Hormones are chemical messengers that manage your body’s most important functions, including immunity, fertility, and metabolism. That’s why hormone imbalances can wreak havoc on your health. Symptoms of hormonal imbalances range from sleep issues, intense PMS, and brain fog to Type 2 diabetes and infertility. Now, the good news: Your lifestyle plays a significant role in keeping your hormones in balance, which means that a big piece of this is within your control. Here, what you can do for optimal hormonal health and overall well-being.
Why: When it comes to hormonal health, it’s extremely important to minimize exposure to toxins. Unfortunately, the modern food supply is often full of them. Produce absorbs pesticides while animals build up antibiotics in their bodies. Livestock diet also matters, especially if it consisted of genetically modified (GMO) foods that trigger food sensitivities. Even eating seafood can be problematic, thanks to polluted waters and high mercury levels.
What you can do: When possible, buy local, organic foods, and try to avoid GMOs. Purchase high-quality meats and dairy products that are grass-fed, free-range, and organic. Source wild-caught fish; get in the habit of checking seafoodwatch.org to verify quality.
Why: Your body is designed to process a modest amount of sugar: The pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin, which converts sugar (glucose) into energy. More sugar calls for more insulin until glucose quits responding to it. This is called insulin resistance, a precursor to Type 2 diabetes. On the other hand, low blood sugar starves your body and brain, which triggers a stress response in an effort to produce some vital energy. You may reach for a high-energy snack, which quickly spikes your blood sugar. This cycle continues, posing serious health risks.
What you can do: Don’t skip meals. Eat consistently, and carry snacks like nuts or hummus that keep your energy steady. Also, carbs break down into sugar quickly. Try incorporating good fats, such as high-quality oils, nuts, seeds, wild-caught fish, butter, cheeses, yogurts, and grass-fed, full-fat milks, which are all slower-burning sources of energy.
Why: Our meals reflect our culture, which is built on convenience. Although it’s easy to grab chips, bagels, or pre-made dressing, they are often packed with starches, carbs, and sugars that destabilize blood sugar. Even staple foods like grains and dairy are over-processed and may instigate food sensitivities that result in chronic inflammation. Try to reap nutrients from the source rather than a synthetic product.
What you can do: Choose whole foods. Stock your fridge and pantry with fresh ingredients, and research delicious meals and snacks you can make on the fly. Scour local farmers markets to meet people making their own foods: Homemade fermented sourdough may be easier to eat than commercial loaves of white bread; enjoy cheese cultured by dairy farmers. When it comes to nutrients, eat from the source rather than relying on a vitamin or supplement. Liver pate is rich with B12 and absorbable iron, and spending 10-15 minutes out in the sunshine is an easy (and mood-lifting) dose of Vitamin D. Finally, if you follow a vegan or other special diet, work with a nutritionist to help balance your meals.
Why: Supplement quality is important. The supplement industry is not regulated, so there are a lot of supplements on the market that are not only useless but also potentially harmful.
What you can do: If you’re going to invest in supplements, consult an expert—like a primary care physician, functional medicine specialist, naturopath, or acupuncturist—about which ones are best suited for you. Make sure they are bioavailable and do not contain harmful contaminants.
Why: Even so-called reputable drinking water may contain traces of heavy metals, fluoride, arsenic, chlorine, and pharmaceuticals. Also, it’s not only about the water you drink: Your skin absorbs these harmful elements while showering, bathing, and washing.
What you can do: It may be wise to research the drinking water quality in your area—or even test your water with a home kit—and find a filter that supports it. Don’t forget to use it for cooking, too. Berkey Filters include a fluoride and arsenic filter that doesn’t demineralize the water. (Tap water often contains minerals like calcium, magnesium, and iron that benefit your health.) Another option is a reverse osmosis system, which is a style of water filtration that sifts out all inorganic solids and leaves behind only the H20; you can then use a product like Trace Minerals Research to restore those essential minerals. There are also whole-house water filters that will purify your shower water. Austin Springs and Aquasana offer reasonably priced systems that remove the chloramines. (Just note that they won’t sufficiently filter fluoride and arsenic, so you may need to double up on your filtration systems to cover both shower and drinking water.)
Why: Within seconds of experiencing stress, the brain secretes hormones that result in the release of cortisol (the “stress hormone”). This is part of a negative feedback loop called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Your body can reabsorb cortisol after an occasional threatening situation, like facing a bear on a trail. But overworked and under pressure, you may be in a constant state of fight-or-flight. Over time elevated levels of cortisol interfere with your sleep cycle, which in turn increases stress, and so on. Plus, cortisol increases blood sugar. There are other HP axis loops that signal to the thyroid and ovaries. When you’re always in survival mode, your metabolism, reproductive system, and immune system begin to shut down.
What you can do: Prioritize rest so your nervous system has a chance to recover. Yoga and meditation are the best preventative medicine: When you keep up your practice, it’s easier to tap into the relaxation response. Of course, if you’re so far deep you feel debilitated, sitting down to meditate may not be helpful. Instead, change the charge: Go to a movie with a friend, try kickboxing, watch a comedy—do something that shifts your energy. Then come back to mindfulness practices.
Why: There are many environmental conditions and commercial practices that put your hormones (and overall health) at risk. After all, plastic has been proven to cause xenoestrogens that block hormone receptor sites—and it’s difficult to avoid completely. You can’t control things like the air pollution in your town. But you can limit your exposure (and go on enjoying your life) with some small tweaks.
What you can do:
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