What are hormones, and why do they matter?
Put simply, hormones are chemical substances from the endocrine system that act as messengers for your body. They travel in your bloodstream to tissues and organs.
In essence, the release of hormones is one of the ways that parts of the body communicate with each other.
Why do hormones matter? Because hormones affect many processes in the body, including:
- Growth and development
- Sexual function
The balance of female hormones in a woman’s body is important for optimal health, including cancer prevention. Some important hormones for women to know include thyroid-stimulating hormones, estrogen and insulin.
Hormones can play a role in the development of cancer. Estrogen has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and uterine cancer. Insulin can promote cancers of the breast, liver, pancreas, in addition to gynecologic cancers.
Tips for achieving hormonal balance
Eating to balance your hormones consists of achieving the right balance of macro and micronutrients so your endocrine system gets the right variety and amounts of the key nutrients it needs to produce optimal hormone levels.
Carolyn Lammersfeld, Vice President of Integrative Medicine at our hospital outside Chicago, also suggests speaking with your doctor about prebiotics and probiotics. They both help you maintain optimal digestive health, and along with fiber, may help to lower the amount of estrogen reabsorbed back into your bloodstream, which may to help regulate estrogen levels.
- Sources of prebiotics: asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, oatmeal, dried beans and peas
- Sources of probiotics: yogurt and kefir
In addition to modifying your diet, exercise is an equally important part of balancing hormones.
“Since excess weight can affect hormone levels, achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight through diet and physical activity is important,” says Lammersfeld. “Carrying extra weight can lead to elevated estrogen, insulin and leptin levels, all of which have been associated with increased risk of chronic disease.”
Sleep is also important for regulating ghrelin and leptin, the two hormones responsible for regulating hunger/appetite. Sleep also plays a role in how well your cells use insulin.
Some additional tips for eating to achieve hormonal balance include:
- Reduce portions of high-fat meats and dairy products to help with weight management
- Increase consumption of fiber-containing foods, like whole grains, vegetables, beans and fruits
- Decrease intake of omega-6 polyunsaturated fats from vegetable oils like corn, safflower and sunflower, as well as meat products
- Limit caffeine intake
- Get adequate vitamin D from foods such as fortified low fat milk, yogurt, salmon, tuna and mushrooms
- Eat plenty of cruciferous vegetable like broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage and kale
- Avoid or limit alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day
There are many other factors that can affect hormone balance in the body. The tips above are general guidelines. Always speak with your doctor before altering your diet.