Diet, environment, and lifestyle habits are key to health and feeling well which includes optimal function of hormone levels throughout life. Our hormones dictate nearly every facet of our body systems’ functions, including organs and cells, for health and well-being.
In this article, you will learn what hormones are and how they function, and how to optimize hormones in your body safely and naturally.
Why optimization of hormones versus normal range is important
Optimizing hormones is recommended because it enables the body to achieve wellness levels that simply aren’t possible under conventionally advised “normal” hormone designations or guidelines.
Various labs have different criteria and numbers to which they adhere for reporting to patients on what constitutes normal versus optimal levels. Achieving optimal hormone levels is preferable as opposed to simply hitting normal targets due to what may be classified as “normal” by conventional guidelines and depending on which laboratory is used. Frequently patients come in with low normal levels of thyroid or testosterone levels and have been told by their previous physician that there is no need for hormonal support even though the patient is exhibiting symptoms of hormonal deficiencies. In addition to optimizing the hormone levels, it is important to recognize that an individual is much more than just the results of their labs. No individual is alike and operate best at a level that is unique to them. It becomes the physician’s role to be in tune with the symptoms of the patient when adjusting the hormonal levels.
Sample reports for hormone testing results:
What are hormones and what do they do?
Hormones are responsible for secreting chemicals directly into the bloodstream which produce various effects and actions in our bodies. They act as messengers to control and affect many of the ways our bodies function and behave.
Without hormones, much can go awry and health chronic health consequences can result. Reproduction and sexual function, metabolism, sleep, growth and development, brain and nervous system and mood are all affected by the optimal function of our hormonal systems.
Hormonal systems and their functions:
- Thyroid gland – governs the metabolism, heart, digestive tract, muscle control and brain and mood. Thyroid function depends on having a steady source of iodine in the diet.
- Parathyroid – essential to bone development and kidney function to increase Vitamin D metabolism, and is the controller of the body’s calcium levels.
- Adrenal glands – produces androgens and cortisol, helps to control blood sugar, governs proper use of carbohydrates and fat, how we respond to stress, distributes stored fat, and promotes healthy gastrointestinal function
- Ovaries – in women, ovaries produce eggs and sex hormones including estrogen, testosterone, progesterone which are critical for breast development, reproductive organ development, pregnancy, fertility and bone health.
- Testes – in men, the testes promote growth of the penis in males, facial and body hair and the deepening of voice during puberty. They also control the sex drive of the male, production of sperm and healthy levels of bone and muscle mass.
- Pituitary gland – known as the “master gland” which controls various other organs. This gland is responsible for producing growth hormones; production of prolactin (milk production in females); adrenocorticotropic which promotes production of cortisol, which helps to reduce stress and maintain blood pressure; thyroid-stimulating hormone – regulates the body’s thyroid, essential for maintaining healthy metabolism.
- Hypothalmus – controls pituitary hormones including growth hormone, corticotrophin-releasing hormone, gonadotropin-releasing hormone and also regulates body temperature, weight, appetite, mood, sex drive, thirst and sleep.
- Pineal gland – releases melatonin for sleep, helps maintain circadian rhythm and regulation of reproductive hormones.
Making changes in our diet and lifestyle habits can be an effective way to heal from hormonal disorders. The following are our recommendations for nutritional and lifestyle choices that may be of benefit to enable your body to return to a state of optimal hormonal function.
Dietary recommendations for optimal hormonal function
- Eliminate processed and packaged foods
- Avoid refined carbohydrates and reduce sugar intake. Excessive sugar consumption is a major contributor of insulin-resistance, a precursor to diabetes. Over-production of this hormone can also lead to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes – all diseases which cause hormone imbalance. 1
- Include real, whole, organic and sustainable-produced food
- Consume protein with each meal and include some natural sources of fat whether it be naturally-occurring fats that accompany protein foods such as animal foods or add butter, ghee, coconut, olive or palm oil. Production of ghrelin and peptide – hormones produced by the gastrointestinal tract – were shown to decrease after consumption of high protein meals. Production of these hormones is linked to increased appetite. 2 3
- Consume animal foods with cholesterol and fat from pastured and wild sources such as grassfed and finished beef, poultry, eggs, game meats, raw and cultured dairy foods such as raw milk, sour cream, cream cheese, yogurt and kefir. Fats have been shown to reduce insulin-levels and satiate appetite. Our endocrine glands – the adrenals and reproductive glands – need cholesterol and fat to function optimally: our bodies produce steorid hormones: testosterone, progesterone, pregnenolone, androsterone, estrone, estradiol, corticosterone, aldosterone and others, comprised of cholesterol. These hormones perform various body functions “from regulation of our metabolism, energy production, mineral assimilation, brain, muscle and bone formation to behavior, emotions and reproduction.”
Note: animals raised in confinement and factor-farm environments for meat, milk and eggs consume feed that is high in estrogen due to hormones that are administered to these animals, which is a sound reason to avoid and seek pasture-raised and naturally produced animal foods instead. 4 5
- Consume wild-caught, safe-sourced, fatty fish including salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring for Omega 3 essential fatty acids for balancing hormone levels including reducing insulin-production and lowering the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. 6 7
- Consume fermented foods and beverages such as sauerkraut, pickles and other cultured vegetables, water kefir, kombucha, beet kvass and cultured vegetable juices. These foods and beverages not only provide easy-to-digest minerals and vitamins, enzymes and probiotics, they also encourage healthy detoxification, immunity and digestive support, and hormone balance. 8 9 10 11 12
- Consume cruciferous and sulfur-rich vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, collard greens, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, onions and garlic to support liver health, which enables not only detoxification but also the organ’s ability to remove excess estrogen, a major contributor of hormonal imbalance which can lead to cancer. Avoid raw cruciferous vegetables (greens listed above, raw onions and garlic are healthy to consume). For best results, prepare vegetables steamed or sauteed and with a healthy fat such as butter, ghee, coconut or olive oil. Consuming raw cruciferous vegetables can contribute to hypothyroidism and goiter, an enlargement of the thyroid gland and hormonal imbalance. 13 14 15
- Consider a nutritional supplement to support optimal liver function. The liver regulates about 80% of all your hormonal activity. Natural agents that support healthy liver function include milk thistle, dandelion, turmeric, burdock, NAC, alpha lipoic acid, glutathione, glycine, taurine, and phosphatidyl choline. Milk thistle contains a compound known as silymarin, which has been scientifically observed to be beneficial for cancerous conditions, Alzheimer’s Disease, and other age-related decline in brain and nervous system function. 16 17 18
- Supplement with iodine or consume iodine-containing foods which can inhibit development of breast tumors – thyroid disease is linked to development of breast cancer. Both breast tissue and thyroid contain receptors for iodine. Iodine acts intracellularly as an antioxidant, pro-differentiating, anti-inflammatory, and proapoptotic agent necessary for health and cellular renewal. 19 20 21
Lifestyle recommendations for optimal hormone function
- Include exercise – each person’s goals are different, but movement is essential for optimizing hormone levels and achieving wellness. Whatever your interest or goals, engage in some movement or exercise for 1/2 hour to 45 minutes 3-5 times weekly. For those who don’t typically engage in regular exercise, walking is a good place to start. Use caution in overdoing exercise. Over-exertion can lead to adrenal exhaustion and can cause over-production of cortisol hormone levels. High cortisol levels are a culprit of increased levels of anxiety, depression, irritability, headaches, changes in libido, ovulation or menstrual periods, increase in heart rate and blood pressure and excess body fat.
- Reduce stress – increased and chronic stress is linked to an over-production of cortisol and adrenaline hormones (epinephrine), which can create increased carbohydrate cravings and lead to storage of body fat in the torso and belly area. 22
- Recommendations: engage in deep-breathing and relaxation techniques, meditation, and prayer.
- Whenever possible, avoid bottled water and other products where food or beverages come into contact with plastic which contain chemicals that disrupt endocrine or hormone levels. Opt for a home water filtration or purification system. Recommended: Radiant Life water purification and filtration systems. 22 23
- Pay attention to cleaners, personal care products and home and office products, and others in your environment. Commercial personal care products contain and are packaged in plastic which contains harmful chemicals that disrupt hormones, cause obesity, and cancer. Consider alternatives to commercial clothing and dish-washing detergents, toothpaste, shampoos, conditioners, soaps, deodorant and others which contain harmful chemicals that can disrupt hormones, as well as air-fresheners, dryer sheets, perfume and cologne.
- Recommended: Essential oils, lemon juice, olive and coconut oil, white and apple cider vinegar can be used to make safe home cleaners, deodorants and toothpaste. Or look for safe personal care and beauty products online or at your local health food store. Read labels, do research and ask questions! Country Save clothing detergent or Biokleen dish-washing and clothing detergent products made with plant-based ingredients.
- Whenever possible, remove plastic (a known substance with endocrine disrupting materials including BPA), aluminum, and anything coated with teflon from your home environments including kitchen, bathrooms, and other areas where products you consume or use that you will come into contact with could affect your health. Replace toxic containers and cookwear with safe containers, cookwear, and other items for storage such as glass, stainless steel, cast iron, stonewear, lead-free ceramic, wax paper or parchment for kitchen preparation and cooking, and silicone for jar and other containers and lids.
- Obtain regular, safe sun exposure to enable production of Vitamin D, critical for hormones and degenerative disease prevention, such as cancer. 27 28
- Obtain adequate, regular sleep in a dark room without interference from light, electronic and wireless devices such as clock radios, televisions, computers, cell phones, tablets, modems and routers. Turn off and remove all devices at night whenever possible. 29 30 31
The Karlfeldt Center offers a wealth of education and knowledgeable consultation in bioidentical hormones, which can benefit those whose hormonal health may not respond to diet and lifestyle changes alone.
For more information, read An Introduction to Bioidentical Hormones. To learn more about hormone support and options, make an appointment for a consultation with Dr. Craig Smith, M.D., specializing in biological hormones, at the Karlfeldt Center.