5 Habits That Naturally Support Hormonal Health, According to Doctors
The concept of “hormone balancing” is a bit misleading—MDs explain what it means, why it’s unclear, and better ways to support hormonal health.
Kirsten Nunez has been a health and fitness writer at Real Simple since 2021 and has been writing for nearly a decade.
If you follow creators in the wellness space—or spend any time on the internet, for that matter—there’s a good chance you’ve read or heard about “hormone balancing.” The term is super popular right now, and folks online and on social media are obsessed with it. Case in point: On TikTok, videos tagged with the phrase “#hormonebalance” have 1.4 billion views and counting.
At first glance, the buzz might make sense. Hormones, as you may know, are chemical messengers produced by the endocrine system. They’re in charge of myriad fundamental bodily processes, from metabolism to sleep to mood. And just as the general theme of “balance” is so frequently highlighted in other areas of the health and wellness world, whether it’s about nutrition or work-life habits, it seems logical that the concept should apply to something as important as hormones…right?
As it turns out, the answer isn’t as clear-cut as the internet makes it seem. To learn more, we asked medical experts for their insights on the trendy concept of hormone balancing, if there’s any truth to this health goal, and how to support your hormonal health and function in everyday life.
What Is Hormone Balancing?
First thing’s first: What is hormonal balancing, exactly, and what does it mean?
In general, when people talk about balancing hormones, they’re referring to maintaining hormonal health through their lifestyle habits, like getting enough sleep and staying active. Typically, the goal is to ease the effects of a hormonal imbalance, which happens when you have too much or too little of one or multiple hormones, says Casey Kelley, MD, ABoIM, founder and medical director of Case Integrative Health.
Linda Khoshaba, NMD, FABNE, board-certified naturopathic endocrinologist and founder of Natural Endocrinology Specialists, explains that the term “balancing hormones” is often associated with female reproductive hormones, such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. However, it can also apply to other hormones, including stress hormones (like cortisol), metabolic hormones (like insulin), thyroid hormones, and many others.
What Is Hormonal Imbalance?
Depending on the hormones involved (we have dozens of them), an imbalance can cause a range of symptoms, including fatigue and mood changes, Dr. Khoshaba says. The idea is that balancing one’s hormones will alleviate said imbalance, therefore reducing symptoms.
Now, here’s where things become more nuanced: It’s true that hormones control important bodily functions, like metabolism and mood, as mentioned earlier. It’s also true that hormone levels can be too low or high, potentially causing health issues. However, the concept of balancing hormones is pretty unclear and potentially misleading. The body produces so many of them, and our hormones are always fluctuating (that’s how they work!), making the term a bit of a misnomer, explains Caroline Messer, MD, endocrinologist at Northwell Lenox Hill Hospital.
It’s also worth noting that a hormonal imbalance is a biochemical imbalance, meaning it involves the chemical processes in your body, Dr. Kelley says, adding that the only way to confirm this “imbalance” is through bloodwork, which needs to be done by a doctor. Even then, hormonal imbalances can stem from a variety of factors, including diet, medication, and disease, Dr. Kelley says. And while it’s true that lifestyle changes can help manage an imbalance in hormone function and production, it will likely be just one piece of the puzzle—which ultimately depends on the hormones involved and the underlying cause.
In short: You can’t necessarily target or fix hormonal imbalances through lifestyle habits alone. However, if you’ve already been diagnosed with a hormonal imbalance, certain habits may help manage your symptoms. And if you don’t have a hormonal condition? Those habits will, at the very least, contribute to optimal health and wellness.
How to Naturally Support Hormonal Health
1. Focus on eating enough fiber.
Thanks to their high fiber content, plant foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are often hailed as gut-friendly eats. But as it turns out, eating the right foods for gut health can benefit your hormonal health too. According to Dr. Kelley, the state of your gut microbiome regulates hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, and corticosteroids. The gut also affects insulin resistance, or when your cells don’t properly respond to insulin, the hormone that moves glucose (sugar) into your cells for energy. This is noteworthy because insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes. Thus, by fueling up on fiber, you’ll be doing your gut and hormones a solid.
2. Pump the breaks on your sugar intake.
Speaking of insulin: According to Dr. Kelley, one of the most common hormonal issues is insulin imbalance, which can cause chronically high blood sugar (and again, an increased risk of type 2 diabetes). Eating too much sugar can contribute to this imbalance, so reducing or limiting your intake of added sugars can play a crucial role in this aspect of hormonal health. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, common sources of added sugar include sweetened drinks, processed cereals, and pastries. Sugar can also be a sneaky addition to unexpected foods like jarred pasta sauce, salad dressing, ketchup/condiments, savory snacks, and yogurt.
3. Manage stress.
“Lowering stress is probably the most important thing we can do to ‘balance hormones,’” Dr. Messer says. Dr. Khoshaba echoes this sentiment, noting that stress significantly impacts hormone levels and function. “Chronic stress can lead to an overproduction of cortisol, which can disrupt other hormonal processes, including reproductive, metabolic, and immune function,” she explains. Stress management strategies, like meditation and deep breathing, can help regulate cortisol levels and support overall hormonal health, Dr. Khoshaba adds. Find stress-busting strategies that work for you and your unique life and stress triggers. Maybe it’s swimming, therapy, or knitting. Or maybe it’s learning how to say no to unnecessary plans, or rethinking your current job that’s wearing you down.
Caroline Messer, MD, endocrinologist
Lowering stress is probably the most important thing we can do to balance hormones.”
4. Stay active.
“Exercise plays a critical role in hormone function. It can help regulate insulin levels, reduce stress hormones, and boost mood-enhancing hormones like endorphins,” Dr. Khoshaba explains. Regular exercise is also important for preventing hormonal bone loss, Dr. Messer says.
On the flipside, a sedentary lifestyle may increase the risk of insulin resistance and other hormonal imbalances, notes Dr. Khoshaba. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and at least two days of strength training per week, as recommended by the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
5. Reduce your exposure to endocrine disruptors.
According to Dr. Khoshaba, some products, or chemicals (known as endocrine disruptors) may interfere with hormone function. Examples include bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, which may be in food packaging and cosmetics, respectively. “Reducing exposure to these substances might help maintain hormonal balance, [but] the degree of impact can vary significantly from person to person based on factors such as genetics, overall health, and level of exposure,” she explains. And while it’s not always possible to completely avoid said substances, you can try limiting your exposure to certain chemicals, if you’re concerned.
When to See a Doctor About Hormonal Imbalance
If you think you have a hormonal imbalance, the only way to know for sure is to visit a doctor and get a blood test, Dr. Kelley reiterates. You might consider a visit to the doc if you’re experiencing symptoms like unexplained fatigue, mood changes, reproductive issues (like missed periods) that don’t respond to lifestyle changes. The same goes if you have a history of high or low levels of certain hormones.
Worth noting, the standard annual physical includes a blood test, which often screens for hormone-related conditions like thyroid dysfunction and rising blood sugar, Dr. Messer says. So, it’s a good rule of thumb to see your doctor for routine checkups, whether or not you suspect a hormonal imbalance. This way, your doctor will be more likely to detect any changes proactively, before symptoms show up.