| Dr. Charlie Ware
What do your heart rate, body temperature, sexual function, bio-rhythm, and appetite have in common? They are regulated by the endocrine glands and require healthy and balanced hormone secretion to function optimally.
Hormones are the chemicals created and stored in the endocrine system and disseminated to important organs and tissues through the bloodstream. An ideal hormonal balance supports various mental, physical, and emotional functions that play a major role in determining the quality of your health. They directly or indirectly impact your internal hygiene, appetite, weight management, metabolism, and a wide variety of factors that ultimately construe the quality of your life. Many tell-tale signs of hormonal imbalance – like diarrhea, fatigue, or constipation – impersonate minor symptoms of other common conditions. On account of this, they are frequently misread or brushed off as temporary inconveniences instead of being remedied and treated diligently. While these symptoms may feel innocuous at first, they can compound over time and result in severe debilitation and chronic issues
Common Causes of Hormonal Imbalance:
- High-stress lifestyle
- Obesity & high blood Sugar
- Unhealthy sleeping habits & disrupted circadian rhythm
- Oral contraceptives, steroids, and other medication
- Hormone Replacement Therapy
How to Restore Hormone Balance Naturally
Here are a few simple and effective modifications you can make that will help you restore your natural hormonal balance and transition into a healthy lifestyle:
#1 Take the Edge Off: Mitigate Stress
You’ve heard it time and again, stress is the silent assassin. Stress triggers cortisol and adrenaline in the human body. Adrenaline is responsible for our ‘fight or flight’ reaction to an adverse situation. Cortisol regulates metabolism and immune response which helps the body handle stressful situations. While they are invaluable to cope with any imminent problem, an overwhelming lifestyle and chronic stress will lead to a long-term spike of these hormones in the blood. If this persists, elevated cortisol levels can result in ‘stress-eating’ which can lead to obesity. On the other hand, high adrenaline levels can lead to anxiety, high blood pressure, and an increased heart-rate.
Managing stress will not just lead you to a healthy hormonal balance; it will also make you more productive. Take regular breaks from work and allocate a few days each month to detox your mind and body. Dedicate at least 15 to 30 minutes every day to perform stress-reducing activities like yoga, meditation, or listening to relaxing music. Aromatherapy and massage therapy can also combat stress. Studies indicate that Zinc can inhibit temporary cortisol secretions and helps stabilize cortisol levels over time. If you have been under sustained duress you can use natural supplements to assist your recovery and cope with chronic stress.
#2 Sleep well, Keep Well:
Good quality and sufficient sleep are fundamental needs to maintain good health and a healthy hormonal balance. The relationship between sleep and hormones is a two-way street – poor sleep will disrupt your hormone balance and imbalanced hormones will mess up your sleeping habits. Important hormones like ghrelin, leptin, and growth hormones are secreted while we sleep. These hormones play a crucial role in tissue repair and growth. Additionally, sleep also plays a big role in regulating your body’s levels of cortisol, insulin, and maintaining a healthy appetite.
Sufficient sleep should be a high priority if you aspire to healthy hormonal balance. Avoid caffeinated beverages, stimulants, and energy drinks as they can disrupt your circadian rhythm and impact sleep. Create a ‘winding-down’ routine as a part of a healthy lifestyle. This involves unplugging from tech/electronics a couple of hours before bed, a relaxing bath, and a soothing beverage like chamomile or passionflower tea to calm you down. Alternatively, you can also support your sleep or rectify bad sleeping habits with the help of some herbs and natural supplements.
#3 Light at Night ain’t Right!
Building upon the previous point, contemporaneous indoor lighting, and technology are the main culprits of insomnia and dismal sleeping habits. Blue light, especially after dark, suppresses melatonin secretion in the body which is essential to fall asleep and maintain a healthy circadian rhythm. This, in turn, wreaks havoc on the body’s natural biological clock and leads to poor-quality and insufficient sleep. Studies have shown that in the long run, this can augment your risk of depression, diabetes, and heart disease.
The proliferation of LED bulbs and electronic devices like smartphones, tablets, computers, and televisions are at the heart of this new-fangled lifestyle malaise. The simplest solution is to reduce your exposure to light at least two hours before bedtime. Use ‘reading-mode’ or ‘dark-mode’ on your device after sundown and install a blue-light filter on your computer. Instead of LED bulbs, use incandescent lamps or red nightlights in your bedroom. Dim red lights have a negligible impact on your circadian rhythm. You can also take a Zinc supplement which helps the body produce melatonin that contributes to better sleep.
Here is the wind-down routine of Tim Ferris - the author of the best-seller “4-Hour Work Week”:
#4 Less Red Meat, More Fatty Fish
Fatty fish is an unrivaled source of long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids and a bountiful source of protein. These Omega-3 fatty acids have remarkable anti-inflammatory properties that can have a favorable impact on your hormonal health. A regular intake of fatty fish can reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and may also offer protection from cancer and alcohol-related dementia.
The dietary recommendation for adults is a minimum of two servings of fatty fish each week. Avoid large fish since they are known to have trace mercury which has ill-effects on your long-term health. Salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, herring and trout are some easily available examples of oily fish that you can incorporate into a holistic diet.
#5 Exercise, Exercise, and REGULAR Exercise:
From the improved moods and stress reduction to sound sleep and muscle health, exercise is a time-tested tonic to stay healthy and energetic. Exercise helps regulate and balance a wide variety of hormones and offset the ill effects of stress and aging. Scientific studies have repeatedly elucidated how exercise leads to a direct and significant increase in important hormones like estrogen, testosterone, serotonin, and dopamine.
Start small with 15 to 20-minute sessions and work it up to 40 minutes of moderate-intensity workouts, four to five times a week. Consistency leads to longevity: that is the reason we said REGULAR exercise. You need to focus on making this an indispensable part of your daily routine and lifestyle to harvest its long term benefits. If you suffer from enervation or any significant health issues, consult a healthcare professional and certified trainer to create a routine to work around your limitations.
#6 Eat Healthy Fats:
Fats have earned a bad reputation over the years but they are a fundamental part of a balanced diet. There are bad fats (trans fat) and good fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated). While bad fats ought to be limited or completely eliminated from the diet, the consumption of good fats is essential for heart health and hormonal balance.
But watch out for artificial trans fats, they are highly dangerous and their consumption has been linked to stroke, insulin resistance, and poor cardiovascular health.
Read the food labels carefully when you shop for groceries and avoid any products with trans or artificial trans fats. Aim to completely phase out all fast food and commercially baked goods from your diet. Consume a portion of healthy natural fats with each meal to promote hormonal balance.
Find ways to add foods rich in good fats to your diet such as oily fish (salmon, tuna, etc.), nuts (walnuts, almonds, etc.), seeds (chia, pumpkin, flax, etc.) and MCT oils (coconut and extra virgin olive oil) among others.
Crave delicious comfort food but feel guilty of indulging? Here are some healthy swaps for you.
#7 Less Sugar is a Sweet Deal:
Nutritionists are unanimous in declaring added sugar as the most harmful facet of the modern-day diet. On the other hand, natural sugars like fructose (fruit) and lactose (milk) that are found in nutrient-rich food are permissible within moderate limits. Stay clear of added sugar (found in soda, candy, ice-creams, baked goods, etc.). It is heavily processed and offers little to no nutrition. High consumption of processed sugar is considered to be one of the primary causes of stroke, cardiovascular ailments, and diabetes.
It goes by the name of added sugar, processed sugar, refined sugar, and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Check the ingredient label of products you buy and avoid or replace any products that contain these sugars with healthier alternatives. Try to eliminate processed sugar entirely from your diet. As far as natural sugars go, consume no more than the equivalent of five to six spoons of sugar a day. This includes honey, maple syrup, and other sweeteners commonly used as a sugar substitute. And while you are at it, up the ante and get rid of meaningless snacking, junk food and refined carbs from your diet as well.
#8 Go Green with Green Tea
Green tea is a great way to kick start your day. Often called a superfood, green tea is packed with antioxidants that protect against cancer, aid fat loss, improve brain function, and can protect against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Green tea is loaded with bioactive compounds like theanine, polyphenol antioxidants, EGCG, vitamins, and some trace minerals. Of these, EGCG is the stalwart that propelled green tea to its superfood status around the world. The benefits of these are so varied and wide-reaching that it would take an entire article to list them.
Green tea’s reputation as one of the world’s healthiest beverages is backed by copious scientific literature. The general consensus is that two to four cups a day is the ideal amount to reap the benefits of green tea. If three cups sound like too much, one is still better than none. Long term and regular consumption of green tea is a simple and surefire way to promote hormonal balance and lead a healthy life.
#9 Quit Smoking, now!
This one needs no introduction. It has been repeatedly illustrated in great detail how smoking and cigarettes can lead to cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis. Besides that, it also wreaks havoc on your skin, sperm count, energy levels and it amounts to major nutrient depletion. Quitting cigarettes should be high on your list of priorities if you are suffering from symptoms of hormonal imbalance. Shortly after you quit, you are more likely to return to stable moods and a healthier weight profile. Smoking cigarettes has an adverse effect on premenopausal and menopausal hormones in women. Women smokers have considerably higher rates of infertility and menstrual problems.
Why would you pay for wrinkles and accelerated aging? There is a laundry list of reasons and evidence that infallibly indicate smoking is injurious and dangerous. But a simple way to look at this is: quitting cigarettes will make all the other points in this list more meaningful and effective. If you struggle with smoking cessation, try using nicotine patches and gum to assist you initially. Set a goal and gradually reduce until you can quit altogether. Since smoking can lead to a lot of nutrient depletion, consider a good Zinc and/or Vitamin C supplement that can help your body recover from the damage.
#10 Get Sufficient Dietary Fiber
Dietary fiber supports gut health by helping the body eliminate waste efficiently and promoting the growth of healthy gut bacteria. A balanced diet with sufficient dietary fiber can lower cholesterol levels, control blood sugar, regulate appetite, and maintain good bowel health. Studies indicate that dietary fiber can decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes and support cardiovascular health. It can also play a pivotal role in weight loss as fiber-rich foods keep you feeling full for longer.
The general recommendation of daily dietary fiber intake based on a 2000 calorie diet for adults is 25g/day for women and 38g/day for men.
Legumes, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains like quinoa, barley, and brown rice are rich sources of dietary fiber. Some simple ways to increase your daily dietary fiber intake can include snacking on fruits or whole-grain crackers, eating a handful of nuts, eating lentils/beans, and switching from white flour to wheat flour products. A sudden and sharp increase in dietary fiber intake can lead to bloating, cramps, and flatulence. If you plan to increase your fiber intake, do it steadily and gradually to allow your body to adjust.
Can Natural Supplements help to Restore and Maintain Hormonal Balance?
Each individual has a unique hormonal profile and hormonal imbalances play out differently in every individual. Many people use the aid of supplements to boost their efforts and counteract vitamin or nutrient deficiencies resulting from a poor diet and an unhealthy lifestyle. Supplements, as the name suggests, are just that: something that will support you in your transition to a healthy lifestyle. They cannot replace good habits, they enhance them. Natural supplements are safe and have no known side effects. They can prove to be an additional resource in finding your way to a healthy life and restoring your natural hormonal balance.
Women should make appropriate adjustments to their eating habits during menopause. This includes increasing iron, calcium and fiber intake and cutting down on fatty foods and sugar. Any well-balanced diet that is rich in essential nutrients will ease the conditions that arise due to the hormonal changes during menopause. Additionally, limit your caffeine and alcohol consumption as this can contribute to the cortisol levels in the body. Long term use of oral contraceptives is another common cause of hormonal imbalance and can be remedied by taking a nutrient-rich diet and natural supplements. Maintaining a regular hormonal balance (especially estrogen levels) is one of the best ways for women to prevent breast cancer.
Men usually see a natural decline in testosterone caused by aging which can manifest as fatigue, low sex drive, hair loss, and muscle weakness. In addition to the aforementioned ten points, alcohol consumption ranks as one of the main reasons for hormonal imbalance in men. Alcohol can disarrange the glucose levels in the body which has inimical effects on the pancreas and overall hormone balance. A recent study in the Netherlands indicates that regular alcohol consumption can lead to lower sperm production and negatively impacts hormonal balances in young men. Excessive use of alcohol has also been linked to magnesium and zinc deficiency.
Children are by and large resilient and unlikely to face any serious hormonal imbalances until puberty. Unlike adults, the focus with children should zero in on supporting and supplementing healthy hormonal function to ensure optimal mental and physical growth. To this end, it is best if children steer clear of foods high in added sugars and refined carbs like pastries, ice-cream, and soda. Furthermore, limit or eliminate processed foods, inorganic produce, and animal products from their diets.
Health, Hormones, and Happiness:
Be calm – start with small and manageable changes to your diet and lifestyle. Seek social support or use the aid of natural supplements if you find yourself overwhelmed.
Be patient – some of these changes entail overthrowing deeply rooted habits and the positive effects can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to reflect in your health.
Be persistent – you don’t need to put up with low libido, mood swings, and constant fatigue that often accompanies hormonal imbalance. The aforementioned changes can help you return to vigor and vitality.