We’ve all heard about hormones and how they can affect our mental, physical and emotional health, but what are hormones? They are chemical messengers that travel around your blood stream playing a major role in controlling your appetite, weight, mood, sleep, stress level to name a few. They control every physiological process in the body including metabolism, immune system, menstrual cycle and reproduction.
Normally, our endocrine glands produce the precise amounts of hormones needed to control various processes in our bodies. Hormonal imbalances are caused by a combination of factors such as your diet, medical history, genetics, stress level and exposure to environmental toxins. When you develop hormonal imbalances, you either have too much or too little of a certain hormone which can have a serious impact on your overall system. In addition, hormone levels fluctuate throughout a lifetime and some hormones naturally decline by age. In a nutshell, hormonal changes affect everyone throughout every stage of life and affect everyone differently as some people experience a more dramatic decline than others. It is also important to note that hormonal changes occur naturally during puberty, pregnancy, breast feeding and menopause.
The good news is that we do have control over environmental factors like diet and lifestyle, which when optimized can ensure a hormonal balance. In women, hormonal changes produce different symptoms like weight gain, thinning hair, hot flashes, acne, mood swings, insomnia, heart palpitations, heavy, irregular or missed periods and a million other things. Estrogen is the main female sex hormone that naturally declines during menopause. It is cardio protective and it also protects bone mass. Menopausal women can suffer from many symptoms as mentioned earlier due to the natural decline of estrogen levels. These women are sometimes prescribed HRT (hormonal replacement therapy) to augment their estrogen levels. HRT might not be right for every woman going through menopause.
If you are a menopausal woman who is considering HRT as an option, you will have to speak to your doctor to be able to assess your individual needs as the benefits and the risks vary depending on the severity of your hot flashes, bone loss and heart health. Estrogen therapy may increase your cancer risk. In men, if the hormone testosterone is low, it can cause symptoms like infertility, loss of muscle mass, development of breast tissue, fatigue, increased body fat and loss of bone mass and osteoporosis among many other symptoms
THE NEED-TO-KNOW FACTS
The 2 Main Hormones Affected:
Cortisol (the stress hormone): Cortisol is vital to our survival as a fight or flight response, however consistent high levels in the body can lead to high blood pressure and could negatively affect heart health.
Insulin (the blood sugar hormone): When you eat carbohydrates, the pancreas releases insulin to carry the glucose from the blood to your cells where they are used for energy. If you have insulin resistance, your pancreas produces insulin normally, but your cells don’t agree to it causing more insulin to be released in an effort to help transfer glucose from the blood into the cells. Now excess blood sugar builds in your blood leading to diabetes over time. Keeping a balanced diet, maintaining healthy weight, replacing simple white carbs with complex ones as oats, beans and vegetables can protect you from becoming insulin resistant.
Any imbalance in cortisol or insulin, can accordingly have a disrupting effect on other major hormones such as thyroid hormones, which are responsible for metabolism, estrogen, which is the main female sex hormone, progesterone that regulates the body immune system and melatonin that aids in a good night sleep.
7 Ways to Naturally Ensure Hormone Balance:
- Follow a well-balanced diet without a calorie surplus to avoid weight gain. Daily meals should include:
- Healthy fats including omega 3s such as in fatty fish, nuts, seeds, avocado, egg yolk, olive oil, coconut oil and seeds that help increase insulin sensitivity. Stay away from trans fats.
- Clean protein like chicken, lean beef, fish, lentils, quinoa and eggs.
- A variety of antioxidant rich vegetables and fruits such as dark greens, bright colored vegetables, starchy vegetables.
- Healing spices and herbs such as cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, garlic, cayenne and ginger.
- Minimal sugar and sugary beverages as sugar can cause insulin resistance and increase belly fat storage.
- High fiber, both soluble and insoluble.
- Antioxidant-rich green tea. Try to have 2 to 3 cups a day.
- Himalayan salt for cooking with all trace minerals, it is great for balancing hormones.
- Engage in regular exercise since physical activity reduces insulin levels and increases insulin sensitivity. Balance and vary your exercise between cardio, strength training and endurance exercise – this will boost muscle, maintaining hormones that decline with age such as growth hormone and DHEA. Walking in nature and getting sun exposure can also boost serotonin and endorphins to lift your mood.
- Get consistent high quality sleep. Sleep is restorative and helps in balancing insulin, growth hormone, hunger and satiety hormones.
- Engage in stress-reducing techniques to lower cortisol and adrenaline like meditation, yoga or getting a massage. Devote at least 20 minutes every day to these activities.
- Be careful with the use of medications and birth control pills. Birth control pills can increase the risk of some cancers, heart attack, weight gain and mood changes.
- To reduce bone mass loss that comes with menopause, take a vitamin D supplement and eat calcium rich foods as dark leafy greens and sardines with bones. Vitamin B6 is also beneficial for menopausal women. Some natural remedies might relieve symptoms as black cohosh and ashwaganda.
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