What do you think of when you hear the word ‘hormones’? Chances are, that it makes you think of female health: PMS, endometriosis, fibroids, fertility, menopause … Also, perhaps, of emotional women, tearful women, angry women, women out of control as they appear to be slaves to their hormones. But of course men have hormones, too, and they, too, are affected by hormonal imbalances.
‘Hormones’ are not just the ones we associate with sex and procreation, but there are many more. They are chemical messengers produced by endocrine glands dotted around the body from where they are dispatched to the tissues that need them via the blood stream. We’ve got hormones to regulate hydration levels, for instance. Some that affect when and how much we eat, hormones that make us happy, hormones that make us sleep, hormones that give us energy and hormones that help us run a mile when spooked. Hormones can makes us overeat, sad, tired and depressed, suppress our sex drive, weaken our bones, and make us lose muscle.
Our hormones do amazing things and in a way we are ‘slaves to our hormones’ – but maybe not quite as much as we think. We often accept our hormonal upsets as fate, just one of those things. Suffering from PMS? Well, that’s just because we’ve got the short straw. Thyroid not working properly? That’s bad luck, it happens to many, especially women.
But it isn’t quite like that. Hormones work like a dance, and if one dances out of line, that has a knock-on-effect on one or more others who subsequently ‘misstep’, too. We can’t necessarily influence each particular hormone directly, but we can manipulate many of them by what and when we eat and drink, thus restoring order in the messy dance, pushing others back into line indirectly.
Cortisol, for example, is a stress hormone that is made from progesterone. Progesterone is also the precursor for oestrogen, testosterone, and androsterone (a hormone involved in controlling water levels). If your adrenal glands are busy making cortisol all the time, they are hogging your progesterone, which is then not available for the production of all those other hormones. Cortisol inhibits insulin and increases blood sugar, high blood sugar encourages insulin production and may in the long term lead to diabetes. It can keep you awake at night and not sleeping stresses the body, thus increasing cortisol levels. A vicious circle.
Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood glucose levels and promotes fat storage. High insulin suppresses a protein called sex-hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), which does exactly what it says on the tin: It binds to sex hormones, inactivating them. If it’s unable to do that, your sex hormone levels may rise too high. So, if we influence our insulin levels – something we can very easily do through diet – we can indirectly manipulate our sex hormone levels.
Leptin is the ‘satiety hormone’. It sends messages to the brain to let it know when we are full. Leptin is made in adipose tissue – body fat. When brain cells are exposed to too much leptin, they can become ‘deaf’ to the message, and just as we can develop insulin resistance, we can become resistant to leptin. That means that our brain no longer gets the message that we have eaten enough for now, thank you very much. We can influence our leptin levels by losing fat.
These are just three tiny examples of what hormones do and how we can take charge. We are not slaves to our hormones. They are incredibly powerful little things, but we don’t have to let them run riot.
- balance blood sugar levels
- reduce stress and practice relaxation techniques
- exercise to lose fat and build muscle
- get 7-9 hours sleep every night
- avoid external hormone-disrupting chemicals from pesticides, herbicides, plastics and oily fish from polluted waters
- improve our diet to supply the raw materials to make hormones and hormone receptors and to support the way they work
Balancing blood sugar levels is one of the most powerful tools you can use to get your hormones back into line, and the greatest thing about it is that it’s not hard at all! If you would like to learn more and find out how to balance your hormones, come to my talk in Leigh-on-Sea on 18 May 2017. Please head over to the ‘Events’ section for details.