- How to Balance Hormones with Supplements, Foods, and Lifestyle - October 26, 2022
- Hormone Imbalance Quiz: Signs, Causes, and Tests you Must Know - September 18, 2022
- The Longevity Lifestyle: Top Anti-aging Strategies to Turn Back the Clock - May 17, 2022
As we age, it is normal to experience some decline and changes in hormone levels. This, however, doesn’t mean you have to suffer. As we have shared in the hormone imbalance quiz, some of the symptoms of hormonal imbalance can be devastating and severely impair a person’s quality of life. And as this is not enough, certain hormone imbalances have been shown to increase the risk of age-related diseases. This means that by doing nothing, you may increase your risk.
Now, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is definitely a popular option that in some cases can make a big difference to both men and women. It is, however, not the only option to balance your hormones. In fact, over the years, I have helped many of my patients achieve optimal hormone health without taking hormones with a healthy diet, supplements, and lifestyle changes.
How to balance hormones naturally
Hormone imbalances often cause similar symptoms, but the underlying factors and treatment can greatly vary from one person to another. So, there’s no one-size-fits-all plan to balance hormones that work best for everyone. With that said, below are some of the key guidelines to consider:
1 – The importance of testing in hormone imbalances
Proper testing is essential in diagnosing hormone imbalances, as there are many individual factors that can influence a person’s hormone health. Getting a complete picture can help you not only identify underlying imbalances that affect your hormone levels but also monitor the way your body responds to the treatment. To give you an idea, here are some of the main considerations:
- The relationship between the hormones. Since many of the hormones that play a role in aging influence or can convert into each other, we have to consider the level of each hormone and the ratio between them. This goes above and beyond just sex hormones, which usually get the most attention in HRT. For example, excess levels of the stress hormone cortisol can suppress the production of your sex hormones. So, managing your stress can help restore balance without the need to take additional hormones.
- Non-hormonal factors. Many lifestyle factors impact our hormones. From stress, blood sugar issues, and sleep quality to common vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Even the type of exercise you do, or its timing can make a difference. In fact, it is enough for one daily habit to have a major effect on your hormone health.
Working with a functional anti-aging medicine doctor who specializes in hormone therapy can help identify individual issues that may cause your hormone imbalances, tailor the plan accordingly, and fine-tune as you go. To learn more, see my last article about anti-aging testing.
2 – Hormone balance diet
Your diet can have a big impact on your hormone levels. Certain foods can contribute to hormone imbalances in some people, while other foods – may help to balance hormones. Knowing which foods to eat and which to avoid can significantly affect your hormonal and overall health.
Since the way foods influence hormones may vary from one person to another, the ideal hormone balance diet should be tailored to the individual.
With that said, below are some of the basic principles I often use in my practice.
Foods to avoid
A good place to start for most people is to remove the top foods that trigger inflammation in the body, as these can influence your hormones. While this list may look long and overwhelming initially, the good news is that this is not a diet for life. For many people, two weeks is enough to notice some major changes. After two weeks (some people may need more), we reintroduce these foods back – one at a time. We then see if any symptoms or issues return. If there are any, this may indicate we need to avoid that food for longer.
- Artificial sweeteners
- Sugar (including fruit juices)
- Wheat (and anything else with gluten)
- Pay extra attention to processed foods, processed meats, fried foods, and refined carbs, as they often increase inflammation in the body.
- The source of your food matters. When you eat meat, dairy, or poultry from animals treated with hormones, your body can absorb these hormones.
- Be mindful of herbicides and pesticides in fruits and vegetables, as these can act as hormone disruptors. When possible, choose organic.
Foods that may help balance hormones
- High-fiber foods. Fiber can help support healthy regular bowel movements, which are essential to eliminate toxins from the body, including estrogen metabolites. If you’re constipated or not moving your bowels at least once a day, your body may reabsorb these toxins.
- Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and brussels sprouts can help support the clearance of excess hormones such as estrogen.
- Low glycemic fruits and vegetables. High in antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, but low in sugars. Good options include leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach, kale and a moderate amount of fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries.
- Healthy fats such as avocados, wild, low-mercury fish such as Alaskan salmon and sardines, raw nuts and seeds, and olive oil.
3 – Intermittent fasting (IF) to balance hormones
If you are interested in anti-aging and longevity, chances are you have already heard about or tried intermittent fasting. Among its many potential benefits, fasting can also help balance hormones in some cases. Below are some of the top evidence-based fasting schedules to consider:
- 12:12 fasting. Also known as circadian rhythm fasting. With this fasting plan, you narrow the eating window to 12 hours during the daytime and fast during the night for 12 hours. This schedule is in tune with our natural biological clock and hormone cycles and is generally a good place to start for most people.
- 16:8 fasting. With this popular fasting schedule, you fast for 16 hours and eat for 8 hours. Some of the data has shown that 16:8 fasting can help with weight loss in some cases but not with fat loss and body composition.
- 5:2 fasting. Also known as the 5:2 diet or alternate-day fasting. In this fasting schedule, you eat normally for five days, and for two days, you cut the calories to 500 to 700 per day). Compared to 16:8 fasting, 5:2 fasting may be more effective for fat loss, metabolic health, and hormone balance. 500-700 calories is generally low enough to trigger autophagy and other longevity pathways.
Here are a few important caveats about fasting to keep in mind:
- What you eat outside of your fasting window matters. The data on intermittent fasting benefits has been somewhat controversial, with some studies not showing any benefits. If you look closely at what the participants ate in these studies, however, you see that people ate whatever they wanted outside the fasting window.
- Fasting may not be the best option for everyone. For example, if you already deal with a lot of stress, fasting can increase your stress levels even more. So, by fasting, you may end up with higher cortisol levels, which can suppress your sex hormones and lead to more hormone imbalances. Working with your doctor to test your cortisol levels before and during the fast can help to see these fluctuations in response to different fasting schedules.
4 – Hormone balance supplements
Similarly to dietary changes, supplements for hormone imbalances should always be tailored to the individual. The same supplement that may help one person balance their hormones can have the opposite effect on another. In fact, I often see patients that have tried DIY hormone replacement therapy at home and experienced unpleasant side effects from taking natural supplements. So, while there are several supplements that can help balance your hormones, you first need to know which hormone imbalances you have. Together with your doctor, have your levels tested before and as you go, and adjust the supplement/protocol/dosage as needed.
To give you an idea, below are some of the top supplements that may help with hormone imbalances, along with some important caveats and risks you should be aware of.
Widely known as “the fountain of youth,” DHEA is one of the most popular supplements to balance hormones. According to the evidence, DHEA levels decline as we age, and low levels are associated with illness. Higher DHEA levels, on the other hand, are linked to longevity and other health benefits[3,4]. Even better, DHEA was shown to lower cortisol, which may help counter the many negative effects high cortisol has on aging and hormone health.
So, did we find the holy grail of anti-aging with DHEA supplements? Before you order your yearly supply of DHEA from Amazon, a few things to consider:
- DHEA supplements are not for everyone. Some people can definitely benefit from taking DHEA, but since DHEA is a precursor for hormones such as testosterone and estrogen, it can also cause imbalances in some people.
- Just like any other hormone, the individual dosage of DHEA often varies from one person to another. The best way to know is to test your levels before and as you take the supplement. To give you an idea of the range, women often start with 5mg of DHEA, and men with 25mg.
- Do you have low cortisol levels? DHEA’s cortisol-lowering effect can greatly benefit many people with high cortisol levels. However, if you take DHEA when your cortisol levels are already too low, you can end up with even more imbalances.
Natural estrogen supplements
While you may recognize or already use some of the supplements below due to their anti-aging and health-promoting benefits, these may also help balance high estrogen levels or estrogen dominance in both men and women:
- DIM (diindolylmethane), I3C (indole-3-carbinol). Naturally occurring compounds found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables shown to regulate estrogen and promote healthy estrogen metabolite ratios. Taking DIM or I3C can help the body convert estrogen from the form linked to DNA damage and disease to its health-supporting form[6,7,8].
- Sulforaphane. Also found in broccoli seeds (especially in broccoli sprouts), sulforaphane was shown to support detoxification pathways, balance excess estrogen, and prevent DNA damage.
- Resveratrol. Naturally found in grapes, red wine, and other fruits, this polyphenol was shown to promote healthy estrogen metabolism. In terms of anti-aging, resveratrol is well studied for its ability to activate longevity genes and lower the risk of several age-related diseases[12,13].
Supplements to balance hormones in women
Menopausal symptoms can be overwhelming, and many women are so desperate for relief that they are willing to try just about anything. If this sounds like you, you are definitely not alone. Below are some natural supplements that may help that I often recommend to my female patients:
- Rhubarb root extract (Rhapontic rhubarb, Rheum rhaponticum). May help with menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and sleep.
- Black cohosh. Can also help with hot flashes, sleep, and mood swings.
- Chasteberry (Vitex agnus castus). May help with PMS symptoms and low progesterone. Chasteberry works by stimulating luteinizing hormone production, making the ovaries produce more progesterone. With that said, chasteberry may be a better fit for younger women as their ovaries are still capable of producing enough progesterone.
Testosterone supplements for men
As we have seen in the hormone imbalance quiz, some of the symptoms of low testosterone in men can be devastating. Not surprisingly, you can find many testosterone-boosting supplements on the market with various nutrients, plant extracts, herbs, and promising claims. But do any of these really work? And do you need such supplements to balance your levels? Before going that route, here’s something important to consider.
There are several vitamins and minerals your body needs to make enough testosterone. And, as it turns out, many men have low levels of these essential nutrients. Yet, these are not always recognized as related to low testosterone. The good news is that simply addressing these nutritional gaps can make a big difference in your testosterone levels, even without taking anything else to “boost” your testosterone.
You may hear about these nutrients as minerals and vitamins to boost testosterone, although they are essential to many other aspects of your health.
- Zinc. Zinc supplementation in men for six months was shown to increase their testosterone levels. On the flip side, zinc restriction in young men was associated with a significant decrease in testosterone after 20 weeks.
- Vitamin D. Most people hear about vitamin D in terms of bone health and immune function. However, what is less known is that vitamin D is also essential for healthy testosterone production. One study has shown that men who took vitamin D supplements for one year significantly increased their testosterone levels. With some estimations that over 50% of Americans have low vitamin D levels, it is best to have your levels tested and optimize with vitamin D3 supplements accordingly.
- Selenium. While you may have heard of selenium as a trace mineral that is essential for thyroid health, it also plays a key role in testosterone biosynthesis, healthy sperm quality, and male fertility[21,22]
5 – Remember to cover your nutritional basics
Hands down, the foods and supplements above can make a big difference and may help to balance your hormones naturally. It is, however, important not to neglect basic nutritional support, which may not directly affect your hormones but is essential for your overall health. Since everyone may be low in different nutrients, it is best to work with your doctor and have your levels tested.
With that said, the following supplements may offer a good place to start for most people:
- A high-quality multi-vitamin mineral.
- Fish oil (EPA & DHA). Well known for their positive effect on inflammation, heart health, brain function, mood, and many others.
- Vitamins D3 and K2 (as menaquinone-7). Play a key role in immune function and bone health (including supporting healthy testosterone levels)
- Magnesium. Serves as a cofactor for over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body, including healthy muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and energy production. According to some estimations, two-thirds of the population in the western world may be deficient in magnesium.
6 – Exercise for hormone imbalances
I am often asked to recommend the best exercise to balance hormones, and while exercise definitely plays a major role, it is not one-size-fits-all. If you have hormone imbalances, it is best to work with a qualified health practitioner, as choosing the wrong type of exercise can backfire and lead to more imbalances. Some of the general guidelines that may help to balance hormones include:
- Resistance training and weightlifting. May help to support healthy testosterone levels, especially in men. While women may not necessarily get the same testosterone response, resistance training is still a fantastic longevity-promoting option that can support bone and muscle strength as we age.
- High-intensity interval training (HIIT). Can have a positive influence on growth hormone output. A big plus of HIIT is that it is typically very short yet effective and highly versatile. In just 20 minutes, you can combine aerobics, strength training, and multiple types of movements. On the other hand, HIIT is not for everyone and may cause too much stress for some people.
- Avoid over-exercising. While the right type and amount of exercise can help balance hormones, overtraining may have the opposite effect. How can you tell? Ideally, you should feel rested and restored after you exercise. If you feel completely exhausted or experience symptoms during or after exercise, such as lightheadedness, cravings, or find yourself voraciously hungry, these may indicate you’ve overdone it.
7 – Lifestyle for hormone balance
In functional medicine, we often spend a significant amount of time with our patients, going over their unique lifestyle and environment, as these can greatly affect a person’s health, including their hormone health. So, while the lifestyle impact on hormones can be very different from one person to another, below are some of the “red flags” that often play a key role in hormone imbalances.
- Stress. Life can be very stressful at times, and many people often find themselves emotionally drained and overwhelmed. But the story of stress doesn’t just end with our emotional health. When we are stressed out, the body produces more cortisol and less sex hormones. In fact, chronic stress often leads to hormone imbalances in both men and women without them being aware of it. For many, managing stress is one of the keys to balance their hormones. Also here, the best options to cope with stress may be a matter of personal preference. Taking enough time to relax and reflect, spending more time in nature, practices such as meditation or breathing techniques, exercise (watch for overtraining), and sleep (which will cover next) – any of these options can make a big difference.
- Sleep. You may have heard about the importance of sleep to our health, but did you know that it is during sleep that body regulates and balances many of our hormones including cortisol? Not surprisingly, sleep issues are associated with hormonal imbalances, and to make things even more complex, a common symptom of hormone imbalances is poor sleep. So, making sure you get enough high-quality sleep can play a huge role.
- Body composition & weight. Since fat tissue can influence the conversion of testosterone into estrogen, being overweight can lead to hormone imbalance issues such as estrogen dominance, especially in men. Also here, excess body weight and high fat-muscle ratio are common signs of hormone imbalances, so if you have been struggling to maintain a healthy weight, consider working with a qualified health practitioner.
Feel like yourself again with your own path to hormone balance
Hormone changes with age often seem scary to many people, but the truth is we all need healthy levels to be at our best so we enjoy a happy, fulfilling, and vibrant life. For those of you who are dealing with hormone imbalances but wish to avoid hormone replacement therapy (HRT), there are still plenty of natural things you can do that can help balance your hormones, and in many cases, without the need to take hormones. I see this in my practice with many of my male and female patients every day.
Now, some people may still need to take hormones, and there are indeed risks with HRT. This, however, doesn’t mean we throw the towel. Quality of life matters; in some cases, HRT can significantly improve a person’s health and well-being. Together with a qualified health practitioner, you can go over the risks vs. benefits of HRT and decide the best option to support your health, wellness, and goals.