Hormone Health & Healthy Ways to Balance Your Hormone Levels

Our favorite expert, Dr. Will Cole shares his insights on hormone health and how to keep a healthy balance below. At Daily Dose, like Dr. Cole, we believe that diet is the key. The Ketotarian Meal Plan is the perfect way to keep a healthy hormone balance. By having a plant forward diet with a substantial amount of fats is a great way to keep your blood glucose in balance. As the founder of Daily Dose, I am always finding ways to improve our programs, incorporate health boosting ingredients. In the past few months, I have been using Levels Health, a constant blood glucose monitor. Below you can see my screen shot from the app today. This morning I had a black raspberry tahini smoothie with coconut milk, chia and hemp. For lunch I had a salmon, cabbage and pea tendril salad with cashew horseradish cream. You can see that my blood sugar has not gone out of range. (A healthy range for blood sugar is between 70-110). Having a healthy amount of fat with each meal not only balances your blood sugar and keeps your hormones balanced it really does help you stay fuller longer. Trying adding some avocado or tahini to your next meal and see how you feel.

In good health,


Think of your hormones like chemical messengers of your body. Each hormone sends specific instructions to every organ, making hormones responsible for just about everything your body does – how it works, how it feels, and how healthy it is. Hormones influence your mood, energy level, weight, temperature, digestion, and many other aspects of your health. And yet, we don’t often think about, let alone appreciate, our hormones until they stop working the way we want them to. And when that happens, because of their wide influence, we definitely notice.

Your hormones are produced in the major endocrine glands – your brain (hypothalamus, pineal, and pituitary glands), thyroid, parathyroid, adrenals, pancreas, and reproductive glands (ovaries and testes). Some hormones are also produced in your gastrointestinal tract. With hormones, it’s all about balance. As Goldilocks lamented (and I’m paraphrasing here), there can’t be too much or too little. Hormones have to be just right. Otherwise, a myriad of health issues can happen.

But when you suspect hormone imbalance, mainstream medicine typically runs only basic labs. If your labs don’t come back “normal,” you’re typically given a synthetic hormone cream or pill that could have side effects. If those labs come back “normal” and you’re still experiencing symptoms, you may be told you’re either depressed, just getting older, or need to lose weight.

Functional medicine wants to find out the root cause of patients’ hormonal symptoms as well as support the body’s natural mechanisms for healthy hormone balance, and that makes a lot more sense to me.

There can be many underlying causes of hormone imbalance:

    • Chronic inflammation
    • Methylation impairments like MTHFR
    • Nutrient deficiencies
    • Stress overload
    • Toxin exposure

Let’s go over some of the most common hormone problems that I see in patients, and that you may be going through right now. I’ll also explain which labs you may want to consider asking your doctor about.

1. Cortisol

Our adrenal glands secret several hormones, and one of them is cortisol, your body’s primary stress hormone. Adrenal fatigue happens when there’s an imbalance in this cortisol rhythm: Cortisol is high when it should be low, low when it should be high, or always high or always low. Adrenal fatigue is really a dysfunction of your brain’s communication with your adrenals – not the adrenal glands themselves. Because adrenal fatigue is mainly a brain stress problem, the functional medicine solution focuses on minimizing chronic stressors.

What you might experience:

      • Trouble getting started in the morning
      • Craving salty or sugary foods
      • Low sex drive
      • Fatigued in the afternoon but you get a “second wind” in the evening
      • Trouble staying asleep at night
      • Dizziness after standing up too quickly
      • Afternoon headaches
      • Blood sugar issues
      • Chronic inflammation
      • Weak nails and brittle hair
      • Moodiness
      • Trouble losing weight

The Labs: I run a 24-Hour Adrenal Stress Index, a salivary test that tracks your cortisol levels, and an HPA (brain-adrenal) axis quality lab.

2. Thyroid

Every cell of your body needs thyroid hormones to function optimally. There are many underlying thyroid problems that won’t show up on standard labs. For example: thyroid conversion issues, thyroid resistance, or autoimmune attacks against the thyroid (Hashimoto’s or Graves’ disease).

What you might experience:

      • Feeling tired
      • Cold feet, hands, or cold all over
      • Requiring extra sleep to function properly
      • Rapid weight gain
      • Constipation
      • Depressed or lack of motivation
      • Morning headaches that subside as the day goes on
      • Thinning of the outer third of eyebrows
      • Excessive hair loss or thinning
      • Dry skin
      • Brain fog

The Labs: Mainstream medicine typically just runs TSH and T4 (inactive thyroid hormone) to determine thyroid hormone dosage. A functional medicine thyroid panel involves looking at many other labs such as Free and Total T3 (active thyroid hormone), Reverse T3, and thyroid antibodies to rule out autoimmune thyroid problems. For a full list of thyroid labs and how to interpret them, read my previous article here.

3. Estrogen

The ratio of the three forms of estrogen – estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), estriol (E3) – is important for both women and men. Some research has linked imbalances in estrogens to increased mortality rates in those with heart disease (1) as well as the progression of some cancers. (2)

What you might experience with low estrogen:

      • Vaginal dryness
      • Night sweats
      • Brain fog
      • Recurrent bladder infections
      • Feeling lethargic
      • Depression
      • Hot flashes

What you might experience with high estrogen:

      • Bloating
      • Rapid weight gain
      • Breast tenderness
      • Mood swings
      • Heavy menstrual bleeding
      • Anxiety
      • Depression
      • Migraine headaches
      • Cervical dysplasia (abnormal pap smear)
      • Insomnia
      • Brain fog
      • Gallbladder problems

The Labs: A full blood and salivary female hormone panel, including all estrogen isomers, can shed light on the specific problem.

4. Progesterone

Both men and women need healthy progesterone balance. Progesterone helps balance and neutralize the effects of too much estrogen. Without proper progesterone levels, estrogen becomes out of control, also known as estrogen dominance.

What you might experience:

      • PMS
      • Insomnia
      • Poor complexion
      • Painful breasts
      • Stubborn weight gain
      • Cyclical headaches
      • Anxiety
      • Infertility

The Labs: A full blood and salivary female hormone panel.

5. Testosterone

I often see low testosterone in both men and women in my functional medicine clinic. Studies have linked low testosterone in women to heart disease, low sex drive, (3) and breast cancer. (4) One study (5) found that men with low testosterone had a great rate of death. But you can also have too much.

What women might experience with excess testosterone:

      • Acne
      • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
      • Excessive hair on the face and arms
      • Hypoglycemia and/or unstable blood sugar
      • Thinning hair
      • Infertility
      • Ovarian cysts
      • Mid cycle pain/cramping
      • Irritability

What women might experience with low testosterone:

      • Weight gain
      • Fatigue
      • Low sex drive

What men might experience:

I often see the over-conversion of testosterone to estrogen in men. Men don’t produce estrogen like women but convert it through a process called aromatization. Excess activity of the enzyme aromatase can cause low testosterone and high estrogen in men resulting in:

      • Erectile dysfunction
      • Low sex drive
      • Weight gain
      • Irritability
      • Breast enlargement

The Labs: Blood and saliva testosterone and DHEA panel.

6. Leptin

Your fat cells aren’t just some unsightly nuisances that jiggle and make clothes not fit; they’re actually an intelligent part of your endocrine (hormonal) system. Fat cells produce a hormone called leptin.

One of leptin’s jobs is to tell your brain to use the body’s fat stores for energy. Leptin resistance occurs when your body – specifically your hypothalamus in your brain – stops recognizing leptin. This can trick your brain into thinking you are starving, resulting in excessive and inappropriate fat storage.

What you might experience:

      • Rapid weight gain
      • Weight loss resistance
      • Frequent strong food cravings
      • High stress levels

The Labs: Serum leptin.

7. Insulin

Just like leptin resistance, insulin resistance is not a hormonal deficiency but a hormonal resistance pattern. Most people know insulin resistance when it comes to type 2 diabetes, but insulin resistance can also happen in those who are pre-diabetic, or have sub-clinical blood sugar imbalance.

This pre-diabetic metabolic syndrome is marked by this resistance to insulin meaning your body is producing insulin but the insulin is not doing what it should, i.e., shuttling blood sugar into your cells where you can use it. Instead, this ineffective insulin, through a cascade of reactions, results in excessive fat storage, making weight loss seem impossible.

What you might experience:

      • Cravings for sweets
      • Irritability or lightheadedness if you miss a meal
      • Dependence on coffee
      • Shaky, jittery, or tremors
      • Feeling uncharacteristically agitated, upset, or nervous
      • Poor memory
      • Blurred vision
      • Fatigue after eating
      • Sugar cravings
      • Waist girth equal to or larger than hip girth
      • Frequent urination
      • Increased thirst or appetite
      • Weight loss resistance

The Labs: Serum insulin, c-peptide, fasting blood sugar, and HgbA1c.

The Bottom Line

Because all the systems in the body are interconnected, if you have one hormone problem, you might have other ones as well. In other words, to say you have only one of these seven issues might be oversimplification – it could be all of these issues or a combination of some of these. It’s important to work with your health care provider to find out what hormone issues might actually be at play.

Recently, I’ve been working on rehabbing my own adrenal fatigue and have shared my journey to hormonal balance in my 90-day hormone reset.

The Surprising Connection Between This Hormone Disorder + Blood Sugar Balance

Polycystic ovary syndrome (also referred to as PCOS), affects between 8 to 20 percent of women in America which makes it one of the most common endocrine disorders for women of childbearing age. And not surprisingly, it is also the biggest contributor to infertility in that age group. PCOS is characterized by an increase in male hormones known as androgens. Insulin resistance is also associated with this condition since high insulin levels can play a role in increasing androgen production and vice versa. This overload of androgen is responsible for throwing female body functions like menstrual cycles out of whack.

To be diagnosed with PCOS, you must be experiencing two out of these three key symptoms:

      • Irregular menstrual cycles
      • High androgen levels; symptoms include acne and excess facial hair
      • The presence of ovarian cysts on an ultrasound

Although PCOS can be a debilitating disease that can affect your appearance and the possibility of having a family, it can also be managed with functional medicine tools. Here are five totally natural lifestyle ways to manage PCOS:

1. Monitor phytoestrogen consumption

These are plant-based estrogens that are not produced by your endocrine system but instead must be gained by eating phytoestrogen plants – one of which is the ever-controversial soy. Since soy is commonly found in a lot of plant-based and gluten-free products due to it’s high protein content, you need to be extra conscious when shopping. However, all legumes (think: flaxseeds, sesame seeds, and lentils) are considered phytoestrogens as well.

Deductive reasoning (and many studies) (6) would say though that since people with PCOS have high testosterone levels, phytoestrogen consumption could help mitigate symptoms. However, since soy is often processed and genetically modified, it can further perpetuate hormone imbalances by triggering an overload of estrogen which comes with its own set of symptoms.

Studies have shown (7) that flaxseed is just as effective as soy for reducing androgen levels due to its consideration as a lignin – a group of polyphenols found in certain plant foods. These work to help increase (8) sex-hormone-binding globulin, which lowers the amount of free testosterone in the body.

With all of this in mind, make sure to work with your functional medicine practitioner to run labs in order to determine the underlying cause of your specific health case. This is especially important since for some people legumes can perpetuate inflammation and further gut dysfunction.

2. Get enough sleep

Sleep is the time when your body regenerates cells and maximize hormone production. PCOS is often linked (9) to increased rates of sleep apnea because of the presence of insulin resistance. In fact, research has shown that people diagnosed with PCOS are more likely to also have insulin resistance. This inverse relationship should give you some extra motivation to turn off the TV and catch some Zzzs.

3. Experiment with adaptogens

Anyone who knows me knows my obsession with adaptogens. There are not many problems that can’t be helped with these plant-based natural medicines – hormone imbalances included. To be classified as an adaptogen it must fit three specific criteria:

  1. They are generally safe for everyone
  2. They help to manage stress
  3. They help to balance hormones

The sympathetic nervous system (10) is the stress control center of your body and also controls hundreds of pathways in charge of inflammation. When inflammation runs wild it can contribute to hormonal problems. It’s because of this fact that adaptogens can be a great tool for helping ease symptoms of PCOS. Some of my favorites include rhodiola, cordyceps, and ashwagandha.

4. Stay away from endocrine disruptors

Endocrine disrupters are toxins that throw the endocrine system out of whack by increasing or decreasing the production of certain hormones, interfering with hormone signaling, or binding to essential hormones. These chemicals are ones we come in contact with every day and are hiding in common items such as cleaning products, plastic packaging, cosmetics, and even our water!

You can find a list of the 12 worst endoctrine disruptors (11) at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) along with were they are typically found. Cleanse your life by eating organic foods whenever possible and switching to all-natural cleaning and beauty products. You can also check out my list of easy and effective ways to support your body’s natural detoxification process.

5. Manage your blood sugar and insulin

Due to the relationship between PCOS and insulin resistance, managing your blood sugar is an important part of alleviating symptoms. Using food as medicine is one of the main ways you can naturally control your blood sugar. The first step would be to make sure you are eating a clean diet filled with vegetables, organic meat, and a small amount of fruit. Beyond that, make sure to include ample amounts of healthy fats including coconut products, avocados, and wild-caught salmon which most people tolerate well. These work to bring blood sugar levels down by switching your body from a glucose burner to a fat burner.

Take it to the next level with intermittent fasting. Studies have shown (12) that IF is a powerful tool in increasing (13) metabolism and lowering insulin resistance. If you would like to try this, make sure you are working with your doctor to monitor your progress while your glucose is stabilizing.

The Surprising Connection Between This Hormone Disorder + Blood Sugar Balance

When looking for a place to start rehabbing hormone health and addressing hormones and weight gain, many people often turn to the internet for answers. While the internet is a great resource, there can be a lot of often conflicting information on the best diets to heal chronic health problems. We have to remember that what works for one person doesn’t always work for another even when two people have the same diagnoses. However, there are a few specific eating styles that often work very well for hormone imbalances in particular. Take a look for my definitive ranking of the best hormone balancing diets based on the latest research and my clinical experience:

1. AIP

This acronym stands for the Autoimmune Protocol and it is my number one when it comes to treating autoimmune based hormone problems such as autoimmune-thyroid problems like Hashimoto’s disease.

Autoimmune conditions occur when a genetic weakness is triggered by an autoimmune system response to certain foods, viruses, or toxins, which all contribute to chronic inflammation.

An AIP diet takes out all potential inflammatory foods and is more strict than a paleo diet. It eliminates everything that a paleo diet does with the addition of eggs, chocolate, nuts and seeds, and nightshades like tomatoes and peppers. These foods tend to elicit inflammation in people with autoimmune problems.

2. Ketogenic diet

In the health community, the ketogenic diet is considered the new kid on the block. Even though it has been used for years as a natural treatment for children with epilepsy, it is gaining popularity for its ability to restore energy, fight inflammation, and regulate hormones.

This diet is high fat, low carb, and moderate protein. Every person has different daily calorie intakes and a specific ratio of fat, protein, and carbs that they must meet every day depending on your individual weight and health goals.

The goal of this diet is to reach ketosis. This is a state where your body uses ketones instead of glucose for energy. When your body no longer has a glucose source the body uses fat to produce ketones. Our bodies have always relied on fat for fuel from a biological (14) and evolutionary (15) perspective. Babies rely on fat from breast milk for brain growth and development. In fact, your brain is made of 60% fat!

Many studies have shown a ketogenic diet to be beneficial in managing blood sugar and controlling metabolism due to its focus on fat. And by feeding your brain fat it helps alleviate adrenal fatigue (HPA-axis dysfunction).

The wonderful thing about a ketogenic diet is that it can be done along with whatever other diet you are currently doing. It doesn’t matter what foods you are eliminating, you just calculate your ratios and meal plan around the foods you are allowed to eat. By nature, a ketogenic diet already takes out sugar, high-fructose fruits, and grains but even those following an AIP diet can thrive on this high-fat diet.

3. Paleo

For those just starting to eat healthier, a paleo diet is a great place to start. It is less strict than AIP and other healing tools like a ketogenic diet or intermittent fasting can easily be added into this eating style.

Inflammatory foods like sugar and grains are eliminated with the addition of legumes. Beans contain phytate and lectin proteins which can contribute to digestive issues and lead to increased inflammation which can continue to feed hormone problems.

4. Intermittent fasting

Just like a ketogenic diet, intermittent fasting can easily be incorporated into any of these above diets. In my functional medicine clinic I often use different IF protocols to heal the gut and reduce inflammation. While intermittent fasting can be an amazing tool, it can cause some potential side effects for those dealing with hormone imbalances – thyroid problems, and adrenal fatigue (HPA-axis dysfunction) in particular.

For people with adrenal fatigue, I’ve found that intermittent fasting isn’t always the best choice when treating circadian rhythm dysfunctions. Women can also be more sensitive to IF because they have a higher amount of the protein kisspeptin which can contribute to menstrual irregularity, poor metabolism, and infertility. Not to say that intermittent fasting is completely out of the question for those with these specific hormone imbalances, but it may require a lot more modification and monitoring.

However, intermittent fasting takes center stage when it comes to healing insulin resistance. Studies have linked (13) intermittent fasting with increased metabolism and lower insulin resistance. (14) Make sure to still work with your doctor to monitor your progress as your glucose stabilizes.

And if you thought you’d have to worry about hunger while intermittent fasting, think again! Fasting actually positively affects your hunger hormone, ghrelin which improves brain dopamine levels. (16) Just one more example of the gut-brain axis connection!


Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.

Ketotarian Plan

This program is for anyone looking to enjoy the benefits of a ketogenic diet - restored energy, reduced inflammation, enhanced brain function, curbed cravings, weight loss, and balanced blood sugar - while still being plant-based.


The (Mostly) Plant-Based Plan to Burn Fat, Boost Your Energy, Crush Your Cravings, and Calm Inflammation


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