Hormonal imbalances are something we all experience at some point. They can cause numerous health issues and wreak havoc on the body, leaving you feeling broken, depressed, stressed, and sometimes crazy... Doctors will usually prescribe birth control, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications, ADHD stimulants, etc. to help you mask the side effects. These medications are should be temporary solutions (bandaids) because they can lead to further imbalances and allow the root cause to manifest in the body. This is why I love helping people find natural alternatives to improve health!
First, let's talk about STRESS.
Lets me set the scene - You’re walking your dog fluffy through the park, and you see an alligator swimming towards the shore... Let’s take a look at the body’s response to stress...
When your brain senses danger, the section responsible for emotional processing, the amygdala, signals the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus activates the sympathetic nervous system and in turn, the fight or flight response. This process leads to a chemical cascade, releasing the stress hormone, cortisol, and neurotransmitters norepinephrine and epinephrine.
There are two parts to the stress response- turning it on and turning it off. When
the danger is no longer perceived, the parasympathetic nervous system initiates the
relaxation response and brings the hormonal balance back to normal.
THE STRESS HORMONES: CORTISOL
Although there are other hormones at play, cortisol is the primary stress hormone. It is vital for our survival and is made from cholesterol in the adrenal glands.
The benefits of cortisol include:
Increases your blood sugar from glycogen stores in your liver to fuel your brain and muscles
Increases your protein, fat, and carbohydrate metabolism
Regulates your fluid and electrolytes balance to help you maintain a normal blood pressure
Helps regulate the effects on and the response to the stress of your hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and other areas of your brain
Helps regulate adrenaline production
Prolonged stress, or high levels of cortisol, lead to many negative health effects.
High blood pressure
High blood sugar
Prolonged stress, or high levels of cortisol, lead to many negative health effects.
High blood pressure
High blood sugar-Increased risk of diabetes
Increase in abdominal (visceral) fat
Increased risk for heart disease (from diabetes and the increase in abdominal fat)
Hypothyroidism from decreased thyroid function
Slower wound healing
Susceptibility to infections
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that translate various functions within
the body, such as heart rate. Many neurotransmitters are synthesized from amino
acids, which are readily available from our diet.
When not balanced properly, however, negative health conditions can occur.
A number of neurotransmitters can also act in the body as hormones. However, they are quite different. Neurotransmitters belong to the nervous system, are produced by neurons, and send signals through the synaptic connections.
Whereas, hormones belong to the endocrine system, are produced by endocrine glands, and deliver signals through the blood.
Despite their differences, it’s important to note that the levels and balance of
hormones are influenced by neurotransmitters. For this discussion, we are focused on the following neurotransmitters:
Epinephrine and norepinephrine are two neurotransmitters that also serve as
hormones. Their hormone function stimulates the central nervous system.
Epinephrine communicates with receptors in the heart, lungs, and arteries, while
norepinephrine can only communicate with arterial receptors. Epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, and norepinephrine, both influence the body
increasing blood sugar levels
increasing heart rate
increasing contractility (how hard the heart squeezes)
Additionally, epinephrine allows relaxation of smooth muscle in the airways to
improve breathing, while norepinephrine can cause blood vessels to narrow, which
increases blood pressure.
Chronic stress can result in levels being either deficient or too high of either of these
neurotransmitters -- both of which negative for overall health.
Deficiency can contribute to:
restless leg syndrome
Excess levels can contribute to:
high blood pressure
Dopamine and serotonin are powerful neurotransmitters that influence both moods
regulation and concentration. Whether levels are low or high, the effects can be
detrimental to one’s health.
Dopamine is responsible for pleasure and satisfaction. Lack of dopamine is associated with lack of motivation, low energy, and poor digestion. When triggered by the stress response, however, dopamine can help you:
perceive and process the threat
figure out the appropriate response
avoid an unpleasant situation
learn and remember to avoid the particular stressful event
redirect blood flow by dilating blood vessels in certain tissues by inhibiting
noradrenaline release in those tissues
Unlike dopamine, serotonin does not have stimulatory effects in the brain. Instead, it’s responsible for calming and evoking positive moods. Serotonin helps regulate appetite, sleep cycle, and suppresses pain. It makes sense that deficiency is most closely linked to depression.
HOW STRESS LEVELS ARE IMPACTED:
The body responds to stress, dependent on the type and amount presented, by releasing the appropriate amount of stress-fighting chemicals. Stress can be physiological, physical, or psychological. The origin may be internal or external. And it’s manifestations can be either mild, severe, or anything in between.
Stress hormones are protective during stress as they act to maintain vital systems by
increasing blood, oxygen, and sugar, to best prepare and cope with impending stress.
However, adverse reactions can occur when stress triggers a high level of response.
This is seen most during times of chronic stress when the hormones don’t have time
to properly rebalance, leading to disease.
The degree of hormonal response and the amount of stress hormone release
depends on the following:
The type, degree, and duration of the stress
How you perceive the stress
Your life experiences with stress
Your age and gender
How frequently stress occurs
Previous experience with the stress
The context/environment of the stress
The primary sex hormones include:
Cortisol blocks the secretion of the body's main fertility hormone, GnRH, which is responsible for releasing sex hormones. While this is okay during periods of acute stress, chronic stress can result in lasting effects. Both women and men may experience low libido and decreased fertility.
It is clear this can be an issue if persistent. Sex hormones control some of the most
influential processes in the body including pregnancy, puberty, regulating monthly
cycles, menopause, hair growth, skin complexion, muscle density, and fat storage.
These hormones can complement each other or function as opposites which is why
it’s so important they are present in the right ratio.
During chronic stress, your body may think it needs more cortisol. In order to make
more, the body steals from your sex hormone system using progesterone to create
cortisol. This can quickly become a difficult cycle.
Estrogen is needed in higher amounts for women. Its primary function is growth and
development but affects nearly all body systems.
Estrogen deficiency can cause:
Excess estrogen can cause:
Increased premenstrual symptoms
Increased Triglyceride Levels
In short, estrogen is one of the most important hormones for women in terms of
health. Any imbalance, whether it be deficiency or excess, can cause a host of issues.
Testosterone is the predominant hormone in men, responsible for healthy muscle
mass, stamina, energy, bone density, memory, and strength. Too much testosterone
can cause aggression, depression, impotence, and excessive libido. Deficiency,
however, affects more than just sexual function. Both women and men are faced
with complications without an adequate supply of this hormone.
Testosterone deficiency is associated with:
Decreased sex drive
Increased depression and anxiety
Inability to concentrate
A decline in memory and cognitive skills
Decreased muscle mass and strength
Loss of body hair
Decreased bone mass that may lead to osteoporosis
An increase of abdominal and pectoral fat
Hormonal imbalances can be a result of many different factors. Some of the most
Many fad diets don’t take into account hormone balance. Also, in general, frequent weight loss and weight regain is a huge factor in hormonal imbalances.
Eating the Wrong Food For Your Body
Many foods negatively impact hormone imbalance when eaten in the wrong proportions.
I’ve already demonstrated how much stress can impact hormone activity. In short, chronic stress is responsible for transforming hormones and creating significant imbalances.
Toxins enter the body through our diets, environmental pollution, and many of the household products we use daily. Too many toxins overburden the liver which detracts from breaking down excess hormones. This, of course, leads to higher levels of hormones and disruption in hormonal balance.
High Body Fat Percentage
Too much body fat results in a low-testosterone-high-estrogen ratio due to an increased enzyme in fat tissue that converts testosterone into estrogen. This is negative to both men and women, regardless of age.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF HORMONAL IMBALANCE:
Two types of problems tend to occur when hormones are out of balance:
Uncomfortable symptoms that change how you think, feel, and act.
An increased risk of illness, such as depression, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and certain cancers.
Both outcomes can negatively affect the quality of life to varying degrees.
Common hormone-imbalance signs include:
Infertility and irregular periods
Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
Depression and anxiety
Changes in appetite
Hair loss or thinning
And much, much more!
I have personally experienced the power of food as medicine. To this day, if I am not consistent with my diet and go out too much, I will have a really heavy and painful period. However, when I eat consistently well, my periods are lighter, painless, and much shorter.
Our diets are filled with foods known to impact hormone balance. Common mistakes
negatively impacting hormone balance including:
Too few fatty acids
Too little fiber
Too many carbohydrates
Too much soy
Too much alcohol
Too many unhealthy fats
Too much sugar
Too many processed foods
As a way to combat these common diet mishaps, include more of the following foods into your diet:
A compound found in flax can bind to our estrogen receptors and help excrete excess estrogen from the body.
Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and brussels sprouts contain important nutrients that prevent estrogen-related cancers and help eliminate excess estrogen due to their high fiber content.
Lentils provide a great source of protein and fiber, resulting in reduced estrogen levels in addition to containing zinc, which raises testosterone.
These tubers are high in Vitamin B6 which helps with liver detoxification and frees up the liver for breaking down excess hormones.
HORMONES BALANCING DIET
These are only a fraction of the yummy foods that work in your favor for hormone
balance. Up next, I’ll be explaining more about what constitutes a hormone-balancing diet.
The foods we eat regularly can either work for us or against us as we’ve just
discussed. First, a word on gut health… Overall health, as well as many diseases, has been linked to digestive health.
Research has proven that gut or digestive, health equals hormonal balance and vice
versa. The gut is teeming with bacteria, both beneficial and problematic. The key is to
make sure the good outnumber the bad. This is best done through diet. Chinese,
Indian, and Japanese medical traditions have known this for thousands of years! Now, we’ll discuss how the following can improve hormone balance…..
This is one of the hardest things to get through to people thanks to "diet culture". Do not try to limit your healthy fats. Your body needs various forms of fat to create hormones. This includes short, medium, and long-chain fatty acids, saturated fat, and cholesterol.
Fats are essential building blocks for hormone production. They also keep
inflammation levels low, boost your metabolism, and promote weight loss. Aiming for
15 to 30 grams of healthy fats daily aids in the stabilization and production of stress
hormones, cortisol, and adrenaline.
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for cell-to-cell communication in the brain. But for them to work their best, we need adequate amounts of omega-6.
The omega-6 containing foods that are best to avoid to achieve this balance include
safflower, sunflower, corn, cottonseed, canola, soybean, and peanut oil. A healthy
omega-6 containing food, however, is hemp seeds, which are rich in gamma-linoleic
acid or GLA to support healthy progesterone levels.
Good sources of anti-inflammatory, healthy omega-3 rich fats include coconut oil,
avocados, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, grass-fed butter, and wild-caught salmon.
The benefits of avocado, in particular, include improving heart health, lowering inflammation, controlling your appetite, and contributing to your daily intake of fiber
Probiotics are known as the beneficial bacteria found in the gut. The right balance of
probiotics can improve your production and regulation of key hormones.
Foods that contain these healthy probiotics include:
apple cider vinegar
Aim for at least two servings per day of these yummy, healthy probiotic foods!
Additionally, high-fiber foods such as chia seeds and flaxseeds naturally feed
probiotics in your system.
Some common culprits linked to the destruction of healthy gut bacteria include:
Overuse of prescription antibiotics
Lack of exercise
Poor sleep habits
The body naturally produces enzymes to breakdown food. However, some people
have trouble digesting fat and can benefit from a digestive enzyme with lipase to help
metabolize them better.
Other enzymes can also help your gut break down your food into smaller particles,
making it easier to process and absorb nutrients.
I take the pure encapsulations with Betaine and HCI and have noticed a big increase in energy because my body no longer has to use as much energy trying to break down food causing me to feel sluggish!
Look for a supplement that contains:
Amylase to aid in the break down of starch
Lipase to aid in the break down of fat
Protease to aid in the break down of protein
I always recommend getting blood work done to determine what supplements will be the most beneficial.
Getting all the nutrients we need through our diet alone can sometimes be
challenging, especially given how depleted our soil is in the US. Fortunately, supplementation can help, specifically with magnesium and
B and D vitamins.
Magnesium is a micromineral needed for numerous functions in the body. For
example, magnesium helps to calm the nervous system and prevent the production
of excess cortisol. Magnesium deficiency is on the rise due to a drastic decline in food
sources over the years.
Reports estimate, “magnesium content in vegetables has seen declines up to 80%
since pre-1950 figures, and typical grain refining processes for bread and pasta
remove 80-95% of total magnesium.”
Vitamin D deficiency is an epidemic that not enough people are talking about. Vitamin D acts as a hormone inside the body and helps to keep inflammation levels low. It also works to regulate estrogen levels in the body. Vitamin D is termed the sunshine vitamin because the body creates vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. However, with everyone covering up and slathering on sunblock, we may not be getting enough direct sun exposure, which is why supplementation is recommended.
Lastly, B Vitamins play many vital roles in the body. Because there are so many
different B vitamins, 8 in total, it’s recommended to take a B complex to ensure proper intake of each one. B vitamins are responsible for liver detoxification, mood-elevating effects, nerve function, and maintaining estrogen balance.
While it is possible for you to be getting all of the required nutrients through your
diet, it is rather difficult. Ultimately, supplementation may be your best bet!
If you follow me on Instagram, you may how picked up on my slight obsession with adaptogens (I love being a witch doctor - and I swear if taken regularly, they are life-changing). I bring my powders and supplements everywhere I go! Adaptogens are a unique class of healing plants that help to restore imbalances and normalize physiological functions in the body. A number of these herbs have been investigated for adaptogenic properties that promote hormone balance and protect the body from a wide variety of diseases, including chronic stress-related illnesses.
For example, ashwagandha, medicinal mushrooms, Rhodiola, and holy basil have
been studied and proven to offer the following benefits:
Improve thyroid function
Lower cholesterol naturally
Reduce anxiety and depression
Reduce brain cell degeneration
Stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels
Support adrenal gland function
Ashwagandha, in particular, can be extremely effective at balancing hormones and
can also help overcome adrenal fatigue. Its effects on cortisol, stress tolerance, and
internal stress responses have been studied for decades. Holy basil, also, helps to regulate cortisol levels making it a viable natural remedy for anxiety and emotional stress. Additionally, studies reveal hormone imbalance related to chemical stress from pollutants and heavy metals, can be restored with holy basil.
Ashwagandha is traditionally used as a powder and made into a tea. If you’re
interested, in one of these recipes from Banyan:
1/2 teaspoon ashwagandha powder
1 cup hot water
1 teaspoon honey
1–2 teaspoons ashwagandha powder
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon raw sugar
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
Ashwagandha can also be taken in tablet form or as a liquid extract. Note that it is a nightshade, which can be difficult for Hashimoto's.
Essential oils offer a natural way to combat chemical-ridden conventional body care
products. Harmful chemicals including DEA, parabens, propylene glycol and sodium
lauryl sulfate can disrupt hormone function and encourage imbalance.
Click here for an affordable diffuser! (I have linked a more pricey one of the photo).
Here is a list of some of the best essential oils for hormone balancing:
Clary sage helps to balance estrogen levels. Diffuse 3-5 drops of clary sage to help balance hormone levels and relieve stress.
Fennel essential oil can help to relax your body, improve your digestion and gut health, boost your metabolism, and reduce inflammation. Add 1-2 drops to a glass of warm water or tea to take it internally.
Lavender oil promotes emotional balance, as it can help to treat anxiety, depression, and stress. Add to a warm bath or diffuser to reap the benefits.
Sandalwood triggers peaceful feelings and results in the overall reduction of stress. Try adding a few drops to a diffuser or dabbing some in cupped hands to inhale.
Thyme oil improves progesterone production and helps to balance hormones naturally. Try adding two drops of thyme oil to a warm water bath or rub 2-3 drops with equal parts coconut oil into your abdomen.
Do you have a favorite essential oil? Comment and share below!
I hope you learned a lot of useful information on the importance of hormone balance and useful tips to help you! I am always here to support you!!!
If you have any further questions, please post them below and/or email me at
Sign up for a Carly Reed Health Monthly Membership to access unlimited resources and more guides like this!
Or you can book a free consultation for one-on-one coaching, fitness, and nutrition plans!
Related Articles: 5 Ways to tell if you have a hormone imbalance.