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There are many ways in which the human body controls the functioning of various organs and tissues. One such method is by using hormones. There are hundreds of hormones in the human body. They help body cells communicate, control metabolism, boost regenerative processes, and other body activities.
Food is the source of energy that provides building materials, but there is more to foods. Food items also contain bioactive compounds that may alter body functions. Thus, foods may, directly and indirectly, influence the working of all the hormones.
When it comes to the question of how foods affect hormones, it is vital to describe what hormones we are mainly interested in? Some of the most vital hormones in the human body are sex hormones, stress hormones, thyroid hormones, growth hormones, and insulin.
Of course, there are many more vital hormones, but here we look at some of the vital hormones and foods that can help modulate their levels. This article is just a small introduction to using various foods for normalizing hormone levels.
Food and Sex Hormones
Although there are many sex hormones, the two most vital are testosterone and estrogens. These are steroidal hormones. They are essential for reproduction and not only. They play a crucial role in the growth, development of secondary sexual signs, metabolism, and much more.
Here it is vital to understand that both men and women have testosterone and estrogens, and the gender of a person is decided by the dominance of one hormone over another.
When looking at sex hormones, it is vital to understand their role in health. For example, testosterone and estrogens are both essential for bone health, growth, metabolism, energy regulation, mood, and brain health.
However, testosterone and estrogens may have opposing actions in some cases. Thus, there are foods good for boosting testosterone and others for estrogens.
When it comes to boosting testosterone levels, it is pretty challenging. Nevertheless, a higher intake of some nutrients and phytocompounds may help boost testosterone levels. Thus, among the nutrients, a high protein diet, vitamin E, C, and D, and zinc and selenium are essential for testosterone production. In addition, other foods or those rich in resveratrol, coq10, omega-3 fatty acids may also help boost testosterone levels1.
Unlike testosterone, it appears that many foods contain substances that act like estrogens. These substances are called phytoestrogens. For example, soy, cruciferous vegetables, carrots, citrus fruits are quite high in phytoestrogens2.
Studies show that people consume significant amounts of phytoestrogens via diet3. This may be good for female health and may also be beneficial for women of post-menopausal age. However, many researchers believe that phytoestrogens are one of the significant causes of declining male fertility globally.
Foods and Thyroid Hormones
Thyroid hormones play a central role in controlling metabolic activity. Its lower level may slow down metabolism, causing weight gain and water retention. On the contrary, its high levels may boost metabolism. Additionally, adequate thyroid hormones are also essential for brain health and preventing mood disorders like depression4.
Not only that, thyroid hormones play a vital role in regulating the autonomous nervous system, and thus they can influence almost every activity of the body.
One way to boost thyroid activity is to consume foods rich in iodine. Here it is vital to understand that iodine deficiency is rare these days due to the fortification of table salt and wheat flour. Some of the foods good for thyroid health are bread, cod, seaweed, oyster, milk, fish, eggs, dairy products, and organ meat.
It is one of the most critical hormones in the human body that ensures adequate growth. Unfortunately, its levels constantly decline with aging. Thus, boosting it has an antiaging effect. It also has a potent anabolic activity and is suitable for muscle mass, burning fats, and strengthening bones.
Studies show that some foods may lower the levels of growth hormones. For example, studies show that glucose has a potent growth hormone suppressive activity5. Thus, it is essential to consume a low-carb diet to maintain its levels.
On the contrary, a high protein diet and diet rich in healthy fats may boost growth hormone levels. Thus, foods like lean meat, fish, nuts can increase growth hormone levels. Additionally, fruits like grapes, berries, and pomegranates also boost growth hormone levels6.
Insulin and Diet
Insulin needs no introduction. It is one of the most vital hormones for glucose metabolism, energy regulation, and anabolic processes in the body. Beta cells in the pancreas mainly produce this hormone. Its relative or absolute deficiency causes diabetes.
Insulin has become of particular interest in recent years due to the increasing prevalence of diabetes. In urban areas, 10% or more of the population live with diabetes, and another 30% have prediabetes. It means that approximately 40% of adults have insulin-related issues.
Consuming high amounts of carbs cause frequent spikes in blood glucose levels, which ultimately lead to increased insulin resistance and deficiency. Thus, consuming a low-carb diet may help normalize insulin levels. For example, the keto diet is one of the ways to normalize insulin levels in the body.
It is more about understanding what foods suppress its levels when it comes to insulin.
Melatonin and Foods
In recent years there has been increasing interest in this hormone. This rise in interest is mainly due to the increasing prevalence of sleep disorders, mood disorders, and neurodegenerative diseases.
Melatonin helps regulate circadian rhythm and thus helps regulate the body’s internal clock. Although it plays a vital role in regulating sleep, but not only. Circadian rhythm also regulates the metabolic activity of the body. Thus, its adequate levels may help prevent anxiety and even cardiovascular and other metabolic disorders7.
Studies now show that many foods are naturally rich in melatonin, and thus they may help improve circadian rhythm. Some of the foods rich in melatonin are eggs and fish. Among plant-based sources, melatonin is found in nuts, mushrooms, cereals, germinated legumes, and seeds8.
Optimal levels of hormones are essential for good health. However, the human body needs to maintain the optimal level of multiple hormones to stay healthy and even slow down aging. Unfortunately, supplementing hormones is rarely an option due to the high risk of side effects. Fortunately, studies show that some foods can help maintain optimum levels of various hormones in the body.
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- Kataoka T, Hotta Y, Kimura K. A Review of foods and food supplements increasing testosterone levels. Published online 2021.
- Patisaul HB, Jefferson W. The pros and cons of phytoestrogens. Front Neuroendocrinol. 2010;31(4):400-419. doi:10.1016/j.yfrne.2010.03.003
- Zamora-Ros R, Knaze V, Luján-Barroso L, et al. Dietary intakes and food sources of phytoestrogens in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) 24-hour dietary recall cohort. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2012;66(8):932-941. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2012.36
- López M, Alvarez CV, Nogueiras R, Diéguez C. Energy balance regulation by thyroid hormones at central level. Trends in Molecular Medicine. 2013;19(7):418-427. doi:10.1016/j.molmed.2013.04.004
- Hage M, Kamenický P, Chanson P. Growth Hormone Response to Oral Glucose Load: From Normal to Pathological Conditions. NEN. 2019;108(3):244-255. doi:10.1159/000497214
- Koyama S, Cobb LJ, Mehta HH, et al. Pomegranate extract induces apoptosis in human prostate cancer cells by modulation of the IGF–IGFBP axis. Growth Hormone & IGF Research. 2010;20(1):55-62. doi:10.1016/j.ghir.2009.09.003
- Melatonin: What You Need To Know. NCCIH. Accessed March 6, 2022. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/melatonin-what-you-need-to-know
- Meng X, Li Y, Li S, et al. Dietary Sources and Bioactivities of Melatonin. Nutrients. 2017;9(4):367. doi:10.3390/nu9040367