Hormones play a critical role in regulating many functions in our bodies including mood, metabolism, sleep patterns and more. When hormone levels get out of balance, it can negatively impact health and well-being. Thankfully, making smarter food choices is one of the best things you can do to support healthy hormone function naturally. Certain whole foods are packed with nourishing nutrients that can gently help bring hormones back into balance without medications or supplements. Here are 5 powerful foods you should include more of in your diet to help balance hormones:
1. Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage are nutritional superstars. These veggies are loaded with sulfur-containing compounds called glucosinolates that break down into indoles, sulforaphane and other isothiocyanates. Scientific research shows that many of these bioactive compounds have anti-estrogenic effects in the body. They work by blocking the effects of estrogen and supporting the removal of excess estrogens from our system.
Estrogen dominance is a common hormone imbalance issue that can lead to PMS symptoms, breast tenderness, bloating, irregular periods and difficulty losing weight. By supporting healthy estrogen metabolism, cruciferous veggies help bring hormones into better balance to address estrogen dominance. They may even help lower breast cancer risk. One study found that among over 1000 women, those who consumed the most cruciferous vegetables had a 32% lower risk of breast cancer compared to those who ate the least.
Cruciferous vegetables also contain compounds like indole-3-carbinol (I3C) that support Phase I and II detoxification pathways in the liver. This helps our bodies more efficiently break down and eliminate excess estrogens through urine and bowel movements. Getting 1-2 servings of cruciferous vegetables per day, such as a giant handful of raw broccoli, is an easy way to add natural hormone support to your diet.
Nutrient-dense berries should have a starring role in any diet seeking to support healthy hormones. Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries are full of polyphenols that act as phytoestrogens in our bodies. These compounds have a weak estrogenic effect which can help balance out overly dominant estrogen levels to address PMS, breast tenderness and weight issues stemming from estrogen imbalance.
Berries also provide ellagic acid, a compound with anti-estrogenic properties that supports the liver's natural ability to deactivate and remove excess estrogens from our system. Test tube and animal studies show that ellagic acid blocks the production and effects of estrogens, making berries an ideal food for supporting natural hormone balance.
In addition, berries contain anthocyanins - antioxidant pigments that give them their vibrant color. Anthocyanins have been found to directly suppress aromatase activity in fat cells. Aromatase is the enzyme responsible for converting androgens like testosterone into estrogens. By inhibiting aromatase's actions, anthocyanins can help reduce excess estrogen levels in the body that stem from fat tissue.
Get creative adding 1/2 cup to 1 cup of berries into your diet daily - put them on yogurt, blend into smoothies or eat them plain as a snack. Berries may just be nature's perfect food for supporting balanced, healthy hormones.
Flaxseeds, also known as linseeds, provide abundant amounts of lignans - a type of fiber that functions as a phytoestrogen in our bodies. Like berries, flax lignans have a weak estrogenic effect that can balance out overly dominant estrogen levels to help correct hormone imbalances. They also exert anti-estrogenic properties through binding to estrogen receptors, which blocks estrogens from attaching and having effects throughout the body.
Lignans found in flax are also converted by gut bacteria into enterolignans like enterodiol and enterolactone. Once absorbed, enterolignans circulate in our blood where they can interact with hormone receptors and help metabolize excess estrogens. Multiple studies have found women consuming ground flaxseeds or flaxseed lignan supplements experienced reduced PMS symptoms, less painful periods and an improved hormonal profile.
For maximum hormone support, enjoy 1-2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds sprinkled on cereal, yogurt or mixed into smoothies or baked goods. Make sure to purchase whole flaxseeds and grind right before consuming to retain those healthy lignans. Adding this tiny seed superfood to your daily diet is a simple way to give your hormones a daily balancing boost.
4. Fatty Fish
Fatty fish like salmon, trout, sardines and mackerel provide two essential fatty acids that are crucial for hormone balance - omega-3 DHA and EPA. Our bodies can't produce these fatty acids on their own, so we must obtain them through our diet. Omega-3s have wide-ranging impacts on hormone function including:
- Reducing inflammation throughout the body which alleviates hormonal imbalances often caused by chronic inflammation.
- Supporting healthy progesterone levels by providing building blocks to produce this important hormone. Low progesterone is a common imbalance.
- Regulating cortisol levels throughout the day for improved stress response and mood. Cortisol imbalance is tied to many other hormone issues.
- Maintaining healthy levels of serotonin, another key brain chemical linked to mood, sleep and hormone regulation.
- Regulating gene expression related to healthy thyroid and estrogen metabolism.
Aim for at least two 3-4 ounce servings of wild-caught fish per week, emphasizing salmon, sardines and trout as top sources of hormone-balancing omega-3s. Adding DHA-rich fish oil supplements can also help top up omega-3 levels for better all-around hormone support.
Often overlooked lentils are an unsung nutrition hero with many benefits for hormone balance. Alongside protein, fiber and minerals, lentils provide abundant levels of plant compounds called isoflavones that act as phytoestrogens. Much like lignans in flaxseeds, isoflavones found in lentils have weak estrogenic effects in the body that can counter excessive estrogen dominance.
Beyond balancing hormones, lentils may also help healthy thyroid function. The thyroid regulates metabolism and is intricately tied to hormone balance. Studies show that dietary isoflavones promote thyroid health by decreasing inflammation and stimulating thyroid hormone production when levels are low. Lentils contain no thyroid-disrupting compounds often found in soy-based foods.
One cup of cooked lentils provides around 30 grams of filling fiber for minimizing insulin spikes and blood sugar crashes that wreak havoc on our hormones. This hearty legume is also full of the mineral zinc, necessary for healthy testosterone and progesterone production.
A regular serving of lentils - tossed into soups, stews or veggie burgers - can give your body a continuous supply of nourishing isoflavones throughout the week to naturally bolster hormone balance. Don't stress over exact amounts - enjoy these tasty legumes often to reap the rewards.
Balancing Hormones With Food Takes Time
While cruciferous veggies, berries, flaxseeds, fatty fish and lentils provide hormone-balancing nutrients, changing eating habits takes consistency over time to significantly impact health. Allow at minimum 4-6 weeks of regularly including more of these superfoods before expecting major changes in hormone levels or symptoms like PMS, irregular periods or weight issues.
Hormone balance is impacted by many factors including diet, lifestyle stressors, environment toxins, exercise habits, genetic predispositions and more. But making smarter choices with whole foods proven to support the liver's detox roles and reduce inflammation is a gentle, natural approach that can help correct minor to moderate hormone imbalances without harsh medications.
For best results, combine these hormone-friendly foods with regular exercise, quality sleep, stress management techniques, limiting processed foods/sugar and ideally therapeutic dietary approaches like an anti-inflammatory, whole food-based eating style and intermittent fasting. Taking a multi-faceted holistic approach is more likely to yield long-lasting improvements compared to focusing solely on diet.
Overall, cruciferous vegetables, berries, flaxseeds, fatty fish and lentils provide an abundance of balancing nutrients, antioxidants and plant compounds that the body uses to help regulate hormones into a healthier state. Including more of these real, whole foods does have the power to go a long way in naturally correcting minor hormone dysfunction and supporting overall well-being. With consistency and patience, your healthful food choices can help restore the harmonious dance of hormones in the body.