Your Diet Matters When It Comes to Hormones

Posted by on December 2, 2017 in Food, Drink & Nutrition, Health with 0 Comments
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By Dr. Josh Axe | HealthLine

What you need to know about foods for hormone health

Your brain is in constant communication with the rest of your body every day via your hormones. Your hormones work together in order to help you maintain equilibrium, or homeostasis. Depending on the signals being sent to your brain, these different hormone levels are constantly fluctuating.

There are a number of reasons why you might develop a hormonal imbalance, which can happen at any stage of life. For example, hormonal imbalances tied to adrenal fatigue or PMS often affect younger women. Older women and men experience other imbalances like higher-than-normal cortisol levels, low estrogen, or low testosterone.

What causes these hormones to fluctuate? Well, many things, including:

  • high stress levels
  • poor gut health
  • vitamin D deficiency, tied to too little UV light exposure or obesity
  • a lack of sleep, or too little rest and relaxation
  • too much or too little exercise
  • environmental exposure to toxins
  • unhealthy lifestyle choices including smoking, high alcohol consumption, or using drugs
  • genetics
  • aging

Typically, hormonal problems are treated using medications. They may or may not work to improve symptoms depending on the person. These include:

In some cases, medications might mask the symptoms of hormonal problems and not address the underlying cause.

Many people already lead a stressful and busy life. When you factor in a poor diet and lack of nutrition, it’s no wonder that endocrine and metabolic disorders affect such a high percentage of people.

Try natural remedies for balancing hormones, especially a hormone-friendly diet. It may do a better job of addressing the root causes before you turn to medication.

1. Why it matters
Why your diet matters when it comes to hormones

The energy and nutrients you obtain from your diet are the raw materials your body needs to produce hormones and properly fuel your body. For example, many reproductive hormones are derived from cholesterol, which comes from foods like whole-fat dairy, eggs, butter, or meat.

Also, hormones always impact one another. That’s why it’s said that within the endocrine system “everything is connected.” This means if your body is producing high levels of certain hormones like cortisol, levels of other hormones will likely drop — like estrogen, progesterone, thyroid hormones, or testosterone.

Your body makes most of your hormones from precursors, which are also called prehormones. Precursors serve as shortcuts for producing hormones with less effort and time. For example, the prehormone called pregnenolone (often called a “mother hormone”) can be turned into either the reproductive hormone progesterone or the stress hormone DHEA. Depending on your body’s current needs at any given time, either one of these hormones will be produced, leaving less energy for making the other.

Here’s the thing: If your diet doesn’t supply enough energy or “materials” to make all the hormones you need, it’ll prioritize production of stress hormones first because they’re essential for survival.

Your body doesn’t consider reproductive hormones and those responsible for metabolic functions (i.e., thyroid hormones) as its first priority. Therefore, during times of high stress, you may develop unhealthy fluctuations in your hormone levels.

And stress can come from emotional or physical sources, stemming from anything like not eating enough calories, not sleeping well, or having an infection or illness.

So, how can you equip yourself against stress? Well, you can’t control which hormones your body naturally produces. But giving it a foundation to effectively handle hormone homeostasis through a high-quality, nutrient-dense diet is the first step.

2. Basic knowledge
Understanding different hormones and their functions

Hormones — which you can think of as the body’s chemical messengers — are produced by various endocrine glands located throughout the body, including the:

  • adrenal
  • pituitary
  • pineal
  • parathryoid
  • hypothalamus
  • thyroid
  • pancreas
  • testes
  • ovaries

Once released from these glands, hormones travel throughout the bloodstream in order to reach organs and cells to perform their many different duties.

Below are some of the most important hormones in the body, along with their key roles.


Cortisol

Cortisol is the main stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It prompts your body to handle sources of stress, whether physical or mental. It also impacts:

  • alertness
  • concentration
  • sleep
  • appetite
  • energy expenditure
  • fat storage

In both men and women, cortisol affects:

  • physical characteristics
  • cognitive health
  • response to exercise
  • weight
  • fertility
  • cardiovascular health
  • blood sugar
  • mood

And while cortisol is helpful for dealing with acute, or short-term stress, chronically high levels can have many negative consequences.

When you’re very stressed you make more cortisol, but this can diminish your ability to make other hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. This imbalance is what causes negative symptoms, such as insomnia, migraines, and severe mood swings.

Estrogen

There are three major types of estrogen: estrone, estradiol, and estriol. Estrone and estradiol are the main type of estrogen in postmenopausal women, while estriol is the main type involved in pregnancy. Estrogen is considered one of the primary sex hormones, or reproductive hormones, because it impacts:

  • fertility
  • menstruation
  • pregnancy
  • menopause
  • physical traits such as facial hair, muscle mass, etc.

More than one location in the body produces it, including the ovaries and body fat cells. And while it’s often thought of as a female hormone, both men and women need estrogen, although women have much higher amounts.

Progesterone

Progesterone is another predominately female sex hormone that’s made in the adrenal glands, placenta, and ovaries. It helps to counterbalance estrogen and regulate the uterine lining in women. It also impacts:

  • emotional health
  • sleep
  • mood

Melatonin

Melatonin is the primary hormone secreted by the pineal gland and partly responsible for setting our sleep-wake cycle, also called the circadian rhythm. It rises at night and falls in the morning.

The pineal gland understands when to release melatonin through your body’s “internal clock,” which is affected by light. Light before you sleep can block melatonin production and disrupt your sleep.

The precursor to melatonin is serotonin, a neurotransmitter that’s derived from the amino acid tryptophan, which is one reason why low serotonin levels are associated with poor sleep.

Symptoms of melatonin dysfunction can include:

  • trouble sleeping normally
  • insomnia
  • restlessness
  • daytime fatigue
  • brain fog

Melatonin has been shown to offer some assistance when it comes to getting a restful night’s sleep, which is why some people choose to take melatonin supplements as a natural sleep aid.

Testosterone

Like estrogen, both men and women produce testosterone, except men produce more so it’s associated as a male hormone. Testosterone is tied to:

  • sex drive
  • maintenance of muscle mass
  • alertness
  • energy
  • confidence
  • strength

Low levels are tied to sexual dysfunction, changes in body composition, and mood changes. High levels in women can be tied to reproductive problems, including infertility.

Thyroid hormones

Thyroid hormones affect your metabolism and just about every system throughout your body. Changes in the levels of your thyroid hormones will impact your:

  • energy levels
  • resting metabolic rate
  • weight
  • sleep
  • body temperature
  • sex drive
  • menstrual cycle, for women

Insulin

Insulin is secreted from the pancreas and has the job of moving glucose (sugar) into cells in order to lower the amount of glucose in your blood. Chronically high insulin levels are linked to an increased risk for:

  • diabetes
  • high estrogen levels
  • weight gain
  • appetite changes
  • reproductive problems

Leptin

How does your brain know when you’ve had enough to eat? Well, that’s leptin’s job. It has a direct impact on hunger and fullness signals, as well as how the body metabolizes and burns fat. It’s secreted primarily by fat cells, but also by many other organs and cells in the body, and helps to regulate the release of other hormones, including reproductive and sex hormones.

Parathyroid hormone (PTH)

PTH is a hormone that’s made by cells in the parathyroid glands. It helps control calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood.

PTH is important for bone health because it tells bones when and when not to release calcium. When calcium concentrations fall below normal, PTH helps to bring them back within the normal range. It does this by signaling the bones to release more calcium and signaling concentrations in your urine to fall.

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