If you've felt like you're PMSing up the wazoo, but it's nowhere near that time of the month, you might be wondering what you can do to get your hormones under control. But the solution could be as close by as your kitchen. Certain foods can help balance out your hormones — that means they can help you reach and maintain ideal levels of estrogen, cortisol, and other hormones that affect your body's functioning. Hormones play a huge role in health; estrogen, for instance, affects everything from your reproductive system to your muscles, while the hormone leptin controls appetite and satiety. Including hormone-balancing foods in your diet can help improve your overall health, although everyone's body reacts differently.
"Hormones control nearly every aspect of how we feel, and insulin, serotonin, cortisol and dopamine, not to mention estrogen and testosterone, can all be affected by food choices we make," Marci Clow, M.S., R.D., senior nutritionist at vitamin provider Rainbow Light, tells Bustle. "Each macronutrient (fat, carbohydrate and protein) plays a role in how hormones function and how they are synthesized in the body." On the flip side, foods such as sugar, high glycemic foods, and alcohol can have a negative impact on your hormones, sports dietitian Lindsay Langford M.S. R.D. C.S.S.D. tells Bustle. Being aware of these possible changes — plus incorporating your doctor's advice — can help you keep your hormones in check.
Here's how 10 different foods can help your hormones.
Avocados are a delicious addition to any meal, but they can do a lot more for your health than you think. On top of being the ideal brunch food, avocados can help manage stress hormones. "Avocados are loaded with beta-sitosterol, which can affect blood cholesterol levels and help balance the stress hormone cortisol," says Clow. A 2018 analysis published in The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition looked at a range of different studies and found that avocados increase healthy cholesterol, which lowers your risk of having heart issues or stroke.
Flaxseed is a significant source of phytoestrogens, estrogen-like compounds that come from plants, and it specifically contains a type of phytoestrogen called lignans. "Lignans have both an estrogenic and antiestrogenic effect, and they have been suggested to have protective benefits against certain types of cancer," says Clow. A study published in Journal of food science and technology in 2015 found that phytoestrogen-rich diets could lower your risk of hormone-dependent cancers like breast cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis. Flax seed is also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and antioxidants.
There's a reason you were always told to eat your broccoli. On top of its multitude of health benefits, this cruciferous vegetable can help maintain estrogen balance, and since it is so high in calcium, it can also help with PMS. A study in 2017 in Obstetrics & Gynecology Science found that calcium supplements can ease premenstrual syndrome symptoms.
"Broccoli contains phytoestogenic compounds which may promote beneficial estrogen metabolism," Clow says. Harvard Health notes that indole-3-carbinol, part of a lot of cruciferous vegetables, helps convert estrogen in the body, transforming it into weaker forms that in turn are less likely to cause cancers. A study published in 2010 in Cancer Prevention Research identified indole-3-carbinol as a potential blocker of cancer cells, including hormone-driven cancers like breast cancer.
Broccoli isn't alone in being able to do this. Other cruciferous vegetables you can enjoy include cauliflower, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, turnips, and kale.
This antioxidant-filled fruit can help block excess estrogen production in the body, according to a study published by Cancer Prevention Research in 2010. The study also found that this could mean pomegranate has the potential to prevent types of breast cancers that respond to estrogen. "Pomegranates have a natural compound that may inhibit the enzyme in women’s bodies that converts estrogen into estradiol, which is a powerful estrogen that may play a role in origin of hormone dependent cancers," Clow says.
According to the American Heart Association, a 3.5 ounce serving of fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, or albacore tuna can not only keep your heart healthy, it can help those at risk for cardiovascular disease. Fish provides good fats for cell-to-cell communication, which leads to overall improved hormonal communication, registered dietetic nutritionist Ginny Erwin M.S. R.D.N. C.P.T. tells Bustle. This can also lead to improved mood and cognition. It's also been the focus of several studies on polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which can cause hormone imbalances. A study published in Journal Of Affective Disorders in 2018 found that omega-3 supplementation helped hormone balance and regulated the menstrual cycles of women with PCOS.
6. Leafy Greens
Nutrient-rich foods such as leafy greens are ideal for keeping your hormones at the desired levels. They're filled with antioxidants, which means leafy greens help prevent inflammation, according to Harvard Health. The key to their anti-inflammatory work? The hormone cortisol. A study published in International Journal of Molecular Sciences in 2016 found that antioxidants in leafy greens keep your cortisol levels regulated. Cortisol helps lower inflammation, so it's a good idea to get some leafy greens in your diet. They can also help with estrogen balance, as they contain phytoestrogens, just like broccoli.
Certain veggies like collard greens, spinach, kale, beet greens, dandelion greens, and Swiss chard are also a good source of iron. Incorporating them into your diet can help avoid iron deficiency, which could lead to fatigue, brain fog, and headaches.
Nuts like almonds affect your endocrine system, which can assist in lowering your levels of cholesterol. They can also help lower insulin and maintain blood sugar levels. Walnuts in particular contain polyphenols, which can protect our heart and cardiovascular system, according to a study published in Critical reviews in food science and nutrition in 2017. Polyphenols can also have anti-inflammatory properties, which can lower the effect of oxidative stress on the body, according to a study published in Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity in 2016.
Most of us know that soy affects estrogen levels, but eating the bean can have some positive benefits, especially during menopause. "Edamame and tofu in small amounts have estrogen-like effects on menopausal women," Erwin says. This can help diminish symptoms likes hot flashes.
Soy may also be able to reduce the risk of breast cancer in some people. While it was once believed that soy could increase breast cancer risk, because it can mimic estrogen in the body, it has actually been found that those who have a lifelong diet rich in soy may reduce their risk of breast cancer. A study of 300,000 Chinese women published in European Journal of Epidemiology in 2019 found that lifelong soy consumption was associated with a lower risk of breast cancer.
Turmeric has lately been known as a great remedy to treat inflammation. Because its main component is curcumin, turmeric is found to have many healing properties. A study published in Pharmacological Research in 2020 found that curcumin has both anti-estrogen and anti-androgen properties, which means it may be useful when it comes to managing hormonal cancers. The root can help minimize menstrual pain, such as period cramps.
Because quinoa is a complex carbohydrate, it can help keep your blood sugar levels steady, which in turn keeps insulin and androgen levels within acceptable parameters, Trevor Cates, ND, told Prevention. A study published in 2017 in Molecular nutrition & food research found that quinoa has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant properties that can lower your risk of diabetes and cardiovascular conditions.
Eating a combination of these hormone-healthy foods will help keep your hormones balanced, but if you're experiencing symptoms that feel hormonally related, like changes in your menstrual cycle or your mood, you should always visit a doctor.
Marci Clow M.S. R.D.,
Ginny Erwin M.S. R.D.N. C.P.T.
Lindsay Langford M.S. R.D. C.S.S.D.
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