Hormones: they are not just for teenagers! Often called “chemical messengers,” hormones send signals to different parts of your body, telling them what to do (and when to do it). This communication network regulates all sorts of important functions, from managing your metabolism to streamlining your mood to getting a good night’s rest. When your hormones are out of harmony, you’ll probably feel it.
Tons of factors contribute to your hormone homeostasis, and some of them are beyond your control. But your eating habits are one area where you can take the reins. Choosing certain foods and avoiding others can promote a healthier hormonal balance. Here is four eating habits to avoid to keep your hormones happy. And for more dietary advice, check out the 32 Foods That Turn Off Cortisol, the Stress Hormone.
Staying well-nourished helps with proper hormone regulation, but eating too much or too little can create a chicken-or-egg scenario that can be bad news for your hormones. A drop or spike in weight due to over or under eating can upset your hormonal balance, which can then affect your appetite.
Female reproductive hormones seem to be particularly influenced by weight changes. Body mass indices (BMI) below and above normal have been associated with higher risks of hormone-related fertility problems.
A 2015 study found that overweight or obese women were more likely to suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome and metabolic syndrome, two conditions that reduced their fertility. Women who were underweight, on the other hand, were more likely to have other hormone-mediated conditions that affected fertility: ovarian dysfunction and congenital adrenal hyperplasia.
Reproductive hormones aren’t the only ones disrupted by over-consumption or under-consumption of calories. Obesity (fueled by a high calorie diet) can alter hypothalamic and pituitary hormonesleading to a greater likelihood of problems such as hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, growth hormone deficiency, etc.
Most of us probably have a love-hate relationship with sugar. Its savory flavor is a favorite with our taste buds, but its health effects are not so mild. In addition to contributing to weight gain (which alone can mess with your hormones), sugary foods can also wreak havoc on your hormones in other ways.
A test-tube study found that eating large amounts of fructose and glucose might actually turn off the gene responsible for regulating estrogen and testosterone. Disrupting the delicate balance of these sex hormones could have a ripple effect, increasing the risk of acne, infertility, polycystic ovary syndrome and uterine cancer (especially in overweight women , according to the study). Other research carried out on animals revealed that a diet high in fat and sugar disrupted menstrual cycles and caused ovarian cysts.
When you crave something sweet, opt for a low-sugar option like dark chocolate or a fruit and yogurt parfait. Or, you can try some of these low sugar ice creams.
Ok, you might be thinking, if excess sugar isn’t on the menu, how about a calorie-free soda? Not so fast. Artificial sweeteners can alter bacteria in the gut, upsetting the balance of leptin and ghrelin, the hormones that regulate feelings of hunger and fullness. Although further research is needed, non-nutritive sweeteners have been linked to hormone-related weight issues such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
A 2016 study took things a step further to find out if diet sodas (as opposed to other foods containing fake sweeteners) had a unique impact on hormones. Indeed, the consumption of diet soda subtly increased the release of GLP-1, a hormone involved in insulin secretion.
There’s no shame in enjoying a glass of wine here and there, but chronically abusing it at happy hour hurts your hormonal health. Excessive alcohol consumption can cause hormonal disorders that disrupt communication between your endocrine, nervous and immune systems. The fallout can be far-reaching: Blood sugar control, estrogen metabolism, thyroid problems, immune dysfunction, and other hormonal issues can be attributed to excessive alcohol consumption.
Looking for the best adult drink for your hormones? Choose distilled alcohol over fancy cocktails. With no added sugar, they’re a better bet for your hormones and your weight.
Sarah Garone, editor’s note
Sarah Garone, NDTR, is a Certified Nutrition and Dietetics Technician and Health, Nutrition and Food Writer. Learn more about Sarah