When we hear the term “hormonal,” it is usually linked to periods or menopause. When I introduce myself as a nutritionist who is passionate about healing women’s hormones through food and tea, I get one of two reactions: “help me with my PMS!” or “help me with my hot flashes!”
Hormones! First of all, it’s not just a female thing. Men are hormonal too and deal with their own hormonal chaos. Most people are not aware that men can go through a hormonal shift later in life called andropause, which includes decreased energy, mood disorders, reduced sex drive, sexual dysfunction, increased body fat, and so on (1). But enough about men, let’s get back to the ladies.
Ok, so what do I mean by “hormonal?” I don’t mean that I only work with women who are PMS-ing or approaching menopause. I think it’s safe to say I work with most, if not all, kinds of women because all women have hormones and they are wide-ranging – not just the ones related to menstruation or the cessation of menstruation.
Women have the following hormones:
- Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)
- Anti-diuretic hormone
- Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)
- Growth hormone
- Luteinizing hormone (LH)
- Norepinephrine and epinephrine (aka adrenaline)
- Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH)
Phew! Did you even know there were that many hormones?
The Endocrine System
Hormones are produced by various glands that make up the endocrine system. This system is not in one spot in the body, but rather, it is a connected system throughout the body from the brain to the genitals. The endocrine glands secrete hormones, which are chemical messengers that are sent through the bloodstream to communicate with other parts of the body. Hormones play a role in regulating metabolism, growth, reproduction, sleep, heart rate, and blood pressure. So pretty much everything.
What Can Cause Hormonal Imbalances?
Considering that there are endocrine glands all over the body and so many hormones that regulate numerous bodily functions, there are a lot of different ways that hormonal balance can get thrown off.
Our lifestyle has a huge impact on our hormonal balance. Exercise, for example, affects our blood sugar levels, helping to lower insulin. High intensity interval training (HIIT) can help improve insulin sensitivity (a good thing). But too much exercise or intense exercise can increase cortisol levels, especially if you already have high cortisol levels. This can actually lead to insulin resistance (a not-so-good thing). Therefore, gentle movement such as walking, yoga, and stretching are all beneficial movements for a body under stress.
Exercise can also help regulate metabolism and hunger hormones (ghrelin and leptin), which is why daily movement is a great way to support a healthy diet.
Diet, of course, has a huge impact on our hormones. A diet high in inflammatory foods (vegetable oils, packaged foods, sugar, desserts, deep-fried foods, processed meats) can trigger higher cortisol levels. A sugary diet (like the kind of diet Cookie Monster is on) can lead to insulin resistance, which can in turn lead to low levels of Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG) and thus excessive testosterone.
Stress. Need I say more? Stress is the one thing that affects everything from sleep to sex drive. When we are stressed, it can lead to hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis dysfunction. It can also cause something called the pregnenolone steal, which is when the body cannot make enough cortisol to keep up with all of your hot messes, so it must steal from pregnenolone to make more cortisol, meaning pregnenolone won’t get to make progesterone, which is the hormone that helps us feel calm and promotes sleep. Get with the zen!
Sleep is one of my favorite things to do! I get excited for bedtime, unlike I did when I was 7 and wanted to stay up late playing with my Barbies. Sleep helps us maintain hormonal balance by regulating hunger hormones and insulin. But good sleep can be hard to come by these days with electronics, work, stress, and Netflix (so many good shows to binge on!). Click here to read my tips on getting more quality sleep.
Toxins are everywhere! Chemicals, pesticides, fragrances, parabens, and plastics can all interfere with our hormonal rhythm. Xenoestrogens found in many chemicals can actually increase our estrogen levels, leading to birth defects, metabolic issues, lowered immune response, and even cancer. Click here to download our free detox guide, which is full of information on how to reduce your toxic burden.
Puberty. Menopause. ‘Nuff said. Please refer to your sex-ed class notes or your mom for more information.
The Feedback Loop
Hormones like to talk. They yap all day. They are happy when they have other hormones to talk to and unhappy when their communication gets cut off or when other hormones do too much of the talking. I like to refer to this talk as a feedback loop because if one gland malfunctions, is disrupted, or has a receptor that is blocked, it can throw off the functioning of other hormones, and chaos can ensue. For example, if our thyroid is under-functioning (hypothyroidism), it affects follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), which are vital for ovulation and estrogen/progesterone production. We might then experience infertility and irregular menstrual cycles. Read more about how the thyroid affects hormonal balance.
What Does it Mean to Balance Hormones?
Balancing hormones is kind of like putting together pieces of a puzzle. It’s not easy and often takes time and patience. But don’t let that stress you out. Assemble your rock star healthcare team to get those hormones in single file line!
Here are some of my go-to’s for nourishing hormones:
- Magnesium glycinate
- Epsom salt
- Castor oil packs
- Spearmint tea
- Loads of veggies
- Purified water
- Good friends
- Daily self-care
Where Should You Start?
Many conventional doctors like to start with birth control. Sadly, I believe it is waaaaaay over-prescribed. Irregular period? Birth control. Acne? Birth control. PMS? Birth control. For me, I would consider birth control a last resort. Why? There are too many ugly risks involved and it doesn’t address the root cause of the symptoms, it is merely a band-aid approach. Plus, there are so many natural places to start, like with diet, lifestyle, massage, sleep, meditation, acupuncture, herbal teas!
I would recommend starting with diet and addressing stress (if that’s a factor for you, which it is for most of us). Incorporate more veggies, lots of water, and a self-care routine that you do daily. And by daily, I mean errday!
Need some support? Feel free to reach out. I love working with clients to incorporate long-lasting and vibrant habits that nourish their hormones and make them feel JUICY!