Hormones have many incredibly important effects on our bodies (especially for us women!) and are often the cause of ‘everyday’ health complaints – inability to lose weight, fat around the middle, low energy, PMS and heavy periods, mood swings, cravings – you name it. For this reason, I want to give you a simple overview of what hormones are, why they’re important, an explanation of the most common ones along with some diet and lifestyle tips to keep them in balance. For steady energy, a happy, optimistic good mood and a healthy weight, you need to keep your hormones at their optimal levels.
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What are hormones?
Hormones are chemical messengers in your body that give order to your cells to do things. They are secreted into the blood, and carried to organs and tissues to carry out their functions. There are many types of hormones that act on different body functions and processes. Some of these include:
- Cognitive function and mood
- Development and growth
- Metabolism of digestion, elimination, breathing and blood circulation
- Maintenance of body temperature and thirst
- Sexual function and reproductive growth and health
They’re excreted from endocrine glands throughout the body. The major ones are
- Pituitary gland
- Pineal gland
- Adrenal glands
- Ovary / testes
Hormones are incredibly important because the slightest excess or deficiency of hormone secretion can lead to serious disease states.
Below are some of the common ones you’ve probably heard of.
Fat-storming hormone: Insulin
Insulin plays a role in the regulation of blood glucose levels. It allows your body to use sugar (glucose) from the food you eat for energy or to store excess glucose for future use.
Appetite Hormones: Leptin and Ghrelin
Leptin and ghrelin are two main hormones that regulate appetite, which then influence body weight/fat.
Leptin is the ‘satiety’ hormone – it decreases hunger. It’s made by adipose (fat) cells and helps regulate energy balance by inhibiting hunger. If leptin is low, it means eat more. When leptin levels rise, you’ll be satisfied and stop eating.
On the other hand, ghrelin is a fast-acting hormone, playing a role in meal initiation. When ghrelin is released, mainly in the stomach, it stimulates appetite, increases food intake and promotes fat storage.
Unfortunately, these hormones become stuck, or even broken, and if that happens, it’s like to contribute to weight/fat gain.
Stress hormone: Cortisol
Cortisol is considered the ‘stress’ hormone, because it influences and regulates many of the changes that occur in the body in response to stress. Higher and more prolonged levels of circulating cortisol have been shown to have many negative effects, such as
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Impaired cognitive function
- Lowed thyroid function
- Sleep disruption
- Decreased muscle mass
- Lowered immune function
- Slow wound healing
- Decreased bone density
- Increased abdominal fat, which has a stronger correlation to health problems than fat deposited in other areas of the body (including higher levels of LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol, lower levels of HDL (‘good’) cholesterol, heart disease, stroke)
Prolonged high stress can lead to chronically low levels of circulating cortisol, which carry other negative health consequences.
Sex Hormones: Progesterone, Oestrogen, Testosterone, Pregnenolone & DHEA
The sex hormones affect the growth and function of the reproductive organs and the development of secondary sex characteristics (breast formation, mood, libido, etc).
Decreased sex hormones are associated with aging, with the effects being low energy levels, loss of sex drive, muscle and bone loss and lowered mood. Sex hormone levels naturally decline starting in the early 30’s, resulting in less muscle mass, more fat mass and a more sluggish metabolism. Stress can interfere as well, reducing their function even more. It’s important to have these hormones tested regularly.
The good news is that through diet and exercise, you can work to balance your hormones so they work for you, instead of against you.
Try these diet tips you can follow to help balance your hormones.
1. Base your meals on clean protein, hormone-balancing healthy fats, vegetables rich in antioxidants and spices and herbs.
- Soaked or sprouted nuts
- Organic pasture-raised/grass-fed chicken, turkey, beef, bison, elk, pasture-raised eggs
- Wild caught fish
- Coconut oil. It is amazing for hormonal production, providing the building blocks our bodies need to produce hormones. It can also assist in weight loss, speed up metabolism and contains anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties.
- Avocados. They are full of healthy fats, fibre, potassium, magnesium vitamin E, B-vitamins, and folic acid – all essential for maintaining hormonal balance in the body.
- Raw butter/ghee. They provide healthy saturated fats, and are a rich source of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K2. These nutrients are key building blocks for hormonal production. Butter provides short- and medium-chain fatty acids, which support immune function and boost metabolism.
- Egg yolks. They’re rich in vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, D, E, B2, B6, B9, selenium and choline. All of these contribute to a healthy reproductive system, hormonal balance, and healthy skin. The choline and selenium in egg yolks are also crucial for making healthy thyroid hormones.
- Nuts and seeds. Soaked nuts and seeds, olives and olive oil, fermented cod liver oil, hemp seed oil and flax-seed oil, all contain healthy fats required for hormone balance.
Antioxidant rich vegetables
- Dark greens: kale, rocket, spinach, chard, romaine lettuce, broccoli
- Brightly coloured: peppers, tomatoes, beetroot, eggplant, carrots
- Starchy vegetables: pumpkin, squash, courgette, carrots
Spices & herbs
2. Avoid high omega-6 polyunsaturated fats
Don’t eat fats like vegetable oil, peanut oil, canola oil, soybean oil, margarine, shortening, or other chemically altered fats. They are extremely high in omega-6, an inflammatory fatty acid. Too much of this in our diets wreaks havoc on hormone balance by causing inflammation throughout the body.
3. Limit caffeine
Too much caffeine can wreak havoc on the endocrine system, especially if there are other hormone stressors involved like pregnancy, toxins or stress.
4. Avoid toxins
Oestrogen imbalance is common in women, and can be caused by exposure to xeno-oestrogens, which are man-made chemicals that are present in everything from plastics and pollution to household cleaning products and pesticides.
“Xeno” is the Greek word for “foreign”. They are chemicals that mimic the effect of the hormone, attaching themselves to oestrogen receptors, interfering with normal cell function and creating imbalance.
The negative effects of xeno-oestrogens can be countered by consuming more plant-sourced phyto-oestrogens.Eating these natural sources as we can prevents the bad guys from latching on to the oestrogen receptors in our body. Foods to increase include high fibre foods such as legumes, lentils, soybeans (edamame), tempeh, flaxseed, sesame seeds and whole grains.
It’s just as important to limit exposure to xeno-oestrogens, such as non-organic foods, skincare and cleaning products and environmental toxins such as car exhaust fumes.
5. Sleep soundly
Lack of sleep (less than 7 hours per night) or sleeping at the wrong time (night shift work) can lead to disturbed hormone balance. To maximise hormone function, aim to get to bed between 10-11pm.
Once food, environment and sleep are taken care of, consider supplements, such as maca, vitamin D, omega-3 and magnesium. Always contact a Registered Nutritional Therapist before starting any nutritional supplementation.
7. Exercise, but not too much
Working out too often and/or too hard can cause imbalances in the adrenal glands and thyroid. If you’re stressed, consider low intensity exercise such as brisk walking, swimming or yoga.
If you’ve ticked all these boxes and are still have hormonal issues, get in touch for a free discovery call.