Hormones play a major role in our health, so when they are out of balance, we sometimes develop medical conditions, lose or gain weight unexpectedly, experience infertility, or develop a host of other issues. Hormones are chemical messengers that are produced by the glands of the endocrine system; they travel throughout the body to send messages to the tissues and organs to give direction about what work each body part needs to do, when to do it, and how long to do it for. Without a proper balance of hormones, such as low estrogen levels or thyroid hormones, the tissues and organs may become confused about their jobs and when to perform them, which can lead to health issues. Hormones in the body direct many different processes, including (1):
- Growth and development
- Sexual function
What are the Causes of Hormonal Imbalance?
Typically, the most common causes of hormone imbalances include improper diet, lack of hydration, changes in mineral balance, stress, or infection. Gut health also plays a major role in hormonal balance, because your gut microflora is directly tied to hormone levels. For women, hormonal birth control is often a common culprit due to the presence of added hormones in the body, which can easily throw off your body's natural balance.
What are the Signs of a Hormone Imbalance?
When your hormones are out of balance, you might start to notice some uncomfortable symptoms. That’s because hormones control everything from your appetite to your energy levels, blood sugar, stress response, sex drive, sleep schedule, fertility, and more. Because there is such a wide range of health effects that are impacted by hormones, you may have a confusing list of seemingly unrelated symptoms. Signs of a hormone imbalance may include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Mood swings
- Appetite changes
- Unexpected weight loss or weight gain
- Increased sensitivity to temperature
- Increase in facial hair
- Changes in sex drive
- Increased water retention
- High blood pressure
If you start to notice symptoms similar to those described above, it’s best to consult with your physician. You may be referred to an endocrinologist who specializes in hormone function, but there are also simple blood tests that your general practitioner can perform to test some hormones that commonly become unbalanced.
Though a hormonal imbalance can cause frustrating health effects, there are plenty of steps you can take to keep your hormones in check. In addition to living a healthy lifestyle, it's important to make sure you're getting plenty of the right vitamins for hormone balance such as vitamin C, zinc, and especially the ones we've listed below.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
You’ve probably heard about many of the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for the promotion of heart and brain health, but you may not be aware of their effects on hormonal health. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are commonly found in fatty fish, chia seeds, and spirulina, have anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce levels of cortisol, adrenaline, and epinephrine, which are three hormones associated with stress (2). One study found that men who consumed omega-3 fatty acids for three weeks showed significantly smaller increases in cortisol and epinephrine during a stressful mental test than they did when eating their normal diets (3).
Omega-3 fatty acids may also help reduce insulin resistance related to gestational diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and obesity (4). In a study featuring women with gestational diabetes, women who took 1,000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids every day for six weeks showed sizeable decreases in insulin levels, insulin resistance, and an inflammatory marker called C-reactive protein as compared to women with gestational diabetes who took a placebo (5).
An estimated 75 percent of Americans suffer from Vitamin D deficiency; this deficiency is linked to health issues like reduced bone density, the onset of autoimmune conditions, and reduced thyroid function. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease that attacks the thyroid and can eventually cause hypothyroidism, is closely linked to Vitamin D deficiency (6). People with hypothyroidism do not produce enough of the hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4); hypothyroidism can cause symptoms like weight gain, fatigue, sensitivity to cold, constipation, dry skin, and more (7).
One study showed that patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis could reduce their likelihood of developing hypothyroidism by supplementing their diets with vitamin D, while other studies have confirmed the link between vitamin D deficiency and thyroid disease (6) (8). Vitamin D is commonly found in fortified dairy products, fish, and animal products, as well as cereal and egg yolks. We can also receive vitamin D by spending time outside in the sun for 15-30 minutes each day.
Vitamin B12 is another vitamin that can cause hormone issues when it is not received in sufficient quantities. Vitamin B12 is well established as an energy booster and critical element of brain health, but it also impacts the function of the thyroid gland. A study conducted in 2008 linked vitamin B12 deficiency to primary hypothyroidism (9). Vitamin B12 deficiency corresponds to an increased risk for the development of hypothyroidism. People with a vitamin B12 deficiency may experience symptoms like weakness, fatigue, lightheadedness, heart palpitations, digestive difficulties, nerve problems, vision loss, and more (10).
This vitamin is most commonly found in animal products like fish, meat, eggs, and milk products, which means that many vegans and some vegetarians suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency. Though vitamin B12 can be found in vegan-friendly foods such as nutritional yeast, tempeh, or fortified plant milk, the best way to fulfill your daily B12 needs is to take a B12 vitamin supplement. Each GEM bite contains 70% DV of B12 from germinated quinoa sprouts to help fill in the gaps in your diet.
If you notice that you are having increased difficulty coping with stress, you may be suffering from a magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is an important vitamin that helps to minimize the effects of the stress hormone, cortisol, on your system. Cortisol is released by the body during periods of stress to prepare us for a “fight or flight” response, causing an increase in inflammation, increased blood pressure, and a rapid heart rate. One study showed that taking magnesium helped to mitigate the effects of cortisol in the body, helping to stabilize heart rhythms, reduce blood pressure, improve sleep quality, and reduce inflammation (11). In addition to taking supplements, you can incorporate more magnesium into your diet by eating dark leafy greens, legumes, flax seeds, or dark chocolate.
Vitamin B6 works closely with magnesium to reduce the effects of cortisol in the body. Vitamin B6 is not made naturally by the human body, so it must be ingested in proper quantities through our diets. Vitamin B6 is most commonly found in fish, beef liver and organ meats, potatoes and other starchy vegetables, and non-citrus fruits. When taken with magnesium, vitamin B6 helps to lower stress and anxiety and can also diminish symptoms of severe PMS in women (12). It has been found to be most effective when taken with magnesium, and magnesium is also more effective taken with vitamin B6. Whole food supplements like GEM provide both vitamin B6 and magnesium in one convenient package that is easily absorbed by the body.
Though not technically classified as a vitamin, studies have shown that there is a notable link between probiotics and hormonal balance. The so-called "good bacteria", probiotics are naturally-occurring bacteria that live in your digestive tract, which can greatly influence hormone production and regulation. You can either take a daily probiotic supplement, or try fermented foods like kombucha, kimchi, or sauerkraut to help maintain a healthy gut.
How to Balance Your Hormone Levels
Ensuring that you are receiving all of the proper vitamins, minerals, and nutrients is just one component in making sure that your hormone levels are balanced. Hormones affect every process in the body, so it is important to live a healthy lifestyle to promote balanced hormones in addition to taking nutritional supplements or altering your diet. You can help balance your hormone levels by (2):
- Eating plenty of protein: The hunger hormone, ghrelin, tells your body when to start eating and when to stop. Eating the right amount of protein at each meal tells your body that it’s time to stop eating, which can prevent unwanted weight gain. Try to consume a minimum of 20-30 grams of protein per meal.
- Get enough exercise: Exercise does more than just help you lose weight and get stronger: it also reduces insulin levels and increases insulin sensitivity. Having too much insulin can cause heart disease, chronic inflammation, diabetes, and some types of cancer, in addition to insulin resistance. Try to get 150 minutes of moderate activity per week, like walking outside. Treating your body to at least 30 minutes of sunlight per day can help stabilize your natural hormone cycles. Taking a daily walk will keep you active while giving your body the sunshine and fresh air it needs.
- Prioritize sleep: It’s easier said than done, but prioritizing sleep is one of the most important steps in balancing your hormones. In addition to making you feel terrible, lack of sleep can cause imbalances to hormones like insulin, leptin, cortisol, ghrelin, and growth hormones. To keep your hormone levels balanced, try to get a minimum of seven hours of high quality sleep each night.
- Manage stress: Giving yourself time to de-stress is crucial to balancing hormone levels. Many people today lead busy lifestyles, giving their bodies little time to wind down and readjust. Without that much-needed downtime, mounting stress can disrupt your natural hormone cycles. Take time out of your day to practice self-care, whether that be meditation, journaling, or whichever activities you prefer to practice mindfulness.
Myth: Hormones only control sexual functions, fertility, and sex drive.
Fact: Hormones are closely linked to every major process that occurs in the body, including our stress response, metabolism, hunger cues, reproduction, growth, and more. Although hormones do play a major role in sexual desire and function, this is just one of many areas that they impact.
Myth: Only men have testosterone in their bodies.
Fact: Both men and women have testosterone that naturally occurs in their bodies; men just have a much larger quantity of testosterone. Testosterone levels decrease during menopause, resulting in symptoms like low motivation, reduced libido, and exhaustion.
- Endocrinology, the branch of medicine that studies the endocrine system, was first studied in China more than 2,000 years ago.
- Plants produce hormones, too! Unlike humans and animals, which have endocrine systems, plants produce hormones to guide their growth.