Creating harmony in your endocrine system is the key to improving your wellbeing, says Jayney
When we think of hormones, we tend to think of the sex hormones oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone first, but in fact we currently know of more than 200 hormones and hormone-like substances that are crucial to health – with more being discovered regularly. Our hormones are produced by our endocrine glands and other tissues which together make up our entire endocrine system – an extraordinarily complex constellation of chemical messengers that operate in concert with each other – sometimes acting upon our organs directly and at other times forming part of a ‘feedback loop’ that tells our bodies how to function. These chemical messengers control your sleep, appetite, weight, mood, sexual response and more. When everything is in balance and working well, your endocrine glands produce the precise amount of each hormone needed for diverse processes in your body. However, due to our fast-paced society, the lack of adequate nutrition and poor stress-response management, hormonal imbalances have become increasingly common. Some hormones become depleted with age, with some people experiencing a more precipitous decrease than others. Healthy lifestyle choices can support proper endocrine function and it is a lot easier to maintain optimal hormonal function than you might imagine, so see what you can do to balance your own hormonal profile, based upon these strategies:
Protein supports the release of hormones that control appetite and food intake. When we consume protein, our levels of the ‘hunger hormone’ ghrelin are decreased and the production of hormones that help you feel full, including leptin, PYY (peptide tyrosine – relating to satiety) and GLP-1 (Glucagon-like peptide-1 – reducing blood sugar by increasing insulin function) are increased.
In a study, women consuming a diet containing 30 percent protein experienced an elevation of GLP-1 and greater feelings of fullness than when they ate a diet containing 10 percent protein. They also experienced an increase in metabolism and fat burning.
Aim for 20 to 30 grams of protein per meal. Add beans, pulses, nuts, seeds, quinoa, tofu, tempeh, leafy greens to your meals. Plant-based protein sources are better for you than animal protein sources as they do not come with the unwanted burden of an array of proinflammatory chemicals and hormone disruptors. Whole food plant-based proteins assist in maintaining your body’s very fine acid/alkaline balance – thus also contributing to a reduction in chronic inflammation.
Reduce refined sugar and carbs. Diets high in refined carbs promote resistance to the hormone insulin in a large portion of adults and increasingly in children. By contrast, following a moderate-carb diet based on whole foods reduces insulin levels in overweight and obese people with prediabetes and other insulinresistance conditions, including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Optimise your calorie intake – too many calories increase insulin resistance and too few can increase cortisol levels. A whole food, plant-based diet increases fibre – leading to improvements in insulin sensitivity and regulation of the hormones that increase hunger (ghrelin) and satiety, and food intake (leptin), and it provides the most nutritional bang for your buck – it has been shown to be the most helpful nutritional strategy for hormonal optimisation.
Aerobic, strength training and endurance exercise all positively influence hormones. In a 24-week study of obese women, exercise increased participants’ insulin sensitivity and levels of adiponectin, a hormone that has anti-inflammatory effects and helps balance the metabolism.
Activity also helps improve levels of musclemaintaining hormones that can decline with age, including testosterone (in men and women), IGF-1, DHEA (a precursor to sex hormones and more) and human growth hormone – sometimes thought of as the ‘youth hormone’ as our levels of HGH are at their peak until our early 20s and then they drop off precipitously. Improvement and maintenance of our HGH levels enhances our muscle to fat ratio and bone strength. A combination of resistance and aerobic training provides the best results and I advise my clients to lift weights and take a 30-minute walk at least five times per week.
Two major hormones affected by stress are cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol, often referred to as ‘the stress hormone’, helps your body cope with stress over the long term. Adrenaline, the ‘fight-or-flight’ hormone, provides your body with a rush of energy in response to immediate danger. Thousands of years ago our hormones were triggered by threats from predators, today they’re usually sparked by people’s busy, often overwhelming lifestyles. This chronic stress leads to persistently elevated cortisol, resulting in excessive calorie intake and obesity, increased belly fat and toxic visceral fat around our internal organs, and underlies many chronic illnesses. Elevated adrenaline levels can cause high blood pressure, rapid heart rate and anxiety. However, these symptoms are short-lived because adrenaline tends not to become chronically elevated although abrupt, excessive elevation can be dangerous.
Stress-reducing techniques including meditation, yoga, massage and listening to relaxing music all help. A 2005 review of studies found that massage therapy reduced cortisol levels by an average of 31 percent, and increased levels of the mood-enhancing hormones serotonin by 28 percent and dopamine by 31 percent, on average. Try to devote at least 10 to 15 minutes per day to stress-reducing activities.
No matter how nutritious your diet is and how much exercise you get, your health will suffer if you don’t get enough restorative sleep. Poor sleep is linked to imbalances of many hormones, including insulin, cortisol, leptin, ghrelin and growth hormone. In one study of men whose sleep was restricted to five hours per night for one week, insulin sensitivity decreased by 20 percent, on average. When sleep was restricted for two days in young men, their leptin declined by 18 percent, their ghrelin increased by 28 percent and their hunger increased by 24 percent. In addition, the men craved high-calorie, high-carb foods.
Your brain needs uninterrupted sleep to go through all five stages of the sleep cycle. This is especially important for the release of HGH, which occurs mainly at night during deep sleep. To maintain peak hormonal balance, aim for at least seven hours of high-quality sleep per night.
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