Balancing Hormones Through Nutrition&Life Style

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 bloodstream 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. 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. Unfortunately, nowadays with a fast-paced modern lifestyle, this balance is easily tipped. 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.

Hormonal imbalances are caused by a combination of factors such as your diet, medical history, genetics, stress level and exposure to environmental toxins. Some of the major contributors are:

  • Food allergies
  • Being overweight     
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Exposure to pesticides, toxins, smoking, and alcohol
  • Being under constant stress
  • Not having enough sleep

The good news is that we do have control over environmental factors like diet and lifestyle which when optimized we can ensure ourselves a hormonal balance.

The main hormones that usually become imbalanced are:

  1. 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 the heart health.
  1.  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 taking 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 a 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 as the thyroid hormones 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.

Symptoms of hormonal imbalances differ depending on which hormone or gland is not working properly.

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Common conditions affecting both men and women could cause these symptoms:

  • Struggling to sleep or interrupted the pattern
  • Feeling tired even after a good night sleep
  • You feel that you cannot function without caffeine
  • You notice some mood swings and energy dips
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Disrupted bowl movements
  • Increased or decreased heart rate
  • Muscle aches, joint pains, and stiffness
  • Anxiety or irritability
  • Infertility
  • Digestive stress

 Note that hormonal changes occur naturally during puberty, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause.

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 cardioprotective and it also protects the 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 hormone replacement therapy to augment their estrogen levels. HRT (Hormonal Replacement Therapy) 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 for it as the benefits and the risks vary depending on the severity of your hot flashes, bone loss, and heart health. Note that Estrogen therapy may increase your cancer risk.  As a natural alternative way to help alleviate the symptoms, women at this life stage need to balance their diet, include good healthy fats in their meals particularly flaxseeds which are a good source of phytoestrogen that can aid in reducing hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. They should also engage in physical activity including weight training exercise and in stress-releasing techniques to ease the symptoms.  Avoid symptoms triggers like caffeine, alcohol, smoking and spicy foods. To reduce the bone mass loss that comes with menopause, they should take a vitamin D supplement and eat calcium-rich foods like dark leafy greens and sardines with bones. Vitamin B6 is also beneficial for menopausal women. Finally, some natural remedies might relieve menopausal symptoms as black cohosh and ashwagandha.

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

Take home message:

We need to control all environmental factors in hand to ensure a hormonal balance as follows:

  • The importance of having a well-balanced diet without a calorie surplus to avoid weight gain. Your daily meals should include:
  1. Healthy fats including omega 3s as fatty fish, nuts, seeds, avocado, eggs yolk, olive oil, coconut oil and seeds that help increase insulin sensitivity.  Stay away from trans fats.
  2. Clean proteins contain essential amino acids that trigger the production of hormones that suppress appetite. Clean protein like chicken, lean beef, fish, lentils, quinoa, and eggs.
  3. A variety of antioxidant-rich vegetables and fruits as dark greens, bright colored vegetables, starchy vegetables.
  4. Healing spices and herbs like cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, garlic, cayenne, and ginger.
  5. Stay away from sugar and sugary beverages which can cause insulin resistance and increase belly fat storage
  6. Consume a high fiber diet both soluble and insoluble.
  7. Drink green tea that is rich in antioxidants. Try to have 2-3 cups a day.
  8. Using Himalayan salt for cooking with all trace minerals is great for balancing hormones.
  • Engage in regular exercise since physical activity reduces insulin levels and increase insulin sensitivity. Balance and vary your exercise between cardio, strength training and endurance exercise. Exercise boosts muscle maintaining hormones that decline with age as growth hormone and DHEA. Walking in nature and getting exposed to the sun can also boost your happy hormones as Serotonin and Endorphins and alleviate your mood.
  • Get consistent high-quality sleep. Sleep is restorative and helps in balancing insulin, growth hormone, hunger and satiety hormones.
  • Learn to manage stress to keep stress hormones at bay like cortisol and adrenaline. Engage in stress-reducing techniques like meditation, yoga and having a massage every now and then. Devote at least 20 minutes every day to these activities.
  • Be careful with the use of medications and birth control pills. Make sure you know what you are taking and its effect on the body. Birth control pills can increase the risk of some cancers, heart attack, weight gain, and mood changes.

Following all the above behaviors can go a long way toward improving your hormonal health and accordingly and overall healthy body and a strong immune system.

Dr. Randa Ragy