When your hormones are off, you know it. Whether your period shows up unexpectedly early, or you find yourself inexplicably sobbing at a red light or screaming at your family for no good reason, hormones out of whack really mess with your mind and body. I’ve experienced every extreme of the spectrum myself, from adult acne worse than a teenager, to distressing hot flashes multiple times an hour during which I swear I could feel my ovaries dying. Some of the signs of hormonal imbalance are more subtle or surprising, though. Common symptoms of hormonal imbalance include:
- Irritability, anxiety, anger, depression, mood swings
- Low sex drive, vaginal dryness, painful intercourse
- Brain fog, poor memory, attention problems
- Hot flashes, acne breakouts, hair loss
- Weight gain, fatigue, cyclical headaches
- Insomnia, poor sleep, night sweats
- Endometriosis, irregular periods, infertility, miscarriage
- Pain, thickening, lumps, or cysts
- Cramps, bloating, irregularity, diarrhea, nausea
When we think of hormones, most of us first think of estrogen, but our bodies are constantly working to balance a wide array of hormones, including not only estrogen but also thyroxine, testosterone, progesterone, aldosterone, melatonin, epinephrine, FSH, LH, and many others. An imbalance with any one of your hormones can throw off all the rest. Even an imbalance in, or complete lack of, certain nutritional precursors to hormones can affect hormonal balance, as your body needs particular vitamins and minerals to synthesize hormones. A variety of factors can affect hormonal balance, including:
- Time of the month
- Hormonal therapy
- Birth control
- Life stages such as pregnancy or menopause
- Thyroid disorders
- Adrenal fatigue
- PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome)
- Excess stress
There are several points in life where supplements to balance the hormones could be highly beneficial: when you are going through puberty, or later, perimenopause; if you are struggling with infertility; or if you have symptoms of hormonal imbalance that disrupt your life. If any of these situations describes yours, you may benefit from taking steps to improve hormonal balance.
How to balance hormones naturally
The simplest place to start is with diet and lifestyle changes. It’s important to exercise regularly, but not too intensely; over-exertion may exacerbate the hormonal problems. Make sure to avoid sugar, caffeine, alcohol, soy, omega-6 vegetable oils, and of course, smoking. Any of these may intensify the effects of a hormonal imbalance. For some, avoiding wheat and/or dairy may also help. Choose organic foods and minimize environmental toxins; xenoestrogens, found in pesticides and plastics, can wreak havoc on hormones. Get enough sleep, and eliminate artificial light during the night. Artificial light interferes with melatonin levels as well as ovulation, so use blackout curtains and cover any digital clocks or other light-up electronics. Decrease stress as much as possible — easier said than done, I know! And here’s a surprising tip to aid in hormone balance: eating a raw carrot a day may correct estrogen dominance.
Supplements to balance hormones
Fermented cod liver oil contains vitamins A and D, plus omega-3s. Omega-3s help regulate hormones and also reduce inflammation, which is a common issue in those with hormonal imbalances. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to endometriosis, PCOS, and endocrine disorders. One study found that rats deficient in vitamin D were 75% less fertile than their counterparts. Vitamin A combats acne and is needed for thyroid function. Some anecdotal evidence that FCLO really works: I was suffering from severe hot flashes several times an hour, all day long and through the night. It was really disrupting my life. Within days of starting to take Green Pasture Fermented Cod Liver Oil, my hot flashes had reduced to only 1-3 mild warm flashes a day!
Magnesium supports the production of progesterone and is also needed for egg production. Magnesium regulates levels of cortisol, blood sugar, and thyroid hormones, and it’s a precursor to the hormones estrogen and testosterone.
Gelatin and collagen support hormone production as they contain amino acids that balance out those found in muscle meat. This in turn balances out the thyroid, which is critical for keeping all other hormones in balance.
Female Fuzion contains maca root and other hormone-balancing herbs and is specifically formulated to support female hormone production.
Additional hormone-balancing supplements to try include evening primrose oil, iodine, maca powder, and black cohosh.
Are there supplements to help with infertility?
The pain of infertility can be so paralyzing. It’s something close to my heart; it took us well over a year to conceive our first (and currently, only) child, and there was a long time during which I thought it might never happen. As soon as my son was born, we began trying for number two. Four years later, when a life-threatening illness forced us to stop trying altogether, I still hadn’t managed to get pregnant again. We are so blessed to have one wonderful child, but it’s also painfully hard to give up on our dream of giving him a sibling and having a large family. One reason I wanted to write this blog post was that, when and if we get the okay to resume trying to conceive, I wanted to be more prepared with an arsenal of supplements for healthy hormone balance. I also wanted to share this knowledge with others struggling with primary or secondary infertility, in the hopes that it might help someone somewhere achieve a much wanted pregnancy. In addition to the hormone-balancing supplements above and a good organic prenatal vitamin, here are some of the supplements I’ve discovered may be especially helpful for those trying to conceive:
I know I’ve already mentioned cod liver oil, but it bears repeating, as it also tops the list of fertility supplements. Studies have found that omega 3 fatty acid supplementation is associated with higher pregnancy rates, lower miscarriage rates, and lower risk of premature birth. Cod liver oil is also high in vitamin D, which research has noted is important for uterine development, healthy, mature egg production, and normal fetal growth and development. Try Green Pasture Fermented Cod Liver Oil or Rosita Extra-Virgin Cod Liver Oil.
B vitamins are also essential for anyone trying to get pregnant. Folate is essential for preventing neural tube defects. B6 may increase fertility in women; it lengthens the luteal phase and corrects progesterone imbalance. B12 is correlated with normal ovulation, egg development, and implantation. In men, B6 is needed for proper sperm development, and B12 may improve low sperm count. Garden of Life and Catie’s Energy Essentials both make high-quality, whole food B-complex supplements.
Oyster is a powerful aphrodisiac, so it’s no big surprise that oyster powder may be beneficial for infertility. Oyster powder is the richest natural, whole food source of zinc. Zinc is vitally important for women & men trying to conceive. It improves libido, keeps ovulation normal, and allows the body to effectively utilize hormones. Zinc is crucial for cell growth and repair as well as DNA production. Insufficient zinc levels in a pregnant mother may lead to chromosomal abnormalities, miscarriage, prematurity, or low birth weight. In men, low zinc levels lead to low sperm count.
Vitamin E is important for both male and female fertility. In men, vitamin E appears to better allow sperm to permeate an egg. It also boosts sperm count and quality. In women, inadequate vitamin E has been linked with infertility. A vitamin E supplement aids in ovulation and implantation, plus reduces the risk of miscarriage.
Co-enzyme Q10 (ubiquinol) has been found to improve blood flow to the pelvis and particularly the uterus, while low CoQ10 levels have been linked to miscarriage. In one study, older mice given CoQ10 supplements had enhanced egg quality and increase conception rates. Pass some to your man, too; CoQ10 also increases sperm count and motility
Vitamin C balances female hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. If you have low progesterone levels, short luteal phase, or other luteal phase defects, vitamin C may be able to correct the issue and boost fertility. Vitamin C also appears to reduce the risk of PROM (premature rupture of membranes). Don’t overdo it, though; vitamin C supplementation in excess of 2000 mg a day may create a hostile environment for sperm and for implantation, and may also increase the risk of premature delivery. Try Catie’s Whole Food Vitamin C or Traditional Foods High Vitamin C Powder. This is another supplement that also improves male fertility; vitamin C improves sperm motility and also has the ability to protect sperm from DNA damage, which is important because DNA damage in sperm makes it harder to conceive and raises the risk of miscarriage if conception does occur.
Other fertility supplements to consider include red clover, maca, chasteberry (Vitex), royal jelly, and red raspberry leaf. When taking supplements for fertility, it is important to remember that it may take several full menstrual cycles for these supplements to make a difference, and there is no guarantee that you will get pregnant. Make sure to talk to your health care professional to ensure these supplements are right for you and won’t interfere with any other medications, fertility drugs, or preexisting health issues.