The hormone balancing act
Experiencing anxiety? Weight gain? Problematic skin conditions? Maybe it's time to take a look at your hormones. Amber Wilson shows you how to bring your hormones back into sync and get your life back in balance.
Experiencing anxiety? Weight gain? Problematic skin conditions? Maybe its time to take a look at your hormones. Amber Wilson shows you how to bring your hormones back into sync and get your life back in balance.
Hormones surge around your body, controlling everything from menstruation and childbirth to stress and pure joy. Keeping them healthy and in balance is essential to living at your optimal health. Women going through PMS or menopause need to take particular care of their hormonal balance, but all of us, at whatever stage of our lives, will live much healthier, happier lives by keeping our body’s chemistry in balance.
What is a hormone?
A hormone is a chemical that travels through the bloodstream, which is released from different parts of the body, including glands located in the brain and kidneys, that trigger bodily functions.
They have three very important functions: promoting your sexual and physical development, adjusting the performance levels of your organs and keeping certain aspects of your body constant and stable. The system of glands that release hormones in the body is called the endocrine system.
A healthy lifestyle and healthy eating leads to healthy hormones. Here’s how you can optimise your hormone health:
- Avoid eating chemicals. Eat as many unprocessed foods as possible, and if you must eat packaged foods, avoid those with artificial flavours, colours and preservatives.
- Similarly, avoid eating fruit and vegetables that have been grown using pesticides and herbicides. This might mean eating organic foods, or at least washing your fruit and vegetables in water and apple cider vinegar before eating them to remove chemicals from their skins.
- Reduce your intake of dairy products and meat. Animal fats store chemicals, and once these enter your body they can send your hormones out of harmony. Many hormone-related cancers actually increase in probability in people who eat high amounts of dairy and meat.
- Make sure you get a full range of nutrients. Take a good-quality, natural multivitamin, but also ensure you’re getting enough omega-3 and 6 fatty acids. A teaspoon of organic flaxseed oil every day can set you on the right path.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise reduces stress hormones.
- Drink plenty of water. Water flushes out toxins and chemicals that throw your hormones out of balance.
Your Guide to Hormones
Cortisol is the long-term stress hormone. It is excreted by the adrenal glands, which are located on top of the kidneys. It’s essential for your body to function properly as it helps regulate your blood pressure and immune system as well as helping decrease inflammation. It’s also released when you’re under stress or frightened in what is termed the ‘fight or flight’ response, so you can either ‘flee the scene’ or stand and fight in threatening circumstances. It’s great for helping you cope with incredibly stressful situations, manage pain and heighten memory.
However, our bodies can release too much cortisol at inappropriate times – such as before public speaking or when our bosses call us in for a ‘special chat’ – times when we need to keep our cool. Unfortunately, our modern lifestyles deliver situations like this regularly, which means many of us are walking around with too much cortisol in our bloodstreams, which can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure, decreased bone density, lowered immunity and increased abdominal fat.
So how do we cope with an excess of cortisol? We need to learn to relax. Try meditation, yoga, Pilates, dancing, sex – or anything that helps you lower your stress levels.
Oestrogen is known as the female hormone. It is responsible for a woman’s sexual development and sends fat to the hips, breasts, thighs and buttocks, creating the feminine shape. It also regulates the entire menstruation cycle.
As women enter their late 40s, oestrogen levels begin to drop, which can cause a range of problems such as hot flushes, depression, vaginal dryness, anger, heart palpitations, fatigue, memory loss and dizziness, among other symptoms.
Balancing oestrogen naturally might involve a range of techniques. Taking the Chinese herb dong quai is one of the most popular. It’s used to treat PMS, menstrual cramps, and helps regulate oestrogen in the body.
Phytoestrogens are plant-based oestrogens, and are great for balancing this vital female hormone. You’ll find it in foods such as soy, lentils, chickpeas, garlic, celery, grains, sprouts and cinnamon. Also, try supplementing an oestrogen-rich diet with evening primrose oil and Vitamin D.
You may have noticed you become sleepier in the wintertime. This is because there is less light during the day and our pineal glands – a small gland located in the middle of the brain – can’t produce the same level of the hormone melatonin.
Melatonin regulates our sleeping and waking cycles so, in the winter, you may become sleepier and moodier. A healthy melatonin balance boosts immunity, slows the ageing process, protects against many cancers, regulates weight and maintains a happy disposition.
In order for melatonin to be released, we need an amino acid called tryptophan. That’s why warm milk is often prescribed for a good night’s sleep – it actually helps trigger the release of tryptophan.
Balance your melatonin levels naturally by ensuring you eat enough protein-rich foods. Also ensure you sleep in complete darkness, because any amount of light can affect how much melatonin your pineal gland produces. Sleep for at least seven hours a night, because the longer you sleep, the more chance you have to make melatonin.
Expose yourself to enough light during the day and try foods like oats, tomatoes, ginger and barley to regulate melatonin levels.
This is the love drug our bodies produce, creating a fuzzy feeling of bonding and the rush of infatuation and adoration. It’s released by the brain’s pituitary gland and is stimulated by sex, childbirth, breastfeeding and being touched anywhere on the body. When we’re touched, we release endorphins, the feel-good chemicals that help us manage pain and also increase intimacy and a warm sense of bonding. Oxytocin stimulates powerful orgasms and helps bond us to our babies after childbirth.
Clearly, we all want more of this fabulous drug. Unfortunately, oxytocin can become much rarer in a society plagued with high-stress jobs and fast-paced lifestyles. Luckily, there’s plenty of ways to stimulate it. Show affection – for your partner, your kids, your parents – for whoever it is that you love. The simple act of touching someone you care about releases oxytocin. If you don’t have anyone around, patting your dog or cat works well, too.
Remembering lovely memories also works. Familiar sights and sounds also boost this love drug – think about how your mum’s chocolate biscuits make you feel, or even the experience of sitting in a lovely garden.
This is a hormone that really lets you know you’re alive! It’s stored in the adrenal glands, the same place where cortisol comes from. Adrenaline is released when you’re intensely afraid or excited to give you the energy you need to save yourself from any danger.
Your heart rate will rush, your metabolism will increase and your blood pressure will soar.
It’s great for emergency situations and many people actually spend their whole lives trying to chase more of this hormone through pursuits like bungee jumping or skydiving. However, in some of us, adrenaline is released too often and in situations that are not life-threatening, leading to panic attacks and anxiety disorders.
Similar to if you’re releasing too much cortisol, relaxation techniques will help bring your adrenaline levels under control.
Leptin and ghrelin
These hormones will be of particular interest to anyone facing the ‘battle of the bulge’. Leptin is a hormone produced in the fat cells. It helps regulate your body weight by telling your brain to reduce your appetite and burn more calories.
You need to have a healthy balance of leptin – not too much and not too little – for it to work properly. People who are overweight tend to have too much and the hormone seems to become inactive. People who lose weight quickly tend to have reduced leptin levels and can become hungry. The trick is in maintaining a stable weight.
Ghrelin is released by the stomach, and increases hunger, slows the metabolism and decreases your body’s ability to burn fat. When we lose weight too quickly, our bodies produce more of this hormone in order to protect our fat stores. Again, the trick is maintaining a stable weight, but studies also show that sleeping enough is essential in order to moderate the hormone.
If you don’t sleep enough, you’ll overstimulate your ghrelin production and you’ll feel hungrier. Sleeping at least six to eight hours a night will help keep you at a healthier weight.