The Definitive Guide to Foods for Hormone Health

hormone food guide

What you need to know about foods for hormone health by Dr. Axe | HealthLine

This guide is written by Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, a certified doctor of natural medicine, doctor of chiropractic and clinical nutritionist. He is also the founder of, one of the most visited natural health websites in the world, and has authored several bestselling books including Eat Dirt, The Real Food Diet Cookbook, and Essential Oils Ancient Medicine. His books and programs combine recipes, herbal remedies and lifestyle improvements to help people reach their optimum level of health. His passion lies in helping people get healthy by using food as medicine.  Follow him on FacebookInstagramTwitterPinterest, and YouTube.

Your brain is in constant communication with the rest of your body every day via your hormones. Your hormones work together in order to help you maintain equilibrium, or homeostasis. Depending on the signals being sent to your brain, these different hormone levels are constantly fluctuating.

There are a number of reasons why you might develop a hormonal imbalance, which can happen at any stage of life. For example, hormonal imbalances tied to adrenal fatigue or PMS often affect younger women. Older women and men experience other imbalances like higher-than-normal cortisol levels, low estrogen, or low testosterone.

What causes these hormones to fluctuate? Well, many things, including:

  • high stress levels

  • poor gut health

  • vitamin D deficiency, tied to too little UV light exposure or obesity

  • lack of sleep, or too little rest and relaxation

  • too much or too little exercise

  • environmental exposure to toxins

  • unhealthy lifestyle choices including smoking, high alcohol consumption, or using drugs

  • genetics

  • aging

Typically, hormonal problems are treated using medications. They may or may not work to improve symptoms depending on the person. These include:

In some cases, medications might mask the symptoms of hormonal problems and not address the underlying cause.

Many people already lead a stressful and busy life. When you factor in a poor diet and lack of nutrition, it’s no wonder that endocrine and metabolic disorders affect such a high percentage of people.

Try natural remedies for balancing hormones, especially a hormone-friendly diet. It may do a better job of addressing the root causes before you turn to medication.


Why your diet matters when it comes to hormones

The energy and nutrients you obtain from your diet are the raw materials your body needs to produce hormones and properly fuel your body. For example, many reproductive hormones are derived from cholesterol, which comes from foods like whole-fat dairy, eggs, butter, or meat.

Also, hormones always impact one another. That’s why it’s said that within the endocrine system “everything is connected.” This means if your body is producing high levels of certain hormones like cortisol, levels of other hormones will likely drop — like estrogen, progesterone, thyroid hormones, or testosterone.

Your body makes most of your hormones from precursors, which are also called prehormones. Precursors serve as shortcuts for producing hormones with less effort and time. For example, the prehormone called pregnenolone (often called a “mother hormone”) can be turned into either the reproductive hormone progesterone or the stress hormone DHEA. Depending on your body’s current needs at any given time, either one of these hormones will be produced, leaving less energy for making the other.

Here’s the thing: If your diet doesn’t supply enough energy or “materials” to make all the hormones you need, it’ll prioritize production of stress hormones first because they’re essential for survival.

Your body doesn’t consider reproductive hormones and those responsible for metabolic functions (i.e., thyroid hormones) as its first priority. Therefore, during times of high stress, you may develop unhealthy fluctuations in your hormone levels.

And stress can come from emotional or physical sources, stemming from anything like not eating enough calories, not sleeping well, or having an infection or illness.

So, how can you equip yourself against stress? Well, you can’t control which hormones your body naturally produces. But giving it a foundation to effectively handle hormone homeostasis through a high-quality, nutrient-dense diet is the first step.


Understanding different hormones and their functions

Hormones — which you can think of as the body’s chemical messengers — are produced by various endocrine glands located throughout the body, including the:

  • adrenal

  • pituitary

  • pineal

  • parathryoid

  • hypothalamus

  • thyroid

  • pancreas

  • testes

  • ovaries

body map

Once released from these glands, hormones travel throughout the bloodstream in order to reach organs and cells to perform their many different duties.

Below are some of the most important hormones in the body, along with their key roles.


Cortisol is the main stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It prompts your body to handle sources of stress, whether physical or mental. It also impacts:

  • alertness

  • concentration

  • sleep

  • appetite

  • energy expenditure

  • fat storage

In both men and women, cortisol affects:

  • physical characteristics

  • cognitive health

  • response to exercise

  • weight

  • fertility

  • cardiovascular health

  • blood sugar

  • mood

And while cortisol is helpful for dealing with acute, or short-term stress, chronically high levels can have many negative consequences.

When you’re very stressed you make more cortisol, but this can diminish your ability to make other hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. This imbalance is what causes negative symptoms, such as insomnia, migraines, and severe mood swings.


There are three major types of estrogen: estrone, estradiol, and estriol. Estrone and estradiol are the main type of estrogen in postmenopausal women, while estriol is the main type involved in pregnancy. Estrogen is considered one of the primary sex hormones, or reproductive hormones, because it impacts:

  • fertility

  • menstruation

  • pregnancy

  • menopause

  • physical traits such as facial hair, muscle mass, etc.

More than one location in the body produces it, including the ovaries and body fat cells. And while it’s often thought of as a female hormone, both men and women need estrogen, although women have much higher amounts.


Progesterone is another predominately female sex hormone that’s made in the adrenal glands, placenta, and ovaries. It helps to counterbalance estrogen and regulate the uterine lining in women. It also impacts:

  • emotional health

  • sleep

  • mood


Melatonin is the primary hormone secreted by the pineal gland and partly responsible for setting our sleep-wake cycle, also called the circadian rhythm. It rises at night and falls in the morning.

The pineal gland understands when to release melatonin through your body’s “internal clock,” which is affected by light. Light before you sleep can block melatonin production and disrupt your sleep.

The precursor to melatonin is serotonin, a neurotransmitter that’s derived from the amino acid tryptophan, which is one reason why low serotonin levels are associated with poor sleep.

Symptoms of melatonin dysfunction can include:

  • trouble sleeping normally

  • insomnia

  • restlessness

  • daytime fatigue

  • brain fog

Melatonin has been shown to offer some assistance when it comes to getting a restful night’s sleep, which is why some people choose to take melatonin supplements as a natural sleep aid.


Like estrogen, both men and women produce testosterone, except men produce more so it’s associated as a male hormone. Testosterone is tied to:

  • sex drive

  • maintenance of muscle mass

  • alertness

  • energy

  • confidence

  • strength

Low levels are tied to sexual dysfunction, changes in body composition, and mood changes. High levels in women can be tied to reproductive problems, including infertility.

Thyroid hormones

Thyroid hormones affect your metabolism and just about every system throughout your body. Changes in the levels of your thyroid hormones will impact your:

  • energy levels

  • resting metabolic rate

  • weight

  • sleep

  • body temperature

  • sex drive

  • menstrual cycle, for women


Insulin is secreted from the pancreas and has the job of moving glucose (sugar) into cells in order to lower the amount of glucose in your blood. Chronically high insulin levels are linked to an increased risk for:

  • diabetes

  • high estrogen levels

  • weight gain

  • appetite changes

  • reproductive problems


How does your brain know when you’ve had enough to eat? Well, that’s leptin’s job. It has a direct impact on hunger and fullness signals, as well as how the body metabolizes and burns fat. It’s secreted primarily by fat cells, but also by many other organs and cells in the body, and helps to regulate the release of other hormones, including reproductive and sex hormones.

Parathyroid hormone (PTH)

PTH is a hormone that’s made by cells in the parathyroid glands. It helps control calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood.

PTH is important for bone health because it tells bones when and when not to release calcium. When calcium concentrations fall below normal, PTH helps to bring them back within the normal range. It does this by signaling the bones to release more calcium and signaling concentrations in your urine to fall.

Signs and symptoms of hormone disruption

So how do you know if you have a hormone-related problem? Some of the most common signs and symptoms of endocrine (or hormone) and metabolic disturbances include:

Hormone disturbance Symptoms
low testosterone low libido and sexual dysfunction such as impotence or erectile dysfunction in men and vaginal dryness in women
high cortisol unintentional weight gain, unexplained increase in appetite, and digestive issues including: bloating, acid reflux, constipation, or diarrhea
high estrogen or low progesterone very bad PMS symptoms or very heavy periods, unintentional weight gain, unexplained changes in appetite, and mood changes or depression
low estrogen vaginal dryness, missed or irregular periods, and mood changes or depression
thyroid hormone imbalances unintentional weight gain or loss, hair loss, and hair thinning
low melatonin trouble sleeping normally, insomnia, restlessness, daytime fatigue, and brain fog
abnormal PTH kidney disease, abnormal calcium levels, changes in vitamin D levels, and poor bone health, including increased risk for fractures and osteoporosis

Other common symptoms of hormone problems include:

  • infertility or difficulty getting pregnant

  • changes in your mood, including symptoms of depression and anxiety

  • fatigue

  • intolerance to temperature changes, such as increased sensitivity to cold or heat

  • trouble sleeping or insomnia

  • unexplained changes in appetite

  • signs of fluctuating blood sugar levels, including nervousness, brain fog, and weakness

  • higher risk for problems like endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), or other reproductive issues in women

In the case of people living with diabetes or metabolic syndrome, they have a higher risk for complications such as nerve damage, heart disease, problems with eyesight, liver or kidney problems, etc.


First steps for balancing hormones

First and foremost, it’s essential to address gut health and inflammation. Inflammation, which is suggested to be the root of all disease — including hormonal imbalances — usually stems from your gut. From there, it can impact nearly every aspect of your health because it forces your immune system into overdrive.

When the immune system is overactive due to high stress levels, genetics, or an inflammatory diet, you may develop autoimmune reactions as your body attacks its own tissue or glands.

And since gut health plays a significant role in hormone regulation, having a gut-related issue — such as leaky gut syndrome or irritable bowel disease — also increases your chances for hormonal imbalances.

balancing hormones

To provide your body with enough energy and nutrients so it can make the hormones you need, eating a whole foods diet is key. Whole foods are minimally processed foods that are more nutrient dense. They’re also better for your gut.

Below are practical tips for including more whole foods in your diet, along with tips on which foods to limit or avoid in order to reduce inflammation and support healthy hormone production.

1. Eat a balance of macronutrients

Macronutrients is the term for carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, which provide the calories you obtain from your diet. All three macronutrients are essential for hormone health, as well as digestion, reproduction, and metabolic functions.

Try to eat balanced meals, with about:

  • 50 percent of the plate being produce

  • 25 percent protein

  • 25 percent complex carbohydrates

  • healthy fat incorporated throughout

You can achieve balance by including a source of all three macronutrients every time you eat. For example, your dinner may be a serving of fish (protein) with two servings of veggies and quinoa (carbohydrates), drizzled with some olive oil (fat). An unbalanced meal would be one that’s overly heavy on carbs or protein.

2. Reduce inflammatory foods

A diet high in processed foods and allergens can trigger inflammation. These foods include:

  • refined grain products, such as white flour

  • foods containing gluten

  • hydrogenated oils

  • trans fat

  • sources of added sugar

  • sometimes dairy products

Everyone’s different when it comes to what foods they can digest properly. Some may have trouble tolerating foods like gluten, nuts, grains, night-shade vegetables, eggs, or dairy products, while others can tolerate those foods well. An elimination diet or FODMAPs diet can help pinpoint which foods may be causing gut-related inflammation or help you control symptoms.

3. Consume probiotic foods

Probiotics are the “good bacteria” that live inside your gastrointestinal (GI) tract and aid in repairing your gut lining. They’re helpful for supporting the immune system, facilitating digestion, decreasing inflammation, and the production of hormones.

Types of food that support healthy digestion and gut bacteria Examples
fermented yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha
high in fiber vegetables, fruits, sprouted whole grains and seeds, and legumes
prebiotic bananas or artichokes, chicory root, oats, garlic, onion, and legumes
healthy fats coconut oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, and olive oil

4. Aim for 25 to 30 grams of dietary fiber daily

Fiber helps to keep blood sugar and cholesterol levels in check, in addition to supporting gut health by feeding good probiotic bacteria. Moderate amounts of fiber, consumed with lots of water, is usually ideal to help prevent digestive problems or other side effects.

Eat This
  • 12 to 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories (24 to 48 grams for adults eating 2,000 or more calories a day)
  • high fiber foods, such as avocados, raspberries, lentils, and split peas

One thing to be aware of is the relationship between fiber and reproductive hormones, including estrogen and progesterone. Very high fiber diets — such as a vegan or other low-fat diets — may lead to lower concentrations of estrogen in the blood. This may be problematic if your estrogen levels are already low.

5. Eat enough healthy fats

No matter what you hear about fats, you need to obtain a variety of fats in order to create hormones. These fats, including some saturated fats and cholesterol, are often thought of as unhealthy or fattening. But they actually have certain benefits when consumed in moderation and part of an unprocessed diet.

Fats help to fuel the brain, support reproductive health, keep inflammation levels low, boost your metabolism, satisfy hunger, and even promote weight loss.

Sources Of Healthy Fats
  • coconut oil
  • olive oil
  • avocados
  • grass-fed butter, dairy, or meat
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • organic dairy products
  • wild-caught salmon or other types of fatty fish

6. Drink enough water

You may have heard people say to drink 8 eight-ounce cups, but this depends on your lifestyle, age, and stage of life.

Demographic Daily recommended amount of water (from drinks)
men, 19 years and older 13 cups, or 104 total ounces
women, 19 years and older 9 cups, or 72 total ounces
pregnant women 10 cups, or 80 total ounces
breastfeeding women 13 cups, or 104 total ounces

Many whole, unprocessed fruits and vegetables can also keep you hydrated since they’re high in water content.

7. Avoid too much alcohol or caffeine

High alcohol consumption has been associated with estrogen dominance and problems such as:

  • abnormal pancreatic functioning

  • higher risk for insulin resistance

  • increased risk for liver disease

  • lower sex drive

  • lowered testosterone

  • anxiety

  • malnutrition

For women, drink only one alcoholic beverage per day, and aim to drink no more than seven per week. Men may drink up to two drinks per day, 14 per week. However, the less alcohol you drink, the better.

Meanwhile, high caffeine consumption may increase cortisol levels and impact the adrenal glands. This can interfere with appetite and energy, causing anxiety, sleep issues, and digestive problems. Try keeping your caffeine intake to about one to two servings daily, such as two small cups of regular coffee.

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