Are you experiencing hormone-related issues? Symptoms of hormone imbalance may include weight gain, fatigue, sensitivity to cold or heat, constipation or more frequent bowel movements, dry skin, puffy face, thinning hair, infertility, decreased sex drive, depression, increased hunger, pain or stiffness in joints, and more. Our hormones control a lot! Here’s the good news—while medication can’t be totally replaced by foods, there are certain foods that may help alleviate symptoms. These plant-based foods are not only great for us nutritionally, but may also be good for us hormonally. That’s right — that‘s the power of plants! Below are 7 plant-based foods to include for hormone balance.
Quinoa is a tiny seed containing complex carbohydrates and is abundant in minerals, protein, and fiber. Because it’s a complex carbohydrate, quinoa is able to keep your blood sugar levels steady. In contrast, when we eat a simple carbohydrate, our blood sugar can spike, leading to a spike in the hormone insulin. When insulin increases rapidly, as in the case with eating simple sugars, you are likely to feel hungry again soon after eating. Complex carbohydrate allows for a steady release in insulin from the pancreas and keeps you feeling satisfied for longer. Also, the zinc content in quinoa assists with normal thyroid hormone synthesis as a deficiency in zinc, copper, iodine or selenium could lead to hypothyroidism.
Ground flaxseeds are an excellent source of phytoestrogens, which are plant compounds that have a similar structure to estrogen in our body. Phytoestrogens have both an estrogenic and anti-estrogenic effect, depending on your individual levels, and have been looked at in various breast cancer studies. Many studies have concluded that adding flaxseeds to a women’s diet looks promising in reducing the risk of breast cancer. In postmenopausal women, results regarding phytoestrogens and breast cancer reduction looked favorable too. This is likely due to the phytoestrogens ability to produce less active estrogen.
If anyone has ever told you to take turmeric for menstrual cramps - they were definitely on to something. Curcumin is the main active component in turmeric that has the ability to ease pain comparable to NSAIDS. Curcumin has also been studied for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which can treat underlying factors of hormone imbalance. This is yet another example of food’s powerful ability to heal our bodies.
Not only is avocado delicious on toast, but it is also loaded with beta-sitosterol, a plant sterol that has a similar structure to cholesterol. However, plant sterols can actually help reduce cholesterol levels by regulating the amount of cholesterol that can be absorbed by the bloodstream. Beta-sitosterol also has been shown to have a role in managing the stress hormone, cortisol. When you’re stressed, cortisol is pumped throughout your body causing your blood pressure and heart rate to increase. This is your natural “fight or flight” response. Feeling stressed? Take some deep breaths and enjoy some avocado toast (on whole-grain bread of course!).
5. Leafy Greens
Leafy greens are rich in antioxidants and magnesium, which can help prevent inflammation and reduce levels of stress, helping to regulate cortisol levels. Green leafy vegetables are also abundant in folate, which produces dopamine. Dopamine is both a neurotransmitter and a hormone that is responsible for our experiencing happiness. Go greens!
Cinnamon contains a chemical known as cinnamaldehyde, which is shown to increase progesterone and decrease testosterone in women. In a study that assessed the effect of cinnamon on polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) found that cinnamon contains anti-PCOS and anti-diabetic properties. In a DHEA induced mouse *model (DHEA-induced to cause an increase in testosterone, similar to PCOS), it was found that cinnamon restores the cyclic changes in ovarian morphology and significantly decreases total serum testosterone. Another study done by Columbia University found that the addition of cinnamon extract led to more regular menstrual periods in individuals with PCOS. It would be too soon to suggest cinnamon as an absolute treatment for PCOS, however, it seems to serve as a means to manage the symptoms. Sprinkle cinnamon in your oatmeal, add it to your matcha tea, or include it in baked goods.
*Note about studies using animals: we don’t support them. Unfortunately, that is what we often find in the literature. Therefore, we will extrapolate what we can from the studies that have used animals, but moving forward we truly hope that future research experiments are humane and use humans as their subjects as that’s more representative of our species and doesn’t unnecessarily harm animals.
We’ve all heard that fiber is great for our gut health, but what is less discussed is fibers' influence on hormone balancing. When our body no longer needs excess estrogen and testosterone, these cholesterol-based hormones are sent out into the gut. In the gut, fiber acts as a sponge and excretes the excess hormones in the stool. Soluble fiber is the type of fiber you want to consume for this process to take place. Some great sources of soluble fiber include sweet potato, avocado, tofu, oranges, beans, and apples.