When you hear about fiber's benefits, you probably think about having healthy bowel movements. Indeed, getting optimal fiber supports regularity. But this mighty nutrient does so much more that you may not know about, including supporting healthy hormone levels.
“Hormones are chemical messengers—think of them as text messages sent around your body,” says Sara Gottfried, MD, in Women, Food, And Hormones. “They request certain functions, like stabilizing your mood, making your skin moist, building muscle at the gym, and telling you to eat more. When they are in order, you can reach a healthy weight and maintain it. You can sleep well at night and wake up refreshed. You don’t feel cranky, anxious, and fat.”
When those hormones fall out of balance, all sorts of havoc can result. You’re tired and cranky. You struggle with symptoms like brain fog. Cravings get the best of you. Weight loss feels like a herculean challenge.
Fiber can help restore balance to the hormones that regulate blood sugar, hunger and cravings, stress levels, and so much more. Most people don’t get enough, which can impact your hormones and the critical functions they carry out.
“The average American barely consumes 16 grams of fiber on a typical day,” says Ari Whitten in Eat for Energy. “This is a dramatic drop from the fiber consumption of our Paleolithic ancestors, who are estimated to have eaten a daily average of 45 grams (with variations depending on season and geographical location).”
How Fiber Can Help Your Hormones
Read on to learn four ways that fiber can support healthy hormones, plus how to get more in your diet.
1. Fiber Can Help Balance Blood Sugar
Maintaining blood-sugar balance is critical to supporting overall health. When your blood-sugar levels are all over the map from eating foods high in carbohydrates, you’re moody, hungry, and probably struggling with weight loss.
Underlying blood-sugar balance is a hormone called insulin. When your blood sugar is steady, insulin levels stay low and you’re more prone to burn, rather than store, fat. To keep your blood sugar balanced and insulin levels low, you’ll want to eat by the plate with plenty of fiber-rich foods.
Learn more about how to optimize your blood sugar to boost your metabolism here.
Research shows that fiber-enriched meals can lower glucose and insulin levels. (Combining fiber with protein in that meal had an even bigger impact on hormone levels.)1
Left unchecked, high blood-sugar levels can lead to further complications, including type 2 diabetes. Fiber can help there, too. Large studies consistently show that a high-fiber diet can help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by an impressive 20-30%.2
2. Fiber Can Support Gut Health
Fiber and gut health go hand-in-hand. For one, fiber helps support balance among the trillions of organisms that maintain a healthy gut. Among their duties, these bacteria help regulate hormones including estrogen.3
“What you eat has a major influence on the microbes in your gut, a relationship known as the host-microbe interaction,” says Gottfried. “You need the right prebiotic fibers to feed the benevolent bugs, thereby improving immune function and hormone balance.” (Read more about prebiotic fiber here.)
Fiber can also bind to excess hormones, allowing the body to effectively eliminate them so these hormones don’t accumulate and create problems.
“Eating fiber like flax and chia seeds will bind estrogen in the gut and move it out of the body, says Esther Blum, MS, RN, in See Ya Later, Ovulator!
Listen to learn how to break the cycle of estrogen dominance here.
3. Fiber Can Help Manage Stress
While a little stress can make you more resilient to life’s inevitable challenges, too much can have the opposite effect. When you keep your stress hormone cortisol elevated when it should taper down, you’re more prone to store fat and hurt your gut.
“Chronically elevated cortisol can actually damage our body,” says Anna Cabeca, DO, in The Hormone Fix. “It increases acidity, throws our gut flora out of whack, and causes ‘leaky gut,’ when the gut becomes so permeable that substances and nutrients actually seep out through the intestinal wall.” (Learn more about leaky gut in this Medium article.)
Fiber can help manage cortisol levels. One study among 45 healthy participants looked at the effects of two prebiotic fibers on the secretion of this hormone.
They received one of two prebiotics or a placebo daily for three weeks. Researchers measured salivary cortisol levels before and after participants received the prebiotic or placebo. They found cortisol levels were significantly lower after taking a prebiotic compared with the placebo.4
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4. Fiber Can Help You Lose Weight
Hunger and cravings can quickly derail your best weight-loss efforts. Underlying those issues are hunger-regulating hormones, including leptin and ghrelin.
“Leptin is a hormone produced by the fat cells in the body,” says Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., in Living Low Carb. “When things are working as they should, leptin travels to the brain while you are finishing up your meal, where it sends a message that the body is full and it’s time to stop eating.”
Ghrelin, also called “the hunger hormone,” has the opposite effect: it stimulates your appetite. To lose weight, you want a healthy balance of leptin and ghrelin.
Fiber can help support that balance. Research shows that fiber intake is an important regulator of ghrelin levels.5 Other studies show that fiber increases leptin signaling, helping your brain to put the brakes on second helpings.6
To support gut health, regulate hunger and cravings, manage stress, and balance blood-sugar levels, you need sufficient fiber. As you’ve seen, optimal amounts of fiber can have a big impact on your hormones. Unfortunately, as Whitten pointed out, most of us aren’t getting enough.
My goal is for you to eat 50 grams of fiber a day. That might sound high, especially if you’re getting the paltry amounts Whitten mentions.
Be patient and increase your fiber intake slowly, by five grams or so every few days. As you do, drink plenty of water. It may take you one to two weeks to get there. If you ramp up fiber too fast, you could find yourself dealing with gas, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation.
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The views in this blog by JJ Virgin should never be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Please work with a healthcare practitioner concerning any medical problem or concern. The information here is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or condition. Statements contained here have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
- Karhunen LJ, Juvonen KR, Flander SM, Liukkonen KH, Lähteenmäki L, Siloaho M, Laaksonen DE, Herzig KH, Uusitupa MI, Poutanen KS. A psyllium fiber-enriched meal strongly attenuates postprandial gastrointestinal peptide release in healthy young adults. J Nutr. 2010 Apr;140(4):737-44. doi: 10.3945/jn.109.115436. Epub 2010 Feb 10. PMID: 20147463.
- Weickert MO, Pfeiffer AFH. Impact of Dietary Fiber Consumption on Insulin Resistance and the Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes. J Nutr. 2018 Jan 1;148(1):7-12. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxx008. PMID: 29378044.
- Baker JM, Al-Nakkash L, Herbst-Kralovetz MM. Estrogen-gut microbiome axis: Physiological and clinical implications. Maturitas. 2017 Sep;103:45-53. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2017.06.025. Epub 2017 Jun 23. PMID: 28778332.
- Schmidt K, Cowen PJ, Harmer CJ, Tzortzis G, Errington S, Burnet PW. Prebiotic intake reduces the waking cortisol response and alters emotional bias in healthy volunteers. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2015 May;232(10):1793-801. doi: 10.1007/s00213-014-3810-0. Epub 2014 Dec 3. PMID: 25449699; PMCID: PMC4410136.
- St-Pierre DH, Rabasa-Lhoret R, Lavoie ME, Karelis AD, Strychar I, Doucet E, Coderre L. Fiber intake predicts ghrelin levels in overweight and obese postmenopausal women. Eur J Endocrinol. 2009 Jul;161(1):65-72. doi: 10.1530/EJE-09-0018. Epub 2009 Apr 15. PMID: 19369431.
- Zhang R, Jiao J, Zhang W, Zhang Z, Zhang W, Qin LQ, Han SF. Effects of cereal fiber on leptin resistance and sensitivity in C57BL/6J mice fed a high-fat/cholesterol diet. Food Nutr Res. 2016 Aug 16;60:31690. doi: 10.3402/fnr.v60.31690. PMID: 27534844; PMCID: PMC4989175.