How To Balance Your Hormones Naturally
For any woman who’s gone through or recently entered menopause, the experience is absolutely frightening.
One second you are admiring the glimmer of sunshine entering your room through the curtains and the next…an all out cry fest because the curtain is not hanging just right and you assume the sky is falling. It’s also quite confusing.
But women are not the only ones who suffer, men are also prone to wild mood swings and other issues just as women.
Everything from the lack of energy to diminishing libido and from weight gain to the onset of certain types of cancers can be pinned on hormonal imbalance.
A fine tuned mechanism of the body which relays functional information to different organs, the hormonal system can go awry due to a myriad of reasons.
Stress, pollutants, nutritional deficiencies and excesses and a multitude of other factors can lead to an imbalance in the levels of one or the other hormone. Because these hormones control the functioning of almost every organ in your body, the results of an unnatural decrease or increase in the levels of these chemicals can be nothing short of disastrous.
To understand just how significant the impact of hormonal imbalance can be, all you have to do is talk to a woman who has just discovered her pregnancy or a young girl who has just started her menstrual cycle.
Do they seem a bit whacked out? You bet! These hormones surge through your blood stream to reach your heart, your bones, muscles, reproductive organs, digestive system and even your brain. So, the effects of an imbalance can be significant and have you as mad and upset as a cow attempting to graze on AstroTurf. Yes…it can be just that bad.
The conflicting world of hormones
What makes the hormonal system in the body exceptionally susceptible to imbalance is the fact that many of these chemicals act in opposing ways. For instance, while ghrelin makes you hungry, leptin gives you the feel of being satiated after a big meal. Similarly, estrogen is the female hormone and testosterone is the male hormone. On the same lines, cortisol is the stress hormone but serotonin is the hormone that is released in response to pleasurable activity.
These hormones which act in conflicting ways are required to keep a tight grip on the function of the various organs and physiological systems. For example, too much of leptin in the body would mean that you would not feel hungry at all and would be starved for nutrition while more than the required levels of ghrelin would keep you in a state of perpetual hunger and lead to weight gain. Only when these two balance each other will you get optimal nutrition from the right amount of food consumed.
How are these hormones secreted?
Hormones are the body’s very own chemical messengers which are secreted by different glands and organs through the use of healthy fats (cholesterol) and other vital nutrients. Over time, they impact a range of crucial processes in the body such as:
• The regulation of mood
• Sexual function
• Growth and physical development
• Digestion and others
Primarily, these chemicals are produced by the body’s endocrine system. This is a network of glands that includes the butterfly shaped thyroid glands in the neck, the pea sized pituitary glands in the brain, the pineal, the thymus and the adrenal glands. The liver and the pancreas also contribute towards the production of certain hormones. Additionally, ovaries in women and testes in men also have a role to play in hormone secretion.
Are you suffering from hormonal imbalance?
The symptoms of hormonal imbalance can vary significantly depending on the levels of the chemical that has been impacted.
“Oh, they’re all girlie problems, so guys must be safe!”
Did you say that out loud, boys? Think again!
Perhaps you missed the inclusion of testosterone and estrogen in our list of hormones. Your mojo and your performance in the bedroom as well as the boardroom can all be impacted by hormonal imbalance. If not controlled and corrected in time, you also stand the risk of developing some peculiar disorders such as gynecomastia or male breast enlargement along with acute ailments such as prostate cancer if you suffer from hormonal issues.
Red alert for hormone imbalance!
Hormone issues can be categorized in two classes; the over or under production of a certain hormone and the development of resistance or hyper sensitivity to a specific hormone. So, people who develop resistance to a certain hormone will experience symptoms similar to those that are linked to the paucity of the chemical in the body. There are scores of factors that can lead to hormonal imbalance; the most common among these are:
Nutritional deficiencies or excesses: Good nutrition will provide the raw material needed for hormone production. So, when you remove specific macronutrients or over eat certain food types, this is bound to send your hormone levels into a tizzy. Also, dietary indulgences are the primary cause of hormonal resistance. A classic example of this is insulin resistance, which is developed as the body is subjected to constant over exposure to the hormone.
Stress and adrenalin fatigue: Persistent stress is another factor that will negatively impact not just the hormonal levels in the body but the entire endocrine system. The adrenalin and thyroid gland are particularly impacted by chronic stress.
Oral contraceptives and Hormone Replacement Therapy: Because hormone replacement therapy of any kind, including oral birth control pills, pushes artificial hormones and chemicals that replicate hormones, into your body, it is bound to impact the natural hormonal system. Over the short term, HRT creates hormonal imbalance but in the long run, it leads to hormone resistance. This is the reason women continue to have hormonal imbalance even after they stop taking the pill.
Endocrine issues and insulin imbalance: The endocrine system can malfunction due to a range of factors including yo-yo dieting, stress, certain illnesses and the use of specific drugs and herbal supplements.
Drugs and stimulants: Caffeine, smoking and the use of illicit drugs can all wreak havoc on the hormonal balance in the body.
Toxins and pollutants: Everything from the soap in the bathroom to the plastic containers used in the kitchen and from the chemical pesticides and fertilizers that make way into our system through the food we eat can all lead to hormonal issues.
Pregnancy, post-partum, and menopause: Along with the onset of puberty, these 4 life events are akin to hormonal roller coaster rides. While things settle down over a period of time as the hormonal levels return to normal, the impact of the imbalance can be felt for months.
Optimal Nutrition: Omega fatty acids for maintaining hormonal balance
One of the problems with modern day living, its stresses, indulgences and all, is that it has made us deviate significantly from the habits of our hunter and gatherer forefathers. Since our bodies were designed to keep up with the lifestyle of our ancestors, the excesses of today can create a whole host of problems.
This has never been more evident than in case of the Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio that has changed drastically and is often found to be the root problem for hormonal problems. 97% of the human body is monounsaturated and saturated fats while only 3% is polyunsaturated fats.
These fats form the building blocks of hormones, so when you disturb the Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio, you are also inevitably harming the hormonal balance in your body. Unfortunately, that is precisely what we have been doing all through the 19th century with the indiscriminate use of cooking mediums such as margarine and vegetable oils, which are all Omega-6 fats.
The problem with Omega-6 fats is that they are highly unstable and prone to oxidation, which leads to mutation at the cellular level and invokes an inflammatory response in the body. In a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, it was found that the 1:1 Omega 6/3 ratio which was seen in our ancestors has been increased astronomically to 20:1 today. This is often traced as the primary nutritional factor which is making Americans very sick.
So, lay off the vegetable oils, including soy, peanut, sunflower, safflower, canola, corn and cotton seed oils and go for foods that are rich in Omega 3 fats such as coconut oil, walnuts, flaxseed oil, extra virgin olive oil, fish, real butter and other grass fed animal products. Fermented cod liver oil is a fantastic supplement if you don’t have regular access to those foods.
The only type of Omega 6 fatty acid that you should be incorporating in your dietary intake is GLA or gamma-linoleic acid. This is found in hemp seed, primrose and borage oil.
Caffeine is good, in moderation
The rising coffee culture has not been doing Americans any favors. While a cup or two of coffee through the day can offer cognitive benefits, guzzling caffeine by the glass full will seriously mess up your endocrine system, particularly if other stressors such as toxins, pregnancy or fat imbalance already exist. If you must get your daily dose of stimulants, shift to green tea or herbal infusions that will not only contribute to your level of alertness but will also lower your stress levels.
If it's soy, it better be fermented
Soy and food items that are derived from soya beans are two sided swords because they mimic estrogen in the body. This works fine when women are battling diminishing levels of estrogen. However, if this is not the case, soy products can disrupt hormone production and inhibit trypsin, which can cause leaky gut and lead to inflammation.
Soy milk, protein, cereals and meat will all cause hormonal issues. However, fermented soy products such as tempeh and miso are relatively healthy. If you are trying to balance your hormones, it would be best to stay away from all soy products for a while.
22 foods that promote hormonal balance
- Egg yolk: Although implicated as the poster child for cholesterol, egg yolks are actually among the most nutritious food items available to man. They contain several vital nutrients including Vitamin A, vitamin D, selenium and cholesterol. The latter forms a mandatory component of sex hormones.
- Gelatin: It helps to compliment the amino acids we derive from muscle meat and balances the secretion of tryptophan which has a bearing on the health of the thyroid glands.
- Carrots: They contain a unique fiber that eliminates excess estrogen from the body. So, a carrot a day can actually help to alleviate premenstrual symptoms.
- Broccoli: Along with other cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale, broccoli contains potent phytonutrients known as isothiocyanates. These break down estrogen metabolites that are known to cause tumors in breast cells.
- Flaxseed: The phytoestrogenic components of flaxseed can be used effectively to fight the risk of prostate, breast and colon cancers.
Green tea: The theanine in green tea controls the release the cortisol, which is the stress hormone.
- Red wine: Polyphenols such as resveratrol and catechins which are found in the skin and the seeds of grapes promote cardiovascular health and lower the risk of certain types of cancers due to their estrogenic properties. However, the consumption of red wine should be limited to one or two glasses a week.
- Extra virgin olive oil: The monounsaturated fats found in olive oil stimulate the release of leptin which is the appetite suppressing hormone. Olive oil also helps to increase sensitivity to insulin.
- Avocados: A rich source of beta-sitosterol, avocados help to lower blood cholesterol levels and balance cortisol levels. A quarter of an avocado a day can help to restore optimal levels of the hormone DHEA, which plays a crucial role in lowering and repairing the inflammation and damage caused due to stress and intense physical activity.
- Organic Apples: An apple a day truly does keep the doctor away as the bright fruit is a powerhouse of quercetin, a phytoestrogenic compound that reduces the risk of most age related degenerative health issues and even cancer.
- Chia seeds: The richest source of Omega-3 fats in nature, chia seeds lower the chances of developing insulin sensitivity and stabilize blood sugar levels.
- Nuts: Like fruits and avocados, nuts, particularly almonds and walnuts, are excellent sources of plant sterols. While almonds help to lower the absorption of carbohydrates in the body, walnuts contain melatonin, which is the hormone that regulates the body’s circadian rhythm and is essential for sleep.
- Water: Apart from purging the toxins from your system, water keeps the cells in the body and the digestive system hydrated. In turn, this prevents the over-secretion of hormones that stimulate appetite.
- Whey protein: This is one of the most bioavailable forms of protein and a rich source of tryptophan which helps to increase the levels of serotonin in the body and combats stress.
- Berries: The anthocyanins found in these tiny, colorful fruits stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin. Blueberries, in particular, bring down blood sugar levels and help treat insulin resistance.
- Cinnamon: The aromatic spice is known to balance insulin levels and promote sensitivity to insulin.
- Oat bran: Apart from protein and fiber, oats also supply the body with zinc, vitamin E, iron, copper, selenium, magnesium and manganese. In addition, they also have phytochemicals that can ward off tumors.
- Buckwheat: A hypoallergenic and gluten free grain, buckwheat has a very low glycemic index, which regulates the amount of insulin production in the body.
- Pomegranates: These bright fruits contain phytochemicals that inhibit the conversion of estrone (the weak estrogen) into estradiol (powerful estrogen metabolite), which promotes the growth of cancerous cells in the breast tissue.
- Turmeric: The spice that lends curries their characteristic yellow color, the curcumin in turmeric helps to combat the growth of cancer cells and reduces inflammatory responses in the body.
- Ginger: A potent antioxidant, among the many benefits of ginger is its ability to block the nausea inducing effects of serotonin.
- Dark chocolate: A one inch block of dark chocolate a day can boost endorphin and tryptophan levels.
Rid your body of toxins
The toxins found in mattresses, household cleaning products, plastics, pesticides used in grain and fruit farming can all disrupt hormonal levels by mimicking the natural hormones secreted in the body.
The simplest way to keep away from these toxins is to go natural. Judiciously use organic food products as far as possible and only use non-chemical cleaning supplies. Avoid storing food in plastic containers and even when you need to microwave your dinner, use glass instead of plastic. When preparing food, do not use teflon coated and non stick cookware
Small changes that help your hormonal health
- Sleep tight: It is imperative to get 7-9 hours of sleep a day if you want to keep your hormone system healthy and functioning optimally. Lack of sleep and poor sleep cause a significant spike in the level of cortisol, which can single handedly mess up your metabolism, heart rate and blood pressure.
- Do not relegate the importance of physical activity: Instead of hours of back busting cardio, you would do well with 30-45 minutes of light exercises such as walking, swimming and yoga.
- Go for weight training: If you do need intense workouts, focus on weight training, including lunges, deadlifts, squats and kettlebells which can trigger a host of beneficial hormonal reactions.
- Destress yourself: Meditation, yoga and Tai Chi can all help to bring down the levels of cortisol in the body.
- Laugh your heart out: Humor and laughter can greatly boost the levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, which naturally combat the effect of cortisol.
- Good company makes for good health: An active social life is not only good for brain health but also for your hormone levels.
Support your body with supplements and herbs
If we were still living by the rules of Mother Nature, we would be out and about at the crack of dawn and in bed right after sunset. But, that is seldom the case in today’s world. Most of us spend our days cooped up behind our desks, rarely venturing out in the sun. It is no wonder then that the majority of the population suffers from vitamin D deficiency.
This essential nutrient is a precursor to hormone production, which is why it is integral to hormonal regulation. So, talk to your doctor about vitamin D 3 supplementation. While you are at it, you may also want to consider these other nutrients and herbs that help in hormone regulation.
- Maca: The tuber aids in boosting the production of hormones in both men and women. Maca capsules are often used to treat fertility issues and increase libido and sperm count.
- Magnesium: This vital nutrient is essential for a good night’s sleep which is a crucial factor in regulating the secretion of hormones.
- Fermented cod liver oil: With its significant content of vitamin A, D and K along with Omega- 3 fatty acids, fermented cod liver oil provides all the building blocks needed for hormone production.
- Adaptogens: These are herbs that promote overall well being and regulate the hormonal system. Ashwagandha also known as Indian ginseng and Holy Basil are the most popular and potent herbs in the category. They help to combat stress, promote hormonal balance, alleviate stress and depression and boost immune health.
Health conditions that deregulate the hormone system
As a final step to preventing hormonal imbalance, it is imperative to keep a close watch on health issues that target or involve the endocrine system. For instance, leaky gut may seem like a digestive issue on the surface but as the leaked gluten makes it ways into the blood stream, it causes thyroid inflammation.
Similarly, autoimmune disorders like hyper and hypo thyroid and goiter can throw hormone production out of balance. Adrenal fatigue is another condition that can adversely impact the production of hormones.
On a concluding note, it must be said that no information on balancing hormones would be complete without a word of caution about birth control pills. There are more effective and safer ways to avoid pregnancies than oral contraceptives. These pills are known to cause weight fluctuations and increase the risk of strokes, gall bladder disease, liver tumors and breast cancer.