by Dr. Will Cole
Hormones are the messengers of your body. Each hormone delivers instructions to your organs to direct how they function. They have the power to control everything from your weight, digestion, mood, energy, and more. It’s easy to overlook the importance of our hormones until they are out of whack – then we start to appreciate all that they do to keep us healthy.
Hormones are made in different endocrine glands such as your thyroid, pancreas, adrenals, brain, digestive tract, and reproductive glands. Balance is key when it comes to proper hormone function. When hormones are too high or too low it can cause problems for your health.
Functional medicine focuses on finding out the underylying cause of these imbalances in order to support the body’s natural mechanisms to regain balance. Food can be the most powerful medicine or most damaging toxin. In functional medicine, we focus on harnessing healing superfoods to heal the body from the inside out.
When looking for a place to start, many people often turn to the internet for answers. While the internet is a great resource, there can be a lot of often conflicting information on the best diets to heal chronic health problems. We have to remember that what works for one person doesn’t always work for another even when two people have the same diagnoses. However, there are a few specific eating styles that often work very well for hormone imbalances in particular. Take a look for my definitive ranking of the best hormone balancing diets based on the latest research and my clinical experience:
This acronym stands for the Autoimmune Protocol and it is my number one when it comes to treating autoimmune based hormone problems such as autoimmune-thyroid problems like Hashimoto’s disease.
Autoimmune conditions occur when a genetic weakness is triggered by an autoimmune system response to certain foods, viruses, or toxins, which all contribute to chronic inflammation.
An AIP diet takes out all potential inflammatory foods and is more strict than a paleo diet. It eliminates everything that a paleo diet does with the addition of eggs, chocolate, nuts and seeds, and nightshades like tomatoes and peppers. These foods tend to elicit inflammation in people with autoimmune problems.
2. Ketogenic diet
In the health community, the ketogenic diet is considered the new kid on the block. Even though it has been used for years as a natural treatment for children with epilepsy, it is gaining popularity for its ability to restore energy, fight inflammation, and regulate hormones.
This diet is high fat, low carb, and moderate protein. Every person has different daily calorie intakes and a specific ratio of fat, protein, and carbs that they must meet every day depending on your individual weight and health goals.
The goal of this diet is to reach ketosis. This is a state where your body uses ketones instead of glucose for energy. When your body no longer has a glucose source the body uses fat to produce ketones. Our bodies have always relied on fat for fuel from a biological and evolutionary perspective. Babies rely on fat from breast milk for brain growth and development. In fact, your brain is made of 60% fat!
Many studies have shown a ketogenic diet to be beneficial in managing blood sugar and controlling metabolism due to its focus on fat. And by feeding your brain fat it helps alleviate adrenal fatigue (HPA-axis dysfunction).
The wonderful thing about a ketogenic diet is that it can be done along with whatever other diet you are currently doing. It doesn’t matter what foods you are eliminating, you just calculate your ratios and meal plan around the foods you are allowed to eat. By nature, a ketogenic diet already takes out sugar, high-fructose fruits, and grains but even those following an AIP diet can thrive on this high-fat diet.
For those just starting to eat healthier, a paleo diet is a great place to start. It is less strict than AIP and other healing tools like a ketogenic diet or intermittent fasting can easily be added into this eating style.
Inflammatory foods like sugar and grains are eliminated with the addition of legumes. Beans contain phytate and lectin proteins which can contribute to digestive issues and lead to increased inflammation which can continue to feed hormone problems.
4. Intermittent fasting
Just like a ketogenic diet, intermittent fasting can easily be incorporated into any of these above diets. In my functional medicine clinic I often use different IF protocols to heal the gut and reduce inflammation. While intermittent fasting can be an amazing tool, it can cause some potential side effects for those dealing with hormone imbalances – thyroid problems, and adrenal fatigue (HPA-axis dysfunction) in particular.
For people with adrenal fatigue, I’ve found that intermittent fasting isn’t always the best choice when treating circadian rhythm dysfunctions. Women can also be more sensitive to IF because they have a higher amount of the protein kisspeptin which can contribute to menstrual irregularity, poor metabolism, and infertility. Not to say that intermittent fasting is completely out of the question for those with these specific hormone imbalances, but it may require a lot more modification and monitoring.
However, intermittent fasting takes center stage when it comes to healing insulin resistance. Studies have linked intermittent fasting with increased metabolism and lower insulin resistance. Make sure to still work with your doctor to monitor your progress as your glucose stabilizes.
And if you thought you’d have to worry about hunger while intermittent fasting, think again! Fasting actually positively affects your hunger hormone, ghrelin which improves brain dopamine levels. Just one more example of the gut-brain axis connection!
If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer in person as well as phone and webcam consultations for people across the country and around the world.