What Is Hormone Balancing, and Is It Legit?
TikTok Is Obsessed With Hormone Balancing, but Is It Legit?
Over the last few years, TikTok has become an infinite source of hacks designed to simplify your life. The platform's ingenious eyeliner tricks will speed up your beauty routine, its cooking tips will make meal prep mess-free, and its holistic health advice will boost your well-being — or so the creators claim.
The latest wellness pointer to take off: the practice of "hormone balancing," or supporting hormonal health simply with natural methods, such as eating 20 grams of protein at breakfast, taking walks in the morning, and noshing on carrot salads drizzled with oil and vinegar.
But as your parents once warned, you shouldn't believe everything you see on the internet. Ahead, hormone experts break down if the new craze of hormone balancing has any legitimacy, the steps you can take to support your hormonal health, and when to pass on the TikTok methods and see a doctor about your concerns.
What Does Hormone Balancing Mean, Really?
Simply put, hormones are chemical messengers that carry signals through your bloodstream, telling specific body parts to perform certain functions, Andrew Kraftson, MD, an endocrinologist and a clinical associate professor at the University of Michigan, tells POPSUGAR. Your body produces more than 50 different hormones, assisting in processes such as growth, metabolism, mood, sexual function, and reproduction, according to the National Library of Medicine (NLM). And they're produced by endocrine organs, including the pituitary, thymus, thyroid, and adrenal glands, as well as the pancreas, ovaries, and testes, per the NLM.
TikTok users are correct in that hormones play a key role in your health and well-being. But the term "hormone balancing" doesn't have much meaning, Arti Thangudu, MD, an endocrinologist and the founder of Complete Medicine in San Antonio, tells POPSUGAR. "It's such a generic term, and there are so many hormones — cortisol, testosterone, estrogen, insulin, thyroid hormones, growth hormones — all with various functions that don't really overlap." Since each hormone plays a different role in your body and their levels are impacted by a lot of different factors, you can't simply boost the health of all your hormones with a few lifestyle changes, as TikTok may have you believe.
Can You Actually Balance Your Hormones?
The term "hormone balancing" may not be totally accurate, but it is possible for your endocrine organs to produce either too much or not enough of a specific hormone. This can lead to the development of a serious health condition, such as type 2 diabetes (too little insulin), polycystic ovary syndrome (or PCOS; too much androgen), and hypothyroidism (too little thyroid hormone), among others, according to the Endocrine Society. These conditions are often caused by damage to an endocrine gland, tumors or growths, autoimmune diseases, or hereditary gene mutations that affect the structure or function of an endocrine gland, among other factors, according to Cleveland Clinic.
Practicing basic healthy habits such as eating enough protein and fiber, going for midday walks, or scoring eight hours of sleep will likely make you feel more energized or less stressed and don't come with any downsides — but they won't "balance your hormones."
In turn, the best treatment to restore your hormone levels back to normal depends on the specific hormone being affected, says Dr. Thangudu. Dr. Kraftson adds: "If you're missing the pancreas or you have a disease like diabetes, where you don't make enough of that insulin hormone or it doesn't work as well, then your hormones are out of 'balance' and you need to replace what's missing. On the other hand, there are syndromes where you make too much of a hormone, so then you have to settle things down."
For instance, treating a thyroid that doesn't produce enough thyroid hormone — which can lead to fatigue, weight gain, constipation, and other symptoms — may involve taking a daily medication that brings your levels up to a healthy range, according to the Mayo Clinic. And when the adrenal gland isn't producing enough of the so-called "stress hormone" cortisol — potentially causing fatigue, muscle weakness, and loss of appetite — you'll generally take a corticosteroid medication multiple times a day to replace the cortisol you're missing, according to the National Institutes of Health. In cases involving hormonal conditions, lifestyle practices might ease your symptoms, but they likely will not completely resolve the issue at hand or prevent them from developing in the first place, says Dr. Kraftson.
"'Hormone balancing' seems like a catchy term, and it seems to make people feel like there are natural things they can do to make themselves feel better — and that's totally fine," Dr. Kraftson says. "A lot of the tenets of health are based on boring but really good ideas, like getting enough sleep, getting the right kinds of nutrition, doing great things physically for your body" — and for the most part, that's exactly what TikTokers are recommending for hormone balancing. "I guess it's just not as exciting to say [all that] instead of, 'I'm doing this because of my hormones,'" Dr. Kraftson says.
How to Support Your Hormonal Health
Prioritizing fiber consumption or getting enough quality sleep isn't going to keep all your hormones at their optimal levels, but adopting certain lifestyle practices, including some of those promoted on TikTok, can improve your symptoms if you have a hormonal health condition — and can support your overall well-being even if you don't.
For example, folks who have PCOS, which may be caused in part by high levels of androgens and insulin, may see more regularity in their periods or reduced insulin resistance if they eat a more healthful diet (think: low-fat dairy, lean meats, legumes), says Dr. Thangudu. For those who have type 2 diabetes, eating a plant-forward diet that's rich in fruits, veggies, and whole grains can help stabilize blood sugar and reduce insulin resistance, she adds. (Research shows that plant-based diets may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but the condition is also influenced by genes and family history, notes the NIH.) And individuals transitioning through menopause, during which the body produces less estrogen, can ease hot flashes by avoiding alcohol, spicy foods, and caffeine and quitting smoking, according to the NIH.
What About Hormone-Balancing Supplements?
Some TikTokers who talk about hormone balancing also promote hormone-balancing supplements — in some cases, they seem to profit off of them, and in some cases they don't. Either way, you'll want to approach any supplements claiming to support hormonal health with caution.
The US Food and Drug Administration doesn't approve dietary supplements for safety or effectiveness before they're put on the market, and it's up to the company to ensure its product meets safety standards. In turn, some supplements may have the potential to harm your health. "Hormonal supplements can actually be very dangerous," says Dr. Thangudu. "We see patients on supplements that cause thyrotoxicosis, or profound hyperthyroidism. Patients come in with problems like osteoporosis fractures because of supplements . . . Some of these supplements are pharmaceuticals — they're just not FDA-regulated or regulated by anybody."
When to See a Healthcare Provider About Your Hormonal Health
If you menstruate, one of the best ways to determine if you may be dealing with a hormonal health concern is to look at your period, as many hormone problems affect its regularity, says Dr. Kraftson. Perimenopause, thyroid dysfunction, uncontrolled diabetes, and Cushing's syndrome (elevated levels of cortisol) can all cause light, irregular periods, while PCOS may lead to heavy or prolonged menstrual bleeding, according to the NIH. Notice any changes to your flow or its frequency? Take it as a sign to meet with your healthcare provider.
You can also ask yourself if your symptoms — whether it be low energy, weight changes, or dry skin — are easily explainable, says Dr. Kraftson. Say you're concerned about excessive fatigue. If you work long days and juggle multiple jobs, care for kids and pets, and are sleeping only a few hours a night, there's a good chance your tiredness stems from your lifestyle, and it may be remedied once you better prioritize rest and recovery. But if your symptoms can't be attributed to anything happening in your life, there may be a hormonal issue worth investigating, he explains. In that case, meet with a board-certified endocrinologist or physician, who can work with you to identify the cause of your symptoms and collaborate on the best treatment plan, he suggests.
Getting the best treatment for your circumstances is key. When left untreated, diabetes, for example, can lead to complications such as kidney damage, eye damage, heart attack, and stroke, says Dr. Thangudu. Similarly, untreated hypothyroidism can contribute to high cholesterol and in turn cardiovascular disease, she adds. "There's potential damage that may be irreversible, so it's super important to try to practice preventative medicine and to address issues that do pop up," she notes.
It's worth acknowledging that we live in a world where patients' symptoms, pain, and experiences can be ignored or dismissed (sometimes called "medical gaslighting") — especially for those who fall within a minority identity, including women, nonwhite Americans, and those within the LGBTQ+ community. This can often result in misdiagnoses or lack of care. Because of this, it's understandable that people are turning to anecdotal advice from others (i.e. on TikTok) and to lifestyle medicine to take their well-being into their own hands. Still, it's worth being cautious about anything you're hearing on social media, especially when it comes to your health.
The bottom line: Practicing basic healthy habits such as eating enough protein and fiber, going for midday walks, or scoring eight hours of sleep will likely make you feel more energized or less stressed and don't come with any downsides — but they won't "balance your hormones," says Dr. Kraftson. "I think if someone said, 'Oh, I tried this [practice] and I feel better, I have more energy, I sleep better,' and it's working for them, they can share that and someone else can try it," he adds. "But it doesn't mean that's the silver bullet."