetic snp, or single nucleotide polymorphism, is a genetic variation.) If so, you might experience increased inflammation and reduced metabolism, Guin says.
To keep your B12 levels healthy, focus on what you eat. Red meat has abundant B12, as do eggs; if you don’t eat animal protein, try nutritional yeast or tempeh. If you want to supplement, Guin recommends methyl B12 drops or a multivitamin.
The “sunshine vitamin” is both a vitamin and a hormone—and it’s crucial for proper hormone synthesis, thyroid function, bone health, and immune system function. Unfortunately, lots of us don’t have enough of it in our bodies, and basking in the sun probably won’t fix that. “Of the thousands of lab reports I have read, vitamin D is seen low or severely low more than any other vitamin—regardless of sun exposure,” Guin says.
Boosting your D levels can be done through diet, direct sunlight, or supplementation. A little sunshine is good for you, but vitamin D first has to travel to the liver and kidneys to become useful, Guin says. You may see better results by adding more oily fish (think salmon and sardines) and egg yolks to your diet, or by adding a vitamin D3 supplement.
Will 2024 be your healthiest hormonal year ever? With a little attention, blood work, and guidance from your health care provider, it can be. As always, it’s best to consult your health care provider before making changes, so if you haven’t scheduled that annual visit… let this be your motivation!
Photo: Miriam Alonso