This is a guest blog written by Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Robyn Johnson, MS, RDN, LD, CLT.
Disclaimer: the information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not designed to replace individualized recommendations from a practitioner. Always check with your doctor before adding supplements or making changes to your treatment plan.
Have you ever found yourself googling diet tricks to help with your hormones?-- “Which foods heal cramps?” or “Foods that clear hormonal acne?” or even “How to naturally boost libido?”
If you’re searching for relief from period problems, low libido, hormonal acne, poor energy, or you just want a natural boost in vitality, read on girlfriend. You’re in the right place and you’re about to get the play-by-play on some key nutrients to optimize hormonal health.
As a Functional Medicine Dietitian/Nutritionist, I obviously value the power of food… BIG TIME. However, I’m also a healthy skeptic and I bet you are too. This means I like to understand why something works and how it will benefit me before I jump on board. Ya’know, I raise an eyebrow until I see science or clinical proof that it works. So, instead of just telling you to eat more greens or add avocado to your plate, I want to give you more “why” behind those recommendations; especially addressing why they matter for your hormonal health. Knowledge is power, right?
Below, I’ve listed seven nutrients that play a role in hormonal health, provided known food sources, and general supplement dosage guidelines. However, please check with your dietitian, nutritionist, or doctor to know what dosage is right for you.
Ok, let’s dive in!
Let’s start with zinc because it’s such a common nutrient deficiency for women struggling with hormonal issues. To put it simply, ladies, your ovaries love zinc and this nutrient may just become your best friend if you struggle with hormonal symptoms.
Zinc plays a big part in our hormonal system for a few reasons:
- Supports ovulation and progesterone production;
- Reduces PMS, due to anti-inflammatory properties;
- Blocks testosterone (or 5a-DHT) from building up (buh-bye acne!);
- Helps support thyroid function;
- Affects our response to stressors… ummmm, yes, please!
Zinc Food Sources include: oysters, animal protein (beef, fish, turkey, chicken, etc), pumpkin seeds (Phase 1), sesame seeds (Phase 2), lentils/beans.
General Supplementation: 30 mg/day.
Next up: magnesium. If you aren’t eating magnesium-rich foods regularly, you could likely use a boost through food or supplementation. Not only are most people under-eating foods rich in magnesium, but due to the high-stress lifestyle many of us live, our magnesium stores are quickly used up. The result is your hormonal system is left with very little to work with. It is the reality of the world today, but we can control both ends by managing our stress load and increasing our magnesium intake.
Magnesium is a partner in the process of making hormones, like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. It helps calm our stress response and improves the way our bodies use carbohydrates. If you want healthy hormones, magnesium must be available-- end of story.
Magnesium Food Sources include: dark leafy greens (spinach, chard, kale, beet greens, collards), dark chocolate, sesame seeds (Phase 2), pumpkin seeds (Phase 1), sunflower seeds (Phase 2), black beans.
Other Sources: Topical sprays and Epsom salt baths are also great ways to get magnesium through the skin!
General Supplementation: 200-800 mg/day.
There’s a good reason that iodine is often talked about for thyroid health: it’s the key building block for active thyroid hormone to be made, but its role doesn’t end there.
Iodine also supports detoxification, including estrogen detox, and can help reduce symptoms that can accompany excess estrogen, like breast tenderness/pain, ovarian cysts, and PMS.
Unless you’re going out of your way to consume iodine or you use a lot of iodized salt, which I wouldn’t recommend, it’s unlikely you’re consuming adequate amounts of iodine. Himalayan salt and sea salt do have more trace mineral content than iodized salts, but they don’t contain iodine.
A quick caution: high doses of iodine can be concerning for individuals with Hashimoto's, so please check with your doctor before supplementing or consuming high amounts in foods.
Iodine Food Sources include: kelp sprinkles, sea vegetables, nori, seafood.
General Supplementation: 0.25-5 mg/day of potassium iodide, Lugols, or molecular iodine
(Warning: please work with a professional if diagnosed with a thyroid condition).
4. Vitamin D
Vitamin D has finally (!) received more attention in the conventional medical world. While it may be called a vitamin, it actually acts more like a hormone, because it sends signals to other tissues in the body, including the ovaries.
In fact, Vitamin D regulates over 200 different genes in the body. Name a hormone symptom or condition and you will likely find some connection to Vitamin D. Mind you, this doesn’t mean everyone needs to supplement, but it does mean everyone should have it on their radar and should be ensuring adequate intake.
Unfortunately, the common rhetoric that dairy or mushrooms are great dietary sources of Vitamin D is false. The best source is the sun! However, location, time-of-day, time-of-year, skin pigmentation, body fat, clothing, and sunscreen-use all factor into how much sun an individual needs to produce adequate Vitamin D.
The best way to know how much you need is to get your levels tested!
Vitamin D Sources include: the sun (exposure to bare skin without sunscreen).
General Supplementation: 2000 IU/day of Vitamin D3.
5. Healthy Fats
Healthy fats are the building blocks of hormones-- like the legos in a lego tower. You simply cannot make hormones without healthy fats and cholesterol, so the goal is to include healthy fats at every single meal. This will also help you maintain fullness and balance blood sugar levels.
But the key to optimal hormonal health is to choose fats that are healthy and anti-inflammatory, not processed, harmful oils, like vegetable oil. Seriously, toss it in the trash!
Healthy Fat Food Sources include: avocados, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, almonds, cashews, nut butters, pastured butter, ghee, olives, chia seeds, flaxseed (Phase 1), pumpkin seeds (Phase 1), sunflower seeds (Phase 2), sesame seeds (Phase 2), organic whole fat dairy (if tolerated), whole eggs, fatty fish, pastured bacon, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, brazil nuts.
General Supplementation: 50-70 g/day.
6. B Vitamins
This category includes a number of nutrients: the B vitamin family!
All of the B vitamins are important for total body health, however, for hormonal health, B6 really takes the cake. The active form of B6 is called P5P and has been shown to improve PMS symptoms and boost progesterone levels.
B Vitamins get used up quickly during periods of high stress, so if you’re a busy-bee or have a lot on your plate, consider supporting your hormones with extra B vitamins. B vitamins are also depleted by hormonal birth control, so consider a higher dosage if you’re currently using the pill or have recently discontinued using it.
B Vitamin Food Sources include: animal protein (beef, fish, turkey, chicken, etc), nuts, sunflower seeds (Phase 2), sesame seeds (Phase 2), whole grains.
General Supplementation: this varies per B Vitamin, but B6 (P5P): 25-50 mg/day.
7. Omega 3’s
Last, but not least: Omega 3’s. They’re an essential fatty acid, which means we must get them from our diet, as our bodies do not produce them. It’s well-known that Omega 3’s play a powerful anti-inflammatory role in the body, so if inflammation is a root cause of an individual’s hormonal symptoms (think PMS, acne, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, etc), it’s necessary to consider fatty acid balance.
In our modern world, the consumption of Omega 3’s is embarrassingly low. Yet, people consume large amounts of Omega 6’s. We need a healthy balance of both, but most people are tipped too far on the Omega 6 side. If you’re struggling with PMS (or other pain), boosting your Omega 3’s can help reduce inflammation, which is the common root cause of these symptoms.
Omega 3 Food Sources include: (ideally wild caught) salmon, mackerel, cod, herring, sardines; in lesser amounts: chia and flaxseed.
General Supplementation: 1000 mg/day (including DHA and EPA).
Robyn Johnson is a Functional Medicine Dietitian Nutritionist. Her passion for using food and lifestyle as medicine found her after a personal battle, and triumph, with psoriasis. She specializes in helping women optimize their health & hormones by finding the root cause of their symptoms. Robyn runs a virtual private practice and is the co-creator of Her Hormones Academy, an online program for women who want to improve their health and hormones with food and lifestyle. Robyn believes healthcare should be individualized, and that starts with each person understanding how their body works and what their body needs to truly thrive!
Robyn Johnson, MS, RDN, LD, CLT
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