Hormones play a pivotal role in our physical, emotional, and spiritual health and well-being.
Once we hit age 35 to 40, hormonal balance becomes harder to maintain as estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, thyroid, insulin, and even cortisol begin to decline. This can result in subtle changes for some and dramatic changes for others.
It is important to note that many of you will embark on a new health and wellness plan this new year. Although very important, diet and exercise alone won’t be enough to have lasting change. Beginning a program that fails to address your hormones, especially after 35 years old, will not give you the permanent results you’re looking for.
Finding natural options for nurturing your hormonal balance is a remarkable gift.
Hormones are chemical messengers secreted into the bloodstream by various glands (your endocrine system). They then travel throughout the body, impacting cells containing a “receptor” for them. These receptors work like LOCK AND KEY. If the key fits the lock, the door opens. If a hormone fits the cellular receptor, the cell opens up and lets the hormone in.
All hormone production first begins in the brain. The command center for our hormones is the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA-axis for short). It is so important as it regulates temperature, hunger, digestion, immunity, mood, libido, and energy. It also plays a massive role in our reactions to stress, either physical or mental. The hypothalamus controls hunger, fatigue, sleep, and body temperature and secretes many different hormones. It partners with the pituitary gland, which communicates with the adrenals, thyroid, ovaries, and other glands.
For optimal health, there are three master hormones and couple of others that are essential to pay attention to begin balancing your hormones naturally on average after 35 years old:
INSULIN – The Metabolic Hormone
Secreted in the pancreas, insulin plays a significant role in your body and is key for blood-sugar control, metabolism, cell growth and repair, brain function, and weight control.
After you eat, your digestive system breaks down your food and partitions its nutrients so that it can be absorbed by the cells and tissues of your body to then use for energy.
Carbohydrates in food break down into glucose, a type of sugar absorbed by your bloodstream, temporarily elevating your blood sugar in response to the food. Your pancreas then releases insulin to move the glucose into your cells (LOCK AND KEY).
Under normal and healthy circumstances, insulin shuttles glucose into your cells for energy. It attaches to the insulin receptors on the cells throughout your body. Once glucose has entered your cells, your blood sugar levels should decline and reach a normal range within 2-3 hours. When this process is working correctly, you can then work to become metabolically flexible. When you’re metabolically flexible, your body can access whatever fuel is available to it – fat, glucose, or glycogen (stored glucose…think of it like a bank account) for energy.
When it isn’t working quite right, and you have an imbalance with chronically elevated insulin, you risk developing insulin resistance. This occurs when your cells become less receptive to insulin, and the receptors won’t open up to allow the hormone to move glucose from the bloodstream into the cell. Insulin resistance can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancers, heart disease, and other illnesses, plus create the perfect conditions for weight gain.
Fortunately, insulin resistance and metabolic inflexibility can be improved through proper nutrition and other lifestyle changes.
CORTISOL – The Stress Hormone
When you’re stressed, your body is under attack; it will prepare to either fight the perceived stressor, flee from it, or freeze – responses from your SYMPATHETIC nervous system (SNS).
This part of your nervous system is activated by the hypothalamus, which sends signals to the adrenal glands to pump the hormone epinephrine (adrenaline) into the bloodstream, directing blood to your muscles, heart and other organs. Your pulse and blood pressure increase and you begin to breathe more rapidly.
The “threat” (even if only perceived) continues, and your brain dispatches other hormones to head to the adrenals and alert them to release cortisol. Cortisol frees up blood sugar to provide strength and energy to defend yourself. It also elevates your blood pressure to increase the supply of oxygen and nutrients to all body parts and brings your digestive system to a halt because it doesn’t have time to digest food if it needs to fight!
When the threat passes, cortisol levels usually fall, and your body should return to its normal state, thanks to the opposing system – the PARASYMPATHEIC nervous system (PNS). It takes over and calms your body down after the danger has passed.
Think of it like this: The SNS is the GAS PEDAL, and the PNS acts like the BRAKE PEDAL
Chronic stress, no sleep, and no relaxing = continual gas pedalling and living life with no brakes!
It’s SO vital for your health to get your stress under control at all costs. It needs to be a priority for lasting change within.
Cortisol isn’t all bad, far from it actually – It has many important functions for our overall health. It’s a natural anti-inflammatory, stimulates our immune system, and boosts alertness, concentration, and mood. It’s essential for managing metabolism, blood sugar, and circadian rhythm (the sleep/wake cycle), regulates appetite and fights cravings, and helps muscles respond to exercise. It’s when we stay in this state that it becomes a problem. CHRONIC STRESS is the problem.
OXYTOCIN – The Mother Hormone
Our hormone for connection, love, and bonding. Oxytocin is produced by the hypothalamus and stored and secreted into the bloodstream from the pituitary gland. It is also released from other tissues, including the uterus, placenta, ovaries, and testes. There are even oxytocin receptors in your digestive tract!
Optimal levels of Oxytocin can reduce the desire and consumption of appealing foods such as fats and carbohydrates and also may improve glucose homeostasis, increase fat oxidation and improve insulin sensitivity. Oxytocin lowers cortisol, too, helping you to manage stress.
When it’s being maintained at a reasonable level, it’s a rather amazing hormone with the potential to improve many aspects of our physical, mental, and emotional health. If low, we can feel more stressed, less connected to others, or not as confident about ourselves.
LEPTIN AND GHRELIN – The Hunger Hormones
Leptin is your satiety hormone. If you feel completely satisfied after your meal, that is your leptin at work. If leptin is working correctly, you should be able to eat to the point of satisfaction, feel full, and not crave any more food.
Ghrelin is the hunger hormone. It stimulates your appetite, increases food intake, and promotes fat storage. Ghrelin is mainly produced and released by your stomach, with small amounts also secreted by your small intestine, pancreas, and brain. It’s regulated by the (PNS), which is HIGHLY involved in digestion. After ghrelin stimulates your hunger and you satisfy that hunger, the PNS instructs the digestive system to rest and digest.
1.GET ENOUGH PROTEIN AT EACH MEAL
Eating sufficient protein triggers the production of peptide hormones, some of which suppress appetite and help you feel full. Aim for a minimum of 20+ grams of protein per meal (sometimes even closer to 40 if you don’t eat 3+ meals per day.)
2. MOVE YOUR BODY EVERYDAY
Strength training, cardio, HIIT, walking, whatever will keep you moving and whatever you enjoy!! All forms of exercise will help balance hormone levels. Specifically, the inclusion of strength training in some form is important as you age and your muscle mass begins to decline. However, as you reach the perimenopause stage, it is easy to “overtrain” and have the opposite positive effect on your hormones, so ensure you take enough time to rest and recover and don’t continue to push your body passed its limits.
3. TAKE CARE OF YOUR GUT
A healthy gut microbiome positively influences your hormones and help to regulate your appetite, and reduces insulin resistance.
4. EASE UP ON THE SUGAR
Diets high in sugar have been shown to promote insulin resistance, disrupt your gut microbiome, and reduce leptin production (satiety hormone.)
5. MANAGE YOUR CORTISOL
Find ways to lower your cortisol levels. Engaging in activities that calm you: meditation, yoga, stretching, breathing, bathing, nature, prayer etc. Find small ways and time to relax. Remind your body and mind often that it is safe.
6. CIRCADIAN RHYTHM
Your circadian rhythm is your “master clock” and helps regulate your cortisol and melatonin production at the proper times. As much as your schedule allows, begin and end your day (or the majority of) your day with the sun. When the sun rises, get outside, if even for 15 minutes. Let the sun hit your face and your eyes. Once the sun has set, stop eating, and avoid any bright or blue light.
7. GET ADEQUATE FIBRE
Fibre plays an essential role in gut and liver health, ovaries, and blood circulation. It helps regulate insulin and balance blood sugar, and support levels of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.
8. PRIORITIZE HIGH-QUALITY SLEEP
Your brain needs uninterrupted sleep to go through all five stages of each sleep cycle. This is especially important for releasing growth hormone, which occurs mainly at night during deep sleep. To maintain optimal hormonal balance, aim for at least 7 hours of high-quality sleep
9. TRY SEED CYCLING
Seed cycling either enhances or inhibits the production of estrogen and progesterone in the body (depending on what is needed), thereby balancing and optimizing your hormones and relieving hormonal imbalance symptoms.
10. ADD MORE OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS
These fats create healthy cell membranes, allowing hormones to bind to the cell more easily. Omega-3 fatty acids also repair receptor sites (where hormones bind) and keep it in optimal condition. Consider eating more foods with omega-3s (fish, chia seeds, nuts) or taking a high-quality organic oil, such as hempseed or flaxseed.
If you’re battling with your weight, wondering if your metabolism is slowing down, struggling with unmanageable cravings, or feeling like you could get a divorce every month – it’s not your fault, you’re not weak, and you do not need a new husband. Your hormones may be out of whack.
Permanent weight loss and feeling whole and more like yourself start from within. When you work to prioritize and balance your hormones naturally, you begin to feel energetic, strong, and more in touch with your body. This place is where you can see wonderful things happen; you can break through weight loss resistance, improve your mood and irritability, and help ditch your bloat and those cravings.
Start your new year off by beginning to listen closely to these messengers that your body gives you to guide you in making the best decisions about which foods and lifestyle tweaks will best serve you.