If you are suffering from painful periods, PMS or irregular menstrual cycle, you probably believe it is quite normal for menstruating females to have these symptoms. After all, nearly 90% of women complain of some sort of physical or psychological symptom before menstruation.

But you do not have to settle for managing your symptoms with pain killers or take pills to just keep your periods regular. You can take steps to naturally balance hormones. For most women, making simple diet and lifestyle changes is all that is needed.

Note: If your symptoms are significant, first discuss with your health care practitioner to make sure there is no underlying cause such as endometriosis or uterine fibroids, as additional support may be needed.

What causes Hormone Imbalance?

Several hormones such as cortisol, thyroid, estrogen need to work in harmony to regulate mood and overall health. When any of these hormones go out of balance, it can quickly lead to imbalance in others as well.

We will limit our discussion to sex hormones here especially estrogen and progesterone as they exert the most influence on the menstrual cycle.

Estrogen rises in the first half of the menstrual cycle, the follicular phase. Estrogen mainly contributes to reproductive health, development of female sex characteristics, bone health, brain function and mood.

Progesterone peaks in the second half of the menstrual cycle, the luteal phase. Progesterone supports and regulates menstrual cycle, supports pregnancy, mood, and sleep.

Ideally, estrogen and progesterone hormones work together to regulate menstrual cycle.

When it comes to PMS symptoms, menstrual cycle irregularities and painful menstruation, excess estrogen is a common finding, called as estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance occurrence due to actual excess in estrogen level is rare. Most often, estrogen dominance is due to low progesterone in relation to normal levels of estrogen.

So the steps listed here will support balancing your hormones with focus on addressing the estrogen dominance, starting first and foremost with the right diet.

  1. Avoid Dairy

Consumption of Cow’s milk and cow’s milk containing products can lead to increased levels of estrogen and to a smaller extent progesterone hormones. The higher the fat content in cow’s milk, greater the effect on female hormone levels were observed.

Many women find dairy elimination helps with their symptoms of painful periods and PMS. And for women who have dairy sensitivity or lack the enzymes to digest certain proteins in cow’s milk, their digestive issues and gas and bloating will increase, making their menstrual symptoms worse.

If you are dealing with symptoms due to hormone imbalance, you can try eliminating cow’s milk from your diet to see if it is helpful. As hormone levels take longer to respond to dietary changes, eliminate dairy atleast for 8 weeks to observe any reduction in symptoms.

You may have concerns about becoming calcium deficient, when eliminating dairy. But you can get your daily calcium easily from non-dairy food sources such as : sesame seeds, tofu, calcium fortified non-dairy beverages, green leafy vegetables such as Swiss chard, kale, collard greens.

2. Reduce your sugar intake

Sugar in the form of sweet treats as well as foods high in refined carbohydrates when consumed in excess not only interferes with your blood sugar control, but can increase PMS symptoms such as low mood, irritability, abdominal bloating, breast tenderness and water retention.

Excess consumption of sugar can result in chronic inflammation, making your period pain worse.

Avoid sugary foods and refined carbohydrates. Instead eat good sources of complex carbohydrates such as whole grains (oatmeal, barley, rye, quinoa, millet), beans, lentils, vegetables (sweet potato, butternut squash, greens beans, asparagus)

3. Increase omega 3 fatty acid intake

Women who suffer from depression or anxiety often complain that their mood symptoms become worse 1–2 weeks before menstruation and once their menstruation starts, their mood improves.

Even for women who have no diagnosis of depression or anxiety, they complain of feeling emotional, sad or more irritable in the days leading to menstruation.

Healthy fats especially omega 3 fatty acids lower the risk for depression and anxiety. So increased intake of dietary omega 3 fatty acids from foods such as nuts, seeds and cold-water fatty fish such as salmon, sardines will help reduce mood associated PMS symptoms.

In addition, Omega 3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect, that can help reduce period pain. In a small study comparing the effects of a common NSAID and fish oil supplementation, fish oil was found to be more effective in reducing menstrual cramps and pain.

4. Increase intake of green leafy and cruciferous vegetables

Women who eat a vegetarian diet eliminate two to three times more estrogen into their feces, thus lowering the circulating estrogen level.

This effect was attributed mainly to increased fiber intake from additional servings of vegetables.

You do not have to change to a vegetarian diet to balance your estrogen, just increase the intake of fiber rich vegetables in your diet.

In addition to having high fiber, Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, kale, brussel sprouts and cabbage contain indole-3-carbinol (I3C), which gets converted to Diindolylmethane (DIM) in the body. Both I3C and DIM help the liver metabolize excess estrogen and maintain a healthy estrogen balance.

5. Exercise

Regular physical exercise whether low intensity such as stretching or yoga or high intensity such as aerobic training or zumba results in reduced menstrual pain compared to women who do not exercise.

The endorphins released with exercise also support improved mood, thus reducing mood issues especially in the days prior to menstruation.

If you tend to experience body pain, headache or excess tiredness during the days leading to menstruation, you can consider doing low intensity exercises in those days.

6. Increase intake of B vitamins and magnesium

The liver uses B vitamins especially vitamin B12, vitamin B6 and folate to metabolize and eliminate estrogen, so there is increased need for B vitamins with estrogen dominance.

Vitamin B6 is important for production of progesterone, so increasing vitamin B6 intake from food sources or supplementation can help balance the increased estrogen progesterone ratio.

Low magnesium levels have been found in women with PMS. Considering that magnesium helps reduce muscle ache, anxiety, improve mood and sleep, it is no surprise that magnesium supplementation or increased dietary intake can be helpful with painful menstruation and PMS symptoms.

Furthermore studies show a combination of vitamin B6 and magnesium is more effective in reducing these symptoms.

7. Maintain Good Gut Health

The liver is responsible for breaking down the hormones and converting them into a form that can be excreted into stools and eliminated from your body.

But if you have constipation, the stool sits in the colon for a long time and the excess hormones such as estrogen, that your body was trying to get rid of, will get reabsorbed. So, regular bowel movement is important if you want to balance your hormones.

Your gut microbiome also plays a major role in regulating estrogen level. Newer research shows that an imbalanced microbiome and poor gut health increase the risk of estrogen related conditions such as endometriosis and PCOS. So maintaining good gut health is an important step to balance hormones naturally.

8. Reduce stress and balance HPA axis

Stress can alter hormone production by disrupting the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) gland axis.

The Hypothalamus signals the pituitary gland to release Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and Luteinizing hormone (LH). The FSH and LH in turn signal the ovaries to release estrogen and progesterone. Stress can disrupt the timing of the release of these hormones, resulting in an abnormal menstrual cycle. Hence, you have to take steps to reduce stress if you want to regulate hormones.

Stress is not only a master hormone disruptor, it can also derail several other organ functions in the body, resulting in many health challenges such as frequent colds, fatigue, sleep issues, low mood or anxiety, blood sugar abnormalities, low or high blood pressure and digestive issues.

If you are wondering whether stress induced HPA axis dysfunction is causing imbalance in your hormones as well as other non hormone related health issues, I have a self-assessment link at the end of the article that you can take.

9. Include seed cycling in your diet

Seeds to balance hormones
Seed cycling to balance hormones

Seed cycling basically involves rotating certain seeds in your diet based on the phase of your menstrual cycle.

You would include 1–2 tablespoons of flax seed and pumpkin seed daily to regulate estrogen production from day 1 to day 14 of your menstrual cycle based on a typical 28-day cycle. Consider day 1 as the first day your menstruation starts.

You would eat 1–2 tablespoons of sesame seeds and sunflower seeds to increase progesterone production, starting from day 15 until menstruation begins.

Seeds must be raw and ground, especially the smaller flax and sesame seeds for better nutrient absorption.

You can include these seeds in your diet by adding it to your smoothie or sprinkling it on a salad or use it as a topping on your oatmeal.

To learn more about why rotating seeds in your diets helps balance hormones, click here

10. Reduce exposure to hormone disruptors

Products that are used daily such as plastic bottles, plastic food containers, artificial fragrances contain chemicals such as BPA and phthalates, have strong estrogenic activity and overall disrupt hormonal balance.

Although you may not be able to completely eliminate use of these products in your daily life, you can limit their use by substituting plastic with glass or stainless-steel containers and water bottles, using essential oil-based fragrances and choosing fragrance free cleaning products.

Typically, it takes 1–3 months to see improvement when you balance hormones using this holistic approach. If your symptoms continue without any change after 3 months of following these steps, it is time to work with a health care provider who can do a functional assessment of your hormones and provide an individualized plan.


Seales P, Seales S, Ho G. Exercise for Dysmenorrhea. Am Fam Physician. 2021;103(9):525–526.

Maruyama K, Oshima T, Ohyama K. Exposure to exogenous estrogen through intake of commercial milk produced from pregnant cows. Pediatr Int. 2010;52(1):33–38. doi:10.1111/j.1442–200X.2009.02890.x

Michnovicz JJ, Adlercreutz H, Bradlow HL. Changes in levels of urinary estrogen metabolites after oral indole-3-carbinol treatment in humans. J Natl Cancer Inst. 1997;89(10):718–723. doi:10.1093/jnci/89.10.718

Fathizadeh N, Ebrahimi E, Valiani M, Tavakoli N, Yar MH. Evaluating the effect of magnesium and magnesium plus vitamin B6 supplement on the severity of premenstrual syndrome. Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res. 2010;15(Suppl 1):401–405.

Zafari M, Behmanesh F, Agha Mohammadi A. Comparison of the effect of fish oil and ibuprofen on treatment of severe pain in primary dysmenorrhea. Caspian J Intern Med. 2011;2(3):279–282.

Yang CZ, Yaniger SI, Jordan VC, Klein DJ, Bittner GD. Most plastic products release estrogenic chemicals: a potential health problem that can be solved. Environ Health Perspect. 2011;119(7):989–996. doi:10.1289/ehp.1003220

The information and other content provided in this blog are for information purpose only, and not intended and should not be considered as medical advice. If you have a medical concern, you should consult with your health care provider before you make any changes to your diet or lifestyle.