Many people are catching on that losing weight goes beyond calories in, calories out. While of course energy balance does matter, our underlying physiology dictates weight loss success—including our hormones. Even if dropping pounds isn’t your primary goal, our sex hormones impact our sense of vitality, strength, sexual health, fertility, bone health, skin, and even mood and cognitive function.
I find more and more of our members are starting to question if hormones are stalling their efforts and are thus seeking out in-depth hormone assessments. If they do indeed uncover hormonal imbalances, many are quick to assume that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is the failsafe solution for relief.
Don’t get me wrong—I’ve had many clients benefit from bioidentical HRT and there’s a time and place for that type of support. However, it’s often just not that simple. If the root issues have not yet been assessed and addressed, we risk adding fuel to the fire. For example, if the body is already favoring a metabolic pathway that over-converts one hormone to another, it will likely do the same when given exogenous hormones. The result? Symptoms worsen, weight gain accelerates, and we may even increase long-term health risks.
So while assessing hormone health is a good place to start, the solution lies in WHY hormones are off in the first place. We must evaluate hormone health in the context of other areas of health that strongly influence hormone metabolism. Nutrient status, digestion, detoxification, glucose regulation, inflammation, stress and adrenal health top the list.
Read on for a quick lesson on hormones and how to start supporting more optimal balance today.
Goldilocks Principle: Too much or too little of a good thing
While it’s true that hormone changes are a natural part of the aging process, overt symptoms that we too often accept as “normal” can be a sign of underlying dysfunction. This delicate balance of hormones impacts the way we look, think, and feel. It’s like the Goldilocks principle—we don’t want too much or too little of a good thing. It needs to be just right for optimal health.
So how do you know if you should investigate further? Tune in to your body and reflect on how many of the common symptoms below you’ve experienced in the last few months.
Take Ownership of Your Hormones
If you found yourself nodding your head to many of the symptoms above, it’s time to take action. Any level of hormonal dysfunction can disrupt the results you’ll get from even the best nutrition and exercise programs. The first step is seeking out additional assessment. Your metabolism is unique to you, and your approach should be too. With lab testing, we can establish a strategic game plan to address what’s at the root of the problem.
Next, get started by establishing the following five foundational habits. These essential practices set the stage for hormone balance and are critical to enhance the effectiveness of your personalized plan. To be frank, without this foundation, more specialized dietary changes, supplements, or even hormone replacement therapy are likely to be unsuccessful.
1. Optimize nutrient status.
For hormones to be produced and function optimally, we need adequate amounts of key nutrients. For example, our thyroid is super needy when it comes to nutrients. We need iodine, zinc, selenium, iron, tyrosine, vitamin D, B vitamins, and more just to produce thyroid hormones. Beyond thyroid function, zinc is essential for testosterone production and helps control levels when they’re too high in women. One third of the population is outright deficient in zinc and even more likely have insufficient levels.1 Your ovaries are also a fan of zinc, along with other nutrients such as vitamin D, selenium, and iodine. Magnesium is absolutely critical for testosterone, thyroid, and adrenal health and is my go-to for PMS symptoms. Of course, optimizing nutrient status starts with consuming an abundance of colorful produce on a daily basis. But active and stressed individuals (i.e. all of us) have increased micronutrient needs and require additional support. Not sure if you really need a multivitamin? Read on here.
Non-negotiable: Add a high-quality multivitamin (Women’s or Men’s) with the most absorbable forms of these key nutrients.
Extra credit: Add additional magnesium before bed.
2. Support digestion and detoxification.
We live in a world full of toxins, from the food we eat to the air we breathe. This toxin overload, impacts our ability to keep up with metabolizing and clearing out hormones that we may have too much of. Moreover, if digestion and liver health are not in tip top shape, we’ll struggle to keep up with the toxic burden of our modern lifestyles. We can reduce this burden by controlling alcohol intake, choosing organic foods when possible, limiting plastic use, and choosing natural self-care products. Our healthy gut bacteria play a huge role in hormone metabolism and detoxification too so be friendly to your gut bugs by cutting out sugar and artificial sweeteners and boosting fiber intake.
Non-negotiable: Gradually increase vegetable to 9-11 servings per day. Assess how many servings you have now, then increase by 1 serving every couple days to allow time to adjust to the increased fiber. Adequate water intake is the prerequisite here—aim for half of your body weight in ounces.
Extra credit: Do a seasonal D.TOX every 3-4 months to support healthy detoxification and hormone balance.
3. Stabilize blood sugar.
Insulin resistance may contribute to low testosterone levels in men, but does the opposite in women, potentially increasing androgens to unhealthy levels. This is bad news for Americans since 12.2% of adults have diabetes and almost 35% have pre-diabetes. However, high glucose and insulin resistance aren’t the only culprits. Low blood sugar tendencies and dramatic fluctuations in glucose also create dysfunction. Lest you think low carbohydrates diets are the solution for all, being too low carb for too long can exacerbate thyroid dysfunction and adrenal issues in some.
Non-negotiable: As you work on increasing vegetables to cover half of your plate at most meals, complement all of those veggies with at least 1 palm of protein for women and 2 palms for men. Carbohydrate needs are highly individualized, but many do well centering carb intake around workouts.
Extra credit: Aim for at least 2-3 days of strength training per week and focus on large muscle group contractions for the biggest benefits for glucose regulation.
4. Prioritize sleep and stress management.
The metabolic implications of chronic stress are widespread and sex and thyroid hormones take the biggest hit. With chronic stress, the body prioritizes functions necessary for survival, which excludes reproductive health and hormone production. Sleep is also a non-negotiable for hormone balance, and for that matter, weight loss in general. Production of certain hormones, like growth hormone, testosterone, and cortisol, are influenced by our circadian rhythm. So, going to bed late or an erratic sleep schedule is a surefire way to halt results.
Non-negotiable: Establish a consistent bed time and wake time, including weekends, and aim for at least 7-8 hours. Most people do best heading to bed around 10 p.m. and waking up close to 6 a.m. but be sure to set realistic goals for your schedule.
Extra credit: Overhaul your daily routine to support sleep. Click here for practical strategies to improve sleep quality.
5. Combat inflammation and reduce stress.
Chronic inflammation disrupts hormone health in a big way, including the signals that stimulate hormone production, receptor function, and ovulation. Declining levels of certain hormones also reduces our ability to keep inflammation at bay. Plus, chronic inflammation causes us to release cortisol, further disrupting hormone balance and glucose regulation.
Non-negotiable: Reduce processed foods and oils and boost omega-3 fatty acid intake by consuming fatty fish 2-3 times per week and supplementing with fish oil.
Extra credit: Do an experiment and remove either sugar, gluten, or dairy (or all three) for one month and see how you feel. Or better yet complete a full elimination diet. If it’s something you’re interested in doing, our GUT.FIX program is a great place to start.
Begin by focusing on just one of the habits listed above. How to choose? Of the five areas, consider: Where are you already doing well? Which one needs the most attention? Most importantly, which change are you most ready and willing to do? Conquer one habit at a time and aim for 80% consistency.
As you work through these foundational habits I encourage you to get curious about your health and if you’re set up to successfully reach your goals. Do you feel vibrant most of the time or are you just getting by? Do you find yourself using your age as an excuse for the way you feel?
Ditch the status quo of feeling mediocre and reclaim your health. Complete this symptom questionnaire for insights on the best next step. We also have an entire team of dietitians who specialize in utilizing metabolic biomarkers to guide nutrition, lifestyle, exercise, and supplement recommendations.
Reach out to us at [email protected] and tell us more about you: What are your goals? Are you struggling with stubborn symptoms? We’re happy to help!
– Mandy Rother RD, LD, IFMNT Nutritionist, NASM-CPT – Life Time Assistant Program Manager, Lab Testing
This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.