Dr. Sandra El Hajj- MSc, N-MD, DHSc
Our bodies have a long list of chemicals that travel through the bloodstream, reaching our organs and tissues to carry out the complex processes that keep us functioning. Those chemicals are known as hormones. They are powerful, and even the smallest fluctuations can prompt noticeable changes in your body’s functioning.
While a range of symptoms hints at hormonal imbalances, some of the most common include unexplained weight fluctuations, fatigue, mood shifts, and changes in skin texture. These symptoms, among many others, will fluctuate depending on which hormones are affected in your body. While your first step will be checking in with a physician, there are lifestyle choices you can make to promote a balance of those hormones naturally.
The National Institute of Health explains that hormones are responsible for regulating many functions of the body. They’re produced by endocrine glands and act as chemical messengers between different parts of the body. On a grand scale, hormones play an essential role in growth and development, metabolism, electrolyte balance, and reproduction.
There are different types of hormones: steroids, amino acid derivatives, polypeptides, and proteins. Each class differs from the other and addresses a different bodily function. Together, they are responsible for mental, physical, and emotional well-being. They control appetite, contribute to weight fluctuations, alter your mood, and even guide your sexual health.
Hormone regulation is a vital component of overall well-being. Levels above or below the normal range are considered problematic. With age, hormonal imbalances are common, and levels can dramatically decline for some. While many resort to hormone replacement therapies, several natural methods can help restore your balance.
Proteins contain amino acids, the building blocks of your muscles, bones, and skin. Proteins also control levels of ghrelin, the hormone that regulates appetite. Onestudy out of the Netherlands determined that meals high in protein can decrease ghrelin levels, promoting satiety and feelings of fullness. This ghrelin response prevents overeating and contributes to healthy weight management. To make sure you’re getting enough protein in your diet, aim to consume 20-30 grams ofprotein per meal.
Working out can play a pivotal role in regulating your hormones. It helps reduce insulin levels and increases insulin sensitivity. Insulin is the hormone that converts sugar and amino acids (those proteins we talked about) into energy and muscles.Elevated insulin levels put you in danger of inflammation, heart problems, diabetes, and even cancer. They’re also linked to insulin resistance, where cells in the body do not react appropriately to the insulin secreted.
Onestudy observed the effects of exercise in obese women over a period of 24 weeks. The study showed that exercising helped increase their insulin resistance while reducing levels of insulin. The workout consisted of aerobic exercises, strength training, and endurance exercise. Activities as small as a regular stroll in nature can do wonders for normalizing hormone levels.
Sugars, refined carbohydrates, and sugary beverages are notoriously offensive food choices for your health. By limiting your consumption of these foods, you help optimize your hormone levels, prevent obesity, and lower your risk of heart disease.Studies observing obese and overweight individuals showed that fructose, for example, raises insulin levels—increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart conditions.
Anotherstudy demonstrated that honey, sugar, and high-fructose corn syrup had the same effect on insulin resistance in prediabetic individuals. Meanwhile,others have studied the impact of white bread and pretzels on healthy adults’ and adolescents’ insulin levels. Unsurprisingly, these refined carbohydrates produced the same effects on insulin.
To avoid dangerous spikes in insulin levels, focus your diet on whole foods consisting of complex carbohydrates, vegetables, and lean proteins.
When you’re stressed, your hormones are likely to be impacted too. In the body, cortisol and adrenaline are predominately responsible for stress. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone, while adrenaline is your fight-or-flight hormone. While the former helps your body cope with long-term stressors, the latter provides your body with the energy to respond to immediate danger. Consistently elevated stress levels can lead to chronicallyhigh cortisol levels, contributing to obesity and excess fat storage in the belly.
Manystudieshave demonstrated the ability of meditation, yoga, and relaxing music to reduce cortisol. Those who practice these stress-reducing techniques are likely to see reduced cortisol levels and, thus, experience less stress.
Massage is another powerful stress-reduction technique. Astudypublished in 2005 showed that those undergoing massage therapy saw a 31% reduction in cortisol and dopamine levels, along with a 28% reduction in serotonin levels.
To stabilize your stress levels, give yourself 10-15 minutes each day dedicated to relaxing activities—whatever those may be for you.
Adding high-quality fats to your diet can help control appetite and improve insulin sensitivity. Many studies have shown medium-chain triglycerides to reduce insulin resistance, including coconut oil and palm oil.Omega-3 fatty acids are another source of healthy fat not linked to adverse insulin effects.
To make sure your hunger hormones and insulin levels are within normal ranges, you may want to add a moderate portion of healthy fats in every meal. Steer clear of dairy fats and unhealthy trans fats and instead prioritize omega-3s andpolyunsaturated fats found in fatty fish, sunflower seeds, soybeans, and some vegetable oils.
When you overeat, you risk deregulating the function of yourhunger hormones like ghrelin. Over time, increased ghrelin levels contribute to diminished satiety after eating. This decline in satiety encourages overeating, which can lead to weight gain and obesity. On the flip side, people who undereat also tend to have hormone dysregulation with elevated levels of cortisol.
To keep your hormones balanced, make sure you’re eating the proper amount of calories needed for your body at each meal. Many tools are available online to help you calculate your daily caloric need. Keeping track of this, along with the calories you’re taking in, will help you control your weight and maintain healthy hormone levels.
One of the healthiest beverages in the world, green tea can help you balance your hormones. In addition to boosting your metabolism, green tea can increase insulin sensitivity and lower insulin levels in obese and diabetic individuals.
In observing the effects of green tea consumption in humans,epidemiological studies have revealed a correlation between long-term consumption of green tea and a reduction in the incidence of diabetes. For an easy swap, consider sipping on green tea after you’ve had your first cup of caffeine for the day.
Regulating your sleep is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle. Poor sleep quality contributes to imbalances in insulin, cortisol, leptin, ghrelin, and growth hormones. Several of these hormones activate in the deeper sleep stages to perform vital restorative functions, including tissue growth and repair.
One of the most important sleep hormones to consider ismelatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone produced by the pineal gland. Tips to regulate melatonin include:
Your hormones are the body’s chemical messengers, responsible for governing a host of bodily functions. If you’re experiencing a hormonal imbalance, your symptoms are likely to differ based on the hormones affected. Common symptoms include weight fluctuations, mood shifts, and changes in skin or hair texture.
To identify the root cause of your hormonal imbalance, check in with a doctor for testing. From there, you can try an array of natural remedies to restore balance based on your particular needs. A pillar of healthy hormone functioning is maintaining a healthy diet. That means eating enough protein and healthy fats while avoiding refined carbohydrates and sugar.
Other suggestions include getting enough sleep and managing your stress levels. Exercise is another powerful tool for balancing hormones, and it comes with the added benefit of promoting healthy sleep and stress levels. By maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle, you’ll already be one step ahead in restoring balance to your hormonal health.
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