This year, a “raw carrot” salad recipe went viral on TikTok. Consisting of three large carrots (grated or shaved) with vinegar, oil, salt, and sesame, the recipe, first popularized by biologist Ray Peat, rose to popularity for its “hormone balancing” effects.
“It’s a simple [and] delicious way to help your body detox excess estrogen out of your body,” writes one wellness creator in the caption of a video of raw carrots, hard-boiled eggs, and blueberries. Registered dietitians like Lauren McNeill have since debunked the claims. “I’m all for eating more vegetables,” she says in a TikTok video. “But there’s nothing special about carrots that are going to help you balance your hormones.”
If the willingness to eat raw carrots alone for lunch wasn’t enough reason to convince you that online culture is currently hormone-health-obsessed, there’s the fact that people are posting before and after videos boasting 60 pound weight loss results and giving credit to “balancing out” hormones. There is also an abundance of other “hormone healing” recipes circulating on TikTok, and hour-by-hour schedule comparison videos showing a life of “hurting hormones” (aka going on your phone when you wake up, having a coffee, and running) or “healing hormones” (drinking water and vitamins and going for a slow walk). If people aren’t currently showcasing hormone-related weight loss, they're stating how "healing their hormones" improved their acne, hair loss, bloating, and facial puffiness.
Considering that women’s hormones have been overlooked for decades in traditional medicine — not only have doctors, scientists, and researchers mostly been men, but most of the cells, animals, and humans studied in medical science have also been male — the increased conversation around hormone health could be considered a step in the right direction, but only if the information circulating is accurate. “Years ago, women were placed on synthetic hormones without proper balance, and rates of cancer were on the rise,” Dr. Azza Halim, a board-certified anesthesiologist and physician with a focus on aesthetic medicine, tells NYLON. “Now, new studies show that, with proper use of bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, we can stave off heart disease, osteoporosis, weight gain, muscle loss, and memory loss.”
Dr. Halim says that, while cortisol excess can contribute to puffiness, “controlling cortisol” should not become a fad for de-puffing. “Our cortisol levels are meant to fluctuate throughout the day and no one should be manipulating their hormones without proper lab tests and supervision of a medical doctor,” she says. “This is why hormones and ‘diet culture’ need to be separated.” With this in mind, the “balancing your hormones” conversation online is helpful for raising awareness, but (as with all medical advice) should not be applied to everyone. “It’s harmful when non-medical people out there giving medical advice to their followers,” she warns.
The “hormone-balancing” fad raises the question of whether everyone needs to be worried about their hormone health, or if this specific content should be reserved for those with hormone disorders or conditions. Dr. Arti Thangudu, the CEO and founder of Complete Medicine, says that, as an endocrinologist, she sees no real reason to be testing cortisol levels in people who are “fairly healthy” that she doesn’t think “have adrenal insufficiencies.” The dialogue around “healing hormones,” she says, is also perhaps the wrong phrasing. “I wouldn't call that hormone balancing,” she says, “I would call that treatment of the underlying hormonal condition.”
With the word “hormone imbalance” becoming its own chronically online diagnosis, Dr. Thangudu points out that there are lots of different hormones, with only a selection like “cortisol” gaining viral status. “There's thyroid hormone, there's cortisol, there's insulin, there's an antidiuretic hormone, there's estrogen and progesterone,” she says. “So now this term, instead of being quashed by specialists and experts saying that it's not a real diagnosis, is instead exploding.”
For those genuinely interested in keeping their cortisol levels down, Dr. Thangudu says it pays to get quality sleep and monitor your stress levels (things that are also recommendations for general good health). Otherwise, Dr. Thangudu says that what is currently put out as a “much-needed” conversation around hormone health online is missing the entire message. “I think there needs to be more awareness around the whole subject of endocrinology and hormonal health because there are way too few endocrinologists,” she says. There are only 5,000 practicing board-certified endocrinologists in the US and around 37 million people with diabetes.
Considering that diabetes is only one disease that endocrinologists treat — not including thyroid disease, PCOS, or perimenopause, among others — Dr. Thangudu says that the most important conversations around hormone health aren’t even in the spotlight. “A lot of non-experts talk about hormones a lot and, when the majority of people talking about hormonal health are influencers with no credentials, then yes, the message is not even just getting watered down, it's just getting destroyed because it’s not even accurate,” she explains. “I see patients who come in saying ‘I can never eat a white food’ or ‘I can never eat a banana’ but there's no such thing as a never statement that's true for every single person.”
The “balanced hormones” trend makes it clear that while there’s an interest in a greater level of access to hormonal information, the phrase has (unfortunately) become part of a selection of buzzwords without backing. “People who maybe don't have that experience or credentials are much more likely to make those all-or-nothing statements that are really catchy,” says Dr. Thangudu. With that in mind, you probably don’t need to worry about “balancing your hormones” unless you’re having potentially hormone-related health issues that should be discussed with an endocrinologist. For everyone else, feel free to add other vegetables (and perhaps a protein) into your carrot salad — and even channel that passion toward a career in endocrinology.