As adults, we typically do not consider hormones as an important part of our health, as much of our focus on hormones usually passed after surviving adolescence. But while we may not (hopefully) have to worry as much about voice cracks and skin issues many of us experienced as teenagers, hormones have and always will be a vital part of life. From appetite to sleep quality to sex drive, hormones help maintain and control basically every system in our bodies — whether we are aware of it or not.
Many factors can affect how hormones are produced and regulated in the body, including poor nutrition, environmental toxins, low quality sleep and stress. When hormones become unbalanced, it can lead to a range of issues such as weight gain, anxiety, and even infertility. Fortunately, you can help support your hormonal health and prevent hormone imbalance with lifestyle habits, combined with guidance from a certified healthcare provider.
1. Be smart about nutrition and exercise
A healthy diet, along with consistent, strategic exercise, is essential to healthy hormones. It should come as no surprise that the typical Western diet of processed foods high in sugars and refined starches can throw off our hormones. In particular, eating this way can increase levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, which can stimulate the appetite and lead to weight gain.
Instead, support your body by following a whole foods diet that is high in fiber, protein, and healthy fats. The effects can be immediate. One clinical trial showed that morbidly obese patients who followed a Mediterranean diet had improved insulin resistance and leptin sensitivity, an appetite hormone, after only four weeks. For even better results, pair a healthy diet with regular cardiovascular exercise and strength training, which is associated with better metabolic health.
2. Eliminate environmental toxins
Environmental toxins can wreak havoc on our hormones, which is why over the past fifty years, we have seen the government ban or severely limit a number of harmful substances, such as asbestos and DDT. However, many toxins that are used in household cleaners, personal care products like lotions and shampoos, and food products are not regulated strictly – and in fact, must be proven dangerous before any limitations are placed on commercial use. We unfortunately cannot entirely avoid environmental toxins. Many of these substances, including plastics, often contains chemicals that can mimic the effects of estrogen. Chronic exposure, even at low doses, affect cells, organs, and entire systems of the body, including hormone production and regulation.
While avoiding products and packaging altogether is nearly impossible, you can limit your exposure by reducing your use of them. For the plastics you do come into contact with, never expose them to heat (microwave, boiling water, sunlight), as heat can leach chemicals from plastic. Along with plastics, pesticides are another pervasive chemical that can interfere with our hormones and affect everything from our reproductive system to our thyroid. When possible, buy organic produce and food products to avoid exposure to pesticides and o your diligence in seeking clean household and personal products.
3. Reduce stress
By alerting attention and directing energy to a stimulus, the natural stress response is designed to help us respond to a perceived threat. However, when stress moves from an acute response into a chronic state, it can start to disrupt our hormones. When elevated for prolonged periods of time, chronic secretion of two main chemicals associated with stress, adrenaline and cortisol, can lead to problems like muscle tension, depression, memory loss, and even heart disease.
It is important to take steps to eliminate chronic stress. Exercise can be beneficial in reducing stress, whether it is lifting weights, running, walking, or doing yoga. Daily meditation, even for as little as five minutes, can help activate the body’s parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest” mode) and calm the body’s “fight or flight” response. Ultimately, the best stress-reducing method is the one you are able to consistently integrate into your day, as some form of stress will likely always be a factor in life.
4. Increase the quality and quantity of your sleep
Healthy sleep habits, many experts now agree, may be the single most important prerequisite to good health. A restful night’s rest benefits well-being in many ways. It helps the brain process memories and regulate emotions, it gives the body time to repair damaged cells and tissues, and it shores up the body’s immune system so it can fight illness. It also helps keeps hormones in balance.
When sleep is lacking, the effects can be widespread. Hormonally, these can include decreased glucose tolerance, lower levels of insulin sensitivity, and high concentrations of cortisol. Over prolonged periods, this can lead to more than just irritability. It increases the risk for depression, heart disease, and even dementia. It is therefore vital to get at least six to eight hours of sleep every night to support hormonal health. If you have trouble falling and staying asleep, establish a consistent nightly routine, limit daytime caffeine intake, exercise regularly. If sleep issues persist, consult with a functional medicine provider or sleep expert.
Get the right support
If you think you are experiencing a hormone imbalance, getting support from a qualified professional can be the most effective and fastest way to get your health back on track. A functional and integrative medicine approach can be particularly beneficial in seeking out the root cause of an imbalance, rather than just treating the symptoms of hormone imbalance. Root causes of hormone balance can range from anxiety to blood sugar mismanagement to vitamin deficiencies or simply age.
Whatever the cause, Precision Health Care professionals use conventional, functional and integrative tools that can help manage or even reverse hormone imbalances. Interventions including lifestyle adaptations, personalized supplementation, topical creams, peptide therapy, and Bioidentical Hormone Replace Therapy have all been shown to be useful in supporting hormone balance to help you feel your best.