Understanding Hormones & 5 Essential Steps To Healthier Hormones
Are your hormones “out of whack”? Understanding your hormones and 5 steps to balancing them.
You’ve heard of hormones. And I’m sure you’ve heard “it must be your hormones” or “your hormones are out of whack” or have thought to yourself “my hormones feel out of balance” at one point or another in your life. But what does this mean exactly? Do hormones “act up” and how is it that they become “out of whack”?
Here we will explore what hormones are and their role in the body. Some top ways that hormones become altered and 5/7/10 simple steps you can do to help overcome “whacky hormones”.
What are hormones? Science Simplified.
Hormones are chemical signals that are produced by endocrine glands in the body. They are secreted directly into the circulatory system to target distant organs. These organs then help to regulate and control physiology, behaviour and mood.
These hormones control most major bodily functions, all the way from simple needs (hunger/fullness) to more intricate systems such as reproduction, stress and sleep.
I mentioned endocrine glands. These are organs that make up the endocrine system. They are organs that secrete hormones directly into the blood to work at more distant sites in the body. The major endocrine glands are:
Okay, so we know that hormones are released directly into the blood to help maintain balance in all aspects of bodily functions. How do these important endocrine glands know when to release these messengers?
A portion of the brain that essentially connects the nervous system (detects environmental changes that impact the body) to the endocrine system in order to respond to such events. Hence it provides neuronal connection by communicating with the pituitary gland (and then the rest of the body via hormones)!
How do hormones influence our bodies? What is their role?
Once released, hormones will bind to different receptor sites within the body. Binding of the hormone to receptor will trigger a cellular response. Some of the different cellular/bodily functions that are controlled by hormones are:
Hypothalamus: The hypothalamus is responsible for body temperature, hunger, moods and the release of hormones from other glands; and also controls thirst, sleep and sex drive.
Parathyroid: This gland controls the amount of calcium in the body.
Pancreas: This gland produces the insulin that helps control blood sugar levels.
Thyroid: The thyroid produces hormones associated with calorie burning and heart rate i.e. regulation of metabolism
Adrenal: Adrenal glands produce the hormones that control sex drive and cortisol, the stress hormone.
Pituitary: Considered the "master control gland," the pituitary gland controls other glands and makes the hormones that trigger growth.
Pineal: Also called the thalamus, this gland produces serotonin derivatives of melatonin, which affects wake-sleep cycle and other circadian rhythms
Ovaries: Only in women, the ovaries secrete estrogen, testosterone and progesterone, the female sex hormones.
Testes: Only in men, the testes produce the male sex hormone, testosterone, and produce sperm.
Overall hormones play a significant role in our everyday lives. They are not only influenced by environmental conditions but also internal conditions. Meaning that the body can recognize when hormones are too high or too low and can re-adjust accordingly (termed feedback loop)
Where does trouble start?
Trouble can begin from a number of sources. It is important to note that the body is amazing in that it often self regulates but when it can’t, it gives us signs and symptoms letting us know that it needs additional help to get things under control.
Let’s talk about endocrine disruptors…
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences defines endocrine disruptors as “naturally occurring compounds or man-made substances that may mimic or interfere with the function of hormones in the body. Endocrine disruptors may turn on, shut off, or modify signals that hormones carry, which may affect the normal functions of tissues and organs.”
Endocrine disruptors can be found in a wide range of everyday products! This includes plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides on foods.
The chemicals that are known to be endocrine disruptors are:
dioxin and dioxin-like compounds
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
(DDT) and other pesticides
Bisphenol A (BPAs)
Others such as DES, DDE, DEHP
Some naturally occurring plant sterols ie phytoestrogens
Along with atrazine, mercury, lead
Check out the Environmental Working Groups, dirty dozen list of endocrine disruptors and how to avoid them.
What are some signs and symptoms that can tell you that your hormones might be “out of whack”?
Dr. Mark Hyman has a self evaluation quiz for women, so if you suspect your hormones are imbalanced, try this out:
Score one point for every time you answered “yes,” and then check out how you scored using the scale below:
0 to 9 – You may have a mild sex hormone imbalance.
10 to 14 – You may have a moderate sex hormone imbalance.
15 or more – You may have a severe sex hormone imbalance.
I have premenstrual syndrome.
I have monthly weight fluctuation.
I have edema, swelling, puffiness, or water retention.
I feel bloated.
I have headaches.
I have mood swings.
I have tender, enlarged breasts.
I am depressed.
I feel unable to cope with ordinary demands.
I have backaches, joint, or muscle pain.
I have premenstrual food cravings (especially sugar or salt).
I have irregular cycles, heavy bleeding, or light bleeding.
I am infertile.
I use birth-control pills or other hormones.
I have premenstrual migraines.
I have breast cysts or lumps or fibrocystic breasts.
I have a family history of breast, ovarian, or uterine cancer.
I have uterine fibroids.
I have peri-menopausal symptoms (hot flashes, mood swings, headaches, irregular cycles, heavy bleeding, fluid retention, breast tenderness, vaginal dryness, brain fog, muscle and joint pain, low sex drive, weight gain).
I have hot flashes.
I feel anxious.
I have night sweats.
I have insomnia.
I have lost my sex drive.
I have dry skin, hair, and/ or vagina.
I have heart palpitations.
I have trouble with memory or concentration.
I have bloating or weight gain around the middle.
I have facial hair.
I have been exposed to pesticides or heavy metals (in the food, water, and/ or air)
5 steps to help “whacky” hormones
1. Supporting synthesis of hormones
Your body needs certain vitamins and minerals (cofactors) to be able to make hormones. By ensuring that your diet is high in foods that provide B6, 5-Methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF) (active form of folate), magnesium, or you can supplement, this is a great way to ensure your body has what it needs to make hormones.
2. Cruciferous vegetables
Brussel sprouts, kale, arugula , broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, bok choy
These leafy greens help to support liver detoxification, combat estrogen dominance and can potentially help to lower an over active thyroid
3. Consistent high quality sleep
-Your liver does majority of it’s detoxification at night, which not only allows your body to decrease toxins but also helps to repair and replenish.
-Less sleep = more hunger—it has been shown that poor sleep increases the hormone gherlin (hunger hormone) by 20% and decreases leptin (satiety hormone) by 15%!
4. Cut out gluten
Gluten is one of the top food sensitivities in the population. So although you may not be celiac, gluten still may play a role in hormones. Specifically it has been linked to estrogen imbalances, menstrual disorders and diminished ovarian reserve.
5. Implement one de-stressing tool!
DO IT! Adopt one practice of a stress relieving activity:
Meditate (Apps; heart math, calm)
Book a massage, go for acupuncture
Take a walk outdoors
Or whatever other activity helps you to unplug and relax
Exercise. Yes, this is always a good one for overall health.
Exercise allows the body to release hormones i.e. dopamine (gets you feeling good), serotonin (helps with quality sleep), testosterone (as men age their testosterone levels decrease). Exercise helps to have a beneficial affect on insulin sensitivity, release of human growth factor and improving thyroid balance!
By: Dr. Felicia Deo, ND