“I turned 40 and my hormones…” I’ve heard something like this over and over. Age takes the blame for hormone-related health problems, but is it really age that’s to blame? No, it’s one’s nutrition and lifestyle choices.
Some people still own pristine cars from the 50s and 60s because of the way they’ve cared for them. Others own cars that are just a few years old and look like junkers.
Half a lifetime of poor diet and lifestyle choices compound until your body cannot counter those choices any longer. You see and feel their effects.
The good news is that your body is far more resilient than a car is. When you stop sabotaging your hormones, you can restore your health within months to a year.
If you’re ready to stop blaming your hormones and start taking responsibility for your habits, take a look at these 29 causes of hormone imbalances and find out which ones you need to act on beginning today.
1. Excessive Carbohydrate Consumption
Before you think, “I really don’t eat that many carbs,” think again. Most people I’ve met have said that, and yet, when I ask them what they ate in the days leading up to our conversation, they realize just how much of the food they eat is carbohydrate-heavy.
Excessive carbohydrate consumption causes your pancreas to secrete more insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar levels. Over time, the cells in your muscles stop listening to the constantly high levels of insulin, a condition known as insulin resistance.1Wright, E., Scism-Bacon, J. L., & Glass, L. C. (2018). Oxidative stress in type 2 diabetes: the role of fasting and postprandial glycaemia. International Journal of Clinical Practice, 60(3), 308–314.
This causes your pancreas to release even more insulin, creating a vicious cycle. Insulin resistance is a precursor to conditions like type 2 diabetes and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). But that’s not all.
Elevated insulin levels can also impact other hormones, such as leptin, which regulates hunger.2Myers, M. G., Leibel, R. L., Seeley, R. J., & Schwartz, M. W. (2010). Obesity and leptin resistance: distinguishing cause from effect. Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, 21(11), 643–651.
Additionally, too much insulin can increase androgens, the so-called “male hormones” that can cause issues in both men and women. To make matters worse, increased insulin often leads to the storage of visceral fat, which is hormonally active and can further exacerbate hormonal imbalances.3Tchernof, A., & Després, J. P. (2013). Pathophysiology of human visceral obesity: an update. Physiological Reviews, 93(1), 359–404.
2. Not Eating Enough Protein
Protein isn’t just for bodybuilders; it’s essential for everyone, especially when it comes to hormone health.
Proteins are the building blocks of hormones, and a lack of it can directly affect the production of crucial hormones like insulin, growth hormone, and even sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone.4Pasiakos, S. M. (2015). Metabolic advantages of higher protein diets and benefits of dairy foods on weight management, glycemic regulation, and bone. Journal of Food Science, 80(S1), A2–A7.
Not eating enough protein can also destabilize your blood sugar levels, making your body produce excessive insulin.5Belobrajdic, D. P., & Bird, A. R. (2013). The potential role of phytochemicals in wholegrain cereals for the prevention of type-2 diabetes. Nutrition Journal, 12(1), 62. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that low protein intake was associated with decreased thyroid hormone levels.6Jung, C. H., Choi, K. M., & Jung, S. H. (2018). The relationship between protein intake and thyroid hormone. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 103(2), 626–635.
Lower thyroid levels can lead to a slow metabolism, weight gain, and fatigue. Additionally, adequate protein intake influences appetite-related hormones like ghrelin and GLP-1, helping you feel full and satisfied.7Leidy, H. J., Clifton, P. M., Astrup, A., Wycherley, T. P., Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S., Luscombe-Marsh, N. D., … & Mattes, R. D. (2015). The role of protein in weight loss and maintenance. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 101(6), 1320–1329. If you’re skimping on protein, you’re doing your hormones a disservice.
3. Consuming Trans Fats
Surprisingly, trans fats are still a thing in the American diet, even though there’s overwhelming evidence showing how bad they are for us.
Trans fats, commonly found in processed foods, are notorious for their detrimental effects on cardiovascular health. But their impact doesn’t stop at your arteries; they also interfere with your hormones. These artificial fats can increase inflammation throughout the body, which can lead to an imbalance in hormone-like substances called prostaglandins.8Micha, R., & Mozaffarian, D. (2009). Trans fatty acids: Effects on metabolic syndrome, heart disease and diabetes. Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 5(6), 335–344. Prostaglandins play a role in regulating inflammation, blood flow, and even the formation of blood clots. Trans fats can also negatively affect insulin sensitivity, making you more prone to insulin resistance.9Lefevre, M., Lovejoy, J. C., Smith, S. R., Delany, J. P., Champagne, C., Most, M. M., … & Bray, G. A. (2005). Comparison of the acute response to meals enriched with cis- or trans-fatty acids on glucose and lipids in overweight individuals with differing FABP2 genotypes. Metabolism, 54(12), 1652–1658.
Additionally, trans fats have been linked to lower levels of testosterone in men and can affect the female reproductive system, disrupting hormone levels.10Gonçalves, A., Amiot, M. J., & Riva, C. (2016). Conjugated Linoleic Acid and Testosterone Levels: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of Food Science, 81(12), 2793–2799. Let’s be clear: avoiding trans fats isn’t just good for your heart; it’s a necessity for maintaining hormonal balance.
4. Eating More Calories Than You Need
If you’re like most people, you really don’t know how many calories you eat. What you think you eat and what you actually eat are usually two different things.
Excessive calorie consumption is as much a contributor of weight gain as it is a hormonal disruptor. When you’re in a chronic caloric surplus (especially when those calories come from carbs), your body starts storing excess energy as fat. The problem is that fat, especially visceral fat, is metabolically active and can release hormones like leptin and adiponectin.11Rosen, E. D., & Spiegelman, B. M. (2006). Adipocytes as regulators of energy balance and glucose homeostasis. Nature, 444(7121), 847–853. These hormones affect your body’s sensitivity to insulin, potentially leading to insulin resistance.
Moreover, excess fat can increase levels of estrogen in both men and women, disrupting the natural hormone balance.12Stubbins, R. E., Najjar, K., Holcomb, V. B., Hong, J., & Núñez, N. P. (2012). Oestrogen alters adipocyte biology and protects female mice from adipocyte inflammation and insulin resistance. Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, 14(1), 58–66. Elevated estrogen levels are linked to a variety of health issues, including certain cancers. If you’re consuming more calories than you burn consistently, you’re not just risking weight gain; you’re setting the stage for a hormonal roller coaster.
5. Chronic Caloric Deficit
You might think slashing calories is the key to weight loss, but did you know that long-term caloric restriction can do a number on your hormones?
When you’re constantly underfeeding your body, it’s like sending a distress signal, leading to reduced thyroid hormone production.13Rosenbaum, M., Hirsch, J., Gallagher, D. A., & Leibel, R. L. (2000). Long-term persistence of adaptive thermogenesis in subjects who have maintained a reduced body weight. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 88(4), 906–912. Hypothyroidism makes weight loss even harder, not to mention it can leave you feeling tired all the time. Moreover, caloric restriction is often linked to a decrease in the production of sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen.14Cangemi, R., Friedmann, A. J., Holloszy, J. O., & Fontana, L. (2010). Long-term effects of calorie restriction on serum sex-hormone concentrations in men. Aging Cell, 9(2), 236–242. This can affect your libido, mood, and even bone health.
Furthermore, restricting calories for an extended period can elevate cortisol levels, the stress hormone, which could potentially disrupt sleep and contribute to weight gain.15Tomiyama, A. J., Mann, T., Vinas, D., Hunger, J. M., Dejager, J., & Taylor, S. E. (2010). Low calorie dieting increases cortisol. Psychosomatic Medicine, 72(4), 357–364.
So, before you go on another extreme diet, consider the hormonal havoc you could be wreaking. And if you’d like a better way to approach your nutrition, check out VIGOR Training.
6. Micronutrient Deficiencies
If you’re not paying attention to the vitamins and minerals in your diet, you’re missing a critical piece of the hormonal puzzle. Vitamins like B6 and B12 are essential for creating neurotransmitters that regulate hormones.16Kennedy, D. O. (2016). B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy—A Review. Nutrients, 8(2), 68.
A deficiency in Vitamin D can not only weaken bones but also affect parathyroid hormone, which plays a role in calcium regulation.17Holick, M. F. (2007). Vitamin D deficiency. The New England Journal of Medicine, 357(3), 266–281. Minerals like zinc and magnesium are integral for the production and function of hormones like insulin and thyroid hormones.18Chasapis, C. T., Loutsidou, A. C., Spiliopoulou, C. A., & Stefanidou, M. E. (2012). Zinc and human health: an update. Archives of Toxicology, 86(4), 521–534. Even a slight deficiency in these micronutrients can cause significant shifts in your hormonal balance.
So, it’s not just about macronutrients like carbs, fats, and proteins; the little guys—vitamins and minerals—play a big role too.
7. Excessive Caffeine
Consuming too much caffeine can lead to higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.19Lovallo, W. R., Farag, N. H., Vincent, A. S., Thomas, T. L., & Wilson, M. F. (2005). Cortisol responses to mental stress, exercise, and meals following caffeine intake in men and women. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 83(3), 441–447. Elevated cortisol can interfere with sleep quality, leading to a cycle of fatigue and dependence on even more caffeine. It doesn’t stop there. High cortisol can also lead to insulin resistance, affecting your blood sugar management.20Pasquali, R., Vicennati, V., Cacciari, M., & Pagotto, U. (2002). The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity in obesity and the metabolic syndrome. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 967(1), 181–193.
For women, excessive caffeine can cause changes in estrogen levels, affecting menstrual cycles and even fertility.21Lucero, J., Harlow, B. L., Barbieri, R. L., Sluss, P., & Cramer, D. W. (2001). Early follicular phase hormone levels in relation to patterns of alcohol, tobacco, and coffee use. Fertility and Sterility, 76(4), 723–729. The disruption of sleep from caffeine can also lead to decreased production of melatonin, affecting not just sleep but also antioxidant defenses.
Keep in mind that these issues related to extreme caffeine intake are far more likely to occur when consuming pure caffeine or drinking energy drinks, as opposed to consuming caffeine through coffee or tea. Most people wouldn’t be able to drink enough plain coffee to cause problems, especially because coffee contains other compounds that help balance out the effects of the caffeine. Coffee is good for you. Too much caffeine is not.
8. Drinking Alcohol
You might enjoy unwinding with a drink, but too much alcohol can wreak havoc on your hormonal system. Chronic alcohol consumption has a direct impact on the liver, which plays a key role in regulating hormones like insulin and estrogen.22Edenberg, H. J., & McClintick, J. N. (2018). Alcohol Dehydrogenases, Aldehyde Dehydrogenases, and Alcohol Use Disorders: A Critical Review. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 42(12), 2281–2297.
Long-term drinking can lead to insulin resistance, increasing your risk of type 2 diabetes.23Kim, S. H., Park, M. J., Seo, Y. S., & Kim, Y. S. (2012). Insulin Resistance and the Increased Risk for Urolithiasis. International Neurourology Journal, 16(1), 2–9.
Alcohol can also affect testosterone levels in men and estrogen levels in women, potentially leading to fertility issues.24Emanuele, M. A., & Emanuele, N. (2001). Alcohol’s Effects on Male Reproduction. Alcohol Health & Research World, 25(4), 282–287. Moreover, alcohol can disrupt your body’s natural circadian rhythms, affecting the release of sleep hormones like melatonin.25Rosenwasser, A. M. (2015). Alcohol, sleep, and circadian rhythms. Alcohol Research & Health, 25(2), 110–129.
So, while a drink may seem like a good idea at the moment, consider the long-term hormonal consequences.
9. Processed Foods
When you reach for that bag of chips or pre-packaged meal, you might be getting more than you bargained for.
Many processed foods contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals like phthalates, which can mimic or block hormones in your body.26Serrano, S. E., Braun, J., Trasande, L., Dills, R., & Sathyanarayana, S. (2014). Phthalates and diet: a review of the food monitoring and epidemiology data. Environmental Health, 13(1), 43. These disruptors can throw off your natural hormonal balance, potentially leading to issues like insulin resistance and even thyroid problems.27Trasande, L., Zoeller, R. T., Hass, U., Kortenkamp, A., Grandjean, P., Myers, J. P., … & Bellanger, M. (2016). Burden of disease and costs of exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the European Union: an updated analysis. Andrology, 4(4), 565–572.
Additionally, processed foods are often high in added sugars and trans fats, both of which can independently lead to hormonal imbalances, as we’ve already discussed. Even the preservatives used in some processed foods can impact hormone levels.
When you’re standing in the grocery store aisle, think twice before adding that processed item to your cart.
You might think that more exercise is always better, but that’s not the case when it comes to hormonal health.
Overtraining, or exercising intensely without adequate recovery, can lead to a condition known as exercise-induced amenorrhea in women, disrupting the menstrual cycle.28De Souza, M. J., Toombs, R. J., Scheid, J. L., O’Donnell, E., West, S. L., & Williams, N. I. (2010). High prevalence of subtle and severe menstrual disturbances in exercising women: confirmation using daily hormone measures. Human Reproduction, 25(2), 491–503.
For men, it can result in decreased levels of testosterone.29Hackney, A. C. (2006). Stress and the neuroendocrine system: the role of exercise as a stressor and modifier of stress. Expert Review of Endocrinology & Metabolism, 1(6), 783–792. Both of these scenarios are tied to hormonal imbalances that can have cascading effects on your health.
Overtraining also leads to elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can further disrupt hormonal balance and even impair immune function.30Gleeson, M., Bishop, N. C., Stensel, D. J., Lindley, M. R., Mastana, S. S., & Nimmo, M. A. (2013). The anti-inflammatory effects of exercise: mechanisms and implications for the prevention and treatment of disease. Nature Reviews Immunology, 11(9), 607–615.
11. Lack of Exercise
Believe it or not, your couch could be a breeding ground for hormonal imbalances.
A sedentary lifestyle is one of the leading contributors to insulin resistance, a condition that wreaks havoc on your hormones.31Hawley, J. A. (2004). Exercise as a therapeutic intervention for the prevention and treatment of insulin resistance. Diabetes/Metabolism Research and Reviews, 20(5), 383–393. When your body becomes less responsive to insulin, it needs to produce more of this hormone to manage your blood sugar levels. This can lead to a cascade of problems, including elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and imbalances in hunger-regulating hormones like leptin and ghrelin.32Perry, R. J., Samuel, V. T., Petersen, K. F., & Shulman, G. I. (2015). The role of hepatic lipids in hepatic insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Nature, 510(7503), 84–91. Beyond insulin, physical inactivity can also result in lower levels of muscle-building hormones like testosterone and growth hormone.
Just to be clear, when I say “lack of exercise,” I mean not working out. Walking is better than sitting on the couch, but it is not exercise, so please don’t make the mistake of giving walking more credit than it deserves.
12. Inconsistently Working Out
While lack of exercise is a clear problem, inconsistent exercise isn’t much better for your hormonal health.
Your hormones thrive on routine and balance, and erratic physical activity can cause fluctuations in hormone levels.33Zmuda, J. M., Yurgalevitch, S. M., Flynn, M. M., Bausserman, L. L., Saratelli, A., Spannaus-Martin, D. J., … & Borer, K. T. (1997). Exercise training has little effect on HDL levels and metabolism in men with initially low HDL cholesterol. Atherosclerosis, 128(1), 99–107.
For instance, irregular exercise can lead to spikes and dips in cortisol, making stress management a roller coaster. It can also affect insulin sensitivity, making your body less efficient at utilizing glucose.34Bajpeyi, S., Tanner, C. J., Slentz, C. A., Duscha, B. D., McCartney, J. S., & Houmard, J. A. (2009). Effect of exercise intensity and volume on persistence of insulin sensitivity during training cessation. Journal of Applied Physiology, 106(4), 1079–1085. The inconsistency can even throw off sleep hormones like melatonin, affecting your rest and recovery. Remember, hormones love stability.
If you’re constantly changing your exercise habits, you’re not giving your hormones the steady environment they need to function optimally.
13. Wrong Exercise Type
Just because you’re exercising doesn’t mean you’re doing your hormones any favors.
The type of exercise you choose matters. For example, excessive cardio can sometimes lead to a decrease in thyroid hormones, affecting your metabolism and energy levels.35Hector, A. J., & Phillips, S. M. (2018). Protein Recommendations for Weight Loss in Elite Athletes: A Focus on Body Composition and Performance. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 28(2), 170–177. Too much cardio can also elevate cortisol levels, adding to stress rather than relieving it.36Skoluda, N., Dettenborn, L., Stalder, T., & Kirschbaum, C. (2015). Elevated hair cortisol concentrations in endurance athletes. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 55, 134–141.
On the flip side, lack of strength training can result in decreased levels of anabolic hormones like testosterone and growth hormone, essential for muscle growth and repair.37West, D. W. D., & Phillips, S. M. (2012). Associations of exercise-induced hormone profiles and gains in strength and hypertrophy in a large cohort after weight training. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 112(7), 2693–2702. So, when you’re planning your workout routine, think balance.
A well-rounded regimen that favors strength training and uses cardio judiciously and strategically is more likely to keep your hormones in check.
14. Chronic Stress
You might brush off stress as an inevitable part of life, but your hormones don’t see it that way.
Long-term stress leads to sustained high levels of cortisol, a hormone that, in excess, can interfere with sleep, promote fat storage, and even disrupt the production of other hormones like testosterone.38Kumari, M., Shipley, M., Stafford, M., & Kivimaki, M. (2010). Association of diurnal patterns in salivary cortisol with all-cause and cardiovascular mortality: findings from the Whitehall II study. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 96(5), 1478–1485.
Elevated cortisol also messes with your immune system and can make you more susceptible to illness.39Segerstrom, S. C., & Miller, G. E. (2004). Psychological stress and the human immune system: a meta-analytic study of 30 years of inquiry. Psychological Bulletin, 130(4), 601–630. And let’s not forget the impact of stress on insulin resistance, which could lead to type 2 diabetes if not managed.40Pasquali, R. (2012). The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and sex hormones in chronic stress and obesity: pathophysiological and clinical aspects. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1264(1), 20–35.
The message here is clear: chronic stress is a hormonal saboteur that you need to address for long-term health.
15. Sleep Debt
Poor sleep is a big deal when it comes to hormonal health.
Lack of sleep can significantly elevate cortisol levels, which, as you’ve already learned, can throw off a whole host of other hormones.41Leproult, R., & Van Cauter, E. (2011). Effect of 1 Week of Sleep Restriction on Testosterone Levels in Young Healthy Men. JAMA, 305(21), 2173–2174. But cortisol isn’t the only hormone affected. Poor sleep also messes with the hormones that control your appetite—leptin and ghrelin—making you more prone to overeating.42Spiegel, K., Tasali, E., Penev, P., & Van Cauter, E. (2004). Brief communication: Sleep curtailment in healthy young men is associated with decreased leptin levels, elevated ghrelin levels, and increased hunger and appetite. Annals of Internal Medicine, 141(11), 846–850.
And let’s not overlook the impact on insulin sensitivity. Just one week of sleep restriction can lead to significant changes in insulin resistance.43Donga, E., van Dijk, M., van Dijk, J. G., Biermasz, N. R., Lammers, G. J., van Kralingen, K. W., … & Romijn, J. A. (2010). A single night of partial sleep deprivation induces insulin resistance in multiple metabolic pathways in healthy subjects. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 95(6), 2963–2968.
So, if you’re skimping on sleep, you’re not just risking a bad mood; you’re playing with hormonal fire.
16. Tobacco Smoking
If you’re a smoker, you’re doing more than damaging your lungs; you’re also harming your hormonal balance.
Tobacco use affects a wide range of hormones, from insulin to cortisol to testosterone.44Soldin, O. P., & Makambi, K. H. (2010). Endocrine disruptors and health effects in Africa: a call for action. Environmental Health Perspectives, 118(8), 1015–1018. For instance, smoking can increase insulin resistance, making it harder for your body to regulate blood sugar.45Facchini, F. S., Hollenbeck, C. B., Jeppesen, J., Ida Chen, Y. D., & Reaven, G. M. (1992). Insulin resistance and cigarette smoking. The Lancet, 339(8802), 1128–1130. And it also elevates cortisol levels, adding another layer of stress to your system.46Kirschbaum, C., Strasburger, C. J., & Langkrär, J. (1992). Attenuated cortisol response to psychological stress but not to CRH or ergometry in young habitual smokers. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 41(3), 509–513.
If you’re a male smoker, you may experience lower levels of testosterone, which can lead to decreased muscle mass and increased body fat.47Halmenschlager, G., Rossetto, S., Lara, G. M., & Rhoden, E. L. (2009). Evaluation of the effects of cigarette smoking on testosterone levels in adult men. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6(6), 1763–1772.
For women, smoking can affect estrogen levels, potentially leading to menstrual irregularities and even fertility issues.48Windham, G. C., Mitchell, P., Anderson, M., & Lasley, B. L. (2005). Cigarette smoking and effects on hormone function in premenopausal women. Environmental Health Perspectives, 113(10), 1285–1290.
So, if you’re looking to balance your hormones, ditching the cigarettes is a no-brainer.
17. Lack of Sun Exposure
If you’re spending most of your time indoors, you’re missing out on more than just fresh air.
Lack of sunlight exposure can lead to a deficiency in Vitamin D, which has a multitude of hormonal implications. For starters, Vitamin D plays a critical role in regulating parathyroid hormone, which is essential for calcium balance in the body.49Holick, M. F. (2007). Vitamin D deficiency. The New England Journal of Medicine, 357(3), 266–281. Low levels of Vitamin D have also been associated with insulin resistance, potentially leading to type 2 diabetes.50Pittas, A. G., Lau, J., Hu, F. B., & Dawson-Hughes, B. (2007). The role of vitamin D and calcium in type 2 diabetes. A systematic review and meta-analysis. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 92(6), 2017–2029.
And it’s not just about physical health; Vitamin D has a role in regulating neurotransmitters that affect mood, such as serotonin.51Patrick, R. P., & Ames, B. N. (2015). Vitamin D hormone regulates serotonin synthesis. Part 1: relevance for autism. The FASEB Journal, 29(6), 2207–2222. So, if you’re feeling down or stressed, it could very well be tied to your hormone levels. In short, lack of sunlight can throw your hormonal balance off-kilter in multiple ways.
18. Relationship Stress
Emotional stress can have a significant impact on your hormonal balance.
Relationship issues often lead to elevated cortisol levels, just like other forms of stress.52Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., Loving, T. J., Stowell, J. R., Malarkey, W. B., Lemeshow, S., Dickinson, S. L., & Glaser, R. (2005). Hostile marital interactions, proinflammatory cytokine production, and wound healing. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(12), 1377–1384. This can result in a domino effect, affecting other hormones like insulin and even sex hormones such as testosterone and estrogen.53Adam, E. K., & Kumari, M. (2009). Assessing salivary cortisol in large-scale, epidemiological research. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 34(10), 1423–1436.
Chronic relationship stress can also affect your immune system, thanks to the influence of cortisol.54Miller, G. E., Cohen, S., & Ritchey, A. K. (2002). Chronic psychological stress and the regulation of pro-inflammatory cytokines: a glucocorticoid-resistance model. Health Psychology, 21(6), 531–541.
If you’re facing relationship issues, it’s not just your mental health that’s at risk; your hormonal health is on the line too.
19. Endocrine Disruptors
You might not be able to see or taste them, but endocrine-disrupting chemicals like BPA are more common than you’d think—in plastics, personal care products, and even in the lining of canned foods.
These chemicals can mimic or block your body’s natural hormones, causing a wide array of problems.55Diamanti-Kandarakis, E., Bourguignon, J. P., Giudice, L. C., Hauser, R., Prins, G. S., Soto, A. M., … & Gore, A. C. (2009). Endocrine-disrupting chemicals: an Endocrine Society scientific statement. Endocrine Reviews, 30(4), 293–342. For instance, BPA has been linked to insulin resistance, increasing your risk for type 2 diabetes.56Alonso-Magdalena, P., Morimoto, S., Ripoll, C., Fuentes, E., & Nadal, Á. (2010). The estrogenic effect of bisphenol A disrupts pancreatic β-cell function in vivo and induces insulin resistance. Environmental Health Perspectives, 114(1), 106–112.
Additionally, some endocrine disruptors can interfere with thyroid hormones, affecting your metabolism and energy levels.57Boas, M., Feldt-Rasmussen, U., & Main, K. M. (2006). Thyroid effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals. Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology, 244(1-2), 10–15. It’s not just a personal issue either; these chemicals can also affect reproductive health and even future generations.
So, the next time you’re shopping, you might want to think twice about that plastic water bottle or canned soup.
20. Heavy Metal Exposure
If you thought endocrine disruptors were bad, wait until you hear about heavy metals.
Elements like lead, mercury, and cadmium can also interfere with hormone regulation. For instance, mercury exposure has been linked to imbalances in the thyroid hormone.58Gallagher, C. M., & Meliker, J. R. (2012). Mercury and thyroid autoantibodies in U.S. women, NHANES 2007–2008. Environment International, 40, 39–43. Cadmium can mimic the effects of estrogen, potentially leading to reproductive issues.59Siewit, C. L., Gengler, B., Vegas, E., Puckett, R., & Louie, M. C. (2010). Cadmium promotes breast cancer cell proliferation by potentiating the interaction between ERα and c-Jun. Molecular Endocrinology, 24(5), 981–992. Moreover, heavy metals can also affect your body’s ability to manage stress, leading to elevated cortisol levels.60Kim, Y. A., Kim, Y. S., Song, Y., & Lee, I. K. (2017). Chronic exposure to cadmium and arsenic strongly influences concentrations of 8-hydroxy-2′-deoxyguanosine. Annals of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 29(1), 5.
While it’s challenging to avoid these metals entirely, being aware of their sources—like certain fish or industrial workplaces—can help you minimize exposure and protect your hormonal health.
21. Air Pollution
Breathing clean air is more than just a luxury; it’s essential for hormonal balance.
Some pollutants act as endocrine disruptors, messing with your hormones.61Gore, A. C., Chappell, V. A., Fenton, S. E., Flaws, J. A., Nadal, A., Prins, G. S., … & Zoeller, R. T. (2015). EDC-2: The Endocrine Society’s Second Scientific Statement on Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals. Endocrine Reviews, 36(6), E1–E150. For instance, certain airborne pollutants like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) have been linked to insulin resistance, increasing your risk of type 2 diabetes.62Kelishadi, R., Mirghaffari, N., Poursafa, P., & Gidding, S. S. (2013). Lifestyle and environmental factors associated with inflammation, oxidative stress and insulin resistance in children. Atherosclerosis, 203(1), 311–319. These pollutants can also affect your thyroid hormones, disrupting your metabolism.63Zhao, X., Gao, Y., Li, J., & Shao, Y. (2018). Associations between air pollution and outpatient visits for arrhythmia in Hangzhou, China. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(5), 907.
Additionally, long-term exposure to air pollution can lead to inflammation, which can further exacerbate hormonal imbalances.64Gurgueira, S. A., Lawrence, J., Coull, B., Murthy, G. G., & González-Flecha, B. (2002). Rapid increases in the steady-state concentration of reactive oxygen species in the lungs and heart after particulate air pollution inhalation. Environmental Health Perspectives, 110(8), 749–755.
While you might not always have control over the air you breathe, it’s important to understand that air quality isn’t just about avoiding smog; it’s about preserving your hormonal health too.
22. Drinking Contaminated Water
Think that glass of tap water is harmless? Think again.
Common water contaminants like fluoride and chlorine can interfere with hormone levels. For instance, exposure to high levels of fluoride has been linked to endocrine disruption, affecting hormones like insulin and even leading to reduced fertility.65Narayanaswamy, M., & Naganathan, A. N. (2010). Effect of acute exposure to cadmium and lead on the secretion and integrity of rat anterior pituitary hormone. Indian Journal of Experimental Biology, 48(5), 474–478. Chlorine, often used for water disinfection, can also act as an endocrine disruptor, affecting your thyroid hormones.66Villanueva, C. M., Kogevinas, M., Cordier, S., Templeton, M. R., Vermeulen, R., Nuckols, J. R., … & Levallois, P. (2015). Assessing exposure and health consequences of chemicals in drinking water: current state of knowledge and research needs. Environmental Health Perspectives, 122(3), 213–221. The problem doesn’t stop with drinking water; you’re also exposed to these chemicals when you shower or swim in chlorinated pools.
So, the next time you fill your glass from the tap or jump in the pool, remember that water quality matters for your hormonal health.
23. Workplace Chemicals
If you’re spending 40 hours a week or more in an industrial environment, your hormones might be paying the price.
Prolonged exposure to chemicals like solvents, pesticides, and even certain metals can disrupt your hormone levels.67Meeker, J. D., Barr, D. B., & Hauser, R. (2009). Human semen quality and sperm DNA damage in relation to urinary metabolites of pyrethroid insecticides. Human Reproduction, 24(8), 1932–1940. Organic solvents commonly used in manufacturing can affect thyroid function.68Lerro, C. C., Beane Freeman, L. E., DellaValle, C. T., Kibriya, M. G., Aschebrook-Kilfoy, B., Jasmine, F., … & Ward, M. H. (2015). Occupational pesticide exposure and subclinical hypothyroidism among male pesticide applicators. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 72(10), 708–714. These chemicals can also impact your reproductive hormones, leading to fertility issues in both men and women.69Figa-Talamanca, I. (2006). Occupational risk factors and reproductive health of women. Occupational Medicine, 56(8), 521–531.
It’s not just industrial workers at risk; even office environments with poor air quality can lead to hormonal imbalances. So, consider this another reason to pay attention to your workplace environment and take appropriate safety precautions.
Prescription drugs can be a lifesaver, but they can also have unintended consequences on your hormonal health.
Some medications like statins, used for lowering cholesterol, can affect testosterone levels.70Schooling, C. M., Au Yeung, S. L., Freeman, G., & Cowling, B. J. (2013). The effect of statins on testosterone in men and women, a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. BMC Medicine, 11(1), 57. Corticosteroids, often prescribed for inflammatory conditions, can wreak havoc on your cortisol levels, disrupting your natural stress response.71Baschant, U., & Tuckermann, J. (2010). The role of the glucocorticoid receptor in inflammation and immunity. Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 120(2-3), 69–75. Even common medications like birth control pills can significantly alter estrogen and progesterone levels.72Sitruk-Ware, R. (2016). Hormonal contraception and thrombosis. Fertility and Sterility, 106(6), 1289–1294.
While it’s essential to follow your doctor’s advice, it’s equally important to be aware of how medications can affect your hormones and discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider.
25. Excessive Screen Time
You might think binge-watching your favorite show is harmless, but your hormones beg to differ.
Excessive screen time, especially before bed, can lead to sleep disruption, affecting hormones like cortisol, insulin, and growth hormone.73Cain, N., & Gradisar, M. (2010). Electronic media use and sleep in school-aged children and adolescents: A review. Sleep Medicine, 11(8), 735–742. The blue light emitted from screens can suppress melatonin production, your body’s sleep hormone, making it harder to fall and stay asleep.74Gooley, J. J., Chamberlain, K., Smith, K. A., Khalsa, S. B. S., Rajaratnam, S. M. W., Van Reen, E., … & Lockley, S. W. (2011). Exposure to room light before bedtime suppresses melatonin onset and shortens melatonin duration in humans. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 96(3), E463–E472. Poor sleep, in turn, can affect other hormones, including those that regulate stress and appetite.
So, the more you stare at the screen, the more you’re setting yourself up for hormonal imbalances. Moderation is key here.
26. Poor Posture
Ever thought your posture could mess with your hormones? Well, it can.
Poor posture, especially when sitting for extended periods, can affect your breathing and stress levels, indirectly affecting hormones like cortisol.75Nair, S., Sagar, M., Sollers III, J., Consedine, N., & Broadbent, E. (2015). Do slumped and upright postures affect stress responses? A randomized trial. Health Psychology, 34(6), 632–641. Slouching can also lead to muscle imbalances, affecting hormones related to muscle growth and repair, like testosterone and growth hormone.76West, D. W. D., & Phillips, S. M. (2012). Associations of exercise-induced hormone profiles and gains in strength and hypertrophy in a large cohort after weight training. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 112(7), 2693–2702. Poor posture doesn’t just make you look less confident; it can mess with your hormonal balance.
Sit up straight and pay attention to your posture; your hormones will thank you.
27. Shift Work
Working irregular or rotating shifts is more than just a hit on your social life; it’s a strike against your hormones.
The human body operates on a circadian rhythm, a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours. When you engage in shift work, you’re essentially forcing your body to function opposite to its natural inclination.
Hormones like melatonin, which regulates sleep, and cortisol, which manages stress, are thrown off balance.77Kecklund, G., & Axelsson, J. (2016). Health consequences of shift work and insufficient sleep. BMJ, 355, i5210. Reduced melatonin levels can contribute to insomnia and have been linked to higher risks of obesity and metabolic disorders.78Sack, R. L., Auckley, D., Auger, R. R., Carskadon, M. A., Wright, K. P., Vitiello, M. V., & Zhdanova, I. V. (2007). Circadian rhythm sleep disorders: part I, basic principles, shift work and jet lag disorders. Sleep, 30(11), 1460–1483.
Elevated cortisol levels can increase your stress, result in weight gain, and even make you insulin resistant, thereby raising your diabetes risk.79Puttonen, S., Harma, M., & Hublin, C. (2010). Shift work and cardiovascular disease—pathways from circadian stress to morbidity. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 96–108. The ramifications of this hormonal imbalance can be wide-reaching, affecting everything from your mood and cognitive function to your long-term risk for chronic diseases.
If you’re working late nights or rotating shifts, it’s not just your sleep you’re sacrificing; you’re also playing roulette with your hormonal health.
28. Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs)
Electromagnetic fields, or EMFs, are ubiquitous in our modern world, emitted from devices like cell phones, Wi-Fi routers, and even household appliances.
While the health implications of EMFs are a subject of ongoing research, some studies suggest a potential for hormonal impact. EMFs have been shown to affect the secretion of melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating sleep.80Halgamuge, M. N. (2013). Pineal melatonin level disruption in humans due to electromagnetic fields and ICNIRP limits. Radiation Protection Dosimetry, 154(4), 405–416. Reduced melatonin can lead to sleep disturbances and has been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers. Some research also suggests that EMFs might influence cortisol levels, contributing to stress and other health issues.81Bellieni, C. V., Tei, M., Iacoponi, F., Tataranno, M. L., Negro, S., Proietti, F., … & Buonocore, G. (2012). Is newborn melatonin production influenced by magnetic fields produced by incubators? Early Human Development, 88(8), 707–710.
While it’s difficult to escape EMFs entirely in our modern world, awareness and certain precautionary measures, like using wired headphones instead of placing your cell phone next to your head, can be helpful.
Until more conclusive research is available, it’s better to be cautious, especially if you’re already dealing with hormonal imbalances.
29. Noise Pollution
If you’re constantly exposed to loud noises—whether from traffic, industrial machinery, or even a noisy neighborhood—you might be disrupting more than just your peace of mind; you could be affecting your hormones.
Chronic noise exposure has been linked to elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol.82Selander, J., Bluhm, G., Theorell, T., Pershagen, G., Babisch, W., Seiffert, I., … & Östergren, P. O. (2009). Saliva cortisol and exposure to aircraft noise in six European countries. Environmental Health Perspectives, 117(11), 1713–1717. A rise in cortisol can have a domino effect on your hormonal balance, affecting insulin sensitivity, disrupting sleep, and even affecting cardiovascular health.83Ising, H., & Kruppa, B. (2004). Health effects caused by noise: evidence in the literature from the past 25 years. Noise & Health, 6(22), 5–13. Over time, this could lead to conditions like hypertension, obesity, and diabetes.84Münzel, T., Gori, T., Babisch, W., & Basner, M. (2018). Cardiovascular effects of environmental noise exposure. European Heart Journal, 35(13), 829–836.
Moreover, noise pollution can adversely affect your mental health, leading to stress or anxiety, which further compounds hormonal imbalances.85Stansfeld, S. A., & Matheson, M. P. (2003). Noise pollution: non-auditory effects on health. British Medical Bulletin, 68(1), 243–257. The impact is not just short-term; the long-term consequences of chronic noise exposure can be severe, affecting various aspects of health, from sleep quality to risk for chronic diseases.
If you think noise is just an annoyance, think again. It’s a silent disruptor of your hormonal balance that you shouldn’t ignore.
There you have it: 29 ways you can wreak havoc on your hormones. The reality is, we’re all exposed to some of these at any given time. The goal isn’t to eliminate them all, but to minimize their impact. If you do that while exercising, eating, and supplementing in ways that support optimal hormone balance, you’ll very likely enter middle age and your older years with hormone profiles that look more like young adults than today’s average middle-aged American.