How diet can affect women's hormones and health

Discover how you can get help with diabetes, thyroid problems and more.

From pre-diabetes to menopause, hormonal imbalances can be the cause of a host of health concerns: weight gain, sluggishness, stress, low libido and more.

Because hormones—your body's chemical messengers—are so powerful, a precise balance is necessary for your body to function properly.

If you suspect a hormone imbalance is getting in the way of your health, an endocrinologist or a gynecologist can help you get to the root of the problem. Symptoms of a hormone problem can include rapid weight gain or weight loss, fatigue, changes in your sleep habits, reduced sex drive, changes in your period, unusually irritable mood, lack of appetite, overeating and changes in body temperature.

To get started locating a doctor who can help, sign in to your Member Dashboard. Select Find a Doctor, then select “Medical provider.” From here, you can search for an in-network doctor by selecting “Doctors by specialty” and entering terms such as “endocrinology,” “internal medicine” or “gynecology.”

If your doctor recommends a blood test, you can also use the Find a Doctor feature to locate an in-network lab. This will ensure your blood work will be billed at the lowest cost available through your health plan.

Recently diagnosed with diabetes?

If you’ve been recently diagnosed with diabetes, reach out to Regence Case Management. The nurses and other health care professionals on our Case Management team can answer questions about diabetes and your treatment plan. We’re here to support you in your health journey.

In addition to working with your doctor to find the best chronic disease management plan for you, healthful dietary choices will support your hormonal—and your overall—health.

Common hormones that affect women

Insulin: This hormone tells your body how to use energy from the foods you eat. When we eat a meal, our blood sugar starts to rise. Blood sugar is the energy our cells need to function properly, but blood sugar can't do its job if it can’t get inside our cells. Our bodies produce insulin to help the sugar move from our bloodstream into our cells.

With factors like age, extra body weight, genetics and a diet that is heavy in processed and junk foods, we can become insulin resistant. Our cells don’t respond properly to insulin and become resistant to this hormone. Blood sugar can’t get into cells.

When this happens, a person will develop higher-than-normal blood levels of sugar and insulin. Insulin resistance leads to further weight gain and increases the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.

Fortunately, even if you have insulin resistance, a healthful, whole-foods diet and regular, moderate physical activity can prevent or slow down the development of diabetes. Even 20 to 30 minutes of walking each day reduces insulin resistance.

Leptin and ghrelin (a.k.a. the "hunger hormones"): These hormones play an important role in appetite control. When leptin increases, it should decrease your appetite. A rise in ghrelin increases your appetite.

People who are overweight or obese usually have developed a resistance to leptin. Low levels of leptin can lead to overeating.

Thyroid hormones: These hormones control metabolism. If your levels are too low, you might have an underactive thyroid, which can contribute to weight gain, fatigue and reduced muscle mass. Your doctor may prescribe thyroid hormone replacement medication or an iodine supplement.

If thyroid hormones are too high, you may need medical treatment to get them back into the right range. Symptoms of an overactive thyroid include weight loss, loss of bone and muscle, and feeling shaky, hot, jittery and sweaty much of the time.

Estrogen and progesterone: These female sex hormones are responsible for fertility. It’s normal for levels of both to change as women approach menopause. These changes can affect weight, especially for premenopausal women.

When your estrogen levels drop during menopause, you may also experience symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness and changes in mood.

What should I eat to balance hormones?

Swap refined carbs for whole foods: Cutting back on added sugars and refined, or simple, carbohydrates will reduce insulin resistance. Refined carbohydrates are found in salty snack foods such as pretzels, crackers and chips, fast food, white bread and pasta, regular soda, and sweets such as cookies, cakes, candy and pastries.

Try replacing some of these processed carbohydrates with natural, whole foods such as vegetables, fruit, beans, chickpeas and lentils.

Try healthy fats: To support healthy leptin and ghrelin levels, incorporate foods with healthy fats into your eating plan. Examples include fish, walnuts, other nuts and seeds, and olive oil.

Look for protein: Eating protein at every meal, but especially at breakfast, can help reduce your ghrelin levels. Lower ghrelin levels, in turn, may reduce overeating later in the day. Try eggs or Greek yogurt for breakfast.

Relieve menopause symptoms: While you can't get estrogen from your diet, foods containing phytoestrogens—like flaxseed and soy—can help relieve symptoms.

Eat enough iodine: Fish, seaweed, iodized salt and eggs are good sources of iodine.

Feel fuller with fiber: Fiber can keep you full longer, too. Oatmeal, or a high-fiber, high-protein breakfast cereal will help you start the day in a healthy way.

Eat foods rich in vitamin D: Vitamin D, which is found in tuna, egg yolks, and fortified milks and cereals, is an important nutrient for women.

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If you suspect you have insulin resistance or a hormone imbalance, seek medical treatment from your primary care provider. A healthful diet can support hormone health, too. This isn't always easy, and to help, Regence Advantages offers discounts on healthy meal planning and delivery.