Hormones: they're not just for teenagers! Often called "chemical messengers," hormones send signals to various parts of your body, telling them what they need to do (and when they need in order to do it). This web of communication regulates all sorts of important functions, from managing your metabolism, to streamlining your mood, to giving you a good night's rest. When your hormones aren't in harmony, you'll probably feel it.
Tons of factors contribute to the homeostasis of your hormones, and some of them are out of your control. But your dietary habits are one area where you can take the reins. Choosing certain foods—and avoiding others—can promote a healthier hormone balance. Here are four eating habits to avoid to keep your hormones happy. And for more diet tips, check out the 32 Foods That Turn Off the Stress Hormone Cortisol.
Overeating (or undereating)
Staying well-nourished contributes to properly regulated hormones—but eating too much or too little can create a chicken-or-the-egg scenario that may be bad news for your hormones. A dip or spike in weight from overeating or undereating can disrupt your hormonal balance, which may then affect your appetite.
Female reproductive hormones appear to be especially influenced by weight changes. Both below-normal and above-normal body mass index (BMI) have been associated with higher risks of hormone-related fertility problems.
One study from 2015 found that women who were overweight or obese were more likely to have polycystic ovarian syndrome and metabolic syndrome—two conditions that decreased their fertility. Women who were underweight, on the other hand, were more likely to have other hormone-mediated conditions that affected fertility: ovarian dysfunction and congenital adrenal hyperplasia.
Reproductive hormones aren't the only ones that can be disturbed by over or under-consuming calories. Obesity (fueled by a high-calorie diet) can cause changes to hypothalamic and pituitary hormones, leading to a greater likelihood of issues like hypothyroidism, Cushing's disease, growth hormone deficiency, and more.
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Eating too much sugar
Most of us probably have a love-hate relationship with sugar. Its tasty flavor is a favorite with our taste buds, but its effects on health aren't so sweet. Besides contributing to weight gain (which can mess with your hormones all on its own), sugary foods can wreak havoc on your hormones in other ways, too.
One test-tube study found that eating high amounts of fructose and glucose could actually turn off the gene responsible for regulating estrogen and testosterone. Disrupting the delicate balance of these sex hormones could have a ripple effect, increasing the risk of acne, infertility, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and uterine cancer (particularly in overweight women, according to the study). Other research performed on animals revealed that a high-fat, high-sugar diet disrupted menstrual cycles and caused ovarian cysts.
Drinking diet soda
Ok, you might think, if excess sugar is off the menu, how about a zero-calorie diet soda? Not so fast. Artificial sweeteners may alter the bacteria in the gut, upsetting the equilibrium of leptin and ghrelin, the hormones that regulate feelings of hunger and fulness. Though more research is needed, non-nutritive sweeteners have been linked to hormone-related weight issues like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
One study from 2016 took things a step further to find out whether diet sodas (as opposed to other foods with faux sweeteners) have a unique impact on hormones. Sure enough, drinking diet soda subtly increased the release of GLP-1, a hormone involved in insulin secretion.
Overdoing it on alcohol
There's no shame in enjoying a glass of wine here and there, but chronically overdoing it at happy hour spells trouble for your hormone health. Over-consuming alcohol can cause hormonal disturbances that disrupt the communication between your endocrine, nervous, and immune systems. The fallout can be far-reaching: blood sugar control, estrogen metabolism, thyroid problems, immune dysfunction, and other hormone issues can be traced back to too much alcohol.
Looking for the best adult beverage for your hormones? Choose distilled alcohol over fancy cocktails. With no added sugar, they're a better bet for both your hormones and your weight.