IN THE HEALTH and wellness space, there’s always a new and buzzy this or trendy that. These days, the social media spotlight shines its light on the topic of hormone-balancing foods. It’s no secret that hormones play a key role in our overall health, affecting everything from metabolism to mood. But can loading up on certain foods naturally support hormonal harmony?
Chrissy Arsenault, R.D.N., says the notion of hormone-balancing has gained popularity in recent years, thanks in part to social media platforms inundated with videos and articles claiming that certain foods can cure a range of health issues.
“While the idea of using food to regulate hormones is alluring, it’s crucial to approach this concept with a critical and evidence-based perspective,” she says. As the old saying goes: If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
Sports dietitian Kelly Slovin, M.S., R.D., says that the trending topic is a fairly blatant red-flag. “If a [social media] influencer is promoting a hormone balancing diet or supplement, it might be time to unfollow.”
It’s a common misunderstanding that hormone imbalances cause weight fluctuations, and by achieving balance, you can shed some pounds. Hormone issues can affect weight, but it’s not exactly that simple.
The endocrine system, which regulates the production of hormones in our bodies is incredibly complicated, she says. The endocrine system typically does a good job at regulating hormones on its own, and when it doesn’t, it’s typically a sign of a much greater problem. Several conditions may cause changes in hormone levels, such as low energy availability (LEA), or hyper/hypothyroidism. Treatment for these conditions requires medical attention—it won’t come from one food or supplement, Slovin says.
“While there are foods that can impact hormone production and metabolism, the idea of hormone balancing foods, that is widespread on social media, is a vast oversimplification of what happens in the body,” echoes Melissa Groves Azzaro, R.D.N., L.D. Yes, our bodies need nutrients to produce hormones, “but ‘eat this food to balance this hormone’ is a myth.”
Ahead, we break down the concept of hormone-balancing foods and share what you need to know about the craze.
What Does “Hormone Balancing” Mean?
Arsenault says that hormone balance refers to the state in which the body’s endocrine system produces and maintains the appropriate levels of hormones necessary for various physiological functions. “Hormones are chemical messengers that regulate processes like metabolism, mood, growth, and reproduction,” she says. An imbalance in hormones can lead to various health issues, such as mood swings, weight gain, or skin problems.
Slovin says that if hormone imbalance occurs, treatment involves addressing the problem that caused imbalance in the first place. That always means a trip to your doctor. The method for controlling the issue changes depending on the person and what hormones are being over or underproduced. What you eat may be a portion of the treatment your doctor prescribes, but a change in diet won’t work on its own, Slovin says.
Is It Possible to Balance Your Hormones With Food?
It’s probably pretty clear by now that the answer is no.
“While nutrition plays a crucial role in supporting overall health, it’s essential to dispel the myth that specific foods can directly and miraculously balance hormones,” Arsenault says. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is all you can do to support hormonal health. This provides the body with essential nutrients it needs to function optimally.
A well-rounded diet can indirectly influence hormone balance. Healthy eating supports a healthy body weight which can help regulate insulin and sex hormone levels, provide essential nutrients for hormonal health like vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, and manage blood sugar which in turn can impact hormones like insulin. Reducing your intake of processed and sugary foods can help prevent insulin spikes, too, says Arsenault.
Beyond food choices, other things related to nutrition can contribute to your hormone numbers, too. Eating consistently throughout the day—roughly every three-to-four hours— as well as starting the day with breakfast both have an effect on your hormone levels.
“When your body goes without food for an extended period of time, it can lead to a drop in blood sugar, as well as a spike when you do finally eat. Blood sugar is regulated by the hormones insulin and glucagon, so drastic drops and spikes in blood sugar can affect these two hormones,” Slovin says. The most common symptoms of this arefatigue and mood swings.
Eating inconsistently can affect your hunger cues, which are controlled by the hormones ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin increases your appetite, and leptin decreases it, Slovin says. Consistently ignoring these hunger and fullness cues can lead to binging or overstuffing yourself.
Can You Take Supplements to Balance Hormones?
Again, a single substance will not help regulate your hormones. That includes supplements.
“I see way too many people taking potent supplements that are completely wrong for their situation because they haven’t done thorough testing, and they’re actually making their symptoms worse,” Groves Azzaro says.
You should always consult with a doctor or registered dietitian if you’re adding a new supplement to your routine, especially if you’re taking it in hopes of it helping out your hormones. “If you suspect a hormonal imbalance, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional, such as an endocrinologist or a registered dietitian, for a comprehensive assessment and guidance on how to manage it effectively,” she adds. “Avoid falling for sensationalized claims on social media and focus on making balanced, whole-food choices that support overall well-being.”
The Bottom Line:
Skip this trend and aim for a normal, balanced diet full of lean proteins, fat, fiber, fruits and vegetables.
“Spending all of our time chasing trends, whether it’s seed cycling, or adrenal cocktails, or carrot salads, etc., can lead to overwhelm and burnout and prevent us from doing the things that really matter” for our health, says Groves Azzaro.
Perri is a New York City-born and -based writer; she holds a bachelor’s in psychology from Columbia University and is also a culinary school graduate of the plant-based Natural Gourmet Institute, which is now the Natural Gourmet Center at the Institute of Culinary Education. Her work has appeared in the New York Post, Men’s Journal, Rolling Stone, Oprah Daily, Insider.com, Architectural Digest, Southern Living, and more. She’s probably seen Dave Matthews Band in your hometown, and she’ll never turn down a bloody mary. Learn more at VeganWhenSober.com.