Hormones are body’s chemical messengers. Our body has over 200 hormones doing hundreds of different jobs. They travel in bloodstream to tissues or organs. They work slowly over time and affect many different processes including growth and development, metabolism, sexual function, reproduction and mood. Hormones control practically every physiological process in the body—from regulation of metabolism to activation of the immune system to the menstrual cycle and reproduction. A precise hormonal balance is vital to proper body functioning. So, it’s important to keep them in balance.
Endocrine glands, which are special groups of cells, make hormones. The major endocrine glands are the pituitary, pineal, thymus, thyroid, adrenal glands and pancreas. Hormones are produced using good fats and cholesterol. When it comes to health, hormones have a much bigger effect than many people realize. They can destroy health even if everything else like diet, exercise etc. is optimized. Fixing hormones can do a lot to boost health.
Symptoms of hormonal imbalance could be fatigue, skin issues, weight gain, weight around the middle, trouble sleeping, always sleeping, PMS, endometriosis, infertility, PCOS. Conditions like menopause is accompanied by hormonal imbalance, thus, eating right foods and avoiding wrong foods is especially important during this transitional period in a woman’s life.
Thyroid hormone is produced by thyroid gland. These hormones are also responsible for energy, appetite, mood, weight, body temperature and also for the health of skin, hair and nails. Since thyroid hormone affects metabolism, an imbalance can produce a wide variety of symptoms. An underactive thyroid can cause weight gain and is called hypothyroidism. It can also cause dry, brittle hair and nails. An overactive thyroid can lead to weight loss, mood changes, bulging eyes and light or absent periods. This type of thyroid is called hyperthyroidism.
Smoking increases the severity of thyroid problems, so it should be quit. Junk food should also be avoided. More amounts of vegetables and protein foods should be taken and a moderate intake of whole grains for a healthier thyroid gland. Vitamin C, E, and B complex vitamins should also be taken in moderate amounts to improve the overall function of the thyroid gland.
Melatonin is a sleep hormone and is secreted by the pineal gland in the brain during hours of darkness and is switched off at dawn by the bright light of day. It helps to sleep and regulates body clock. If natural biological clock of day/night rhythms is disturbed by staying up very late, jetting across time zones, or working night shifts, this may lead to disturbed body clock. Fatigue, lack of energy, lapses in memory and concentration are typical symptoms. The most important way to correct your body clock is to have a regular wake up time. A constant bedtime is not nearly as important as your wake up time. Use window coverings which allow some of the dawn light to filter into the bedroom to help signal a natural stop to melatonin production. Foods containing vitamin B6 such as chicken, pork, chickpeas, cereals, brown rice, potatoes and bananas should be consumed in more quantities as vitamin B6 boosts melatonin levels and can improve mood in women who are depressed.
Oestrogen is produced by the ovaries and is best known for orchestrating puberty, reproduction and menopause. It also helps to keep bones and joints strong, for sharp memory, moist skin and to keep blood vessels elastic. An oestrogen imbalance can cause irregular periods, painful breasts, weight gain, infertility, a low sex drive, depression, memory lapses and fatigue. Once the ovaries shut down at menopause, the classic symptoms of oestrogen deficiency can start including hot flushes, night sweats and vaginal dryness. Oestrogen helps bones absorb calcium, so lower levels can lead to osteoporosis. At least 20 minutes of brisk walk daily encourages pituitary gland to produce helpful levels of ovary- stimulating hormones and daily exercise will help to raise bone density in legs, hips and spine.
Testosterone, the male sex hormone, is also produced in smaller amounts in the ovaries and adrenal glands of women and fuels sexual desire, in both men and women. In women it is normal for testosterone to fluctuate during the monthly cycle, peaking at ovulation. It’s produced in less amounts with age and women whose ovaries are removed before the menopause may experience as much as a 50 per cent drop in the hormone, resulting in reduced libido. Women can also experience raised testosterone levels due to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Symptoms include irregular periods, excess body hair, acne, frontal hair loss, skin tags and weight gain. Sleep disturbances can decrease the release of testosterone by almost half. Women with PCOS lose weight, testosterone levels fall and excess body hair is lessened. Women with this condition should focus on losing weight by eating a healthy diet and avoid sugar, refined carbohydrates and caffeine as all these cause blood sugar fluctuations and the release of excess insulin. Insulin can target the ovaries and make them produce more testosterone. Foods rich in phyto-oestrogens like chickpeas, soya and lentils also help balance testosterone as they help to stimulate the production of a substance called sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) which binds testosterone and prevents excess levels circulating in the blood.
Growth Hormone and DHEA
Growth hormone promotes growth in children and is associated with thicker skin, bone strength and vigour. Another hormone connected with youth and vitality is DHEA. Their production peaks in early adulthood and declines with age. Thus, many diseases which correlate with age also correlate with low levels of DHEA production. Healthy levels are said to help us live longer. Research has shown that the trace mineral indium stimulates hormone production, particularly growth hormone, to youthful levels. Regular aerobic exercise triggers the release of growth hormone.
Cholecystokinin (CCK) is a hormone produced by the small intestine which stimulates the production of digestive enzymes and helps to control appetite. Imbalance of this hormone can cause overeating and disturbed digestive system. To avoid these conditions, food should be chewed properly and eat frequent meals.
The stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline and adrenaline are the driving force of the body. Continous high levels of these hormones can threaten immunity and heart health and shorten our life. Undergoing a major crisis in life that can increase stress hormones a lot can fatigue, memory problems and weak immune system. Eating a whole food diet and avoiding stimulants such as caffeine can raise levels of stress hormones. Deep breathing exercises or regular exercise helps a lot in relieving stress. A positive outlook is one of the most powerful stress controllers.
Insulin may be one of the most well-known hormones affected by your diet. When you eat carbohydrates, the glucose from these carbohydrates travels into your bloodstream, triggering your pancreas to release insulin. Insulin attaches to the glucose molecules and carries them to your cells, where they are used for energy. Glucagon is another pancreatic hormone with the opposite effect of insulin. When a woman goes without eating for an extended period of time, the pancreas releases glucagon, which signals the liver to convert stored glycogen into glucose. The sugar is then secreted into the bloodstream, where it serves as an energy source until the body receives more food. This physiological feedback system is designed to keep blood sugar levels steady. Insulin resistance is a condition in which the pancreas produces insulin normally, but the muscle, fat, and liver cells do not respond to it properly. To compensate for this, the pancreas produces more insulin in an effort to help glucose travel into the cells. When a woman goes through menopause, the body shape changes from pear-shaped body to an apple-shaped body. The accumulation of abdominal fat is believed to have an important role in the development of insulin resistance. Thus, menopausal women should maintain a controlled and balanced diet. Excessive caloric intake can cause weight gain. Complex carbohydrates, like oats, whole grain breads, bran, and beans, legumes and vegetables should be consumed in more quantities instead of refined carbohydrates like white breads, crackers, cookies, and white sugar.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS, the most common hormonal disorder among women of reproductive age, affects approximately five to ten percent of women worldwide. PCOS is also known as polycystic ovarian disese (PCOD). The condition involves the excess production of androgens (male hormones), which causes ovulatory dysfunction. In a normal menstrual cycle, a follicle containing an egg develops and degenerates after releasing the egg (ovulation). Women with polycystic ovaries do not release an egg regularly and have ovaries containing multiple clumps of underdeveloped follicles. Polycystic ovaries may have no symptoms, in which case they are rather harmless. However, in some cases the cysts cause a number of symptoms, resulting in a polycystic ovary syndrome. These symptoms may include acne, obesity, excessive body hair often on the face and breasts and irregular or no periods which may lead to fertility problems. Women with PCOS are also believed to be at an increased risk of heart disease. PCOS is strongly associated with problems related to blood sugar balance such as insulin resistance and diabetes. Women who have PCOD tend to put on weight and have difficulty losing it. In order to bring hormone levels under control, they need to lose weight. The right diet for PCOS can work effectivly to cut down on weight. A diet promoting weight loss has proven to be particularly effective at beating PCOS. In addition, an increase or a decrease in the intake of certain nutrients may be helpful.
There are some basic things you can do to boost your body’s ability to create and balance hormones.
Take small meals frequently and never skip meals: Many women skip their meals especially breakfast to reduce calorie intake. The problem with this approach is that the metabolic rate is highest during morning and gradually slows down after that. When you eat breakfast, metabolism gets boosted for the day but if we skip it, metabolism slows down which can lead to weight gain.
Reduce refined foods and low glycemic index foods: Eliminating refined carbohydrates such as sugar, white rice, bread, alcohol and foods made with white flour, such as muffins, pasta and other snack foods helps the body to burn stored fat and keeps insulin and blood sugar under normal levels.
Eat a wide variety of fresh vegetables and fruit daily: Include a lot of fresh vegetables and fruits of all different colours in your daily diet as the deep pigments in these colourful foods contain powerful antioxidants. Include broccoli, green leafy vegetables, berries, red, yellow and green peppers and tomatoes and vary the choices of foods through the seasons.
Eat protein at each meal: Eggs, fish, whey, dairy or non-animal sources of protein such as whole soybeans, other legumes & pulses are all good sources of proteins. Beans also contain protein. Pre-menopausal women should take beans in moderation.
Protect your body with antioxidants: Antioxidants combat cellular damage from free radicals, which are known to be a cause of chronic conditions such as heart disease, cataracts, macular degeneration, and cancer. Antioxidants are found in fresh fruits and vegetables, especially brightly coloured ones.
Avoid High Omega-6 Polyunsaturated Fats: The body needs fats for rebuilding cells and hormone production. When more amounts of fats are consumed in proportions other than required by the body, body stores these fats into cells. Fats are highly unstable and oxidize easily in the body. These oxidized fats cause inflammation and mutation in cells. When these oils are incorporated into cells in reproductive tissue, some evidence suggests that this can cause problems like endometriosis and PCOS. Thus, fats should be consumed in amounts required by the body to avoid future complications.
Drink plenty of water: Drink at least 3-4 litres of water per day. Try to drink one glass of water whenever the clock strikes the hour. This way, we can incorporate it in your daily routine and stay hydrated throughout the day. Regular intake of water will help with detoxification as well as avoid water retention in the body.
Limit the Caffeine: Too much caffeine can cause harm to the endocrine system especially if there are other hormone stressors involved too like pregnancy, presence of toxins, beneficial fat imbalance or stress. Coffee intake should be reduced or replaced with beneficial herbal teas.
Avoid Toxins: Toxins found in pesticides, plastics, household chemicals and even mattresses can contain hormone disrupting chemicals that can keep the body from producing real hormones. Hormonal birth control can do the same thing. For those suffering from hormone imbalance, avoiding these toxins is very important. Whenever possible, use of chemical pesticides or cleaners should be avoided and organic products should be used. Also, heating or storing foods in plastic should also be avoided.
Sleep: Enough sound sleep is very important to keep hormones in balance. If not getting enough sleep, hormone will not be balanced.
Exercise: In hormonal imbalance, exercise helps a lot in keeping hormones in balance. So, exercises walking, swimming, running, cardio or any other should be a part of daily routine. Lifting heavy weights is also beneficial. It triggers a cascade of beneficial hormone reactions.
Fix Leptin Levels: Leptin is a master hormone, and if it is out of balance or if the body is resistant to it, no other hormones will balance well. Fixing leptin will also help boost fertility, make weight loss easier, improve sleep, and lower inflammation.
There is no magical formula to cure hormonal imbalances that’s going to make us all better. But, by making these small diet and lifestyle changes now, we can manage our symptoms and lead a healthy and happy life where we are happy with our bodies and the way we look.