Hormones are simply the body’s chemical messengers, which travel around the body coordinating various aspects of our health, wellbeing and general functioning, including metabolic rate, homeostasis (ie. normal internal balance), growth and development, mood, sleep, sexual and reproductive function and more.
They are controlled and managed by the endocrine system which is responsible for recognizing changes within the internal environment and then responding appropriately, by releasing various hormones from glands.
There are around 50 hormones within the body that we currently know and understand, the chances are that you have heard of some of those, including estrogen, insulin, thyroid stimulating hormone, growth hormone and cortisol.
The food we eat can impact our hormones, but so too can our thoughts and emotions, activity and exercise, fatigue and tiredness.
Let’s take insulin as an example. Insulin is similar to FedEx in the fact that it facilitates the collection and delivery of nutrients from the blood to other locations. When we eat food the sugar and protein content of the blood rises as the food is digested and absorbed, the body detects this and then releases insulin. Much like Robin Hood, insulin then helps move the sugar and proteins out of the blood and into various storage sites within the body or perhaps directly to the muscle or brain where it can be used as a fuel.
When hormones function properly, as in the example above, all is well. Although when imbalances occur then issues arise, oftentimes serious issues.
Menopause itself is triggered as a result of alterations in the hormonal balance. Specifically rapidly declining levels of estrogen, which signals the end of the regular menstrual cycle and the onset of most of the menopausal symptoms, including a slow, sluggish metabolism, weight gain, fat deposition around the waist, reduced muscle mass and bone mineral density, and various cardiovascular changes.
This demonstrates just how significant hormonal changes can be!
But also note that most significant hormonal imbalances occur as a result of alterations to general health and wellness. Sedentary lifestyles, Western diets rich in calorie dense processed foods, saturated fats, sugar and salt, void of fiber, vitamins and minerals, poor sleep, alcohol and even smoking create the perfect storm for hormones to fly out of control. These foods are digested and absorbed rapidly, causing hormones to skyrocket and crash land moments later, accompanied by inflammation and a cascade of further signals to the endocrine system saying something along the lines of “Houston, we have a problem”.
Unfortunately, for many this pattern of poor habits occurs daily, stressing the body beyond its limits until it can longer manage anymore and eventually it becomes unresponsive to hormones and serious issues arise. Essentially societal changes over the years (reduced activity, more sitting, more processed food) has created the perfect storm that promotes hormonal imbalances, and ‘dah dah’ here we are!
The harsh reality is that hormones are often misunderstood and infinitely complex. They are also abstract enough to develop a compelling marketing strategy around. Hence companies will prey on your vulnerability and use emotive messaging around hormonal imbalances to sell you supplements, pills and potions that allow you to balance hormones, lose weight and improve your health.
But the fact of the matter is that simply zooming out and focussing on the big picture is more likely to help your hormones than the addition of a supplement, pill or potion.
By big picture I mean eating good food that meets your unique nutrient needs, exercising regularly and being active, managing stress by laughing, spending time with loved ones family and friends and committing to something that challenges and stimulates you daily.
As with most things in life, you can get lost in the details and find yourself spinning your wheels wasting time, or you can zoom out and relax while the body takes care of your hormones for you.
Look after your body and it will look after you, trust us.
Here are 9 simple steps to hormonal balance:
- Maintain a healthy weight
Gaining weight is associated with the development of insulin resistance, where the body is unresponsive to the actions of insulin so sugar and other nutrients remain in the blood, eventually leading to diabetes and heart disease.
Weight gain can also make the body unresponsive to the actions of other hormones, including appetite hormones, thyroid hormones that control metabolic rate, growth hormone and much more.
Maintaining a healthy weight by consistently meeting your unique energy needs is fundamental to maintaining healthy, happy hormones.
- Exercise regularly
The absolute best way to avoid diabetes and improve insulin sensitivity is to exercise intensely, regularly.
Regular, intense exercise improves the body’s ability to detect and respond to hormones. During exercise the muscles crave energy so this improves the communication between the muscle and other parts of the body, via hormones.
Intense exercise is a relative term, go as hard as YOU can go. Do a variety of exercises and activities, strength training, interval training, aerobics, body weight training, brisk walking, it all counts and all help.
Being physically active can also boost levels of hormones that help you maintain muscle as you age including testosterone, IGF-1, DHEA and growth hormone. Losing muscle is a hallmark of menopause, so this should be high on your agenda.
- Protein at all meals and snacks
This should not come as a surprise to our Reverse Health users, protein is SO important for many reasons, not only hormones.
Proteins help to build things within the body, including muscle, but also hormones.
Protein can also reduce the release of appetite hormones, making you feel less hungry and more full and satisfied after a meal.
Certain proteins are also used to build chemical messengers in the brain that make you feel happy and relaxed.
- Increase your fiber intake
Consuming meals with a higher fiber and protein content will prevent huge spikes in blood sugar, which then result in a surge in insulin, followed by cortisol, adrenaline and glucagon.
Meals rich in fiber also improve regulation of appetite and hunger hormones, so you do not feel hungry all the time.
- Reduce sugar intake
Sugar wreaks havoc on hormones, it's as simple as that.
Sugar promotes insulin resistance, causes uncontrolled spikes and crashes in energy, mood and more.
Sugar disrupts the great work being done in the gut by all the beneficial bacteria, increasing the likelihood of pathogenic/bad bacteria creeping in and causing upset.
Sugar is not detected by appetite hormones in the same way as other foods or nutrients, so you can consume almost endless amounts before anything happens.
Swapping sugar for fiber and protein is the absolute best thing you can do for your hormones.
- Increase your intake of unsaturated fats
Many sex steroid hormones as made from fat, so regular intake is important. Dietary fat also helps with the absorption of many key vitamins such as vitamin A, D, E and K which also play an important role in hormonal function.
But ensure that you consume unsaturated fats such as those found in avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds, coconut and fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna.
Monounsaturated fats found in avocado, olives and olive oil are particularly beneficial as they also contain phenols, plant compounds that help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.
Similarly polyunsaturated fats found in salmon, mackerel and other fish, flaxseeds and more help reduce inflammation and improve the body’s response to hormonal signals.
- Balance the bacteria in your gut
Right now there are roughly 1 trillion bacteria roaming around in your gut, that’s a strange thought isn’t it!?
These bacteria can either help or hinder your health, and your diet and lifestyle can help shape the gut microbiome to favor beneficial bacteria and remove pathogenic/bad bacteria.
Beneficial Bifidobacterium species can help ferment fiber, in the process producing short chain fatty acids which help you burn more calories and improve insulin sensitivity. They also improve appetite hormones, so you don’t feel hungry all the time.
Recent research has also pointed toward a link between the gut microbiome and obesity and diabetes, and also mood and mental health issues.
Supplementing with a Bifidobacterium strain probiotic each day, combined with a high protein, high fiber, wholefood diet, with plenty of varied vegetables and fruits, drinking plenty of water reducing sugar and processed food will shift the microbiome in your favor in a matter of days.
Make the bacteria in your gut help, not hinder you.
The body’s only opportunity to reset, recalibrate is while you sleep. So any hormonal imbalance that occurs during the day has to be dealt with and rectified at night, otherwise they simply continue into the following day and beyond.
Poor sleep is linked with numerous hormonal imbalances including insulin, cortisol, appetite hormones, mood and growth hormone. This can increase your risk of developing a whole host of diseases including diabetes, heart disease and stress related issues.
Sleep of adequate duration and quality is essential to helping your hormones.
We have a whole module dedicated to sleep in our Reverse Health course, delivered by the world-leading sleep expert Dr Shona Halson.
- Manage stress
Stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline are released in response to any stressful event, and I mean any stressful event. Including mental, physical, environmental or even diet stress. So imagine if you are constantly stressed in your job, at home with kids, financial stresses and also dietary stresses of sugar, processed food and fat. That stress becomes uncontrollable, chronic.
Chronic stress can increase the risk of numerous diseases including diabetes, heart disease and more.
Managing stress with exercise, walking, losing yourself in nature, listening to music, talking to people, eating good food and supplementing with ashwagandha can help reduce stress and in turn balance stress hormones.
- Avoid nutrient deficiencies
To function effectively the endocrine system relies on a whole range of different nutrients, including proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. So the avoidance of nutrient deficiencies is critically important to ensure that the body receives all the raw materials required to build and manage hormones.
A varied diet, with foods from all major food groups is something we highly recommend at Reverse Health and for good reason. This will help ensure you meet all basic nutrient needs, avoid deficiencies and keep hormones happy.
Notice how I only mentioned one supplement in the above 10 step solution?
The reality is that improving your lifestyle, sleep, stress management, exercise and your diet is far more important to balancing hormones than any supplement ever will be.
So before you begin your frantic search for the next supplement, take a second to sit back and reflect on these 10 steps and begin actioning one at a time and watch your hormones balance out right before your eyes.
Alternatively you can let us do all the groundwork for you and sign up to the Reverse Health program now.