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11 Types Of Foods That Cause Hormonal Imbalance In Females

Written by Andrew Le, MD

UpdatedMarch 4, 2024

More convenient food options are readily available in the market. However, amidst the convenience and accessibility, a lack of awareness exists regarding the potential impact of certain foods that cause hormonal imbalances in females.

According to the New Beginnings OB-GYN in Las Vegas, approximately 80% of women experience hormonal imbalances, often without awareness. 70% of individuals are unaware of conditions like Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), which may have quietly manifested as a consequence of underlying hormonal irregularities.

This article provides valuable guidance on using smart food choices to improve your health, addressing foods that cause hormonal imbalances in females, and helping you take control of your well-being.

💡Key Takeaways

  • An imbalance in hormones can result in various health complications, such as PCOS, irregular periods, weight gain, acne, and fertility problems. It can result from an excess or deficiency of specific hormones.
  • PCOS is a common hormonal imbalance characterized by elevated androgens and irregular menstrual cycles.
  • Food choices directly impact hormone production and regulation, making it crucial to be aware of foods that cause hormonal imbalance.
  • Foods to avoid hormonal balance include processed foods, sugary foods and beverages, caffeine, alcohol, dairy products, soy products, high-glycemic index carbohydrates, trans fats, excessive red meat, artificial sweeteners, and highly processed vegetable oils.
  • Specific vitamins and supplements, such as vitamin D, C, B, probiotics, magnesium, and inositol supplements, can help restore hormonal balance.
  • Environmental toxins, lifestyle factors (including sleep, exercise, and stress management), and genetics can contribute to hormonal imbalances, and it's important to consider these factors for overall hormone management and well-being.
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What is Hormonal Imbalance?

A hormonal imbalance is when there is an excess or deficiency of a specific hormone within the body, when female hormones swing too high or too low, whether due to life stages like puberty, or health conditions like diabetes, it can result in hormonal imbalances.

These imbalances can trigger problems like PCOS, irregular periods, weight gain, acne, difficulties conceiving, or infertility.

📕 Definition

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal imbalance characterized by ovaries producing excess hormones, particularly androgens, leading to irregular menstrual cycles, missed periods, and unpredictable ovulation.

Does Food Cause Hormonal Imbalance?

Some foods cause hormonal changes in the body or stabilize its levels. Our food choices can directly affect hormone production and secretion through the following mechanisms:

  • Actions in the gut.
  • Nervous reflexes.
  • Changes in blood metabolite levels.
  • Alterations in circulating gut hormone levels.

Glucose-dependent insulinotropic peptide (GIP) and insulin are hormones that depend on your diet for their production and release. It is vital to check what food affects your hormones and what essential nutrients it contains, as these are necessary for a balanced body system.

What Foods to Avoid for Hormonal Imbalance?

It's essential to be aware that certain foods can affect hormone levels. Unawareness of these foods can lead to future health problems.

Additionally, recognizing dietary factors can help us make informed choices to proactively protect our overall health and mitigate the risk of potential health issues down the road.

Take charge of your well-being and discover some of the most hormone-disrupting foods below.

1. Processed Foods

Source: TechnologyNetworks

Processed foods have a lot of preservatives, salt, and sugar. These ingredients can lead to inflammation and stress in your adrenal glands, which may cause weight gain and severe hormone problems.

Food processing is a vast spectrum, and not all processed foods are unhealthy. Certain foods must undergo processing to guarantee their safety for consumption, such as pasteurizing milk to eliminate harmful bacteria.

The United Nations uses a food classification system called NOVA. It categorizes foods according to the extent and purpose of food processing rather than in terms of nutrients. NOVA groups all foods and food products into four, namely:

  • Unprocessed and minimally processed foods
  • Processed culinary ingredients
  • Processed foods
  • Ultra-processed foods

Ultra-processed foods, in particular, contain many additives like preservatives, dyes, artificial flavors, sweeteners, and other substances that alter the food's texture or appearance. Avoiding this type of food or consuming it in moderation is advisable.

2. Sugary Foods and Beverages

Consuming sugary foods and beverages such as candies, chocolates, cakes, soft drinks, and artificially flavored fruit juices can harm your hormones. These foods can gradually reduce the sensitivity of leptin and ghrelin, two hormones crucial for signaling fullness and regulating appetite.

Moreover, consuming sugar causes a surge in insulin levels. Too much insulin can cause a drop in a crucial protein called sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). SHBG helps regulate the levels of testosterone that your body tissues can use. However, when SHBG levels are low, the amounts of testosterone increase, and too much testosterone in females can cause problems.

💡Did you know?

Testosterone is more common in males, but females also produce small amounts in their ovaries and adrenal glands. Elevated testosterone levels can lead to issues like acne, increased body hair, and other physical characteristics. The American Urology Association states that typical female testosterone levels range from 15 to 70 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL), while testosterone levels in males are at least 300 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL).

3. Caffeine

Source: Pexels

Drinking too much coffee does more than just interfere with sleep patterns. Coffee contains caffeine, which prompts the body to generate more cortisol, commonly called the stress hormone.

Cortisol is typically found at its highest levels during the morning and lowest in the evening. When caffeine is consumed, it raises cortisol levels, placing the body in a heightened state of alertness.

4. Alcohol

Source: Pexels

Alcohol, if consumed in excess, can affect the liver. The liver is remarkably resilient and can regenerate. However, prolonged alcohol consumption over many years can hinder its regeneration process.

The liver is vital in regulating the equilibrium of sex hormones, thyroid hormones, cortisone, and various other adrenal hormones. Moreover, it processes and eliminates any surplus hormones from the body.

If your liver isn't functioning well, it might not be able to metabolize hormones, causing a hormonal imbalance.

5. Dairy Products

Source: MedicalNewsToday

Milk and dairy items contain Insulin-like Growth Factor 1, which can stimulate androgen hormones like testosterone. As mentioned earlier, too much testosterone in females can cause problems.

📰 Helpful Article

Some countries suggest having at least one serving of milk daily, while others recommend up to three servings daily. If you're interested in comparing recommendations from different countries, the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has compiled a list of various nations' dietary guidelines.

6. Soy Products

Source: GoodHousekeeping

Soy products, often considered healthy, can affect hormone levels. Soy contains phytoestrogen, which acts like estrogen in the body. Estrogen, a hormone produced within a woman's body, regulates the menstrual cycle, with its production managed by the body's endocrine system.

Phytoestrogen mimics estrogen due to its close chemical resemblance to the body's estrogen and can affect ovulation and reproductive health.

7. High-Glycemic Index Carbohydrates

Source: Pexels

Foods that have a high glycemic index, such as white rice, white potatoes, and sugary cereals, are quickly metabolized during digestion and lead to significant fluctuations in blood glucose levels. When your blood sugar goes up too fast, it can cause problems with your body's hormone balance.

This can interfere with hormones like insulin. Insulin maintains the body's energy levels by managing the levels of micronutrients during the fed state. It is crucial in moving glucose into cells and tissues, including the liver, muscles, and adipose tissue.

🎉 Fun Fact

If you like white rice, try cooling it in the fridge and reheating it for your following meals. Research indicates that when cooked white rice is cooled for a few hours, it increases the amount of resistant starch. This type of starch can't be digested or absorbed in the body. Instead, it ferments in the large intestine, prompting the body to burn fat.

Additionally, eating white rice that's been cooled for 24 hours and then reheated leads to much lower blood sugar levels after a meal than freshly cooked rice.

8. Trans Fats and Hydrogenated Oils

Source: USAToday

Trans fat, or trans-fatty acids (TFA), mainly comes from partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs). This happens during a process that turns liquid vegetable oil into a solid fat at room temperature. PHOs are cost-effective and less prone to spoilage, which extends the shelf life of products containing them.

In addition, trans fat can also be found naturally in products from animals like cows (e.g., milk, butter, cheese, meat). However, research shows the trans fat content in beef and dairy is much lower than in industrially hydrogenated fats, typically around 2% to 5% of the fatty acid content.

TFA is considered the worst type of fat to eat. It elevates insulin resistance as it has the potential to impact cellular membrane functions, which in turn may affect peripheral insulin sensitivity and increase the susceptibility to type 2 diabetes. It is present in several food items, including:

  • Store-bought baked goods like cakes, cookies, and pies
  • Solid fats used in baking
  • Popped corn using a microwave
  • Pre-packaged pizza kept in the freezer
  • Chilled dough such as biscuits and rolls
  • Foods deep-fried in oil like fries, doughnuts, and chicken
  • Non-dairy creamer for coffee
  • Solid margarine

💡 Did you know?

In the US, if a food contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving, the label can say 0 grams. Be aware that products made before the FDA ban on trans fats may still contain them, so check for partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in the ingredients. Even if it's below 0.5 grams, it's present.

9. Excessive Red Meat

Source: BigThink

Eating a lot of red meat, which has unhealthy fats, can increase estrogen levels in the body. When estrogen is too high, it can result in reproductive health problems like painful periods, endometrial polyps, PCOS, dense breast tissue, fibroids, and increased endometriosis pain.

A better choice is to go for eggs and fatty fish like salmon and tuna, which have good-for-you omega-3 fats that can help with inflammation. Balanced levels of estrogen and progesterone typically cooperate to regulate female reproductive health.

10. Artificial Sweeteners

Source: MUSC

Consuming artificial sweeteners tricks your body into expecting calories. However, when they aren't delivered, your body responds by releasing a hormone called glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1).

This prompts insulin release, leading to overeating, and research shows that artificial sweeteners, especially in diet soda, can contribute to weight gain and diabetes instead of promoting weight loss.

11. Highly Processed Vegetable Oils

Source: EcoWatch

Vegetable oil is recognized for its high carbohydrate content and elevated levels of omega-6 fats. When these oils are exposed to light and heat, they can lead to mutations in the body and significant disruptions to reproductive hormones, potentially causing infertility, endometriosis, and PCOS.

Many foods can potentially upset your body's delicate hormonal balance. Fortunately, you can restore this balance by including supplements and vitamins in your diet. Continue reading to learn about which vitamins can assist in balancing your hormones.

Are there Vitamins that Can Help Balance Hormones for Females?

It is crucial to ensure you get enough essential vitamins and minerals. These nutrients play a vital role by supporting the enzymes necessary for hormone production and metabolism. Additionally, dietary supplements can help fill nutritional gaps.

Here’s a list of essential vitamins to help balance your hormones:

  • Vitamin D: It oversees estrogen and progesterone balance while also regulating insulin and stabilizing blood sugar levels. Sources of vitamin D include fatty fish, egg yolks, and fortified cereals.
  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C is both a nutrient and antioxidant. It promotes fertility and helps regulate adrenal gland function, reducing stress and anxiety associated with hormonal imbalances.
  • B Vitamins: B vitamins like B2, B6, and B12 aid in rebalancing hormones, particularly in cases of high estrogen, by supporting progesterone production and alleviating stress, metabolism issues, and weight fluctuations associated with hormonal changes.
  • Probiotics: Probiotics help restore gut flora, which is particularly important for women with hormonal imbalances, as they often have less healthy gut bacteria. Therefore, probiotics are strongly recommended for hormonal rebalancing.
  • Magnesium: Magnesium supports the synthesis of hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone calming the nervous system and alleviating stress and anxiety by mitigating excessive cortisol production.
  • Myo and D-chiro Inositol supplements: These powerful supplements help regulate brain hormones, reduce testosterone levels, and improve ovarian health, providing relief and weight management for women with PCOS.

Vitamins and supplements play a significant role in restoring hormonal balance within the body. However, food and supplement intake does not always cause hormonal imbalance. The following section will highlight other factors that can contribute to the risks of hormonal imbalance.

What Other Factors Affect Hormonal Imbalance?

Many individuals face persistent hormone imbalances from stress, genetics, illness, medications, and blood sugar levels. Besides foods that cause hormonal imbalance, it’s essential to consider these other factors to prevent future hormonal issues.

Environmental Toxins

The environment contains harmful toxins such as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), Bisphenol A, and Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, which can seriously impact hormones. These environmental toxins can interfere with cellular functions, whether inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin.

This interference can disrupt the hormonal process at various stages, including hormone production, transportation, and detoxification. Such toxins could come from plastic food packaging, industrial solvents, and pesticides.

Here are some ways to avoid hormone-disrupting substances:

  • Wash hands
  • Watch what you eat
  • Don’t use “single-use” water bottles
  • Use natural cleaning products
  • Use products that are paraben free, BPA free, phthalate free

📰Helpful Article:

For further information on selecting safer products, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a valuable resource.

Lifestyle Factors

Besides nutrition and diet, lifestyle habits like smoking impact reproductive hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. It's been associated with reduced fertility in women, potentially shortening their reproductive period by as much as 10 years.

Additionally, inadequate or insufficient sleep can result in a hormonal imbalance, leading to adverse effects. Getting 7 to 9 hours of rest is essential for healthy hormone production.

Try to engage in cardio activities like brisk walking and running. It can boost dopamine and serotonin levels, leading to a greater sense of calmness, improved sleep, and elevated mood.

Stress

When stress occurs, the hypothalamus in our brain communicates with the adrenal glands, prompting the release and elevation of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline (epinephrine). Persistent elevation of these hormones potentially causes hormonal imbalances that can significantly impact our well-being, especially in women.

To minimize stress, it's essential to distance yourself from stress-inducing factors. Embrace opportunities to explore new environments, embark on travels, socialize with friends, meditate, maintain a regular exercise routine, and establish healthy sleeping habits.

🎉 Fun Fact

A great way to alleviate stress and anxiety is by using a stress ball. These small, handheld balls can be squeezed, rolled, or manipulated to release tension. They come in different shapes, sizes, and materials like foam, gel, and silicone. For guidance on choosing the most effective stress balls, visit Buoy Health's article on the Top 8 Best Stress Balls.

Wrap-Up

There's no doubt that food influences female hormonal balance. It is crucial to exercise caution in your dietary choices to prevent foods that negatively affect your hormones. Neglecting this aspect could lead to significant health concerns.

Moreover, awareness of environmental toxins and lifestyle factors is also key for hormonal balance. You can enhance hormonal health by proactively managing these aspects and adopting a balanced diet and well-regulated exercise program.

Absolutely, "health is wealth." In the fight against female hormonal issues, it is a collective responsibility for women to empower, educate, and actively work towards eliminating health problems caused by dietary choices.

FAQs on Foods that Cause Hormonal Imbalance in Females

What are common signs of hormonal imbalance in females?

Women in their reproductive years can experience hormonal fluctuations, primarily driven by changes in estrogen and progesterone levels, which can result in hormonal imbalances. Common symptoms are menstrual cycle irregularity, weight gain, acne, mood swings, hair loss, and fatigue.

What foods help to balance hormones in females?

If you're facing challenges in regulating your hormones, numerous foods can assist in restoring hormonal balance. Certain foods that improve hormonal dysregulation and naturally balance hormones include fermented foods (e.g. kefir, yogurt, saurkraut), avocado, salmon, cinnamon, broccoli, spinach, almonds, green tea, and pomegranates.

Are there medications for hormonal imbalance?

The method for addressing hormonal imbalances can vary depending on their root causes, and the required treatment may differ from person to person. It is best to see the doctor.

Do hormonal imbalances only affect females?

No. Imbalances of hormones in the body affect males and females alike.

How can I help someone with hormonal imbalance?

The degree of sensitivity to hormonal fluctuations differs among women. Understanding her hormone cycle and how her mood is affected is helpful. After all, it is best to consult and discuss things with your doctor.

Can foods cause hormonal imbalances in females?

Yes. Food has a direct influence on female hormonal health. Neglecting proper diet and food nutrition can cause hormonal imbalances in females.

Can specific foods aggravate hormonal imbalances in women with pre-existing conditions like PCOS or endometriosis?

Yes, certain foods can intensify hormonal imbalances in females with conditions like PCOS or endometriosis. For example, foods high in refined carbohydrates and sugars can lead to insulin resistance, which is often associated with PCOS.

Illustration of a healthcare provider asking questions on a smart phone.
Virtual weight loss solution
A personalized GLP-1 medication program delivered to you via our partner Korb Health
Illustration of a healthcare provider asking questions on a smart phone.
  • Free consultation; program starts at $269/mo
  • Checkmark Inside Circle.Customized online program and wellness coaching
  • Prescription medications and supplies shipped to your door
Learn more