Balancing the hormones can be a delicate and challenging, but incredibly rewarding process once we realize that we have an enormous amount of control over the way we feel through how we approach diet and lifestyle.
Hormones influence many bodily functions including metabolism, blood sugar balance, blood pressure, energy levels, kidney function, sleep patterns, aging, and appetite. Signs of imbalance in both sexes include the typical symptoms of fatigue, headaches, digestive complaints, poor sleeping, easy weight gain, increased signs of aging, depression, anxiety, and decreased sexual desire.
While age is often blamed for imbalance it's important to remember that balance directly correlates with diet. Insufficient consumption of dark leafy greens, brightly colored vegetables, lack of protein and persistent dehydration can all be contributing factors and of course the biggest one, stress and how we relate to it and perceive it. For the past several years there has been great confusion around which ‘diet' is the right one, and many have been asking which health foods are really healthy? The vastly popular low-fat no-fat diet which directly leads to the over-consumption of simple carbohydrates and sugar was once a popular trend and we now know it is one of the best ways to throw off hormonal balance.
Cholesterol is often a feared term, and in our opinion, unnecessarily so. We rarely hear about why it is so crucial to our wellness and how it can be instrumental to hormonal balance. Many of the most important hormones are actually made from cholesterol. It is the mother of all fat molecules in the body: a cornerstone of normal cell function and mood regulation. It is needed to maintain neurotransmitter and brain function, build brain and nerve tissue, and nourish the immune system. It provides the crucial insulation around nerves that transmit electrical impulses and helps to digest fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K.
There has been a low-fat no-fat diet trend in America for over 30 years, yet we’re facing an epidemic of diabetes, obesity and cholesterol levels are rising, not falling. Many have been led to believe that a low-fat diet will help in weight loss. Unfortunately, this isn't exactly the truth. In fact the opposite may be true, especially for women. We tell clients often, the human body does not make a mistake. It is hard-wired by evolution to crave cholesterol and fat. The body equates fat with safety and security. It is evolutionary. When the body is deprived of fat, the brain becomes preoccupied with how to obtain it. This is why low-fat diets fail. At some point the body’s inherent wisdom kicks in and it becomes easy to “cheat” or binge.
The body is so intelligent that when not enough cholesterol is consumed, the liver will automatically start to make it in order to guarantee a baseline level of it is running through the system. In its natural, unstressed state, the liver makes 75% of the cholesterol needed (however, many of our livers are stressed these days because of alcohol, pharmaceuticals, environmental and food toxins and unprocessed anger). The rest has to be consumed through food. By depriving the body of cholesterol (and eating carbs and sugar instead), metabolism goes into famine mode causing the liver to overproduce cholesterol in order to make up the difference. This illustrates the body’s exceptional compensation mechanism intended to keep us safe and healthy. There is a catch here though, this state of overdrive can’t actually shut off until cholesterol is consumed again, explaining why a low-cholesterol, high-carbohydrate LEADS to high cholesterol.
Sadly, environmental toxins are having a more and more devastating impact on our overall health. We see more and more adverse affects due to the exposure to pesticides, volatile and damaging chemicals in cosmetics, and estrogen-like compounds in plastics can also contribute to hormone imbalance. Stress of course also has a significant impact in hormones and balance. Increased stress equals increased levels of cortisol, our fight or flight hormone. Because this hormone is all about survival it can and will trump the production of other hormones in the body. For example, sex drive greatly diminishes under stress because the body is focused on making cortisol so it produces less testosterone. Testosterone in both men and women controls sex drive. The same goes for other key hormones such as estrogen and progesterone.
Balancing hormones does not have to be an elusive scientific procedure filled with bio-identical hormones. We always start with the neurotransmitters in the brain and the stress hormones and allow the sex hormones that base to pull from so that they can create their own balance, which is the most natural and effective, lasting approach.
As far as food is concerned, stick to the basics and keep it simple. First and foremost consider a whole foods diet. We embrace the overcrowding theory, which is: as you add more healthful foods in, the refined and processed foods fall by the wayside on their own without deprivation, denial or willpower.
1) Drink clean, mineralized (not reverse osmosis) water and plenty of it. We recommend 1 liter per 50 lbs of body weight.
2) Eat protein and healthy fat within the first hour of waking to stabilize your blood sugar and insulin levels. If you drink coffee, either stop or have it with your breakfast, never alone.
3 Load up on your leafy greens. 2 servings a day minimum
4) Look for color on your plate each meal. The more color you see the more antioxidants and nutrients you are getting.
5) Embrace healthy fats. Find an omega-3:omega-6 balance (1:2) Healthy fats include: flax seeds, cold water fish, walnuts, nuts, seeds, coconut oil, and olive oil. Star away from trans-fats.
6) Exercise appropriate for your energy levels. If you are a high stress person, do low impact exercise.
7) Supplement with a high quality fish oil (EFA's), high doses of B-vitamins and Vitamin D.
8) Eliminate your consumption of non-organic animal products
9) Decrease your sugar intake λ Avoid all plastic, especially in food packaging.
10) Consider a liver cleanse once or twice per year.
11) Have your hormones tested every two years (in saliva, which is proven to be more accurate than blood) and especially after having a baby. If anything is off, the sooner it’s identified, the easier and quicker it will be to fix.
By Emily Potter, CN, HHC