Thank you Wellness Mama for another wonderful article! With the hectic, stressful lives we lead it is hard to find a balance. All the anxiety, lack of sleep, poor diet and lack of exercise can cause severe hormonal imbalances. This can dramatically affect our weight and can impede any efforts of losing weight. Check this article out for some interesting insights. The following text and images are courtesy of Wellness Mama. Enjoy!
It’s All About the Hormone Balance
It seems that the more we know, the more we don’t know. New research is constantly emerging on a variety of health topics but there is a common underlying theme.
What factor contributes to weight gain during pregnancy? Hormone balance.
What causes weight fluctuations, bloating and other health symptoms throughout the course of a month? Hormones.
What causes men to naturally put on muscle more easily or lose weight more quickly? Hormones.
What is a huge contributing factor of growth in children? Hormones.
What controls ovulation, reproduction, pregnancy, etc? Hormones
Yes, when it comes to losing weight or improving health, what do we focus on? Calories… or micronutrients… or diets.
It’s all about the hormones:
I’ve heard so many cases lately of people who have improved diet, started exercising, etc but are still not losing weight or improving health markers. After talking to many of these people, it seems that the factor they all have in common is an underlying problem with hormone balance.
I’ve written about Leptin and thyroid hormones before, and these are just a small piece in the complicated hormone system in the body. In a given day or month, a woman’s body will have fluctuations in hormones like estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, lutenizing hormone, prolactin, oxytocin, leptin, ghrelin, thyroid hormones, melatonin, serotonin and others.
Certainly, diet affects hormones to some degree, but other factors can have a tremendous impact as well, especially:
- Exposure to toxins
- pregnancy or nursing
Though there is no single symptom that is a definitive sign of a hormone imbalance, factors that often indicate a hormone problem include:
- sleep troubles
- persistent weight gain or inability to lose weight
- being hot or cold often
- digestive problems
- low libido
- depression or anxiety
- mood swings
- hair loss
What to Do About It?
For those with hormone problems, there are some important dietary and lifestyle factors that can help nourish the body so it can recover. For these people, things like dieting, extreme exercise or stress will only make the problem worse and it is more important to carefully support the body’s hormone system.
This is best accomplished by first improving factors like sleep and stress as well as nourishing (rather than depriving) the body.
As I said before: “Statistically, many people use hormonal contraceptives to help “balance hormones” or prevent acne, etc. The problem is that this is just treating the symptoms and not addressing the root cause. The body naturally moves toward balance so if hormones are out of whack, it is not from a contraceptive deficiency, but rather that the body is not producing the natural hormones optimally.”
Get Some Sleep!
While you are sleeping, your body is extremely active removing toxins, recharging the mind, and creating hormones. Skimping on sleep, even for one night, can have a tremendous impact on hormones and even one night of missed or shortened sleep can create the hormone levels of a pre-diabetic (source).
I shared some tips in a previous post for optimizing sleep:
A daily (and nightly) routine can make a big difference in how easily you fall and stay asleep. You’ll have to experiment to find out what works best for you but here are some helpful suggestions:
- Wake up and go to bed at the same time, even on weekends to keep your hormone cycle regular.
- Eat a high protein/high fat snack a few hours before bed (7pm or earlier) or consume a lot at dinner.
- Avoid caffeine after 1 pm.
- Install F.lux (it is free) on all computers and devices to reduce blue light and help you sleep better (it is also easier on the eyes!)
- Drink enough water during the day and stop drinking about 2 hours before bed so you don’t have to wake up to use the bathroom.
- Take a soothing salt bath about an hour before bed with some relaxing music or a great book.
- Get at least 30 minutes of sunlight each day (even if you aren’t trying to get your vitamin D). The exposure to the wide-spectrum light during the day boosts serotonin levels, which will help improve melatonin levels at night
- Avoid artificial light as much as possible after the sun goes down.
- Pray, meditate or find a way to reduce stress.
- Give yourself a massage before bed to release stress and help relax (Personally, I love this for home-massage)
- Stretch before bed to relax muscles.
This post has some additional tips for getting great sleep.
Eat Some Fat:
Fats, especially saturated fats, are vital for hormone health as the body uses fats as building blocks for hormones. As this article explains:
“When these important saturated fatty acids are not readily available, certain growth factors in the cells and organs will not be properly aligned. This is because the various receptors, such as G-protein receptors, need to be coupled with lipids in order to provide localization of function.
The messages that are sent from the outside of the cell to the inner part of the cell control many functions including those activated by, for example, adrenaline in the primitive mammalian fight/flight reactions. When the adrenal gland produces adrenaline and the adrenaline (beta-adrenergic) receptor communicates with the G-protein and its signal cascade, the parts of the body are alerted to the need for action; the heart beats faster, the blood flow to the gut decreases while the blood flow to the muscles increases and the production of glucose is stimulated.
The G-proteins come in different forms; the alpha subunit is covalently linked to myristic acid and the function of this subunit is important for turning on and off the binding to an enzyme called adenylate cyclase and thus the amplification of important hormone signals.
When researchers looked at the fatty acid composition of the phospholipids in the T-cells (white blood cells), from both young and old donors, they found that a loss of saturated fatty acids in the lymphocytes was responsible for age-related declines in white blood cell function. They found that they could correct cellular deficiencies in palmitic acid and myristic acid by adding these saturated fatty acids.”
Coconut Oil is amazing for hormone health. It provides the necessary building blocks for hormone production, can assist weight loss, reduce inflammation, and even has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties.
If you really need hormone help, aim to consume 1/4 cup of added coconut oil a day. My favorite way is to blend into coffee or tea. This is the highest quality one I’ve found.
“In a perfect world, we would be rising and sleeping with the sun, getting Vitamin D from the sun and Magnesium from the ocean while relaxing and exercising in great balance each day in a stress-free world. Since I doubt that describes any of us currently, supplements can fill in the gaps. I’ve talked about the basic supplements that I take before, but there are some specific ones that are helpful for hormone support.
- Maca– A tuber in the radish family that has a history of boosting hormone production and libido. Many women notice less PMS, increased fertility, and improved skin while men notice increased sperm production, libido and better sleep. Maca is also high in minerals and essential fatty acids, making it great for hormones. It is available in powder form (least expensive option) or in capsules. Maca should be discontinued during pregnancy. The effects of Maca are somewhat cumulative, so the best results are seen after 3-5 weeks of taking Maca regularly.
- Magnesium– Magnesium supports hundreds of reactions in the body and often contributes to better sleep (which is great for hormones!). There are several effective forms of Magnesium: In powder form with a product like Natural Calm so that you can vary your dose and work up slowly, ionic liquid form can be added to food and drinks and dose can be worked up slowly,or transdermal form by using Magnesium oil applied to skin. This is often the most effective option for those with damaged digestive tract or severe deficiency. Magnesium often greatly helps both PMS symptoms and menstrual cramping.
- Vitamin D– A pre-hormone is supportive of hormone function. Best obtained from the sun if possible, or from a D3 supplement or Fermented Cod Liver Oil (what I do in the winter). Make sure not to get too much, and optimally, get Serum Vitamin D levels checked to minitor levels.
- Fermented Cod Liver Oil– Provides many of the necessary building blocks for hormone production including Vitamins A, D, and K. It also is a great source of Omega-3s and beneficial fats.
- Gelatin is a great source of calcium, magnesium and phosphate. It supports hormone production and digestive health and helps sooth inflammation, especially in joints. We use Great Lakes Kosher as I was able to verify with the company that it is sourced from grass-fed, humanely raised cows, and as such is higher in nutrients.
- Vitex/Chaste Tree Berry– Nourishes the pituitary gland and helps lengthen the luteal phase. It lowers prolactin and raises progesterone. For some women, this alone will improve symptoms.
- Natural Progesterone Cream– PMS and menstrual troubles are often linked to specific hormone imbalances. Especially for those with short cycles or short second phase of their cycle (ovulation through start of menses), progesterone can be the issue. I’ve seen people add only natural progesterone cream and see symptoms greatly reduce. If you do use progesterone cream, do you own research, make sure you have a good brand that is soy-free and only use for the second half of your cycle (ovulation through menses).
- Red Raspberry Leaf– A well know fertility herb that is also helpful in reducing PMS and cramping. It has a high nutrient profile and is especially high in calcium and is a uterine tonic. It is available in capsule form, but makes an excellent hot or cold tea.
NOTE: Make sure to check with your doctor or health care professional before taking any new supplements, especially if you are on medications or contraceptives.