In the fast-paced, overly stressed, and toxic world we live in today, hormonal imbalance is becoming more and more common. Most women suffer from an excess of either estrogen or androgens, and both imbalances can cause many unpleasant symptoms.
High levels of androgens, or male sex hormones, can stem from a variety of underlying factors. These include metabolic disorders, menopause, and rare genetic conditions. Apart from the last one, most root causes of hyperandrogenism can be managed naturally without birth control or other medications.
ROOT CAUSES OF HIGH ANDROGENS
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a complex endocrine disorder that causes the body to overproduce androgens, or male hormones. Cysts form on the ovaries as a result, which can impair or stop ovulation altogether. Insulin resistance, typically associated with diabetes, is also a factor in PCOS. Treating this is key to getting the entire hormonal dance back in sync.
Menopause or perimenopause
When a woman is near the end of her reproductive years, estrogen production declines much more rapidly than testosterone. This can lead to androgen dominance and PCOS-like symptoms such as insulin resistance, hair loss, and unwanted hair growth. (1.)
Congenital adrenal hyperplasia
Much rarer than the previous two conditions, CAH is a genetic disorder typically characterized by insufficient cortisol secretion and overproduction of androgens. The most severe cases are diagnosed in childhood. However, a milder, more prevalent form of CAH can lie dormant until adolescence or early adulthood. Symptoms of the latter type, also known as nonclassic CAH, include irregular or absent periods, masculine characteristics and acne. Also, early appearance of pubic hair and rapid growth during childhood (but shorter than average final height) may also occur.
*Please note that treatment of CAH always requires medical supervision and should not be undertaken without direction from a doctor.
HOW TO NATURALLY LOWER ANDROGEN LEVELS
Eating whole foods.
The phrase “whole foods” refers to foods that are ingredients rather than packaged products that have ingredients. Whole foods do not contain any harmful additives, artificial sugars, or exogenous hormones. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are just a few nutritious options to bolster your diet with. Removing processed foods will allow for better blood sugar regulation. (2.)
- Consuming a balanced diet.
- Refined carbohydrates such as white rice and table sugar can spike insulin, which only makes PCOS symptoms worse. Choose carb sources low on the glycemic index, like berries and unprocessed grains, to prevent this from occurring. In addition, ensuring each meal is well-rounded with fat, protein, and fiber will further keep blood sugar in check.
- Put emphasis on anti-inflammatory foods.
Emerging research has characterized PCOS as chronic, low-grade inflammation throughout a woman’s entire body. Consequently, adding anti-inflammatory foods to your diet can have remarkable effects on blood sugar regulation. A Mediterranean-style diet is a great place to start because it includes olive oil, leafy greens, and fatty fish. All of these help fight inflammation.
Increase your iron intake.
PCOS has the potential to cause heavy bleeding during menstruation, which increases a woman’s risk for iron deficiency or anemia. Adding in iron-rich foods such as spinach, eggs, and broccoli can help raise iron levels.
*Always speak with your doctor before actively increasing your iron intake. Overconsumption of iron can cause a host of other complications.
Eat more magnesium.
Magnesium has many proven hormonal benefits, such as reducing pain and inflammation, improving sleep quality, and relieving PMS symptoms. This powerhouse of a nutrient is especially helpful for women with PCOS because it may help alleviate anxiety and lower blood sugar. Almonds, cashews, spinach, and bananas are all rich in magnesium.
Increase your fiber intake.
Foods rich in fiber can help combat blood sugar dysregulation because they slow down digestion, which slows the secretion of insulin. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, as well as beans, pears, and avocados are all high-fiber options.
Reduce caffeine consumption.
Drinking excessive amounts of caffeine can contribute to adrenal fatigue, otherwise known as HPA axis dysfunction. This condition worsens PCOS symptoms because it can increase blood sugar swings. Consider swapping your morning coffee out for decaf or trying an herbal blend with mood-boosting adaptogens. If you can’t give up caffeine altogether, green tea has been proven to help with insulin resistance and weight management.
Add soy to your diet.
Soy consumption is a controversial topic when it comes to women’s health, however, that confusion is entirely unwarranted. Although soy is a phytoestrogen, meaning it mimics estrogen in the body, its effects are between 100 and 1000 times weaker than our natural hormones. Research has shown that moderate soy consumption (a few servings per week) can actually improve PCOS symptoms.
Some of the purported benefits include reducing total and LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, inflammatory markers, blood pressure, insulin, and testosterone. Look for unprocessed sources of soy, such as tofu, natto, tempeh, miso, soy sauce, edamame, and soy nuts. Processed soy, like soymilk and cheese, textured soy protein, hydrogenated soybean oil, meat substitutes, and soy-based protein powders, are associated with negative effects on thyroid function.
Inositol is a B vitamin that many women with PCOS have trouble converting into its active form because the process is insulin-dependent. Supplementation has been proven to reduce blood sugar, cravings, and improve fertility. (3.)
Supplementing with chromium can help with weight loss, which can improve PCOS symptoms. It also helps the body metabolize sugar more efficiently, which reduces insulin resistance.
Cinnamon extract, derived from the bark of cinnamon trees, has been shown to have a positive effect on blood sugar levels and help regulate menstrual cycles.
One of the most powerful anti-inflammatory agents in nature, turmeric has been used for eons by many cultures as a healing agent. Its active ingredient, curcumin, may help improve insulin resistance.
A trace mineral, zinc may help boost fertility. It can also reduce excess hair growth and improve male-pattern hair loss, both of which are PCOS symptoms. Zinc can also be obtained by eating more red meat, beans, tree nuts, and seafood.
Evening primrose oil
EPO has been used for centuries to help with irregular menstruation. It may also improve cholesterol levels, which are often high in the case of PCOS.
Vitamin D and calcium
The endocrine system requires Vitamin D to function properly, and women with PCOS are often deficient. Vitamin D supplements that also contain calcium may help regulate menstruation and improve a woman’s chances of ovulation, and as a result, conception.
Cod liver oil
Fish oil, particularly from cod liver, contains vitamins D and A in addition to anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. These essential nutrients can help regulate periods and get rid of dangerous belly fat that contributes to insulin resistance.
This ancient Chinese herb helps to lower blood sugar levels, even outperforming the diabetes drug Metformin in several studies. It may help speed up metabolism and improve endocrine responses.
These ancient herbs all have unique healing properties that help the body handle physical, mental, and emotional stress in different ways. Some of the adaptogens have been shown to improve PCOS symptoms are maca, ashwagandha, holy basil, licorice, Tribulus Terrestris, and chaste berry.
Known primarily for their gut-healing properties, probiotics can also greatly improve hormonal health by reducing inflammation and balancing estrogen and androgen levels. You can supplement or simply eat fermented food such as sauerkraut and kombucha.
Maintain a healthy weight
Keeping your BMI in the normal range can help decrease insulin resistance and regulate menstrual cycles, among other health benefits. Gradual weight loss is the best method of achieving a healthy weight, as crash diets can worsen blood sugar regulation.
Engage in regular exercise
It’s no secret that moving your body is crucial for overall health, however, too much exercise can have negative effects on hormones. Gentle movement such as yoga and Pilates can be performed more often but consider minimizing intense exercises like long-distance running and weightlifting.
Improve your sleep
Getting 8-10 hours of quality rest is vital for women with PCOS because it helps regulate cortisol. Establish a nighttime routine and avoid caffeine and heavy meals before bed.
Emphasize stress reduction
Cortisol and blood sugar are closely related, so managing stress is very important for keeping PCOS under control. In addition to sleeping enough, developing a yoga or meditation practice, minimizing caffeine, spending time outside, and scheduling in self-care activities can all reduce your stress levels.
Audit your personal care products
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals are rampant in beauty products, plastic, and canned food. These chemicals can mimic the effects of either female or male hormones in the body, disrupting our delicate reproductive systems. Look out for BPA, dioxins, phthalates, parabens, pesticides, glycol ethers, and the umbrella term “fragrance.”
FINAL THOUGHTS ON HOW TO LOWER ANDROGEN LEVELS NATURALLY
Hormones, particularly those governing the female reproductive system, are extremely sensitive to factors such as diet, exercise, stress, and environmental toxins. Even the slightest changes can lead to an imbalance, which often manifests as excess male hormones.
A variety of underlying conditions trigger high androgen levels. These can include polycystic ovarian syndrome, menopause, and rare genetic disorders. PCOS is by far the most common driving factor, and treatment of the complex condition has many moving parts but can absolutely be done naturally.
Dietary modifications, stress management, gentle exercise, and ensuring adequate sleep are the pillars of a PCOS-friendly lifestyle. Additional support such as supplementing with certain herbs and probiotics can aid in the healing process once a solid foundation is in place.