What comes to mind when you think of hormones? Maybe a menopausal woman suffering a hot flash? What about the guy at the gym who resembles the Hulk? In reality, these scenarios speak to only a few of the more familiar hormones, estrogen and testosterone, and how they function within the body. It’s important to note that everything from cardiovascular health to appetite, sleep to sexual functioning, relies on hormones to send appropriate signals throughout our bodies.
What exactly are hormones?
Hormones are chemical messengers generated by the endocrine system, a series of glands and other body parts that are laid out like an internal road map within your body. There are about 35 hormones found in the body, each responsible for performing a different function. Because hormones help regulate metabolism, heart rate, sleep cycles, reproductive cycles, sexual functioning, growth, mood, stress and body temperature, an imbalance will cause improper functioning and can lead to serious diseases. Both men and women can be impacted by hormone imbalances, some of the major ones being adrenaline, cortisol, insulin, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, leptin, ghrelin and thyroid hormones.
Cortisol and adrenaline are responsible for our stress response, setting our nervous system into what has become known as “fight, flight, or freeze.” If you experience a tense or threatening situation, your body releases these hormones to help you escape. The problem is, most of us are constantly in a state of stress, or what our body deems a threatening situation. Therefore, many Americans live with a constant flow of cortisol and adrenaline in the body. This can lead to high blood pressure, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and heart disease, among other things. Deep breathing and practices such as Yoga can significantly help. Exercise, especially 30 minutes of cardio, can also help reset the system to normal.
Many people with blood sugar imbalances are surprised to find that they are insulin resistant. Insulin, which many of us have heard of in relation to diabetes, lowers blood sugar by storing glucose in cells. When the body is constantly exposed to sugary foods, it can become insulin resistant. Weight gain in the belly, problems with estrogen levels, and low sex drive are possible outcomes of insulin resistance. The best way to reverse this imbalance is by eating little to no refined carbohydrates such as white flour and sugars. Exercise, again, is key here as well.
Estrogen and progesterone are found within the female reproductive system, along with a small amount of testosterone. Male reproductive systems are heavy on the testosterone. These hormones are incredibly important for healthy reproduction and sexual functioning. Imbalances can affect more than just your sex life, though. Mood swings, migraines, depression, anxiety, acne and reproductive disorders can also result. Diet and exercise, again, are major players in balancing your reproductive hormones. Keeping a healthy weight and moving your body daily to get rid of excess stress are vital.
Leptin and ghrelin
You may not be familiar with leptin and ghrelin, but these friends work all day every day to keep your body healthy. These hormones are in charge of the fullness and hunger signals you receive from your digestive tract. Sugar is a major culprit in messing with these hormones, especially leptin, which is responsible for telling you when you’ve had enough to eat. The average American woman should be consuming no more than six teaspoons of sugar daily, while the average male should have no more than nine. Keep sugar in check and keep your hormones happy!
Thyroid hormones are heavy hitters that help control myriad functions within the body, including metabolism and energy levels. Chronic stress, nutritional deficiencies and inflammation can cause an imbalance in these hormones, sometimes leading to serious thyroid disorders. Many scientists believe our environmental toxins, such as air pollution and compounds found in plastics, are a trigger for imbalances in the hormone levels of the thyroid. These are generally called endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which act as our hormones and mimic their functioning, tricking our bodies and blocking actual hormones from doing their jobs.
How do I keep my hormones in balance?
Aside from disorders that require medication, there are many easy-to-make lifestyle changes that can drastically affect hormone health and function:
- Stay hydrated by drinking about eight glasses of water a day.
- Use deep-breathing techniques to keep stress to a minimum.
- Make time for sleep and rest.
- Eat a whole-food diet free of processed or refined foods and sugar.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
From mood disorders to chronic illnesses, balancing hormones is front and center in disease prevention. By respecting their important jobs and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, you will find yourself living life to its fullest.