Hormones: Creating the Balance

When people think of “hormones” they tend to associate them with times of change, like puberty or pregnancy. It’s true hormones are responsible for those extreme changes, but they also affect multiple body functions at all times. Hormones are chemical messengers carrying signals from one part of the body to another in order to support critical cell functions. For example, digestive hormones play a critical role in healthy sleep. Whereas, stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline can suppress hunger or stimulate appetite in others while suppressing the immune system.

The body is organized into groups of organs which operate as one system. For instance, mental and/or physical overstimulation will increase heart rate, blood pressure, and demand for oxygen as brain and muscle cells work intensely.  Hormone levels must adapt to keep the whole body functioning systemically. 

Poor diet, inactive lifestyle, uncontrolled stress, chronic sleep debt, and pharmaceuticals will lead to hormone imbalance. Symptoms may include digestive issues, fatigue, insomnia, and weight loss or gain. 

To maintain balanced hormones, adopt these 4 essential habits. 

 

 

 

Stress simply means being in a state of mental or emotional strain resulting from expectations which are out of align of reality. When your mind is moving against what the body can realistically do and is communicating, hormones initial adapt to the discrepancy but eventually go out of balance. The body can no longer function optimally and hence, leads to serious damage. 

A temporary stress response, called the “fight or flight” reaction is appropriate for acute traumatic/urgent events.  Stress hormones will be released to increase the heart and breathing rate so oxygen can be adequately delivered to the muscles, brain, and other essential organs. Blood flow is deviated away from the kidneys, digestive and immune systems during the stress response. 

Chronic stimulation of the stress response cause the body to misinterpret daily activities of living as threatening.  The body will literally burn out if this stress response is not quickly abated. Digestive function will shut down. Sleep quality will be hindered. The immune system will shut down and start attacking the body as a foreigner.  The underlying hormone imbalance will lead to major health issues such as cancer, autoimmune disorders, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and dementia. 

Take your first step towards decreasing stress by becoming fully immersed in all activities physically and mentally.  You will be able to naturally slow down your breathing and heart rate and feel more centered.  

Focus on being well hydrated with primarily only warm filtered tap water consumed immediately upon awakening and at specific intervals during the day.  

Since stress shuts down gut function, switch to intermittent fasting since food is shocking the system into distress.  Have some days where you only have liquids and stop eating after 6 p.m. You can then focus on resting the mind and body in order to help promote quality sleep. 

Stick to having only 2 to 3 meals per day that are consumed slowly and while trying not to be distracted. 



  1. Exercise Regularly

Our bodies are designed to move most of the day. Being active ensures food is efficiently digested and sustainable energy produced. Sedentary habits, including prolonged sitting, requires less food.  When one continues to consume “normal” amounts of food and drinks when otherwise sedentary, these excess calories are not used for energy. The blood sugar instead spikes causing the hormone insulin to be secreted. Insulin aids glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream to enter cells for energy production.    

Chronic physical inactivity in the setting of excess consumption of high-caloric foods and overeating leads to chronically elevated blood sugar.  The hormone insulin is overproduced and eventually burns out. The cells also become resistant to insulin and eventually deny sugar from entering the cells. Without enough insulin, the excess glucose stays in the bloodstream and being damaging cells.  Damaged cells leads to spikes in the immune system response eventually leading to high levels of inflammation and the development of diseases such as autoimmune disorder, thyroid disease, learning disorders, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. 

Engage in 45 minutes of intense physical activity 4 or more days per week.  Since exercise is the best stimulant and endorphin, engage in physical activity during the day, and not at night.  Exercising intensely in the evening will often lead to more overeating and other activities which lead to excess blood sugar production and insulin resistance.  

Regular exercise reduces health risks and maintenance of hormones testosterone, insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and growth hormones. When these hormones are altered, it will lead to premature aging. 

 

  1. Promote Healthy Sleep Habits

Poor sleep habits cause extreme hormone imbalances especially in regards to the level of cortisol, insulin, growth hormone, and leptin. 

Sleep restrictions, from irregular sleep schedules, insufficient sleep quantity, or frequent sleep interruptions take a considerable toll on our body. Obstructive sleep apnea caused by a high level of systemic inflammation have the same risk factors as people sleeping as little as three or four hours a night.

 “Sleep restriction for one week reduces insulin sensitivity in healthy men”, a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), explores the impact of sleep restriction on twenty healthy male participants between the ages of 20 and 35. The study results show a 20% decrease in insulin sensitivity (aka., 20% increase in insulin resistance) after restricting sleep to five hours each night for one week. 

Sleep curtailment in healthy young men is associated with decreased leptin levels, elevated ghrelin levels, and increased hunger and appetite.” Another study published by NCBI shows that men whose sleep was restricted for just two nights had 18% lower levels of leptin and 28% higher levels of ghrelin. These levels caused an increase in hunger at irregular hours and cravings of calorie-dense high-carbohydrate foods. 

Cultivate healthy sleep habits every night in order to have balanced hormones.   

 

  1. Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet

“You are what you eat”. Your food choices affect hormone production and digestive processes. They control your appetite, mood, and energy production.  

The most effective approach to balancing hormones is through diet.  Focus on dressing each meal with lots of fresh organic green vegetables dressed in healthy oils (i.e., olive, avocado, flax, coconut). Leafy greens are full of oxygen, nutrients, protein, and antioxidants which your cells need to optimally function.  Healthy fats noted in the oils above help with the digest of food and deliverance of nutrients into the cells. Compliment with small beans (i.e., lentils, mung beans) and ancient whole grains. Beans are rich in protein and easy to digest when the dry beans (not canned) are soaked overnight in water and then cooked slowly on the stovetop. Stick with grains which have not been genetically modified since they are not recognized as safe by our body’s immune system, and often sprayed heavily with pesticides.  The best tolerated grains are quinoa, amaranth, millet, and oats. The combination of vegetables, beans, and/or ancient grains mixed with good oils allows these foods to be easily digested and blood sugar to be easily delivered to the cells and energy produced by the cells. Hormones such as GLP-1, cholecystokinin, and pancreatic polypeptide (PPY) remain in balance causing a feeling of satiety and fullness.  

On the other hand, trans fats in processed food and saturated fats in all animal protein and nuts (ie., dairy products, poultry, red meat, eggs) negatively affect health. They immediately cause insulin resistance and along with increased appetite and mood shifts. 

Higher protein diets sourced from excess animal protein and soy consumption cause major hormone imbalance and eventual liver and kidney failure. People only require 16% of their daily food intake to be rich in protein derived from plant sources. Only then can the hormones PPY and GLP-1 be balanced aiding in healthy digestion.

Sugar such as in bread and other processed sweets along with high-carbohydrate foods, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, pasta, and rice, cause huge spikes in blood sugar and insulin resistance. These foods should be sparingly consumed and balanced with lots of green vegetables and legumes. 

Fasting is critical for optimal health and hormone balance.  Eating can often shock the system and hence, needs to be consumed in small portions. After age 30 a person only needs 2 to 3 meals maximum per day with no snacks.  Ideally, try to eat meals before 6 p.m. so the body has plenty of time to digest food before bedtime. 

Overeating causes insulin resistance and spikes in cortisol production. 

If you suffer from mood swings, stress, irritability, interrupted sleep, or sudden weight gain, you may be experiencing the symptoms of hormonal imbalance. CONTACT US TODAY!  Advanced Health is here to support you in gaining lifelong wellness and optimize hormone levels.

 

Further Reading:

Buxton, O.M., et al. “Sleep restriction for 1 week reduces insulin sensitivity in healthy men.” Diabetes 59.9 (2010): 2126-33.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20585000

Goodyear, L., PhD, and Kahn, B., MD. “Exercise, Glucose Transport, and Insulin Sensitivity.” Annual Review of Medicine 49:1 (1998): 235-261 

https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.med.49.1.235

Han, J.R., et al. “Effects of dietary medium-chain triglyceride on weight loss and insulin sensitivity in a group of moderately overweight free-living type 2 diabetic Chinese subjects.” Metabolism 56.7 (2007): 985-91

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17570262

Heath, G.W. et al. “Effects of exercise and lack of exercise on glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity” J. Appl. Psychol. 55.2 (1983): 512-517.

https://www.physiology.org/doi/abs/10.1152/jappl.1983.55.2.512

Holloszy, J. “Exercise-induced increase in muscle insulin sensitivity.” J. Appl. Psychol. 99.1 (2005): 338-343. 

https://www.physiology.org/doi/abs/10.1152/japplphysiol.00123.2005

Spiegel, K., et al. “Brief communication: Sleep curtailment in healthy young men is associated with decreased leptin levels, elevated ghrelin levels, and increased hunger and appetite.” Ann. Intern. Med. 7.141.11 (2004): 846-50

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15583226

Spiegel, K., et al. “Impact of sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine function.” Lancet 354.1988. (1999): 1435-9.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10543671

Author
Dr. Payal Bhandari Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. is a leading practitioner of integrative and functional medicine in San Francisco.

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