Do you suffer from PMS symptoms, fatigue, or persistent weight gain? Chances are your hormones are to blame. Hormones are important chemical messengers, secreted into the bloodstream by glands of the endocrine system, such as the ovaries, thyroid, pancreas, and adrenals.
Our growth and development, metabolism, sexual function, blood sugar balance, reproduction, and mood are regulated by our hormones. Hormones are always working to support a balanced and healthy life.
Hormonal changes can affect everyone. For women, the most evident changes occur in their 40s and 50s, however more women are noticing hormonal imbalances earlier on. Why? Unhealthy diets and lifestyles, along with increased exposure to environmental toxins are a few reasons why we are facing the health impact of disrupted hormones.
Hormone imbalance can lead to fatigue, belly fat, loss of muscle mass, difficulty losing weight, low libido, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), acne, foggy thinking, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, cravings, hair loss, and infertility. When we practice ways to keep our hormones balanced, we can move towards improving our health and quality of life. Here are some key steps you can take to start optimizing your hormones today!
Overcome Estrogen Dominance
Estrogen dominance is a major cause of hormone imbalance. Estrogen is recognized as the main female sex hormone, but there are other important hormones such as progesterone, luteinizing hormone (LH), follicular-stimulating hormone (FSH), and testosterone. Estrogen has significant effects on the reproductive system, along with breast, bone, brain, and heart health.
Unfortunately, we are living in a sea of estrogens causing estrogen balance to be disrupted. This is a consequence of excess internal estrogen production and our exposure to xenoestrogens. Xenoestrogens are synthetic estrogens found in our environment, such as from plastics and pesticide-laden food and water. These “bad” estrogens are structurally related to estradiol and bind to estrogen receptors, causing estrogen to be out of balance with other hormones.
In women, excess estrogen in relation to progesterone can lead to mood swings, hair loss, low libido, slow metabolism, infertility, and is related to conditions such as PCOS, endometriosis, and thyroid dysfunction.  We can overcome estrogen dominance by removing our use of everyday products that contain endocrine disruptors, as well as support the liver which is involved in the metabolism of estrogens into safe forms, so they can be properly excreted from the body. 
Consider the following:
- Drink a cup of warm water with lemon in the morning, plus enjoy spices and foods, such as turmeric, beets, garlic, and dandelion to nourish the liver.
- Choose organic fruits and vegetables (look up the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Dirty Dozen list!), consume more plant-based proteins, and select organic, pasture-raised or 100% grass-fed animal products when possible to reduce consumption of pesticides.
- Look for supplements that provide ingredients that improve estrogen metabolism, such as indole-3-carbinol, a phytochemical compound found in cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale – you can eat these vegetables daily too!
- Reduce the use of plastic products plus commercial body care and cleaning products that contain endocrine disruptors, such as bisphenols (BPA and BPS), phthalates, and parabens. [3,4] Use glass, ceramic, and stainless-steel food and beverage containers, and choose clean personal care products, and use vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, and essential oils for cleaning.
Support the Adrenal Glands
The adrenal glands produce a variety of hormones that are critical to a healthy life. They are typically referred to as the “stress glands” since they are the body’s main responder to stressors in our life. Long-term stress is regulated by the hypothalamic pituitary-adrenal (HPA) system.
When a stress response is triggered, the hypothalamus in the brain sends signals to two other structures: the pituitary gland and the adrenals. The adrenals secrete cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone that helps maintain blood sugar during stress, as well as manage inflammation and control our sleep-wake cycle.
Unfortunately, when continued, stress keeps the HPA system activated, and this can contribute to health problems.  Cortisol imbalances can impact other hormones, such as progesterone, testosterone, melatonin, and insulin, leading to blood sugar problems, weight gain (especially around the belly), compromised immune function, low thyroid function, infertility, chronic fatigue, and sleep difficulties.
We can support the adrenal glands and their function with the following:
- Stay hydrated and consume fresh wholesome foods, such as protein, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats.
- Slow down! Remember to breathe and incorporate simple exercises daily.
- Be in bed by 10 pm to help regulate cortisol levels and promote good sleep.
- Support with key nutrients, such as magnesium, vitamin C, zinc, and B vitamins.
- Speak to your health care practitioner about the benefits of adaptogen herbs, such as rhodiola, ashwagandha, and suma, which have been shown to lower stress hormones and help improve mental and physical performance after periods of fatigue.
Balance the Thyroid Gland
Recent studies indicate that 1 in 10 Canadians suffer from a thyroid condition. Of those, as many as 50% are undiagnosed.  Thyroid hormones are the gas pedal for the body and are critical to energy, weight loss, and a healthy metabolism.
The thyroid gland is highly impacted by stress and cortisol – cortisol can decrease TSH and inhibit the conversion of T4 to active T3, leading to hypothyroidism or low-functioning thyroid. Individuals with hypothyroidism can experience low energy, weight gain, cold intolerances, hair loss, dry skin, constipation, depression, and infertility. Appropriate assessment of thyroid gland function by a health care practitioner is necessary to determine if this may be a concern.
In addition to standard medical prescriptions, the thyroid gland may also be supported with the following:
- Supplementation with nutrients, such as iodine, iron, selenium, and zinc which help with thyroid hormone production and function. [7–9]
- Manage stress to reduce cortisol levels by taking time to relax and following the adrenal support tips previously discussed.
- Avoid consuming large amounts of raw goitrogens (foods that interfere with thyroid function), such as broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, and turnips, but if cooked, eat as much as you like!
- Avoid chemicals that disrupt thyroid function. 
Support Your Gut
New research shows that your gut health plays a significant role in hormone regulation. For example, the estrobolome is the intestinal microbiome that plays a role in metabolizing and excreting estrogen metabolites. An unhealthy estrobolome can lead to high levels of beta-glucoronidase, the enzyme that can deconjugate estrogen to its active form, causing it to be reabsorbed. [11,12]
In addition, an inflamed and porous gut lining, a condition known as leaky gut, may cause inflammation of the entire body and impact specific organs like the thyroid gland. The health of the gut and the estrobolome is influenced by diet, alcohol, stress, and antibiotic use. We can support overall gut health by:
- Eating plenty of whole foods, colourful vegetables, berries, and legumes.
- Minimizing intake of inflammatory foods, such as sugar, alcohol, dairy, gluten/wheat, grains, processed foods, and hydrogenated oils.
- Consuming gut healing foods, such as bone broth, kefir, fermented vegetables, and good sources of fibre-like vegetables and sprouted seeds (chia seeds, flaxseeds, and hemp seeds).
- Supplementing with digestive enzymes and probiotics to heal the gut and reduce inflammation.
There are many ways to optimize our hormones. Working alongside a health care practitioner who can properly assess your hormone levels through blood tests, saliva, and/or urine testing will help determine the cause of your hormone imbalance and what the best steps are to balance your hormones starting today.