You may be surprised to learn this about hormone health: The majority of people who suspect they have low hormone levels actually make enough hormones or have the ability to make enough hormones if they tweak their nutrition or lifestyle. The problem is not typically with the body's ability to make hormones, but instead, whether the hormones are interacting with their cells and how hormone levels are shifting based on stress. The need for more support in one or more of the areas below is typically more important than raising hormone levels:
Blood Sugar Control
Balanced Essential Fatty Acids
Adequate Liver Biotransformation
Healthy Gut Biota
If one or more of the areas listed above is not in balance, then it is difficult to balance hormones naturally for both men and women. This article explores the relationship between blood sugar control and hormones, the first item in the list. Future articles may cover the role of essential fatty acids in hormone activity, the role of liver biotransformation in optimizing hormone levels, and the role of the gut biome in hormone balance.
Blood sugar control and hormones
Most modern diseases stem, in part, from imbalances with blood sugar. Hormonal problems are no exception. There is a chain reaction that occurs from eating carbohydrates (foods that break down to sugar) and the body's hormonal balance. When a food high in carbohydrates or sugar is eaten, the blood glucose, or blood sugar level becomes elevated. The body makes insulin as a result in order to move glucose into the cells for use. Triglycerides are also made in the liver to help store the extra glucose as fat for later (this usually feels like you need to nap on the couch after the meal!). Something called Advanced Glycation End products(AGEs) that put us at higher risk for disease are also made when the excess glucose is combined with existing proteins in our body. The cascade effect from sugar continues with small LDL particles being formed and the protective HDL cholesterol being reduced. For men, the response to all of this is that testosterone lowers. For women, estrogen and progesterone shift in response to this cascade effect of sugar.
Eating foods high in carbohydrates and sugars, then, can play a big role in someone's ability to balance their hormones. I typically see that women experience an increase in estrogen and a decrease in progesterone in response to too many carbs in the diet. Sometimes a woman's estrogen level is dropping due to perimenopause, but progesterone is dropping faster due to the carbohydrates she is eating and so she will experience heightened perimenopausal symptoms like low libido, moodiness, irregular periods, menstrual flooding (check out this article on solutions for heavy bleeding), breast tenderness, etc. The ratio of progesterone to estrogen can be very important for a woman and thus her total levels of these hormones may look fine medically, but she is still suffering from hormonal symptoms. Men experience a reduction in testosterone and an increase in estrogen from too many carbohydrates in their diet. This can lead to mood swings, brain fog, inflammation, increase in weight, and reduced libido and performance.
A way to address hormones naturally, then, is to reduce the amount of carbohydrates in the diet so that you don't take in more carbohydrates than your body can healthfully manage. Tolerance for carbohydrates lowers as we age such that we become more and more sensitive to the effects of carbohydrates with time, and with increasing stress. So you may be thinking "Shoot! My hormone production levels taper off as I get older and my tolerance for carbohydrates is also lowering. This is no fun!" No, it isn't but if you are willing to upgrade your diet and shift the amount of carbs you eat in favor of fats and proteins, it can be a very helpful solution to managing the steady decline of hormones that comes with naturally aging so that you are symptom-free and you experience optimal health (and happiness!). The tolerance for carbohydrates also lessens with sleep deprivation so working on increasing your amount and quality of sleep can also help.
Low blood sugar and resulting blood sugar swings after eating can also be a problem for hormone balance. Experiencing high stress, skipping meals or having an irregular meal schedule can lead to cortisol surges that disrupt hormone production. Cortisol is a stress hormone secreted by the adrenal glands. It's job is to get glucose into the blood stream so that it is available to your cells to respond to stress. Normally, our bodies have a natural cortisol rhythm. When this rhythm gets disrupted by sudden or chronic stress, the body may increase cortisol production leading to difficulty sleeping and excessive appetite, just to name a few (here is an article for more information about adrenal stress). Blood sugar swings can also contribute to fatigue and fatty liver. Addressing low blood sugar and blood sugar swings calls for a reliable meal schedule and reducing the level of carbohydrates to the point where the lows and highs no longer occur. For many, the ketogenic diet is a perfect solution for this. A ketogenic diet relies on fats for calories rather than carbohydrates and in that way takes the body out of the sugar rollercoaster.
Besides adopting a ketogenic diet (check out this article for more info), it can also be helpful to remove inflammatory foods from the diet. Such foods like gluten, soy, corn, sugar and dairy may set up unhealthy craving cycles that make it more difficult to have balanced blood sugar. Furthermore, there are many good supplement options for balancing blood sugar.
A very low carbohydrate diet like the ketogenic diet can bring about great results in as little as a few weeks in hormone levels and associated symptoms. Anti-inflammatory herbs like turmeric and resveratrol can be used by men and women to accelerate the process of normalizing hormones (to read more about turmeric, check out this article).
If you want to optimize your hormone levels then you should consider making changes in your food choices to balance blood sugar. In addition, there are many good supplement options to assist in stress hormone and blood sugar balance and reducing inflammation when these are needed. These can be suggested on an individual basis. We are here to help. Consider scheduling your long distance or office appointment with us. Or contact us for more info.