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It's important to keep your hormones balanced, and it's not just for your reproductive and sexual health. Zandra Palma, MD, of Parsley Health recently told us that our hormones help control a lot of our body's functions, like mood, energy, sleep, metabolism, social behavior, immune system, inflammation, and pain in real time. If that's not all, the Endocrine Society states that when hormones get out of balance, that can lead to problems like diabetes, weight gain or loss, infertility, weak bones, and other problems. Now that's a long list of issues and a cause for concern that's for sure.
There are different ways to keep your hormones in check. But first things first, it would be helpful to talk to your doctor about your hormone levels if you're experiencing symptoms like difficulty losing weight, irregular periods and other menstruation problems, difficulty sleeping, acne, and infertility. A healthcare professional can run tests for you and discuss a plan to get them back on track.
Some ways you can balance your hormones are by taking supplements, meditating or practicing yoga to reduce stress, and trying to get more sleep. And of course, there's always eating the right foods to promote balance.
In general, Heather Bartos, MD, a board-certified OBGYN and founder of Be. Women's Health and Wellness clinic, recommends sticking to a healthy, balanced diet to help your hormone levels. What does that entail? The experts laid it out for us below:
1. It's Okay to Eat Carbs
Specifically, you should eat the "good" carbs like unprocessed or minimally processed whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans. "Humans need carbohydrates to make sex steroid hormones, so if you're at a normal weight, you need that because that's going to keep your hormones balanced," Bartos says.
2. Eat Organic
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Bartos recommends eating organic meats and drinking milk that is organic and growth hormone-free. Studies have also shown that pesticides have been linked to hormone disruption for females.
3. Eat Leafy Greens and Root Vegetables
These check the complex carbs box. "Increase leafy green vegetables and root vegetables," Alisa Vitti, functional nutritionist, author, and founder of Flo Living. "Women often don't get enough complex carbohydrates, and as a result, because they're trying to diet all the time, it actually messes with their hormone levels."
4. But Don't Eat Too Much Kale
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This might sound surprising, but Bartos recommends eating kale and other cruciferous vegetables in moderation. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, kale and cruciferous vegetables contain goitrogens, which block iodine from entering the thyroid gland. The body needs iodine to make thyroid hormones to promote normal metabolism. If you eat enough iodine (found in foods like fish and dairy), then you probably won't be affected by the goitrogens; but if you have an iodine deficiency, or hypothyroidism, then you'll be at risk of goiter (an enlarged thyroid).
Harvard's School of Public Health recommends cooking cruciferous vegetables, which deactivates the enzyme that can cause the goitrogenic effect, and also consuming a wider variety of vegetables.
Don't skip out on your kale salads, but that doesn't mean you have to have 17 cups of kale a day, Bartos says. You can discuss with your doctor about any concerns with your cruciferous vegetable intake.
5. Get Your Probiotics and Prebiotics
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Making sure your gut is healthy is crucial, Palma says, because unbalanced hormones can affect your gut barrier and microbiome (and vice-versa). If left unchecked, it could cause inflammation problems. Eating foods with probiotics (like fermented food, yogurt, sauerkraut) and prebiotics (like bananas, asparagus, shiitake mushrooms) foods can help maintain a healthy gut.
That might also include taking supplements for gut health. Palma says supplements like cod liver oil (which have vitamins A and D in their fat-soluble form), glutamine, aloe, and curcumin can help the gut barrier.
7. Limit Your Intake of These Foods
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Again, moderation is important. Vitti encourages people to watch their consumption of sugar, gluten, dairy, caffeine, and alcohol. "You don't have to eliminate them, you just need to limit them," she says.