Hormones are involved in many body functions, and their continuous production is vital. They are affected by various factors, such as stress and diet. Read more about your body’s most important hormones.
Author | Annika Havaste
YOUR MOST IMPORTANT HORMONES
When talk turns to hormones, in the case of women the ones that are most likely mentioned first are estrogen and perhaps also progesterone.
Menstruation starts around puberty, when the body’s production of the female hormones increases. Many girls and women experience severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms every month, which can significantly affect their quality of life. Some women can have trouble conceiving, and around middle age many struggle through the effects of the menopause. What all these effects have in common is that they are related to the amounts of estrogen and progesterone in the body, and the ratio between them.
The body’s endocrine system is like an orchestra, with the different hormones performing together in harmony. If one is out of tune, the overall performance suffers. Therefore, to ensure healthy endocrine function, it is important to consider the production of the other hormones in addition to the female hormones.
“The good news is that we can influence our endocrine system in many ways.”
MANAGE YOUR STRESS SO IT DOESN’T TAKE CONTROL OF YOU AND YOUR HORMONES
We often think of stress as the pressure to perform at work, or the outcome of unpleasant things happening to us. But it is more than that. In terms of bodily functioning, stress is anything that upsets its equilibrium. For example, lack of recovery from over-exercising or sleep deprivation caused by stress can destabilize the system. This triggers the production of stress hormones, which in turn affects the functioning of other hormones.
Our brains and bodies still react to stressors in the same way that a hunter-gatherer once did when confronted with a predator. The stress response is designed to raise a person’s blood sugar concentration and give them the strength to fight or flee whatever danger they face. But the stresses our ancient ancestors faced were short-lived, and they recovered from them. In the modern world, by contrast, stress is often psychological and ongoing. The resulting high levels of stress hormones in the body cause digestive problems, as well as causing changes in the intestinal bacterial population and a decrease in muscle mass. And due to the rise in blood sugar, it also leads to an increase in adipose tissue, in which fat is stored.
When stress hormones remain elevated for a long time, the female hormone levels can change. As many know, even small changes of this kind can have a large impact, as is the case with PMS symptoms.
The first step to take in restoring the balance of female hormones is to reduce stress and manage it if its cause cannot be eliminated. When stress is reduced, the body is able to maintain normal hormone levels.
“Fortunately, the means of managing stress are available to everyone, free of charge.”
A very effective way to reduce stress is to take mini-breaks during the day. Sit and relax your body. Breathe deeply down to your stomach, and exhale slowly through your nose. After just a few deep breaths like this, you will feel yourself becoming more relaxed, as you have just lowered your stress hormone levels significantly.
Meditation may be new to you, but it is one of the best ways to manage stress. It has been shown to have a life-extending effect and to calm the mind considerably, even in difficult times. The former effect is convincing proof of the powerful health effect of lowering stress hormone levels.
Meditation can be conveniently practiced at home, for example before going to bed. Sit in a comfortable position, in a calm place. Close your eyes and relax your body. Whatever thoughts come to mind, just let them come – but don’t cling to them. Just let them go. This will put you in a peaceful meditative state, where your body and mind are at rest and your stress levels fall.
Mindfulness and exercise in nature are also effective stress reducers.
HEALTHY EATING FOR A BALANCED ENDOCRINE SYSTEM
It is important for optimal endocrine function to maintain regular meal times and avoid excessive carbohydrate intake. In particular, too much sugar in any form is harmful to endocrine function.
This is because when your blood sugar rises due to carbohydrates, the secretion of the hormone insulin also increases. The main function of insulin is to enable the body’s cells to use the sugar in the blood. When the blood sugar concentration is high, insulin concentration increases accordingly. High levels of insulin affect other hormones.
“When you keep your blood sugar levels in balance by avoiding processed cereal grain and sugar from any source, you maintain the balance the rest of your endocrine system.”
Include plenty of vegetables, natural fats and enough protein in your diet, and eat at regular intervals. When you get enough nutrients and don’t become over-hungry due to long breaks between meals, food and sugar cravings are kept at bay.
Fats play an especially important role in endocrine function. They are needed in the production of many hormones, including the female hormones. A low-fat diet may be one cause of disruption in endocrine functioning. To avoid this, add plenty of cold-pressed high-quality oils, fatty fish or pure fish oil, butter or ghee, nuts and seeds to your diet.
ABOUT ANNIKA HAVASTE
- FLT Ravintovalmentaja® functional medicine nutrition coach, lecturer, trainer and author
- Inspires, encourages and coaches people to make good nutritional and lifestyle changes, and lectures on nutrition and gut health.
- Author of Virtaa ravinnosta (“Energy from nutrition”) and Suolistoa hoitamalla superaivot (“A healthy gut for a super brain”)
- Annika’s philosophy of living a good life is founded in her studies in coaching and positive psychology