Hormones…. moody teenagers, spotty skin, monthly source of relationship stress, gateway to fertility, necessary for health and happiness! The hormones that circulate through our body are essential for our health and wellbeing, however, keeping them balanced can be tricky business in today’s high paced world full of financial and job stresses, long days at work, and quick & easy food fixes. What are they, how do they affect us and how can we help to support them so that they can support us back?
When most people think of hormones, they usually think of us ladies! While they certainly do seem to have a bigger impact on our lives than our slightly hairier counterparts, hormone balance and stabilisation is important for everyone. Basically, hormones are molecular compounds in our bodies that communicate between organs and tissues to regulate physiological and behaviour activities such as digestion, metabolism, respiration, tissue function, sleep, stress, growth and development, movement, reproduction and mood. In short, they affect everything and are easily the most powerful factor affecting your health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, there are a number of ways that hormones can get out of whack – stress, too little exercise, too much alcohol, medication, pesticides, plastics (those that contain BPA), phthalates (fragrances in cosmetic products) cellular inflammation caused by poor food choices , parasites and leaky gut. Unfortunately, some imbalances are simply genetic; however, even these ones can be supported through good nutrition and stress management.
Due to the fact that there are many hormones in our bodies, there are also many signs and symptoms that something may be wrong. Let’s look at a few of the common ones:
Signs of low levels of oestrogen include low energy levels, wrinkles and hair loss, mood swings and internally it also leads to bone weakness
Out of whack thyroid hormones (thyroxine and tri-iodothyronine) can show up as cold hands and feet, excess weight gain, hair loss and fatigue. An overactive thyroid will show signs include anxiety, overheating, heart palpitations and hair loss
Imbalanced Cortisol (stress hormone) will show up in signs of fatigue in the morning and trouble falling asleep at night, this one can also cause anxiety
Low levels of testosterone in men can lead to poor erectile function and loss of desire, for both sexes it can show up as depression, muscle mass loss, an increase in fatty tissue and a general loss of drive
Please keep in mind that our bodies are a network of many systems, receptors and hormones and any one of these being out of balance can cause issues. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms or if anything seems out of the ordinary for you, it is important to get proper blood tests through your GP or naturopath to determine the exact cause of your concerns.
In the meantime, however, we can do so much to support our hormones and endocrine system – that’s the one that is responsible for keeping them in check. It is now becoming more commonly accepted that cellular inflammation will cause hormone imbalances. Sarah Wilson and Pete Evans are both champions to this cause and I believe that they have some very interesting cases to make so make sure you check out their websites. The modern diet provides us with many causes of cellular inflammation – the most notable being too much sugar, polyunsaturated fats and difficult to digest grains. I will expand on these topics on upcoming blog posts so won’t drag this one out too long.
Inflammation will show up in anybody who is consuming food groups that their body is not equipped to digest. For some people this will also include dairy so if you are experiencing issues, it might be worthwhile getting some food sensitivity tests done with your local naturopath.
It is difficult to address all the aspects of hormonal imbalances and ways to overcome them in one blog post but I would like to wrap up with a list of my top five foods that will support you in your journey to hormone health:
1. Avocados and other healthy fats – hormones are produced using fatty acids and cholesterol (yep, cholesterol aint all bad!) so if we are missing these nutrients, hormone problems arise simply because we don’t have the nutrients required to make them
2. Eggs – they are rich in countless vitamins and minerals A, D, E, B2, B6, B9, iron, calcium, phosphorous, potassium and choline which all contribute to a healthy reproductive system, hormonal balance, and healthy skin. The choline and iodine in egg yolks are also crucial for making healthy thyroid hormones.
3. Oily Fish – they provide many of the necessary building blocks for hormone production including Vitamins A, D, and K. They are also another great source of Omega-3s and beneficial fats. I am referring to fish such as sardines, anchovies, mackerel and wild caught salmon and tuna (farmed salmon and tuna are fed grains, they can’t make omega 3’s themselves so they rely on eating oily fish to be able to pass it on to us)
4. Sauerkraut and other fermented foods – weak digestive symptoms = weak hormones! Fix your digestion and most people find that their hormone issues improve dramatically. One of the best ways to do this is to include fermented foods in to your daily diet to introduce healthy bacteria to your gut.
5. St Mary’s Thistle or Milk Thistle – ok…not a food but a very valuable herb that will support your liver. Your liver is a very hard working organ and is your body’s primary detoxifier; it plays a crucial role in the body’s use of hormones, both natural ones and those that are introduced synthetically. It acts as a hormone processor, manufacturing and regulating some hormone levels and directing hormones to produce their proper function. It is important to give it some extra nourishment.
If your hormones are balanced, you are balanced! Stress management will also go a long way in helping to regulate and control hormones (especially cortisol) so it’s important to look at this aspect of your health from a holistic view. Keep you food choices clean, include the above recommendations on a regular basis, implement stress management techniques and exercise regularly and you will be well on your way to hormone happiness.