Written by: Audrey Clement, R.D.
What are hormones?
Hormones act as messengers in the body and communicate to our organs and tissues. They work to maintain homeostasis in the body through regulation of metabolism, reproduction, growth and development, sleep, response to injury, stress and environmental factors.
What does hormonal imbalance mean?
Hormone imbalance simply means that there is an over or underproduction of hormones. If hormones are not being produced at optimal levels, it can negatively affect metabolism, reproduction, growth and development, sleep and response to stressors. There are many possible causes for hormone imbalances, and you should always investigate those with a trusted healthcare provider. Most of the time, hormone imbalances are caused by nonoptimal lifestyle behaviors.
What can I do to optimize my hormone production?
There are a lot of factors that may affect your hormone production. Let’s dive into the top 10 lifestyle behaviors that will benefit most people’s hormonal health.
Eat in alignment with your circadian rhythm. This is the most common mistake I see as a dietitian. Many people will delay breakfast or their first meal until they are 4-6 hours into their day. It is beneficial for our metabolic and sleep hormones to increase food intake during the hours we are awake and active, while decreasing food intake around the time of day we are winding down and less active. Aim to eat within 1-2 hours of waking and cut off your food intake 2-3 hours before bed.
Start your morning with a meal high in protein and fiber. Breakfast sets the tone for your insulin and cortisol levels. If you start your day with a large Starbucks coffee and a pastry, you’re likely to throw those hormones on a roller coaster ride. An example of a high protein and fiber breakfast could look like: 2 eggs + ¼ cup egg whites with sautéed bell peppers and a whole grain english muffin.
Limit caffeine intake. Excessive caffeine intake can negatively impact your cortisol levels. Try to avoid drinking caffeine on an empty stomach in the morning. If you’re not very hungry in the morning, consume something small such as a piece of toast with peanut butter. Caffeine intake too close to bed can impair sleep quality as well. Avoid caffeine after 1pm because caffeine can stay in your system for up to 10 hours. If cutting off caffeine intake earlier in the day seems too challenging, try switching over to green tea in the afternoon. Green tea contains L-theanine which can reduce stress and increase mental clarity/focus.
Increase your daily water intake. If your cells are dehydrated they can’t function properly, which is a large stressor on your body. Aim for a minimum of 0.5oz fluid per lb. of body weight per day.
Move more! Cortisol, insulin, thyroid hormones and sex hormones all benefit from routine exercise. Exercise will also boost serotonin and dopamine levels which will aid in stress management and sleep quality. Aim to implement 5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise per week with 2-3 days of strength training per week. If 5 hours is a large jump from where you are now, start with 30 minutes of intentional movement each day. This movement could be walking, stretching, dancing, doing yard work, etc. Just move!
Share meals with loved ones. Food is fuel AND connection with others. Meaningful social interaction can increase oxytocin production aka the love hormone. Research shows that increased oxytocin may enhance glucose and lipid metabolism, lowering risk for diabetes and heart disease.
Reduce excess added sugar in your diet. High amounts of added sugar can negatively impact cortisol, insulin, melatonin, thyroid hormones and sex hormones. Added sugar is not limited to cane sugar and corn syrup. Honey and maple syrup also count as added sugar. Added sugars are often hiding in sauces, condiments, granola bars, cereal, granola and cocktails.
Get sun exposure in the morning! Your circadian rhythm, aka your body’s internal clock, is intertwined with many hormones in the body. The best way to regulate your circadian rhythm is to modify your light exposure to align with your sleep wake schedule. If you wake up at 6am, ideally you should try to get direct sun exposure for 10-20 minutes before 10am. If you are asleep by 10pm, you should dim artificial light 2 hours before bed at around 8pm.
Stop eliminating certain macronutrients from your diet. Each macronutrient plays an essential role in your ability to function. Eliminating macronutrients completely is very stressful on the body by making it have to work less efficiently. Elimination of macronutrients may also affect growth hormone and insulin which could result in diminished ability to build muscle. It is best to learn how to incorporate all macronutrients in a balanced diet that fits your needs.
Reduce alcohol. Alcohol is a toxin and negatively impacts every hormone in your body. This does not mean you have to eliminate alcohol completely. Start by evaluating the time of day in which you consume alcohol and how much you have in one sitting. Avoid drinking alcohol close to bed so it does not impair your sleep quality. For example, instead of having a glass of wine after dinner, have a glass of wine while you’re preparing dinner. Avoid drinking more than 1-2 drinks in one sitting.