Hormonal imbalances affect men and women of all ages. It’s no surprise when we look at just how many toxins in our environment directly affect the endocrine system, the collection of glands responsible for hormone production.
Hormones – A regulatory substance produced in an organism and transported in tissue fluids such as blood or sap to stimulate specific cells or tissues into action.
A synthetic substance with an effect similar to that of an animal or plant hormone.
A person’s sex hormones as held to influence behavior or mood.
Our food system is riddled with hormone disruptors in many forms. Conventionally raised animals are commonly injected with growth hormone to increase milk production and speed up the meat and milk manufacturing process. Growth hormones are probably the most extreme example of substances which directly affect our hormonal health when it comes to food, but there are sneakier, more pervasive examples at large.
Soy is the main grain used to feed cattle, chickens, and pigs. Apart from soy being the furthest thing from the natural diet of these animals, it’s also high in xenoestrogens, a molecule very similar to estrogen which tricks our bodies into thinking it’s the real deal.
Soft plastics are another culprit — and since nearly every commercially bought food and beverage item is stored in plastic, it should give us great cause for concern. Plastics contain xenoestrogens and BPA as well as other known endocrine disrupters.
But instead of focusing on all of the dangerous additives causing hormonal distress, let’s look at the foods that can help heal hormone imbalances. They are plentiful, and by incorporating more of the good stuff we can more easily get rid of the bad.
1. Coconut Oil And Healthy Saturated Fats
Gone are the days of saturated fats being cast as the villain in the fight against heart disease and obesity. If we truly are what we eat, then we need to be eating more healthy saturated fats, since they make up half of our cell membrane structures. Saturated fat also balances blood sugar levels and helps regulate insulin. Fat may seem unrelated to hormones, but it’s all connected. Hormone imbalances can cause weight gain, mood swings, irritability, and cravings — all of which can become out of control when blood sugar levels look like a rollercoaster instead of a river.
Coconut oil rich in MCT’s has been shown to help boost metabolism. It’s particularly therapeutic for people with thyroid issues. Thyroid health directly affects metabolism, making it difficult to lose excess weight or maintain a healthy weight. Butter from pasture-raised cows is also a healthy source of saturated fat. It’s high in essential vitamins that help support hormone production, including vitamins A and K, alongside HDL cholesterol (the good stuff).
Estrogen is stored in fat. That’s why women have much softer fat on their bodies than men. The common — but misguided — hypothesis is that women who want to balance their hormones should avoid fat. But avoiding nutrient-dense fats is counterproductive. Fat is not the enemy. When we purposefully deprive ourselves of it, our bodies go into a sort of starvation mode and become less willing to let go of excess fat and more willing to turn whatever carbohydrates and sugars we’re consuming into fat.
The key is to consume healthy fats. Saturated fats release slowly giving us sustained lasting energy and balanced blood sugar levels. When we get saturated fats from sources like coconut oil and grass-fed butter, we also get a bevy of other benefits that these nourishing whole foods have to offer.
2. Fatty Wild Fish For Omega-3 (Salmon, Lake Trout, Herring, And Sardines)
While we’re on the topic of fat, it’s impossible to ignore omega-3 fatty acids. Though well known for their brain-boosting effects, they’re less recognized for their potential to help balance hormones. Omega-3’s are an important essential fatty acid, meaning our bodies don’t make them, and we must get these fatty acids elsewhere. When it comes to balancing hormones and mitigating the symptoms caused by such imbalances, omega-3’s get much of their effectiveness from their anti-inflammatory and mood stabilizing properties.
PCOS is an endocrine disorder said to affect 1 in 15 women. It’s painful and uncomfortable, with side effects like weight gain and painful menstruation. One studyfound that omega-3 supplementation combined with a diet low in carbohydrates reduced associated pain and other symptoms.
There’s clear evidence that omega-3’s have a direct effect on hormones and are useful for regulating the menstrual cycle both in women with PCOS and PMS. Diets high in omega-3 have also been shown to inhibit breast cancer growth.
Instability with mood is common in anyone experiencing hormonal imbalance. Omega-3 fatty acids have been studied extensively for their ability to treat mental health problems like mood swings, depression, and more.
Lastly, omega-3’s are essential for balancing out the abundance of omega-6 fatty acids in the average diet. Omega-6 is a pro-inflammatory fatty acid and, while still essential, is often way out of line with the prescribed ratio the two should have. Ideally, we would all be getting a balanced amount of omega-6 to omega-3 or at the very least a 3:1 ratio. However, most people have a ratio closer to 20:1, which is a recipe for chronic inflammation. The primary source of omega-6 in the average American diet is vegetable oils — primarily soy. The USDA reports: “Americans now get almost 20% of their calories from a single food source – soybean oil – with almost 9% of all calories from the omega-6 fat linoleic acid (LA) alone.”
The best food sources of omega-3 fatty acids are wild fatty fish (such as salmon, lake trout, herring, and sardines), flaxseed, and walnuts.
3. Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables — such as cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale — are rich in the phytochemical indole-3-carbinol (I3C), which is known for its powerful antioxidant effects. I3C has been isolated and studied for its potential to fightestrogen-enhanced tumors like breast, endometrial, and cervical cancers. It’s especially useful for regulating estrogen levels and modulating estrogen metabolism.
The only problem with consuming IC3 in its natural state from cruciferous vegetables are the issues that arise due to goitrogens. Goitrogens are naturally occurring sulfur-containing compounds that are found in cruciferous vegetables. Many people with thyroid deficiencies have been advised to avoid these foods because goitrogens block the activity of the enzyme thyroid peroxidase (TPO). TPO is necessary for the production of both T3 thyroid hormone and T4 thyroid prohormone, which is why a blockage of that enzyme is problematic.
Don’t stop crunching on cabbage just yet though. Evidence suggests that goitrogens are mostly problematic for people who are iodine, iron, zinc or selenium deficient. If you’re consuming enough of these minerals, cruciferous vegetables are likely beneficial for thyroid function as well as being protective against various cancers.
4. Ancient Fermented Foods And Modern Probiotics
Fermented foods are a staple in ancient cultures but somewhere along the line in the West we lost our connection to their significant role in optimal human health. More recently, their contemporary counterpart, probiotics (food and supplements that contain live bacteria), have been in the news for the range of health-boosting benefits they offer, from mitigating mental health issues like schizophrenia to healing problems that arise in the gut.
Environmental toxins are one of the principal causes of hormonal imbalance. No matter how well we eat, our external environment is harder to control. However, promising research indicates that probiotics may work in our guts to destroy toxic chemicals like pesticides and BPA before they can do real harm.
The role that our gut microbiome plays in our endocrine system is diverse. Indeed, a team of researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University discovered that bacteria found living inside the human gut may function in a manner akin to an endocrine organ. According to Phsy.org, “[T]he VCU team discovered that specialized gut bacterial cells produce steroid hormones — much like specialized cells in the pancreas produce the endocrine molecule insulin.”
There are other ways fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickles can influence our hormones too. Estrogen dominance runs rampant in a food system riddled with xenoestrogens from soy fed animals and environmental toxins. Fermented foods can help reduce estrogen dominance as they improve digestive function, and therefore assist the body in removing excess estrogen more efficiently via the intestinal tract.
Probiotics also decrease the enzyme glucuronidase, which has been shown to increase the risk of estrogen-dependent breast cancer.
5. Bone Broth And Grass Fed Gelatin
Bone broth (see recipe) is another nutrient dense food that ancient cultures have always prized. Waste not, want not comes to mind as the bones of an animal still contain innumerable vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
The amino acid glycine, found in bone broth and gelatin, increases growth hormone production — the primary hormone responsible for stimulating cell reproduction and regeneration. GH is released in smaller amounts as we age, so ensuring we have adequate levels without turning to synthetics is achieved by incorporating mineral rich bone broth and gelatin from healthy animals.
Notable hormone expert and researcher Ray Peat has written much on the benefits of incorporating bone broth into our diets and cautions against the modern predilection for eating muscle meats only. He explains:
“When only the muscle meats are eaten, the amino acid balance entering our bloodstream is the same as that produced by extreme stress, when cortisol excess causes our muscles to be broken down to provide energy and material for repair. The formation of serotonin is increased by the excess tryptophan in muscle, and serotonin stimulates the formation of more cortisol, while the tryptophan itself, along with the excess muscle-derived cysteine, suppresses the thyroid function.”
Gelatin-rich bone broth also works to heal and rebuild collagen, reducing inflammation and improving digestive health. However, you should only consume bone broth made from animals that were raised on an antibiotic and hormone-free natural grass diet.
Continuing reading the full in depth article at Reset.Me