“When our hormones are in harmony, it’s like a beautiful waltz – when they are haywire, it’s like a clumsy cha-cha-cha or even an upside-down tango.”

Angelique Panagos, nutritionist and author of The Balance Plan.

Omega 3 fish oil guide for hormone balance

Wild mood swings, acne, brain fog… our hormones have a lot to answer for. When they’re all working together in harmony you barely notice them. But unbalanced hormones can not only play havoc with your emotions, they can cause life-altering health problems such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or hypothyroidism.  

If you have a hormonal imbalance, your doctor may suggest synthetic hormone supplements, such as the contraceptive pill for women, or testosterone replacement therapy for men. But wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to get to the root of the problem and balance your hormones naturally?

Well, there is. Research shows that Omega 3s have a crucial role to play in hormone balance. Not only do Omega 3 fatty acids make up the membranes of every one of the trillion cells in the body, they’re the building blocks of hormones themselves.

Whatever your age, sex or stage of life, ensuring a good supply of Omega 3 through your diet or taking a good quality fish oil supplement can help your endocrine system to function properly. And, if you have a particular hormonal problem such as PCOS, irregular periods or declining testosterone levels, could taking Omega 3 as a natural hormone therapy mean you won’t have to resort to synthetic alternatives? But just how does Omega 3 balance hormones? Find out more in our guide to Omega 3 and natural hormone balance.

What are hormones?

Hormones are natural substances that work as chemical messengers between one part of the body and another. They control most major bodily functions, from simple basic needs like hunger and body temperature, to more complex systems like growth and reproduction. Hormones are part of the endocrine system and are produced by glands such as the adrenals, pituitary and thyroid as well as organs like the ovaries and testicles. Each gland makes a different hormone and most make more than one.

Why is hormone balance so important?

The entire endocrine system works together to control the level of hormones circulating throughout your body, but it’s a delicate balancing act. Producing too much of one hormone or too little of another can cause chronic symptoms, as well as increase your chance of suffering from certain diseases such as breast or prostate cancer.

For women our two most influential chemical messengers are the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone. These are made in the ovaries but are actually triggered by other hormones made in the brain, known as follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). When any one of these hormones are even slightly out of whack, physical symptoms can follow. Imbalances are common around puberty and menopause, but they can occur at any age and bring with them symptoms that can make you truly miserable, from mood swings to infertility.

For men testosterone levels can decline with age and that can be a problem too. Besides fatigue, loss of libido and weight gain, men with low levels of serum testosterone have twice the risk of developing diabetes compared to men who have a normal testosterone level.

"Omega 3 fatty acids are the building blocks of hormones that govern much of the body's physiology."David Katz MD, director of the Prevention Research Center at the Yale school of medicine.

What are some common symptoms of female hormone imbalance?

While imbalances such as hypothyroidism can occur in both sexes, women are more susceptible to hormonal problems than men. Female sex hormones not only have a major upheaval during puberty and menopause, but they can fluctuate wildly every month in a pattern that’s governed by the interaction between the pituitary and the ovaries. It’s these fluctuations that make women much more prone to hormonal imbalance than men.

For example if you produce too much estrogen you could experience tender breasts, bloating and heavy periods. But if there’s too little estrogen circulating you might experience a lower sex drive, decreased fertility, mood swings or an irregular cycle. Conversely if there’s too much testosterone you could experience acne, excess facial hair, hair loss or weight gain.

What causes hormone imbalance?

“When our hormones are in harmony it’s like a beautiful waltz – when they are haywire, it’s like a clumsy cha-cha-cha or even an upside-down tango,” says Angelique Panagos, nutritionist and author of The Balance Plan. And she’s right. Normally our endocrine glands produce just the right amount of each hormone you need for all the processes that happen in your body, leaving you feeling great. But everything from the food we eat to our stress levels to environmental toxins can upset the balance. And then there’s a little thing called the ageing process. Both male and female sex hormones decline naturally with age and some people experience a more dramatic decrease than others.

Why is Omega 3 so important for our hormones?

According to David Katz MD, director of the Prevention Research Center at the Yale school of medicine, "Omega 3 fatty acids are the building blocks of hormones that govern much of the body's physiology." It stands to reason that if you don’t eat enough of them, it can only have a negative effect on their natural balance in your body. While some of the fats we need to make hormones are readily available in our diets, essential fats such as Omega 3 can only be found in specific food sources such as oily fish.

While we don’t eat nearly as much Omega 3 as we should, we’re also eating huge amounts of Omega 6 fats - they’re in virtually all the processed food we buy, from granola to crisps. High levels of Omega 6 in the Western diet are crowding out the Omega 3 - and it’s worth remembering that societies with a healthier ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 experience far fewer hormone-related conditions such as acne and PCOS.

How does Omega 3 help with natural hormonal balance?

While limiting your exposure to environmental toxins and stress, plus eating a good diet can help, Omega 3 is undoubtedly one of the most crucial natural supplements for hormone imbalance. Not only are Omega 3 fatty acids needed to build the hormones themselves, they also help transport them throughout the body by improving blood flow. And because they’re also anti-inflammatory, they can help deal with symptoms such as those dreaded hormonal acne flare-ups.

Could Omega 3 be a natural hormonal imbalance treatment for men?

When it comes to hormonal problems it’s normally those of the female variety that receive the most attention. But taking Omega 3 also has great benefits for the remaining 50 percent of the population.

Low energy, low libido, weight gain and depression in men over 40 could all point to declining levels of testosterone. After a blood test, testosterone replacement therapy (in the form of a gel or injection) is often offered to fix the problem, but this isn’t without its risks. With therapy, the body stops making its own testosterone, making it a hard drug for men to come off. And then there’s the side effects which include higher risks of prostate cancer, strokes and heart attacks.

However men who eat a diet full of oily fish have higher circulating testosterone and eating a diet rich in Omega 3 has been shown to boost testosterone levels in mice.  

Besides testosterone, Omega 3s have been shown to reduce levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. A 2013 study found that men who were given an Omega 3-rich diet for three weeks experienced significantly smaller increases in cortisol when taking a mental stress test than when they followed their regular diet.

Could essential fatty acids be good natural remedies for hormonal imbalance in females?

For women, a diet rich in Omega 3 works in several ways to relieve both the symptoms of hormonal imbalance, as well as the cause.

Not only will eating more Omega 3 help stimulate hormone production, giving the body the raw materials to make just what it needs, it has other properties that can help you deal with everything from menstrual cramps to low moods. Here’s a look at some of the ways Omega 3 can help soothe your hormonal symptoms.

Omega 3 and menstrual pain

Many women endure excruciatingly painful periods that can leave them unable to function for up to three days per month. Also known as dysmenorrhea, the pain is caused by strong contractions of the uterus, thought to be triggered by a group of inflammatory prostaglandins. A diet rich in Omega 6 fats is thought to be the culprit, as Omega 6 helps this kind of prostaglandins to proliferate in the body. But you can counteract this by taking a good Omega 3 supplement. Omega 3 is well-known for for its anti-inflammatory properties and produces its own anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. Many studies show how Omega 3 works even better than painkillers like Ibuprofen to reduce this type of period pain.

Omega 3 and endometriosis

If you suffer from endometriosis, cells that normally line the uterus start to form outside of your womb, attaching to the other organs inside the pelvic cavity. The body is not able to excrete this tissue when you have a period so it becomes trapped, causing pain and inflammation. However Omega 3 can help with endometriosis. Taking a fish oil supplement promotes the release of highly anti-inflammatory compounds that can deal with both the pain and clotting associated with endometriosis.

Omega 3 and PCOS

Women who suffer from PCOS have high androgens (male sex hormones), which cause excessive facial hair growth, insulin resistance, weight gain and hair loss. But eating a diet rich in Omega 3 improves free testosterone levels in women with PCOS. And because it’s also anti-inflammatory, it can also soothe two other PCOS symptoms -  acne and period pain.

A clinical trial in 2013 gave 45 women with PCOS 1,500mg of Omega 3 daily for six months. They saw a significant drop in testosterone levels as well as an improvement in abnormal hair growth, BMI and insulin resistance.

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that Omega 3 can help with the menopause. A recent study reported in the Telegraph found Omega 3 can delay the onset of menopause by up to three years.

Omega 3 and the menopause

Omega 3 is fast becoming one of the best natural remedies for menopause. Menopause happens when the woman’s last egg is used and she stops having periods. But in the run-up to this, in a period known as the perimenopause, the supply of eggs dwindles so the body stops producing as much estrogen. The symptoms of perimenopause are essentially the body's adjustment to fluctuating levels of estrogen and include hot flushes, night sweats, loss of libido and weight gain.

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that Omega 3 can help with the menopause. A recent study reported in the Telegraph found Omega 3 can delay the onset of menopause by up to three years.

In other studies, Omega 3 was found to halve the frequency of hot flushes, plus it can help with vaginal dryness as well as lower triglyceride concentrations in menopausal women, lessening their risk of coronary heart disease.

Omega 3 and hormonal acne

Acne is common in women during times of hormonal fluctuation, such as menstruation, pregnancy, puberty or menopause. The culprit? It’s usually testosterone which can over-stimulate oil glands and make skin cells more sticky and more likely to clog the hair follicles.

But not only do the essential fatty acids in Omega 3 fish oil soothe your body’s inflammatory response, they can also tackle the root of the problem by helping to regulate acne-causing hormones, such as testosterone and androgen. Taking Omega 3 for hormonal acne helps the body produce a family of hormones known as prostaglandins, which can regulate the amount of testosterone your body produces.

Read our guide for more about how Omega 3 fish oil benefits hormonal acne

Omega 3 and fertility

From testosterone and estrogen to follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinising hormone (LH), many hormones are involved in the complex task of making a baby. And they’re all made from the Omega 3 fatty acids we eat.

However Omega 3 can help boost your fertility in other ways. It can increase cervical fluid which helps move the sperm along and nourish it before it gets to the egg. It also helps at the point of ovulation, allowing follicles to remain fluid and helping to pop out the egg that is inside. Essential fatty acids have also been shown to improve the lining of the womb and increase the blood flow to the reproductive organs. And as if that’s not enough, intake of Omega 3 can lead to an improvement in the quality of the eggs women produce too.

Read more about Omega 3 and fertility

Omega 3 and mood swings

While Omega 3 can help hormone imbalance it also has some mood-soothing tricks up its sleeve. In fact, one of the main benefits of fish oil lies in its ability to lift your mood. Fish oil contains large amounts of the essential fatty acids, DHA and EPA. The brain needs both to function properly, and while DHA is used primarily to help build brain cells, EPA is crucial for chemical signalling and can influence levels of feel-good serotonin, keeping you feeling happy and stable.

Read our guide for more about how Omega 3 fish oil benefits depression

Could Omega 3 be a natural estrogen replacement?

If you’re suffering from a hormone imbalance it may be tempting to ask your doctor for some synthetic hormone therapy such as the contraceptive pill or even HRT. But could Omega 3 have its own estrogen-boosting effects?

According to BreastCancer.Org, Omega 3 fatty acids are a good source of lignans, compounds that may have a weak estrogen effect. This is thought to help reduce your risk of developing the estrogen-dependent type of breast cancer. That’s because when a weak estrogen-like substance takes the place of your body’s natural strong estrogen in a receptor, the weak substance can act as a relative anti-estrogen.

What is the best Omega 3 fish oil for hormonal balance?

The best Omega 3 supplements for treating hormonal imbalance are ones that contain the highest levels of EPA and DHA you can find, because it’s these two essential fatty acids that have been shown to help regulate hormones and calm inflammation.

To really see a benefit in your symptoms, you’ll need to take a clinical strength fish oil daily, such as our Lion Heart liquid or capsules. That’s because other fish oils on the market don’t contain nearly as much hormone-soothing EPA and DHA.

What about just eating more oily fish for hormonal balance?

Omega 3 is vitally important for hormone balance, but couldn’t we see improvements simply by adding more salmon to our diets each week? As Sandra Greenbank, a nutritional therapist specialising in fertility and women’s health, told us, “consuming enough anti-inflammatory Omega 3 fats, which we get mainly from oily fish, is important. However, as our waters are now so polluted I do caution against eating more than two portions of oily fish per week. Therefore, a fish oil supplement such as Bare Biology, which is independently checked for purity, is a really good option as you can get enough Omega 3 oils without the potential toxins.”

Can Omega 3 fish oil supplements really be a natural treatment for hormone imbalance?

With study after study showing the benefits of Omega 3, you can see why it deserves its place in any natural hormone replacement therapy plan.

But while taking natural supplements for hormone imbalance is a great start, it’s worth remembering that out-of-control hormones can have several lifestyle causes. There are plenty of other natural ways to regulate hormones you should be looking at too as part of a holistic plan, from eating a better diet to looking at ways to manage your stress levels.

Then with all of these saviours on your side, you’ll be in the best place to help soothe those haywire hormones from the inside out.