Your hormones influence just about everything in your body, from sleep and stress to libido and hunger. On the flip side, they’re also affected by many things. Diet, exercise, environmental toxins, medications—and so much more!—can all affect your hormones.
Signs that your hormones are out of balance include mood swings, low libido, PMS, irregular periods, weight gain, acne, menstrual headaches, or vaginal dryness. When a member in my practice, Parsley Health, comes in with any of these symptoms, checking hormones is one of the first things we do.
When it comes to sex drive, specifically, hormonal changes are not the only factor. Many things affect libido—from energy and inflammation to mood, body perception, and relationship status.
That said, hormones do play a role in sex drive, specifically levels of testosterone, estrogen, cortisol, insulin, DHEA-S, TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone), and less commonly prolactin, pregnenolone, FSH, and LH. We test for all of these in blood and sometimes in urine as well in my practice.
Lifestyle changes for better hormone health.
To correct hormonal imbalances, one of the tools we use at Parsley is called biohacking. Biohacking refers to the daily principles and practices that help you feel your best. By using a few simple and specific biohacks related to lifestyle, nutrition, and supplements, it’s possible to rebalance your hormones to improve mood and sex drive:
1. Don’t skimp on strength training.
A routine that includes resistance exercise, cardio, and restorative exercise is important for overall health, but strength training is particularly important if you’re trying to biohack your hormones for a better mood and sex drive.
Strength training to increase your muscle mass (read: challenging weights) can lead to higher testosterone production in both women and men, which can in turn boost your libido. Resistance training is also associated with a significant reduction in depressive symptoms. A review of 33 clinical trials on strength training and mood in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found that when people performed strength workouts two or more days a week, they saw a mood boost regardless of their health status and whether or not they actually got stronger.
2. Address your stress.
It’s no surprise that you probably don’t feel in the mood when you’re stressed. Chronic stress can lead to chronically elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can lower libido and diminish testosterone secretion. Finding an outlet for your stress, whether it’s meditation, physical activity, or a hobby like baking or painting can lower your cortisol levels and help balance your testosterone.
3. Cut out hormone-disrupting chemicals.
Exposure to endocrine disrupters in plastics, processed foods, and personal care products can negatively affect your hormonal balance and disrupt many biological processes. Endocrine disrupters are chemicals that interfere with the production and function of your hormones and overall endocrine system. Common ones to steer clear of include phthalates (which can be found in perfumes, soaps, and shampoos), parabens in cosmetics, and phenols in toothpaste. Eating organically and avoiding plastics are other ways to reduce the amount of endocrine-disrupting chemicals that you’re exposed to.
Foods to eat for better hormone health.
On top of eating organic when you can, there are also some specific foods you should be adding to your diet to support your hormone health. Here’s where to start:
1. Boost your fiber intake.
If you’re estrogen dominant, you may benefit from added fiber. Estrogen dominance occurs when your body has an issue with metabolizing estrogen, resulting in an imbalance in your ratio of estrogen to progesterone. It can lead to a range of issues throughout the body, including fatigue, moodiness, anxiety, brain fog, PMS, and lowered sex drive.
You may be more likely to experience estrogen dominance if you have slow function of the COMT gene or if you’re always under stress, which can speed up the enzymatic process that changes testosterone to estrogen. Increasing your fiber can help your liver to metabolize estrogen by interfering with the metabolism of estrogen in the liver, shows research.
Make sure you’re getting at least 25 grams of fiber a day. I also recommend upping your cruciferous veggies. Brussels sprouts, kale, collard greens, broccoli, and cabbage contain a substance called di-indolyl methane, which is particularly effective at helping the liver break down estrogen.
2. Eat more healthy fats.
Fats are the building blocks of your hormones, so they’re key to optimizing your hormonal health, and I’m not talking about just polyunsaturated fats. A variety of fats including cholesterol and small amounts of saturated fats are needed to make your hormones.
In particular, omega-3 fatty acids may boost your libido by increasing the neurotransmitter dopamine, which improves blood flow. As dopamine increases, testosterone also rises, further getting you in the mood.
My favorite sources of healthy fats include nuts and seeds, avocado, wild-caught salmon, ghee, olive oil, and coconut butter.
3. Consume protein at every meal.
When you’re always stressed—something that’s common among many of the patients I see here in New York City—your body is constantly producing cortisol. It’s part of the fight-or-flight response your body mounts when it feels threatened. Cortisol triggers the release of glucose into the bloodstream to give your body energy to combat the stressor. This can lead to high blood sugar.
High blood sugar is most commonly talked about in relation to diabetes, but dips and spikes in your blood sugar are also associated with mood swings. To balance blood sugar, I suggest eating protein with every meal (especially breakfast.) You’ll be surprised by just how much this small change can affect your mood and prevent that #hangry feeling.
Supplements to boost your hormone health, mood, and libido.
When it comes to hormone health, movement and nutrition are critical. But a targeted supplement routine can help bring your health to the next level. I frequently suggest that my patients make the following changes:
1. Increase your magnesium intake.
Magnesium is a mineral that’s involved in more than 300 different enzymatic reactions in the body including the production of progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone. But stress depletes magnesium, so I find that many of our members at Parsley Health are deficient in it and recommend supplementing with magnesium. I recommend 200 to 400 mg of magnesium glycinate about 30 minutes before bed each night.
Aside from helping to make your sex hormones, magnesium may also increase total and free testosterone by binding to sex-hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), a protein in your blood. This can increase your desire.
Magnesium also regulates activity of the HPA axis—mission control for stress response—reducing cortisol levels and anxiety. This can help relax you and increase your testosterone, priming you for sex.
2. Reach for maca.
Maca, a root native to Peru, has been historically used to enhance fertility, but modern research has shown it has libido-boosting properties and may also improve mood. One study of postmenopausal women found that consuming 3.5 grams of powdered maca a day for six weeks lowered measures of sexual dysfunction and decreased anxiety and depression.
Among women of reproductive age taking SSRI antidepressants, 3 grams of maca a day was found to improve libido, while 1.5 grams a day had no effect. While the research is still early, scientists think that a particular substance in maca may stimulate the endocrine system, helping to maintain hormonal balance.
So there you have it, all the initial steps you need to take to balance your hormones for better health. Try one, a few, or all of them—your mood, energy levels, and libido will thank you!
* This article is a repost which originally appeared on MBG Health