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Addressing Hormone Issues with Proper Nutrition and Diet

If you read our two-part series on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or our post about testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), you’re aware that here at BioDesign Wellness — Tampa’s functional medicine practice — we recommend and provide safe and effective hormone replacement for our patients who can benefit from such treatments.

However, hormones are only part of the story. They certainly play a key role in the body’s chemical messenger system (the endocrine system) as the actual messages that are sent and received.

However, the endocrine system also contains glands that produce and secrete hormones, and various cells throughout the body receive and act on those hormones (messages).

Simply stated… anything that goes wrong at any point in the production, secretion, reception, or processing of these chemical messages negatively impacts one’s health and fitness.

Hormones and nutrition

Safe and effective hormone therapy requires more than merely hormone supplementation. Treatment should also address any issues related to the healthy function of glands that produce and secrete hormones and anything that may prevent individual cells from receiving and processing the chemical messages.

For example, when we see a patient with low thyroid hormone, instead of merely prescribing thyroid hormone, we look for reasons why the thyroid is not releasing sufficient amounts of hormone and address those issues first. (For more on this approach, please see our two-part series on restoring thyroid health.)

The fact is that many hormone issues can be traced back to the basics — nutrition, physical activity, and stress reduction. In this post, we provide tips on how to adjust your diet and limit your exposure to environmental toxins in order to improve the efficiency of your body’s chemical messaging system.

Eat Healthy Fats

Over the years, fat and cholesterol have gotten a bad reputation, undeservedly so. The truth is, both fat and cholesterol are essential to good health. In relation to hormone health, fat and cholesterol play two important roles:

  • The body needs cholesterol to make hormones. Although dietary fat has little impact on hormone production, medications that lower cholesterol can be a big problem for those trying to increase their hormone levels.

  • Fat improves each cell’s ability to receive messages from hormones. Every cell’s membrane (coating) is made of fat. Coming out of the membrane and running through it are hormone receptors, similar to the receptors you have for taste or touch.

    The quality of the fats you eat dictates the ability of the fatty cell membrane to allow the signal from the receptor to pass into and out of the cell. Think of it this way: If the cell is hard, like an artery that is hardened by plaque (oxidized fat), signals will have a hard time passing into the cell.

Sources of healthy fats include:

  • Olive oil
  • Flax seeds
  • Avocado
  • Coconut oil
  • Raw sunflower seeds
  • Ghee
  • Grass-fed butter
  • Wild-caught, cold-water fish — especially salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and halibut (SMASH)
  • Grass-fed beef or bison
  • Yogurt (made from grass-fed dairy products)

Most foods purchased in a package have a variety of unhealthy (oxidized) fats. Eating healthy fats over a twelve-month period will start to restore your cell membranes to a healthy state, allowing for better hormone reception.

Merely increasing hormone levels while ignoring overall cell health provides little benefit because unhealthy cells will not respond to the hormones. Healthy receptors and cell membranes process hormones efficiently through the appropriate pathways leading to a healthier hormonal balance.

Eat Less Sugar and Processed Carbohydrates

Eating fat doesn’t make you fat. Eating lots of sugar and “simple” processed carbohydrates do. Here are a few tips for consuming less sugar and processed carbohydrates:

  • Eliminate or strictly limit your consumption of sweet (even diet) beverages, including fruit juices. Water is best. Coffee and tea are fine for most people.
  • Opt for whole-food carbs, such as fresh vegetables, fruits, berries, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
  • Limit consumption of heavy, starchy carbs, including rice; potatoes; legumes, bread, and pasta.
  • Strictly limit consumption of processed carbs, such as chips, crackers, pastries, and fried potatoes, and breaded foods.

In short, consume nature-made, not manufactured foods. If you have to read the label to find out what’s in it, you should be cautious about eating it.

Eat Enough Quality Protein

You should eat a few ounces of quality protein at each meal. Good sources of quality protein include the following:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Legumes
  • Wild-caught, cold-water fish — especially salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and halibut (SMASH)
  • Free-range chicken
  • Grass-fed and finished beef

Pay Attention to What You Eat Eats

Although it is certainly true that you are what you eat, you are also what you eat eats. For example, the nutritional value of fresh vegetables varies based on the nutrients in the soil. Here are a few suggestions for choosing the most nutritionally-rich and toxin-free foods:

  • Opt for certified “USDA ORGANIC” foods, which are more likely to be free of toxic and synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), antibiotics or synthetic growth hormones, and artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives.

    USDA ORGANIC-labeled foods also come with the added benefit of not coming into contact with sewage sludge or irradiation.

  • If you’re going to eat fish, choose smaller wild-caught fish, such as Atlantic mackerel, herring, sardines, and anchovies. Smaller fish are less prone to having high levels of mercury, which tends to build up in larger fish such as tuna.

    Wild-caught fish tend to have lower concentrations of harmful pollutants than do farm-raised fish.

  • Avoid meat and dairy from conventionally raised livestock, which is likely to contain high levels of antibiotics and growth hormones. Make sure any meat you consume is both grass-fed and grass-finished.

    Note: Grass-fed and grain-finished means that the livestock forages for grass on open pasture for the first part of its life and then spends its last days getting fattened up in a concentrated animal feeding operation — CAFO, for short.

Watch Your Carb:Protein: Fat Ratio

You can find plenty of recommendations for an ideal ratio of carbs-to-protein-to-fat, but that ratio varies according to the individual and the person’s health and fitness objectives. Here’s what we recommend as a good starting point for most people:

  1. Eat more vegetables than anything else.
  2. Eat 2–3 servings daily of fruits.
  3. Eat a few ounces of protein at each meal.
  4. Use fat liberally to flavor your food or as part of your ordinary food choices; for example, avocados or the fat content in a piece of steak, salmon, or olives.

Be Careful with Personal Care Products and Medications, Too

When it comes to balancing hormones, what you consume also involves what you put on your skin and hair and the medications you take. Consider these to be part of your diet, as well.

Many medications and personal care, and beauty products may play a role in disrupting endocrine function. They do so via the aromatase enzyme activity that takes place in estrogen-producing cells in the ovaries, placenta, testicles, brain, fat tissue, and adrenal glands.

Aromatase is an enzyme that converts androgens (testosterone) into estrogens (estradiol). Too much or too little aromatase activity adversely impacts hormonal balance.

Sugar consumption, medications, birth control pills, cosmetics, and chemical food additives can all impact aromatase activity. Simply put, there are many aspects of our current lifestyle and environment that can impact aromatase levels, which can result in different health issues in different genders and age groups, including:

  • Breast cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Endometriosis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Gastric cancer
  • Pituitary cancer
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Schizophrenia
  • Male hypogonadism

If you have been spending many years eating unhealthy carbs, are overweight or using medications or personal care products, and are struggling to balance hormones, the underlying issue may be related to a disruption in aromatase activity.

Let Us Help

Addressing hormone imbalance can be easy when you know what to do. Working with our team at BioDesign Wellness, we can run lab testing, view your current dietary habits, and perform a complete history.

We then use the information we collect to develop a personalized protocol, which includes diet, lifestyle, nutritional supplementation (to support cell health and hormone signaling), and hormone replacement (if necessary) to restore hormone balance and the healthy function of your endocrine system.


Disclaimer: The information in this blog post on proper nutrition and diet for hormone balance is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect current medical thinking or practices. No information contained in this post should be construed as medical advice from the medical staff at BioDesign Wellness Center, Inc., nor is this post intended to be a substitute for medical counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this post without seeking the appropriate medical advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a licensed medical professional in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.