Supporting your hormone health is crucial to allow your body to feel and function at its best. Your nutrition choices and dietary patterns can play a significant role in keeping your hormone production healthy and balanced. Not only can the foods you eat improve the creation and secretion of your hormones, but some key nutrients can also help to prevent any interferences or imbalances arising within your endocrine system (the system responsible for producing your hormones).
Hormones are essentially messages or signals transmitted around your body, which tell your body how to act, respond, feel and operate. So it’s extremely important to optimise hormone health to ensure your body’s key systems and functions work as they should.
Let’s dive into some important nutrients to prioritise in your regular diet, as well as specific foods which can help regulate, balance and support healthy hormones.
Omega 3- fatty acids
Omega-3s, found in foods like oily fish, avocado, nuts and seeds, are one of the most hormone-supporting nutrients of all. These fatty acids promote healthy hormones via several different mechanisms.
Firstly, your body needs healthy fats, including omega-3s, to produce hormones. Without a healthy intake of fat from your diet, you can’t produce enough of the critical hormones you need to keep you healthy and allow your reproductive system (among many other body systems) to function properly. Think of healthy fats, like omega-3s, as a key ingredient in the recipe your body follows to create hormones. Omega-3s are required for your body to produce oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone and other sex hormones. Your body can’t produce omega-3 fatty acids itself, meaning you need to obtain them through diet or supplementation. When you’re getting enough omega-3s, your body is better able to produce hormones, and more efficient in transporting them around your body.
Omega-3s also have a profound anti-inflammatory impact on your body. They help to prevent oxidative damage and general inflammation, which is a common driver behind hormone imbalances or health concerns. If left unmanaged, inflammation can interfere with healthy hormone production and can even result in your body producing too much of certain hormones, like your stress hormone cortisol, and not enough of other important hormones like your reproductive hormones. Omega-3s can reverse inflammation and have even been shown to help women experiencing infertility complications to fall pregnant in some cases.
For further evidence of just how important omega-3s are for your hormones, let’s consider their impacts on fertility. Omega-3s are one of the main nutrients required in a prenatal supplement for anyone looking to try for a baby, due to their anti-inflammatory effects which can help reduce oxidative stress and damage to your body and reproductive system. Omega-3s improve fertility and your chances of conceiving by supporting the healthy production of oestrogen and progesterone, and also enhance cervical mucus quality, making it easier for sperm to travel into the uterus to fertilise an egg. They facilitate regular, healthy ovulation and support the growth and development of the foetus if conception does occur.
These fatty acids can also help reduce PMS symptoms, including headaches, cramps, breast tenderness, bloating and mood changes, largely thanks to their anti-inflammatory properties. Long-term use of omega-3 supplements has been shown to relieve premenstrual symptoms, and improve women’s quality of life, owing to their ability to support healthy hormone levels and balance.
Lastly, omega-3s also help to stabilise your blood glucose levels – which is essential for maintaining healthy, balanced hormones. High blood sugar levels act as a stressor on your body, leading to increased production of cortisol. When cortisol increases, the production of other hormones (including your reproductive hormones) decreases. By helping to keep your blood sugar levels stable, omega-3s can prevent this from happening, again supporting healthy and balanced hormones.
Evidently, omega-3s act in a bunch of different ways to keep your hormone levels healthy and balanced and facilitate the optimal production of many of the most important hormones your body makes. Aim to include omega-3s in your diet daily to optimise hormone health, by eating foods like fatty fish (including salmon, mackerel and sardines), nuts and seeds, plant oils including extra virgin olive oil, or eggs. Or, if you’re worried about getting enough omega-3 fatty acids through your diet alone, talk to a dietitian or health professional about supplementation.
Antioxidants are another essential nutrient if you’re looking to optimise your hormone health. Antioxidants help protect your body from damage by free radicals, neutralising their harmful effects on your hormones. Free radicals are essentially molecules which occur as the result of normal metabolic processes in the body, or from external chemicals, pollutants etc – in short, they’re unavoidable, and formed constantly in your cells. For proper physiological function, you need a healthy balance between these free radicals and antioxidants, otherwise oxidative stress can occur in your body, leading to inflammation, disease and other health concerns. This makes antioxidants extremely important for your general health, but also for your hormones.
Free radicals have been shown to negatively impact the production of male sex hormones and interfere with hormone balance. In fact, it’s believed that free radical sperm damage is a contributing factor in 30-80% of cases of male infertility. However, antioxidant treatment or consumption can help to increase the production of sex hormones, support sperm production and prevent DNA and cell damage. Studies have shown antioxidants improve hormone health and secretion, and lead to significant improvements in sperm concentration, quality and motility.
Women’s hormones and health are also affected by free radicals if antioxidant intake is lacking. Free radicals can damage the female genital tract function, which goes on to impair ovulation, hormone balance and production. Accumulating large amounts of free radicals, due to not consuming enough antioxidants, can increase a woman’s risk of infertility, impair fertilisation and implantation, and also lead to poorer quality eggs. However, studies have shown that antioxidants can have positive impacts on female fertility and hormone health, and help to mitigate or reverse the damage caused by these radicals.
As you can see, antioxidants play a pivotal role in preventing the negative impact of unavoidable free radicals on the body, supporting healthy hormones and preventing any interferences with your body’s ability to produce and regulate hormones.
Antioxidants encompass a wide range of vitamins and minerals, each with different benefits and impacts on the body. Some of the most important antioxidants for hormone health and the foods in which they can be found are as follows:
- Vitamin C: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, citrus fruits, leafy greens, tomatoes, capsicums, kiwi fruit.
- Vitamin E: avocado, almonds, leafy greens, red capsicum, sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, sunflower or soybean oil.
- Carotenoids: beetroot, broccoli, carrots, capsicums, apricots, kale, mangoes, pumpkin, sweet potato, tomatoes, oranges.
- Selenium: Brazil nuts, fish, beef, poultry, brown rice.
- Zinc: oysters, beef, poultry, sesame and pumpkin seeds, lentils, cashews, fortified cereals.
- Quercetin: apples, red wine, onions.
- Catechins: cocoa, berries.
- Resveratrol: wine, grapes, berries, peanuts.
- Coumaric acid: berries, spices.
Fibre plays a significant role in keeping your hormones balanced, by binding to excess hormones in your body and helping to remove them via the colon. If you’re not eating enough fibre, excess hormones can instead be reabsorbed back into your body, leading to imbalances.
More specifically, fibre has been shown to bind to oestrogen in the intestine, increasing its excretion in the faeces. By influencing oestrogen, fibre also impacts your other reproductive hormones, owing to the feedback mechanisms in your body which regulate hormone fluctuations and changes across the menstrual cycle. By regulating your oestrogen levels and keeping them within a healthy range, fibre helps to balance all your other hormones too, and facilitates healthy and regular menstruation and ovulation.
Fibre also helps to regulate testosterone levels, increasing the production of sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) which binds to excess testosterone in your blood and inactivates it. This is extremely beneficial for women suffering from symptoms of hormone imbalances including acne, excess hair growth, and irregular menstrual cycles or ovulation, and can even improve fertility. In men, this mechanism can reduce prostate cancer risk. Fibre helps to improve your oestrogen:progesterone ratio, as any excess testosterone can be converted into oestrogen if it isn’t bound to SHBG, helping to rebalance your hormone levels.
Fibre also plays a role in regulating your blood glucose levels, which as we’ve already covered, prevents additional stress to your body and hormones. In short, it’s a hormone-loving nutrient which you should be sure to prioritise as part of your regular diet. Fibre-rich foods include whole grains, legumes, fruit and vegetables.
Hormone Loving Foods
If you’re looking for specific foods or food groups which can support hormone health and balance, look no further! Here are some powerful ingredients to add into your healthy hormone dietary patterns, which can help to support the optimal production and secretion of important hormones.
Brassicas, including broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and kale are powerful hormone-supporting vegetables. They contain a phytochemical called glucosinolate, which makes them peppery and bitter in taste, but also gives them the ability to regulate your hormones. When glucosinolates are chewed, chopped, blended or digested, this activates an enzyme which converts these phytonutrients into a compound which supports your liver’s natural detoxification processes. This compound stimulates the enzymes needed to remove toxins and excess hormones from your body. It can also regulate oestrogen levels, benefiting anyone with too much or too little oestrogen and helping to balance your hormone levels.
These vegetables also contain a compound called DIM, which has again been shown to support oestrogen detoxification in the liver, further helping to balance oestrogen levels. Sulforaphane, another compound in this family of veggies, has a similar oestrogen-clearing role, and helps to boost antioxidant activity in the body, protecting your hormones from any interference or damage by free radicals, oxidative stress and pollutants.
It’s important to note the role of your liver in helping achieve hormonal balance. Your liver is highly involved in producing, clearing out and regulating your hormones, so if it’s not working normally then, instead of excess hormones being cleared from your body, they can be recirculated throughout your bloodstream, causing hormone excesses and imbalances. By eating plenty of cruciferous or brassica veggies, you can help support your liver and its natural hormone-detoxifying processes, allowing you to maintain hormonal balance.
Leafy green vegetables.
Dark leafy greens, both within and beyond the Brassica family, can further support hormone health thanks to their rich micronutrient content. Leafy greens like spinach, collards, broccoli and kale help to regulate blood glucose levels, preventing additional stress on your hormones, and hormonal imbalances arising from irregularities such as high or low blood sugar levels. Including at least one serving of leafy greens with each main meal can facilitate healthy blood glucose levels.
Leafy greens are also a rich source of vitamins and minerals including vitamins C, A, B and K, and magnesium, which all promote general health and wellbeing, allowing your body to function optimally and supporting hormone production and balance. Greens are a great source of antioxidants and fibre, which promote a healthy gut microbiome and again help to remove excess oestrogen or hormone-disrupting free radicals from your body.
Aim to include these nutrient powerhouses in your diet as regularly as possible to give your hormones and your body some extra love and support.
Nuts & Seeds.
Nuts and seeds are amongst the best hormone-supporting ingredients you can include in your regular diet. Seeds including flax, hemp and chia are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which support the production of sex hormones including oestrogen and progesterone. These fatty acids also have an anti-inflammatory effect on your body as mentioned, reducing menstrual pain and symptoms and fighting against any inflammation happening within your body which could otherwise disrupt your hormone balance.
Flax seeds also contain a phytoestrogen called lignans which help regulate and balance oestrogen, again by promoting its production and helping your body get rid of any excess. Lignans have been shown to help achieve hormonal balance in menstruating and postmenopausal women, so consider adding them to your smoothies, salads, soups or curries.
Brazil nuts deserve another honourable mention, being one of the best dietary sources of selenium, which supports hormone health and thyroid hormones. Your thyroid hormones play a pivotal role in metabolism, the conversion of food to energy, and many other body processes, making them very important to nourish.
All nuts and seeds contain unique nutrient and mineral profiles, meaning they each offer different benefits to the health of your hormones. They’re all excellent sources of omega-3s and healthy fats and have anti-inflammatory properties, in addition to other nutrients which can help nourish your hormones. Aim to include a bunch of different nuts and seeds in your diet regularly to get the most benefit and access more varieties of hormone-loving nutrients.
Grains, such as quinoa, millet, buckwheat and brown rice, are a key part of a balanced diet if you’re looking to support healthy hormones. If you’re not eating enough complex carbohydrates and grains, you’re likely not providing your body with the energy and nutrients it needs to optimise healthy hormone production, balance and function.
To allow your body to continue all the important processes it performs in order to produce and secrete hormones, you need to supply it with a healthy amount of glucose – which is contained in these grains. The type of glucose or carbohydrate you’re choosing is pivotal. Simple carbohydrates, such as white bread, rice or pasta, are broken down in your body very quickly, often causing spikes in blood sugar levels, and causing inflammation and stress in your body if left unmanaged. However, if you’re opting for complex carbohydrates like the grains mentioned above, these are rich sources of fibre, meaning your body breaks them down more slowly and they won’t spike your blood sugar levels. This allows these grains to deliver the important nutrients your body needs for healthy hormones, without wreaking havoc on your body and blood sugar, and sacrificing your hormone balance in the process.
The fibre content of these grains is really important for promoting gut health too, with a healthy microbiome playing a big role in ensuring you’re properly metabolising hormone excesses (including oestrogen) and producing hormones such as serotonin, which is created in the gut.
Some of the best sources of grains to include in your diet regularly to maximise hormone health include:
- Oats. Oats contain beta-glucan, which can help improve blood sugar balance and insulin sensitivity.
- Quinoa. Packed with plant-based protein, minerals and fibre, quinoa supports thyroid function, gut health and nervous system health.
- Brown/Black Rice. Rice is a rich source of B vitamins (including folate), which play an important role in supporting fertility, energy production and healthy nervous system function.
- Beans and Lentils. Legumes are a great source of plant-based protein and fibre, and help to regulate oestrogen and support testosterone production.
Fruit is incredibly beneficial for your hormones, with its rich antioxidant and phytonutrient content shown to promote hormone health and fertility, and prevent oxidative damage to your body and hormones.
Antioxidants, contained in all fruits but particularly abundant in berries, protect your body from damage by free radicals and pollutants, by fighting against these hormone disruptors and reducing the stress load they cause to your body. In protecting your body from these radicals, fruits rich in antioxidants support normal, healthy hormone production.
Interestingly, in supporting healthy hormone production, fruit has profound benefits to fertility too. A study found that women who ate lots of fruit had a much lower risk of infertility and fertility complications, largely owing to their high intake of antioxidants and other vitamins and minerals contained in fruit. Eating lots of fruit (around 3+ servings daily) has been shown to have a protective effect on male and female fertility, reducing the time it takes to fall pregnant and also optimising male semen quality.
Fruits are also rich sources of fibre, helping promote gut health and hormone production, as well as vitamin C, which supports the production of reproductive hormones. Like nuts and seeds, each variety of fruit contains a different mineral and vitamin profile, so ideally you want to include a wide range to optimise the different nutrients you’re providing to your body and hormones. Some great fruits to prioritise include:
- Berries. All berries, but especially darker-coloured varieties, are rich sources of antioxidants. Their vibrance and darkness in colour usually indicates their antioxidant content.
- Papaya. Another fruit high in antioxidants, papaya nourishes your endocrine system, which is responsible for hormone production. It also promotes the production of amino acid, arginine, which activates human growth hormones, and helps to combat inflammation in the body. Studies have shown it helps to regulate hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone too.
- Pineapple. Pineapple is often used to help balance hormones and boost testosterone production, thanks to its rich bromelain content.
- Figs. Despite being a sweet-tasting fruit, figs have blood sugar balancing effects, and are often used to support the endocrine system and hormone health.
- Grapes. Grapes are rich in a powerful antioxidant called resveratrol, which has an oestrogenic effect on your body and helps to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. Grapes are also a natural source of the hormone melatonin, which supports your sleep quality and circadian rhythm.
- Avocado. While you may not think of avocado as belonging to the fruit family, it technically does! Avocado is an excellent source of healthy fats, which support healthy hormone production and secretion.
Some dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt have been shown to positively impact luteinising hormone production and concentration, and reduce oestradiol concentration in women. These changes reflect improved reproductive hormone levels and fertility for women. While no recommended intake of dairy has been established for hormone health, the study revealed that consuming any amount of dairy achieved these benefits, compared to consuming none at all.
Other studies have found low-fat dairy may have negative effects on fertility and reproductive hormones, while full-fat varieties can improve reproductive health and outcomes.
Herbs & Spices.
Herbs and spices are also rich in antioxidants, giving them anti-inflammatory and hormone-balancing properties. Varieties including garlic, ginger, turmeric and paprika can pack a bunch of additional hormone-supporting nutrients into your meals.
Studies have found some herbs and spices can bind to oestrogen and progesterone receptors in your body. Herbs which bound to oestrogen receptors and had an oestrogen-enhancing effect included liquorice, thyme, turmeric and verbena. Oregano, thyme, turmeric and damiana were amongst those which competed for progesterone receptors, with these having the opposite effect and acting to reduce progesterone levels in the body. These herbs can be added to your diet to assist in combating any hormonal imbalances, and to help restore hormonal balance.
PLEASE NOTE: Although I have listed these herbs, I am not recommending that you buy or self-prescribe these herbs without speaking to a health professional first.
There are emerging claims that other herbs and spices can help promote hormonal balance, though more research needs to be done to confirm this. These include:
- Vitex, which is said to regulate womens’ hormone levels, including oestrogen and progesterone, and help relieve symptoms of hormone imbalances including PMS symptoms, acne and fertility complications.
- Raspberry leaf is also thought to balance female hormones, helping to relax muscles and relieve cramping and hormone excesses.
- Ashwagandha is becoming recognised for claims it helps to relieve physical and mental stress, including regulating stress hormones such as cortisol. Given cortisol imbalances can negatively affect many other hormones including your reproductive hormones, this is potentially a powerful herb for promoting healthy, balanced hormones. Further research is being conducted into its potential impacts on reproductive hormones, blood glucose-regulating hormones and thyroid hormones too.
Most importantly, all herbs and spices you can add to your cooking will provide you with additional vitamins and minerals which may help to reduce inflammation and oxidative damage to your body, therefore promoting healthy hormones. So whether you enjoy garnishing your meals with some coriander, basil or parsley, roasting veggies in thyme or rosemary, or using garlic and ginger in your curry bases, add some to your meals regularly to support hormone health.
If you’re concerned about your hormone health, or want to dive deeper into your symptoms and access more evidence-based nutrition and lifestyle strategies to rebalance your hormones and optimise your health, book a consultation with me today!