Hormones don't ride bikes around the insides of our bodies delivering envelopes that carry messages from sender to receiver, but they are messengers that do something even more important. They help keep us alive by carrying chemical messages as part of the endocrine system, traveling via the bloodstream, their destination tissues and organs while serving a role of regulating most of our body's major systems. Much is at work here. We depend on the endocrine glands to manufacture hormones – such as estrogen, testosterone, insulin, and adrenaline – and send them on their way for the purpose of managing a variety of our bodily functions, per hormone.org, such as metabolism and heart rate. They also influence factors such as growth, sexual development, mood, our sleeping habits, our ability (or inability) to handle stress, and how our body works to break down the food that we ingest.
Hormonal BalanceAs long as our hormones stay in balance, our bodies, minds, and emotions tend to hum along, working efficiently and helping our bodies thrive. But it's also easier said than done. Hormonal imbalances can come along at any time regardless of age or gender, and in some cases they can lead to significant health issues that necessitate medical treatment, perhaps for the long term. Alas, as webmd.com, describes it, when it comes to hormones, "For many women, it's smooth sailing, but for others, it's a shipwreck at every turn of the hormonal bend." Such occurrences of out of whack hormones have become increasingly prevalent in a world more hectic and at times chaotic than ever, and that's in addition to the reality that hormones tend to decline as we grow older. The good news is that keeping or restoring balance to our hormones is within our reach, although preferably with the guidance of a healthcare professional. There are a number of things we can do to maintain or regain hormonal balance. Like with many matters related to a healthy lifestyle, the list begins with diet and exercise:
- Pack protein into your meals. Protein is a good source of amino acids needed by our bodies to sustain muscle, bone, and skin health. Protein also helps in the release of hormones that regulate our appetite and food intake, per healthline.com. Good food sources of protein include eggs, almonds, milk, broccoli, tuna, lentils, and chicken breast. Speaking of diet, be sure to include plenty of fiber and cut back on the sugary drinks.
- Ditch carbs in favor of healthy fats. That's right, our bodies need certain kinds of fats, such as saturated fats and cholesterol, which are necessary for producing hormones. Such fats will also keep inflammation in check, add zip to our metabolism, and promote weight loss, per draxe.com. Wild-caught salmon, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, and avocados are among the foods considered healthy fats. Avocados, for instance, help improve heart health, reduce inflammation, curb appetite, and provide plenty of fiber as well as the nutrient potassium.
- Exercise consistently. Don't have time? Make time! It's there; you probably just aren't managing it well. Ample exercise helps reduce levels of insulin while increasing insulin sensitivity – both of which we want. Elevated insulin levels have been affiliated with such serious conditions as heart disease and diabetes. Frequent exercise can also bolster hormones such as testosterone that help build muscle yet decline as we get older. OK, so what kind of exercise? Start with running, walking, biking, and/or swimming. But consult with a physician first if you are starting out cold.
- Manage your stress. Hormones that come into play here are cortisol and adrenaline (also known as epinephrine). Cortisol stands front and center as the hormone most closely associated with stress in that it aids us in dealing with stress over the long haul. Realistically, it's impractical to think we can turn stress on and off by sheer willpower, but exercise can help in this regard, as can meditation, listening to easy music, massage, and yoga.
- Eat right at mealtime. That is, not too much or too little. Pigging out at a meal can adversely affect insulin levels, while eating too little can boost the stress hormone cortisol, leading to unwanted weight gain. Per healthline.com, a 1996 study concluded that diets low in calories can induce insulin resistance, a condition associated with diabetes.
- Try adaptogen herbs. These are known as healing plants that can help with hormone balance and guard us from a multitude of diseases, such as those linked to extreme stress. These types of herbs include ashwagandha, holy basil (tulsi), and various mushrooms.
- Go for essential oils. Having a drawer or cabinet full of these oils and the aforementioned herbs can minimize the need for stocking up on a bunch of prescriptions and other medicines. These can help rid your body of toxins and balance hormones, naturally. For instance, there's clary sage, which can help smooth out estrogen levels; lavender, which has been shown helpful in not only promoting emotional balance, but also treating anxiety, stress, depression, and moodiness; and sandalwood, which can bolster libido, cut back on stress, and promote relaxation.
- Stock up on supplements. But be choosy, with your doctor's guidance. Start with vitamin D, bone broth, pregnenolone, and probiotics.
- Get plenty of sleep. Make it quality sleep, too. Shoot for seven-eight hours a night. Hormones at risk when it comes to lackluster sleep habits include insulin, growth hormone, cortisol, leptin, and ghrelin.