Healing your Hormones
    Healing your Hormones

    Happy hormones are necessary for good mental and physical health. Yet, we tend to rather abuse these special chemical messengers through an unbalanced lifestyle. Dr Ruth Hull explains how you can pamper and heal your hormones, simply and naturally.

    Hormones are a complex and interesting topic that can be linked to a variety of health conditions such as: premenstrual syndrome, menopausal problems, infertility, thyroid disorders, weight problems, depression, chronic fatigue, etc. There are, of course, different treatment options such as medication and supplements, but perhaps the best place to start is by looking at our daily lifestyle and working out why our hormones aren’t behaving as best they should. Often it is because we are simply ignoring (or avoiding) at least one of the basic rules of good health: eat well, sleep well, exercise well, and manage your stress. So simple to say yet actually so difficult to follow!

    MANAGE YOUR STRESS

    I know it is easier said than done, but chronic stress wreaks havoc on hormones, and if you have a hormonal problem you really need to assess your stress levels and ability to cope with stress. Eating well, exercising regularly, giving yourself time-out and also facing what is causing stress in your life are absolutely vital to the health of your hormones.

    Cortisol

    The primary hormone released in times of chronic stress is cortisol. The building block for cortisol is pregnenolone, which happens to be the same building block for the sex hormones (oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone). When we have chronically high cortisol levels from stress we do not produce sufficient quantities of sex hormones and so suffer from imbalances such as infertility, menstrual disorders, mood swings and low libido.

    One of the functions of cortisol is to raise blood glucose levels. However, constantly high levels of glucose in the blood stream lead to insulin resistance and the effects of insulin resistance include fatigue, increased appetite, abdominal weight gain, and eventually type 2 diabetes mellitus.

    In addition, chronically high levels of cortisol upset sleeping patterns. Cortisol is released in a cyclical rhythm, peaking in the mornings at approximately 8 am and then waning in the afternoons, between 3 and 4 pm. This rhythm enables you to get up and function in the mornings and then relax and ‘switch off’ at the end of the day. If, however, cortisol is constantly being released into your bloodstream due to ongoing stress, then this natural rhythm, and hence your sleeping rhythms, become displaced. High levels of cortisol circulating in your bloodstream in the middle of the night means you will be wide awake in the middle of the night. And when these levels crash early in the morning you will too.

    So dealing with stress is of paramount importance to the general functioning of your hormones. What is important to be aware of is that chronic stress comes in many forms, not just the obvious emotional, financial, relationship, work stress that we are all so aware of. Long-term illness, injury, pain or inflammation are also stressors to the body, raising cortisol levels and disrupting our hormonal balance.

    Healing your Hormones

    EAT WELL

    When it comes to caring for our hormones, eating enough food is as important as not eating too much. Being overweight tends to upset the balance of our sex hormones, such as oestrogen and progesterone, because fat cells produce excess oestrogen. However, being underweight or not eating enough calories also causes problems with our sex hormones and is a major cause of amenorrhoea (an absence of menstrual periods).

    The diet-hormone link

    We are literally what we eat – every cell in our bodies, every organ and every gland is made up only from what we put into our bodies. For example, oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone are steroid hormones and made from cholesterol; hormones such as insulin are derived from amino acids which we get from the protein we eat; and hormones such as follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), two hormones integral to the functioning of the reproductive cycle, are glycoproteins – needing both proteins and carbohydrates to be produced. So it is vital we eat a well-balanced diet that includes all the major food-groups to ensure we have the building blocks from which our hormones are made.

    Healing your Hormones

    Avoid toxins

    In addition to eating enough healthy food, avoid unnecessary toxins in your diet – any substances that put additional stress on our livers such as food additives, hormone-enriched meats or milks, and junk food. This is because the two most important organs that support hormonal health are the liver and the gut. The liver detoxifies our blood and helps to remove excess hormones from our bodies. When the liver is not functioning optimally it cannot properly metabolise and clear these excess hormones. It also helps control our blood sugar levels. Irregular blood sugar levels are very stressful to the body and result in an increase in our stress hormone cortisol which, as previously mentioned, upsets the balance of many other hormones.

    Once hormones have been metabolised in the liver, they are excreted in the stool so regular bowel movements are vital to our general hormonal health. In addition, digestive problems such as leaky gut increase inflammation in the body and inflammation puts additional stress on the body, resulting in increased cortisol production.

    Progast Butyrate Complex

    Supplements

    Although it is imperative that we focus on eating a healthy diet, our bodies, particularly the liver and the gut, can sometimes benefit from a little help in the form of herbs and supplements. Ashwagandha and liquorice root are wonderful herbs that can help you cope with stress and nourish your hormonal health. Milk thistle and dandelion root help to detox the liver and maintain healthy liver function.

    Remember to always consult with a professional herbalist before taking any herbs as they can interact with prescription drugs. A diet high in essential fatty acids found in foods such as coconut oil, avocados, seeds, nuts and oily fish can also be enhanced with omega or evening primrose oil supplements, and a regular intake of fermented foods, such as live yoghurt, sauerkraut or kefir can be supplemented with probiotics to ensure optimal gut health.

    SLEEP WELL

    Regular, good-quality sleep is also vital to a well-functioning hormonal system. Not only does sleep help us cope with stress, it is also necessary for the release of some hormones such as human growth hormone (HGH) whose secretion is stimulated by deep sleep. If our sleep patterns are disturbed for too long then they in turn disturb the cyclical nature of hormone-release and this has a knock-on effect on many hormones. I am never surprised to find night-shift workers with premenstrual problems or teenagers who stay out all night with acne or menstrual disorders.

    EXERCISE WELL

    I encourage people to not just exercise but to exercise ‘well’. By this I mean be careful not to over-exercise because when considering hormone health, too much exercise can be as detrimental as too little. Regular, gentle, enjoyable exercise is vital for our general health as well as to help us deal with stress. However, too much exercise places a lot of stress on the body, causing pain, inflammation and then an increase in cortisol levels. As previously mentioned, chronically high cortisol levels will affect the normal production and functioning of our hormones.

    CONCLUSION

    The majority of our hormones are regulated via negative-feedback mechanisms. Our body cleverly monitors the blood levels of our hormones and if there are too many being produced then production is decreased and if there are too few then production is increased. Hence, we could describe our hormonal system as a finely balanced system, reliant on us living balanced lives – eating well balanced meals, developing stable sleeping rhythms, finding a balance between too much and too little exercise, and working on emotional and mental equilibrium. As the painter Henri Matisse (1869 to 1954) once said: ‘What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity.’

    Editor's note: Menopause is not just about hormones. Dr Bernard Brom takes a look at the relationship between the hormones, where and how imbalances can arise, and ways to manage menopausal symptoms. Click here to read the article.

    continue to top