We have all heard of hormones. We all have hormones. But do you really know what hormones are and what effect they have on your body?
Hormones are responsible for regulating nearly every function of your body. So whether you want to gain muscle, lose weight, improve energy levels or enhance your mood, you should be paying your hormones a lot of attention.
One of the reasons that you probably don't think about your hormone levels very much is that their job is to maintain homeostasis in your body; to keep your body's processes stable. So unless your hormones are significantly out of balance, you are unlikely to be aware of their impact.
Or at least, that probably used to be the case.
In the process of researching healthy hormone levels, I discovered that we are exposed to a terrifying variety of hormone disruptors every day, as part of our modern lifestyle. These can greatly upset our health and wellbeing, manifesting as seemingly ordinary symptoms such as fatigue or weight gain.
What are Hormones?
Hormones are the ‘chemical messengers’ in your body. There are over 60 types of hormones in your body, secreted from the many glands that make up your body’s endocrine system.
After being produced, hormones travel around your body (usually in your blood) and interact with specific cells that possess receptors for specific hormones. By interacting with target cells, hormones stimulate those cells to take a specific action.
Your hormones maintain a delicate balance within your body. It is their job to regulate important functions including metabolism, growth, sleep, mood and reproduction.
Many hormones you will not have heard of, but others we refer to day to day, perhaps without even realising that they are hormones. Insulin, for example, is a hormone that helps to regulate blood sugar.
As illustrated by insulin, for example, levels that are too high, or too low, can have a big effect on your wellbeing.
What Affects Hormone Levels?
While hormones can be artificially manipulated by taking contraceptives or through hormone therapies to control medical conditions, it's possible that your hormone levels can also be affected without your knowledge.
Hormone imbalances can be caused by hormone distruptors, predominatly environmental toxins and diet, with stress also having a large impact.
Common chemicals found in everything from cleaners to cosmetics, and even in the food you eat and air you breathe, contain toxins known as endocrine disruptors. Worryingly, you are exposed to a vast number of hormone disruptors every day. Once in the body, they are hugely detrimental as well as difficult to excrete.
A diet high in processed food and lacking nutritional value can also cause hormonal imbalance.
Not only that, but many non-organic foods are contaminated with dangerous pesticides. Animal produce is contaminated with the hormones and antibiotics used to make the animals grow bigger.
When you are under stress, your adrenal glands produce cortisol, the stress hormone. Your body’s stress response takes priority over other functions; think fight or flight. When there is high and consistent demand for cortisol, the precursors needed to make other hormones are depleted by this ‘cortisol steal’.
Tips for Hormonal Health
I met nutritionist and naturopath Gillian Day at an event where she was talking about hormones (this is where I learnt about the NaturalCycles Contraceptive App) and was fascinated by her knoweldge and holistic approach to health. So, I invited her to share her top tips on hormonal health:
1. Limit the caffeine
I love coffee - a lot, but unfortunately it is a potent hormone disruptor and that can wreak havoc on the endocrine system.
2. Eat organic + live organic where possible
Dairy and meat can contain excess oestrogens which can throw hormones out of balance, so consider eating a more plant-bssed diet.
Toxins found in pesticides, plastics, household chemicals and even the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) can contain hormone disrupting chemicals called xenoestrogens that can mimic our natural hormones in the body and keep us from producing real hormones.
Top tip: cook in glass or non-coated metal pans (i.e. no teflon!) and avoid heating or storing foods in plastic.
3. Avoid high omega 6 oils and PUFA – polyunsaturated fatty acids
Getting rid of or greatly reducing vegetable oil, canola oil, soybean oil, margarine and swapping for coconut oil, real butter and olive oil can dramatically reduce inflammation in the body.
Reducing inflammation = happy healthy hormones!
4. Reduce sugar
There is a connection between an imbalance in oestrogen and progesterone and the way the body uses the hormone insulin (which is used by the body to deal with sugar). If we have too much insulin (normally from too much sugar or starch) it can trigger too much testosterone, and too much testosterone can suppress ovulation. Any disruption to ovulation will have a knock-on effect on the production of progesterone.
5. Reduce stress
Stress knocks your hormonal patterns completely out of rhythm. There’s a greater demand on hormone raw materials, plus stress places a greater demand on our nutrient reserves. Head to my website for 5 simple strategies to reduce stress and reconnect with yourself and your food.
6. Get Good Sleep
If you aren’t getting enough sleep, your hormones won’t be balanced – end of story! Sleep disturbances can decrease the release of testosterone by almost half, so make sure you get your nightly quota.
7. Supplement wisely
I am a big fan of supplements as I’ve seen the benefits of my clients using good quality supplements and herbs for a wide range of hormonal imbalance symptoms in my clinic every single day.
However, not all supplements are created equal. There’s the good, the bad, and definitely the ugly! If supplements have the ability to heal, they also have the ability to harm. Supplementing wisely is crucial to happy healthy hormones. Some supplements that have been useful for happy healthy testosterone levels and hormones include spearmint tea, DIM, calcium D glucarate and chaste tree.
8. Exercise right for your body
If you have hormone imbalance, intense extended exercise can actually make the problem worse. Swap your body pump class for some restorative yoga or swimming or rebounding.
For more details on how you can work with Gill, visit her website, Nurture Thru Nature.
Hormone Level Testing
If you're concerned about your hormone levels, consider paying a visit to your doctor, as well as following Gill's advice.
Hormone level testing can be carried out by a doctor. Then they, or another health professional, can guide you through your results.
Alternatively, companies such as MediChecks offer home hormone testing kits, which can be a good start if you think that you may be suffering from symptoms of low or elevated hormone levels.
Have you suffered symptoms of hormonal imbalance?
Do you take measures to minimise hormone distruption?