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How To Balance Hormones Naturally – Step by Step Guide

How To Balance Hormones Naturally – Step by Step Guide

If balancing hormones naturally sounds like something you’re interested in, ready to take on, and want an article that goes in-depth into all that you need to know, buckle up and start reading!

Hormonal balance is a critical aspect of a female’s overall health and athletic performance, and often, it goes unattended to in our conventional healthcare system. 

Hormonal imbalance is a loaded topic and can look differently for different women depending on which hormones are out of whack. If you’re unsure what type of hormonal imbalance treatment you’re needing, go back and check out our article on Female Hormonal Imbalance Symptoms to learn what kind of imbalance you’re potentially presenting. 

Before we dive into how to balance hormones naturally, let’s briefly discuss some of the causes of hormonal imbalance. 

What Is The Cause of Hormonal Imbalance?

While it may be frustrating to hear, there is not one single cause of hormonal imbalance. It’s often a combination of several factors. 

It really depends on the individual’s diet and lifestyle habits, but common root causes of hormonal imbalances include eating an inflammatory diet (i.e. processed foods, sugar, lack of plants, low-quality meats, etc.), undereating calories, excessive (and typically chronic) stress, inadequate sleep, environmental exposure to toxins, gut infections, and/or microbial imbalances, and long-term medication use (including hormonal birth control).

This is not an exhaustive list, just some of the most common.

Breaking Down the 7 Common Causes of Hormonal Imbalance

1. Eating An Inflammatory Diet 

Learning how to balance hormones naturally while enjoying food can be a journey for many. Still, there’s no doubt that eating an inflammatory diet is one of the biggest drivers of hormone imbalances.

Cheese, cake, coke, and cookies may taste delicious, but they are unforgiving to our hormone health! 

If you’re filling your diet with junk food or eating most of your food from packages, the risk of blood sugar issues and other hormone imbalances is high.

The timing of food can also be inflammatory in nature, in particular when you eat carbohydrates. 

  • For example, slamming a fruit smoothie and toast for breakfast that does not contain healthy fats, fiber, and protein may seem perfectly healthy, but the blood sugar response may not be great for stress and hormonal imbalance. 
  • Chugging a few cups of coffee before eating a single bite of food and right before engaging in high-intensity exercise? Hello stress and all the cortisol!!!

Weight gain or inability to lose weight can also have a lot to do with high levels of inflammation or insulin resistance. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet is one of the best remedies for weight gain due to hormonal imbalance.

If you aren’t sure where to start regarding an anti-inflammatory diet, check out our article on the 5 cornerstones of an anti-inflammatory diet!

2. Undereating Calories Through Dieting or “Clean Eating” 

Many women spend months to years in a chronic calorie deficit. Diet culture has so graciously made us women feel that there is no other way to live. 

Being in a calorie deficit can result from excessive exercise (which suppresses appetite and increases calorie expenditure) or from being on restrictive diets too long. These two factors alone contribute to long-term stress and can interfere with signals for reproduction and general hormonal balance. 

You may not be intentionally undereating, but paying attention to the different signs and symptoms of underfueling and undereating can clue you in and whether you need to up your intake! Many women who are undereating to the point where they are not getting a regular menstrual cycle experience difficulties getting pregnant. 

Can A Person With Hormonal Imbalance Be Pregnant?

Whether or not a woman can get pregnant with hormonal imbalances depends on which hormones are out of whack! Estrogen, testosterone, or thyroid levels may be high or low as a result of some outside stressor, making pregnancy more difficult.

Instances when pregnancy could be impaired include:

  1. Hypothalamic Amenorrhea – a condition in which ovulation is shut down as a result of excessive stress to the body, typically from overexercising and undereating.[1] 
  2. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS – a condition in which the female produces higher than normal levels of male androgen hormones testosterone and DHEA, which can impair ovulation and create irregular menstrual cycles 
  3. Luteal Phase Defect – the lining of the uterus doesn’t grow properly to sustain a growing fetus. 

How To Treat Hormonal Imbalance To Get Pregnant

We know there are so many women out there dying to become a mom! The good news is that improving your diet and lifestyle habits can help turn around hormonal imbalances that are getting in the way of pregnancy. 

Now, the nature of your hormonal imbalances will determine how to best treat them. Here are a few guidelines to get you started. 

Disclaimer that every woman is different and may respond differently. Testing hormones to accurately treat hormone imbalances is advised!

For PCOS, insulin resistance, or estrogen dominance 

  • Increase intake of fiber-rich foods like dark greens, colored veggies, berries, and complex carbohydrates (potatoes, brown, quinoa)
  • Decrease intake of refined carbohydrates like bread, crackers, pasta, granola bars, cereal, pastries, candy, and chips
  • Engage in physical activity like high-intensity interval training or weight lifting several times per week (as long as sleep and calorie intake are optimized)
  • Address gut health by investigating bacterial overgrowth, infections/parasites, impaired digestion, or other causes of gut dysfunction.

For women with amenorrhea (low levels of estrogen and progesterone) and/or high cortisol

  • Increase intake of nutrient-rich foods
  • Eat balanced meals that include all three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat
  • Reduce or completely cut out high-intensity exercise and replace it with restorative exercise like walking, yin yoga, and stretching
  • Incorporate stress-reduction practices like meditation and deep breathing daily
  • Stop intermittent fasting or low carbohydrate/fat diets

As you can see, learning how to balance hormones naturally is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Different women must adopt different nutrition and lifestyle habits in order to get healthy and put themselves in a position to balance hormones and fall pregnant. 

3. Chronic Stress 

Similar to the effects of undereating, mental and emotional stress can send the body into a state of hormonal havoc. The reason your body is so prone to a hormonal imbalance with chronic stress is that your body is quite literally fighting for your safety all day, every day, with the help of cortisol. 

If the body senses a threat from the outside (this could literally be a bear chasing you in the woods or financial stress that causes mental stress), it’s going to elicit a hormonal response to protect you. This means increasing cortisol levels, which can have negative effects on most hormones in your body when chronically elevated!

4. Inadequate Sleep 

Sleep deprivation can make for a hormonal disaster and is one of the most important aspects to work on when learning how to balance hormones naturally! Sleep is typically the thing to go by the wayside first. Sleep deprivation can increase cortisol levels, which can go on to create additional hormone imbalances.[2] 

5. Environmental Exposure To Toxins 

Diet and lifestyle play a prominent role in regulating hormones, but there are also many chemicals that cause hormonal imbalance. Your environmental exposure to toxins, such as chemicals, mold, and pollutants, can seriously do a number on hormones and health.

Chemicals in our crops such as glyphosate and other pesticides, BPA from plastic, parabens and phthalates from personal care products, cleaning products, and food all influence the endocrine system. 

Even exposure to mold or heavy metals can act as endocrine disrupters for many women that live for months to years in these environments without knowing!

6. Gut Infections or Microbial Imbalances: 

As Hippocrates once said nearly 2500 years ago, “All disease begins in the gut.” What we eat, drink, and expose ourselves to either feed or fights disease at the level of the gut. Bacterial overgrowth, poor digestion, and intestinal permeability or “leaky gut” are just a few examples of gut disturbances that must be addressed! 

Gut bacteria have even been linked to a host of hormonal issues, PCOS being one. 

Studies suggest that the altered gut microbiota in PCOS women may promote increased androgen biosynthesis and decreased estrogen levels through lowered beta-glucuronidase activity.[3] 

7. Long Term Medication Use: 

Nowadays, we pop nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like candy! And very rarely do we consider the effect these drugs and other prescription medications have on our gut. With the use of common prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications, you could be inducing intestinal permeability with overuse. [4] This is a problem! 

One hormone that’s highly influenced by gut health is estrogen, and a healthy gut microbiome helps maintain estrogen homeostasis. However, when the gut has an imbalance of good and bad bacteria, estrogen metabolism may be altered. This produces either a deficiency or an excess of free estrogen, which may encourage development of estrogen-related conditions.[5] 

So, can I do anything about hormone imbalance? Or is this just my fate?!

The short answer is yes. While there are so many forms of hormonal imbalance, and each case may need a specific approach, these upcoming tips are the ground roots to any form of hormonal imbalance you’re facing. 

Keep reading because your step-by-step guide to addressing hormonal imbalances is coming your way!  

How To Balance Hormones Naturally Using Diet and Lifestyle As Medicine

1. Move Your Body, Respectfully

The value of moving our body on a daily basis cannot be overemphasized. From improving insulin sensitivity to increasing endorphin production, to strengthening muscles, bones, and tendons, exercise can aid in weight loss, improve body composition, decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression, and increase fitness levels!

And, of course, help support hormonal balance!

But moving RESPECTFULLY is the key here. Pushing hard in the gym has its benefits but can, when taken too far, actually make you unhealthy.

Hitting the Crossfit gym seven days a week with no rest days while also dealing with outside life stress and undereating food is the recipe for a hormonal disaster. Another example would be only engaging in exercise that is stimulating to the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system in the body and ignoring the need for parasympathetic (rest-or-digest) activation. 

Examples of exercise styles that activate the sympathetic nervous system:

  • CrossFit 
  • High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
  • Running, biking, or swimming (especially intervals)
  • Weightlifting (when going to exhaustion with short rest between sets)

These types of exercise typically cause your heart rate to go through the roof, which elicits a stress response! While this can be a good thing at times, when the body stays in this state for too long (doing hight-intensity on top of dealing with life stress) or is not properly fueled with good nutrition, hormonal issues like adrenal dysfunction can arise. 

This is just one example, but the point is that exercise is still stress to the body. So properly recovering with proper nutrition, rest days, and stretching/mobility is critical to keeping exercise from becoming harmful.

Engaging in restorative exercise that activates the parasympathetic or “rest-and-digest” state several times a week and on days where you planned to workout hard but feel fatigued and extra sore. By decreasing the intensity and volume of workouts and focusing on eating the top foods that relax muscles and reduce stress, you can restore hormonal balance one day at a time. 

Examples of restorative exercise styles that activate the parasympathetic nervous system:

  • Pilates
  • Yin Yoga
  • Walking
  • Stretching/mobility 
  • Leisurely bike riding 
  • Meditation and mindfulness

The moral of the story with respect to moving your body is to push hard on days where you’re well-fueled, external stress is low, and you feel energized. But also respect when your body it’s showing signs it needs rest. This is how you can still reap the benefits of exercise while learning how to fix hormonal imbalance. Ignoring those signs and pushing the envelope too far too often can drive hormonal imbalances that will eventually set you farther back in your health and fitness journey. 

2. Fuel Your Body Appropriately

As alluded to earlier, fueling appropriately for your training is one of the best remedies for hormonal imbalance. But it can also work against you if you let it. 

Whether your goal is to drop a few pounds, improve your back squat, or generally improve your hormonal balance, undereating calories and proper macronutrient breakdown will deter you from hitting these goals.

How does undereating cause hormone imbalances?

Calories give your body the energy required to function properly, but the body can’t function properly without the necessary levels and communication of hormones. When calories are too high or too low, hormones will respond to this stress.

If you’re slamming loads of refined sugar throughout the day and not supporting your gut microbiome with beneficial bacteria to flourish, blood sugar, cortisol, and estrogen levels can all be thrown out of whack.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, putting your body into a severe calorie deficit for too long can impair hormone signaling from the brain down to the ovaries. Women can develop irregular menstrual cycles or completely lose their cycles in these situations because the body is detecting a “threat” to the body. In other words, a growing fetus is not going to thrive when resources are scarce; thus the body will shut this down!   

The Impact of Inadequate Nutrition On Cortisol

Cortisol can skyrocket in active individuals who don’t fuel appropriately for their lifestyle and exercise. This is why reducing cortisol naturally by recovering from workouts is key to balancing hormones naturally. 

A few major drivers of high cortisol levels in female athletes include:

  1. intermittent fasting (in particular longer than 12 hours overnight)
  2. low carbohydrate diets
  3. working out in a fasted state

3. Feed Your Gut Microbiome

Want to know the secret to a healthy gut and happy hormones?! 

A diet rich in different plants!

Many females like to jump immediately to medications or testing for food sensitivities to fix their hormone imbalances (which absolutely could be part of the picture). But what if the problem had more to do with the foods you’re NOT eating. 

The benefit to eating a diet rich in plants has more to do with mere calories. The different prebiotics (fibers that feed beneficial bacteria), antioxidants, and live strains that exist on the skin of raw veggies and fermented veggies have more power than you think! 

Gut bacteria have a profound role in the estrobolome, which is the collection of gut microbes that are capable of metabolizing estrogens, especially in women with PCOS. Animal studies have suggested the ability for beneficial gut bacteria such as lactobacillus to lower androgen (DHEA and testosterone) biosynthesis.[6] 

You see, the brain and the gut communicate through the vagus nerve. So having a variety of beneficial bacteria in your gut makes for seamless production and signaling of hormones/neurotransmitters to the brain!

Feeding the gut with lots of plants is not only one of the best natural remedies for hormonal imbalance. They provide micronutrients that aren’t nearly as abundant in processed foods. If digestion is not functioning properly, supplemental nutrients can be useful for balancing hormones alongside a proper diet and lifestyle changes. 

(Usual disclaimer: FWDfuel Sports Nutrition is a participant in the Emerson Wellevate Associates program as well as the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.)

What Are The Best Vitamins to Take For Hormonal Imbalance?

There is an abundance of different supplements on the market, which are often portrayed as your saving grace when seeking information on how to balance hormones. Supplement companies can get away with creating products that may not be researched based or scientifically proven at all.

They will take big measures from a marketing standpoint to snatch your money without providing much benefit at all to your hormonal health. 

However, there are some vitamins that are highly involved in hormone production, communication, and utilization that do have science to back them up! 

So, instead of reading the labels for health claims telling you what’s going to balance your hormones, look for these 5 essential nutrients to supplement for improved hormone regulation.

  1. B Vitamins 
  2. Magnesium (We use Innate Response Magnesium 300)
  3. Vitamin D3
  4. Omega 3 Fatty Acids (We recommend Nordic Naturals ProOmega, Nordic Naturals ProOmega + D, or Metagenics)
  5. Zinc 

Pro Tip: You can find the absolute best prices (better than what we linked to above on Amazon) by buying where we buy and have been buying for years, Wellevate! Wellevate only stocks high-quality brands and screens each brand for their manufacturing practices, sourcing of materials, and the quality of each product. If you sign up for Wellevate using our link, you’ll receive 20% off all orders in addition to free shipping on orders of $49.

Well I think you and I can both agree we are merely scratching the tip of the iceberg when discussing how to balance hormones naturally, but the tips you find here in this post today must be the foundation of any hormone balancing protocol. 

As mentioned, it can feel overwhelming with all the information available about female hormone imbalance, why they might be jacked up, and how to fix them. However, bringing yourself back to eating a balanced, nutrient-dense diet and improving your lifestyle habits as the foundation can give you peace of mind knowing that you’re headed in the right direction.

Maybe you’ve committed to the tips discussed in this post but are still struggling with gut issues, fatigue, and other hormonal imbalance symptoms. Your issues could be rooted in food sensitivities, thus embarking on an elimination diet may be a crucial step!

If you’ve also tried an elimination diet in addition to the tips laid out in this post, it may be time to work one-on-one with a registered dietitian to get the personalized attention you need and work to get to the root of your health issues!

References

  1. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2042018820945854
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9415946/
  3. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0168390
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4754147/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28778332/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27093642/

About The Author

Abby Vichill

Abby is a functionally trained Registered Dietitian. She received her Bachelor of Science from the University of Dayton and completed her Master of Science in Nutrition from Case Western Reserve University, where she is an adjunct instructor. Abby has been an athlete her entire life, but never truly discovered her potential until she dialed in her nutrition from a whole-foods approach. As a high school athlete and into her college career often experienced fatigue, discomfort, and nagging injuries that held her back from excelling despite trying to eat properly. Throughout her functional nutrition education and competitive involvement in the sport of Crossfit, Abby began a more holistic lifestyle, which has significantly improved her performance and overall well-being. Abby enjoys sharing her knowledge of functional sports nutrition to help improve the lives of active individuals.

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