08 Jun Understanding Hormones: What You Need to Know
When the word “hormones” is used, most think of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. The truth is that we have many hormones that regulate the functions in our bodies and interact with each other, making them more complicated than the average person would assume.
Healthy hormones are not just reproductive hormones, but also adrenal, thyroid, liver, digestive and intestinal. They all have to function properly.
Whether you are concerned about monthly cycles, increasing fertility or are just trying to feel your best, the hormone balance is key.
What it means to have balanced hormones
- You spend your day feeling calm and energized. You don’t feel stressed or overwhelmed.
- Your periods are not necessarily 28 days apart, but they are regular.
- You go to sleep at a reasonable hour and sleep through the night, getting 7-8 hours of sleep (it’s fine to have an afternoon nap when needed, as that is part of our natural sleep cycle).
- You have good brain function – the fog has lifted and your memory and focus are regular.
- Your hair grows where it is supposed to grow and not elsewhere.
- Your muscles and joints are not sore and you feel limber.
- Your skin is clear and smooth and not dry.
- You maintain a good sex drive and you function as you should.
What it takes for hormones to be balanced
Stable blood sugar – this means it does not fluctuate from high to low throughout the day.
The adrenal glands should be balanced and not secreting too much cortisol throughout the day. When you are stressed, excess cortisol makes you burn carbohydrates, causing your blood sugar to swing up and down. This does not happen when your hormones are balanced. Also, your adrenals leave your progesterone production alone, allowing for the proper amount rather than blocking the process so the adrenals can produce more cortisol instead.
The ovaries produce normal amounts of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.
The liver works optimally, aiding in the detoxification of any toxins or excess hormones that you produce or any toxins that you ingest. It helps convert your T4 thyroid hormone to the active T3 that you need. It produces sufficient cholesterol to help you make sex hormones and also makes bile that helps breakdown fat and excrete toxins. The liver also helps maintain stable blood sugar.
The thyroid regulates your metabolism so you feel great.
The digestive system works to make you feel comfortable after eating and ensures that the nutrients from your food are available to help nourish your body.
Your intestines are full of the right amount of good gut bacteria which plays a regulatory role for everything including the adrenals, the liver, the thyroid and blood sugar. They also aid the elimination of toxins, play a protective role against many health conditions, and help regulate all of your hormones.
What You Need to Know
There are several systems in the body that produce hormones and must function well in order for your body to work properly.
You may think your brain is in charge but the truth is that the adrenals rule the roost. They decide if you are going to function as designed or if any of your normal functions need to be rearranged so you can deal with stress. As far as the adrenals are concerned, stress for any reason is a danger and you must be protected. Think of them as having a powerful brain of their own. They can increase your appetite or shut it down. They can signal to the liver to drive up your blood sugar. They can stimulate your metabolism and thyroid function or slow it down. They can convert testosterone to estrogen and blunt progesterone production to allow for the production of more cortisol, the number one hormone the adrenals like to use to help you feel energized enough to deal with stress (at least for a while, since they are not designed to do this all the time).
A surplus of cortisol is linked to many symptoms including fatigue, blood sugar problems, weight gain, depression, mood swings, anxiety, and menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and low sex drive. It is also linked to the development of degenerative illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Excess cortisol can suppress thyroid function, put extra pressure on the liver, hinder sex hormones and inhibit digestive and intestinal function.
There are many stress-reducing strategies that you can employ (you can grab a copy of The Art of Balance, Stress Reduction Ebook here) but what you eat and when can make a big difference, allowing the body and the adrenals to have all of the nutrients they need to function appropriately.
Key Adrenal Foods:
Schizandra and maca are both adrenal adaptogens, which means that they balance the adrenal function. They are usually taken as supplements but are also found in some foods. Schizandra is a berry that is often available in the form of dried berries or powder. Maca is a root that also comes as a powder. Both can be easily incorporated into a recipe, as you will see in the meal plan. Licorice root (avoid if taking high blood pressure medicine) and ginseng teas are also great for the adrenals and helpful for hormones.
No organ is as hardworking as the liver. With over 400 functions to accomplish, it is busy and requires plenty of nutrients. The liver produces cholesterol which is a building block for estrogen, testosterone, progesterone and cortisol. It also aids the thyroid and helps regulate metabolism. Cholesterol is needed to produce bile which is essential for digesting fats and helps remove toxins from the body. The liver is the main detoxification organ. Not only does it remove toxins, both the kind we ingest and the kind that our bodies make, but it detoxes out excess hormones as well. There are many foods that support liver health and the detoxification process.
Key Liver Foods:
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Calcium d’glurcurate foods such as apples and grapefruit, bitter foods like dandelion or collard greens, and sulfur-rich foods such as garlic and onions. Milk thistle tea is also very beneficial.
The Digestive System
The digestive system is where everything starts, good and bad. If you eat foods that your body needs and you digest and absorb them properly, you will benefit from the nutrients. If you do not have proper digestion and absorption, the foods will not be as effective. This can be improved by practicing proper eating habits, reducing stress, improving good bacteria levels and eating enzyme-rich foods.
Key Digestive System Foods:
Fermented foods, herbs and spices, and raw foods (if tolerable) for enzymes can all be helpful.
The role of the thyroid is to control your metabolism. It helps regulate breathing, heart rate, the central and peripheral nervous systems, body weight, muscle strength, menstrual cycles, body temperature and cholesterol levels. Since cholesterol is correlated with healthy hormones, a healthy thyroid is necessary.
Sea vegetables like nori or arame, seafood, Himalayan sea salt, and coconut oil.
The Intestinal System and the Microflora
The good bacteria in your gut helps regulate everything, supporting liver function, thyroid function, adrenal function, digestive and intestinal function as well as reproductive function. A hormone balancing food plan must include probiotic and prebiotic foods that help stabilize the gut bacteria. We are all unique, so the quality and quantity of our good bacteria varies. This means that gut bacteria can play a small role or be a huge factor in any health issue. Gut health is complicated and may require extra guidance from a nutrition professional. However, supplying the gut with the right foods will work well with any protocol.
Key Intestinal System Foods:
Fermented foods, prebiotic foods, fibre-rich foods and water (preferably non-chlorinated – do not drink reverse osmosis or distilled) are all good for the intestines.
The goal of my The Art of Living From the Inside Out lifestyle transformation program is to support all of these systems in unison.
Balancing Hormones is best accomplished by:
- Eating specific foods that will support their functions.
- Improving lifestyle habits, including stress management and exercise.
- Determining which supplements you need with your health practitioner.
To happy healthy hormones,