Let me start by saying I’m not an endocrinologist (a medical doctor who’s specially trained to understand all the complexities related to hormones and the glands that secrete them), nor do I pretend to play one here on the blog (or anywhere else for that matter). Having said that, over the last 15+ years as a personal trainer, strength coach, and nutritionist, I’ve had the opportunity to team up with folks from all walks of life, all levels of ability, and virtually all age ranges to help them optimize their health and fitness.
And with that cornucopia of relationships, people who came to me would often be frustrated and near wit’s end with some constellation of perplexing issues—tied to sleep, recovery, performance, sex drive, mood, appetite, weight management, and more—that they had been struggling with yet failed to uncover a root cause for. More often than not, we were able to trace these problems to imbalanced hormones, which typically turned out to be more of a symptom themselves.
Many times, mysterious cases required us to team up with other healthcare professionals—such as endocrinologists, functional medicine doctors, integrative physicians, chiropractors, acupuncturists, and/or massage therapists. But the reality is that, more often than not, we could get most of the way—if not all the way—there by checking off these 9 keys, which are essential to balance your hormones at any age.
What are Hormones and Why Do They Matter?
Some experts estimate there are 50+ hormones, which are chemical messengers that coordinate a range of bodily functions, involved in helping the human body function properly. Others argue that there are thousands of hormones.
We can leave the debate up to the scientists. What you need to understand and appreciate is there are many hormones in the body, and they are part of the endocrine system. Endocrine glands (such as the hypothalamus, pancreas, and thyroid, for example) make hormones, which travel through the bloodstream to tissues and organs and control most of our body’s major systems.
As explained by The Endocrine Society, “The endocrine system regulates our heart rate, metabolism—how the body gets energy from the foods we eat—appetite, mood, sexual function, reproduction, growth and development, sleep cycles, and more.” Simply put, hormones have a profound impact on the way our cells and organs function, and they deeply affect how we look and feel.
While there are many different hormones in the body, here are some of the most noteworthy:
- Growth Hormone
When in the proper balance, these hormones help the body flourish. And while it’s natural for hormones to fluctuate to some degree over time, when hormone levels are out of whack—when there’s too little or too much of a hormone—it results in a hormone imbalance, which can occur any time (regardless of age), and that can be the reason you might:
- Feel bloated
- Feel irritable and moody
- Struggle with weight gain
- Struggle with appetite and cravings
- Lack energy and feel drained and tired
- Experience memory/brain “fog” or have difficulty concentrating
- Have trouble falling or staying asleep
- Get sick more often than you think you should
- Feel sore and stiff or find it hard to recover from exercise
- Notice (unpleasant) changes in your skin and hair
- Be sensitive to cold and hot temperatures
- Notice reduced sex drive
But here’s the deal: Hormones don’t work in isolation. In most cases, a hormone imbalance is a consequence of circumstances. In other words, hormones that are out of whack are the sign or symptom, and to address hormone funkiness, we typically have to take a deeper, multifaceted dive into various lifestyle factors.
How to Balance Your Hormones Naturally: 9 Tips
1. Exercise. Are you regularly exercising 4 – 5 hours each week, including a combination of lifting weights, aerobic conditioning (traditional cardio and high-intensity interval training), and low-intensity exercise (e.g., walking, yoga, etc.)? Are you doing too much exercise?
When it comes to exercise, it’s not uncommon to dip into the well for too much of a good thing, especially when it comes to hormone imbalances. All forms of exercise are suspect—too much cardio and too much high-intensity activity, especially for folks who are already “wired and tired.”
2. Physical Activity. I make it a point to separate scheduled, structured “exercise” from low-intensity varied daily movement (such as fidgeting, walking the dog, standing throughout the course of the day, parking farther away, etc.) because we now know regular exercise isn’t enough to combat the harmful effects of an overall sedentary lifestyle. Simply put, we are sitting ourselves to death.
Are you breaking up periods of sitting during the day with “movement snacks” (e.g., sitting/standing still no longer than 30 minutes at a time)? Do you use a fitness tracker to monitor your steps (e.g., accumulating 7,000 – 10,000+ steps per day separate from exercise)? Do you take a walk after each meal (e.g., a 10- to 15-minute walk helps manage blood sugar levels)?
3. Diet. This probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but what you put into your body (or don’t put into your body) can be a key factor throwing hormones out of whack. The connection between diet and hormones is so dense, nuanced, and variable among individuals that it would take a book or two to cover it all. (For the record, many have been written, and one such example is Dr. Alan Christianson’s Adrenal Reset Diet.)
Here are some key questions that bear some honest self-examination and can help you balance your hormones naturally:
- Are you eating mindfully? Are you eating slowly? Are you paying attention to how food affects you?
- Are you eating appropriate combinations of foods (i.e., macronutrient ratios) for your needs and activity level?
- How’s your overall food quality? Are you eating mostly whole, minimally processed foods?
- Does your food quantity match your needs and activity level, generally speaking?
- Have you removed pro-inflammatory foods (including common “triggers” like added sugars and refined vegetable/seed oils)?
- Have you added anti-inflammatory foods and nutrients?
- Have you considered an elimination-style diet to identify potentially problematic foods (e.g., gluten/wheat, dairy, soy, eggs, corn, peanuts, FODMAPs, histamine-containing foods, etc.)?
- Are you consistently eating a wide variety of colorful vegetables and fruits?
- Are you eating plenty of building blocks, including essential amino acids and the unique building blocks found in collagen protein?
- Maybe most importantly…regardless of your dietary approach, are you consistent (so that you can evaluate how your diet is affecting your hormonal health)?
There are more questions, and like I said, this can get extremely nuanced. For now, mindfulness (e.g., journaling to better understand how what you eat affects you) and assistance from a coach and/or health practitioner can be quite powerful tools to balance your hormones naturally.
4. Fill Nutritional Gaps. You could easily make the argument that dietary supplements are more like the pebbles or sand that you pour into your jar after you’ve got the “Big Rocks” in place. The reality, however, is that properly-selected supplements may fill key nutritional gaps that, when occupied, can make a substantial difference in balancing hormones.
One such example is Vitamin D, which is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies and is actually a hormone itself. Probiotics, omega-3 fatty acids, a high-quality multivitamin, and protein supplements (such as collagen) also come to mind, as do adaptogens (particularly for adrenal support and stress management) and digestive enzymes.
What’s more, supplements are often “low-hanging fruit” that people are ready and willing to grab. In other words, folks often put up less resistance to adding a pill compared to, say, completely changing their diet or starting an exercise routine. I’m not saying that’s right; I’m just calling it like I see it.
Now, that doesn’t mean you need to absorb an exorbitant cost on every supplement under the sun to balance your hormones. What it means is that supplements can make a difference, and it’s best to work with a coach or other qualified healthcare professional who can help you identify your needs and help you come up with a priority-based supplement regimen.
5. Get Your Gut in Order. This one is HUGE, and while you could bake this into the discussion on diet, it’s becoming increasingly clear that one of the most probable suspects behind hormonal imbalances is poor gut and digestive health. For example, poor gut health is connected to thyroid and reproductive hormone imbalances.
While bulletproof digestion and optimizing gut health can be a complex, long road, here are some helpful tips:
- Identify any individual food sensitivities and remove trigger foods
- Eat mindfully
- Chew your food
- Supplement with digestive enzymes (and consider support for hydrochloric acid and bile acid production as well)
- Identify vitamin and mineral deficiencies (e.g., B vitamins, magnesium)
- Address microbial imbalances (e.g., supplement with a probiotic, eat fermented foods, if appropriate)
- Patch up intestinal permeability issues (i.e., leaky gut)
- Regularly practice stress management techniques (see more below)
- Get moving
- Stay hydrated
- Supplement with antimicrobial herbs (e.g., berberine, oregano, curcumin)
Let me reiterate: This one is HUGE in the fight to balance your hormones naturally.
6. Avoid Endocrine Disruptors. Many people speculate that one of the major contributors to hormonal imbalances is endocrine-disrupting chemicals, such as environmental pollutants, parabens, pesticides, herbicides, BPA, BHC, and PCBs, which run rampant in our food supply, air, water, personal care products, household cleaning products, and more. These potential toxicants are referred to as “endocrine disruptors” because of their capacity to mimic certain hormones (e.g., estrogen) and inhibit the activity of others (e.g., thyroid).
These endocrine disruptors are seemingly ubiquitous, and complete abstinence would probably require living in a bubble (made from non-endocrine disrupting materials, of course). For most people, it’s about limiting your toxic load, and a good starting point is the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen Endocrine Disruptors, which also provides education about what types of products to limit/avoid.
Speaking generally, here are some of the most common sources of endocrine disrupting toxicants:
- Personal care products (watch for “fragrances”)
- Drinking water (drink filtered water, or better yet, spring/mineral water)
- Canned goods (go with fresh or frozen or look for BPA-free cans)
- Conventionally grown fruits and vegetables (choose organic produce when appropriate)
- High-mercury fish (stick with wild salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, rainbow trout)
- Kitchen tools/products (avoid using nonstick cookware, plastic containers, etc.)
- Plastics (limit use of plastics, especially heating them)
- Home/office cleaning products (see our recommendations for cleaning products)
- Bank and register receipts (receipts contain BPA; choose the email route when available or decline the receipt altogether)
- Antibacterial soaps (although washing your hands is one of the BEST ways to limit your exposure to infections, you’ll want to avoid antibacterial soaps)
- Household dust
7. Sleep and Circadian Rhythms. Want a surefire recipe to kickstart a hormonal imbalance? Ignore the tremendous significance that getting adequate restorative sleep has on balancing your hormones naturally. Yes, here’s yet another reason to prioritize your sleep, and when it comes to enhancing the restorative quality of sleep, there are three factors to consider: timing (when you go to bed), intensity (how well/deeply you sleep), and duration (how long you’re in bed).
Of course, you have the most control over timing and duration, which certainly impact intensity, and most experts agree you’ll set yourself up for success by scheduling at least 7 – 9 hours in the sack. As far as timing goes, sleep expert Shawn Stevenson (who literally wrote the book on sleeping smarter), says, “Humans get the most significant hormonal secretions and recovery by sleeping during the hours of 10 pm and 2 am. This is what I call ‘Money Time.’”
The best way to set yourself up for sleep success is to take inventory of your sleep hygiene and reset your circadian clock.
What about you? When are you getting to bed? How much time are you giving yourself in bed? What’s your bedtime routine like? What’s your bedroom environment like? (Hint: a dark and cool bedroom is ideal.) Are you getting outside in the morning sunshine within an hour or so of waking? When and how often are you eating? Just a handful of questions to get you started.
8. Get Plenty of Parasympathetic-Dominant Activity. Say what? This is my clever way of suggesting you regularly practice stress-management techniques, which I’m a bit reluctant to say because I think the pendulum has swung too far in favor of the mindset that all stress is negative and damaging. The truth is that exposure to stress—in the right forms and amounts for the appropriate amounts of time—is not only healthy, it’s mandatory if we wish to improve in any area of life.
The problem is that many people—especially if you’re working on how to balance your hormones—live in a hyper-stressed state that chronically engages the body’s sympathetic (i.e., fight of flight) branch of the nervous system (SNS). And while the SNS and all the hormones associated with it serve vitally important functions, it’s not intended to be “on” all the time.
This is why it’s important to incorporate plenty of parasympathetic-dominant activities, such as rest, relaxation, play, active recovery, meditation, forest bathing, grounding, gratitude journaling, yoga, deep breathing, etc.
9. Physical and Social Environment. This may seem a bit odd, but your environment can have a profound—albeit often overlooked—impact on hormonal balance. For example, social support and feeling connected to your environment is essential for maintaining a healthy hormonal. On the other hand, social isolation can have nasty effects on nearly all aspects of health and well-being.
And of course, our environment can positively (or negatively) influence our behaviors. For example, surrounding yourself with positive, like-minded folks can provide the encouragement, support, and accountability to lift you up to greater heights (and help balance your hormones at any age). On the other hand, negative, toxic people (and their attitudes and actions) can pull you down and literally suck the life out of you.
Who are the five people you spend the most time with? Do they inspire you to greatness? Or, are they like an anchor pulling you down?
Likewise, your physical environment can have a tremendous influence on your behaviors. How’s your physical environment? Does it promote healthy habits? Or, does it encourage negative behaviors? What are the “elephants in the room” (like a soul-sucking stressful job, “Debbie Downers,” addiction, etc.) that need to be addressed in your world?
How to Balance Your Hormones with ACTION and CONSISTENCY
When you’re dealing with a hormonal imbalance, you can often become victim to paralysis by analysis. In other words, information overload can keep you in a state of overanalyzing to the point that no decision or action is ever taken.
But you can’t make progress unless you take action. And if the decision you make isn’t right, at least you’re learning something in the process. As my good friend Shawn Wells says, “You either win or you learn.”
The only thing as important as taking action is being consistent. In other words, you’ll have a really difficult time finding out what’s working (or not) if you’re inconsistent. This ties into self-evaluation, which is an extremely critical piece of the “How to Balance Your Hormones Naturally” puzzle.
Not only do you need to be mindful of how your actions influence your health and well-being, you also have to take an honest inventory of whether your behaviors match your stated goals, values, and priorities.
Now, if you’re interested in taking a deeper dive, there are so many additional resources here on the blog that may resonate. Just click on the search icon at the top-right of the screen and type in a search term or specific health/hormone concern; expert advice awaits! With that being said, here are a few I think are worth delving into:
- Is Menopause Causing My Weight Gain?
- How to Increase Testosterone Naturally (9 Simple Tips)
- Why Do We Gain Weight as We Age?