The work that hormones do is subtle—yet when they fall out of balance, the effects on your health may be anything but.
Hormone imbalances are caused by:
- Higher than average levels of stress
- Poor food choices
- Inadequate sleep
- Taking synthetic hormones
- Sedentary lifestyle (lack of movement or exercise)
No one should have to live with an untreated hormone problem. Some require medical care while others may be addressed with lifestyle adjustments, but almost all are treatable. Here is a guide to some of the most common signs of hormone imbalance—and what you can do to restore harmony.
Hot flashes, Headaches, and Joint Pains
If you are overweight, you may have elevated estrogen levels; fat cells actually produce the hormone, so extra weight can lead to too much estrogen in the body. This can be a serious problem because excess estrogen can fuel breast and uterine cancers. During menopause, on the other hand, all women experience a natural drop in estrogen levels, along with side effects that range from hot flashes to headaches to joint pain.
Losing weight can improve your estrogen balance and simultaneously reduce your risk of cancer.Women with too much estrogen should avoid foods that are high in phytoestrogens (plant compounds that mimic the hormone), such as whole soy products.
In the years preceding menopause, a woman may suffer from decreased testosterone as her ovaries and adrenal glands slow the production of sex hormones. This may explain why many women experience a drop in libido during this period of their lives.
If you’re concerned about low libido, try incorporating more zinc-rich foods—like oysters and sesame seeds—into your diet (zinc appears to be linked to an increase in testosterone levels), and ask your doctor about testosterone supplementation. It’s also important to avoid refined sugars and other carbohydrates in your diet (insulin resistance is linked to a boost in testosterone production) and to eat more fiber (which counteracts blood sugar spikes and promotes the excretion of excess sugars from the body).
Poor Sleep and Depression
Low levels of melatonin, the hormone responsible for maintaining the body’s circadian rhythm, are associated with poor sleep and depression. Our bodies may produce less melatonin as we age, which could explain why some older adults have more trouble sleeping than children do.
If you struggle to get enough shut-eye, try taking .5 milligram of a melatonin supplement one to two hours before bedtime. You should also drink melatonin-rich tart cherry juice.
Aldosterone regulates your body’s sodium-to-water ratio. But a condition called renal artery stenosis—a narrowing of the blood vessels that supply the kidneys—can trigger the release of the hormone, causing a surge in blood pressure.
A heart-friendly lifestyle that keeps your blood vessels healthy can also be a kidney-friendly lifestyle. Minimize salt intake, follow a low-fat diet, get some exercise, and don’t smoke.
Constant Feeling of Hunger
Stomach growling? Thank ghrelin. Produced in the stomach, ghrelin cues the brain that you’re hungry. After you eat, leptin swoops in to tell the brain you’re full. If these two hormones fall out of sync, you may lose the ability to recognize when your body is satiated and overeat as a result.
Try your best to get a full night’s sleep: A Stanford University study found that habitual sleep restriction (five hours a night as opposed to eight) raised a person’s ghrelin levels by nearly 15 percent, lowered leptin levels by 15.5 percent, and was directly associated with increased body weight. Another research has shown that exercise and stress reduction may help keep ghrelin levels in check.
Weight Gain, Depression, and Excessive Sweating
Thyroid hormone regulates how fast you burn calories. One in ten women doesn’t produce enough of it—a condition known as hypothyroidism, which can lead to weight gain, depression, and fatigue. On the other end of the spectrum is hyperthyroidism, in which the thyroid gland releases too much of its hormone, causing symptoms such as anxiety, a racing heart, excessive sweating, even diarrhea.
If you have hypothyroidism, a daily thyroid hormone replacement pill can help correct the imbalance. You might also want to consider eating more onion. This veggie contains kaempferol, a compound that may kick-start production of the hormone. If you have an overactive thyroid, your doctor may prescribe one of several treatments, from radioactive iodine—to slow hormone production—to surgical removal of the gland; most patients respond well once they get the proper care.
When you’re under pressure, your cortisol spikes to provide the body with a quick dose of energy. Chronic stress, however, can keep your cortisol elevated continuously—a dangerous state, since the hormone can suppress the immune system and has been linked to the accumulation of abdominal fat.
Close your eyes and breathe deeply for two to three minutes with one hand on your chest and the other on your belly; your chest stays still while your abdomen rises and falls. As you calm down, your cortisol should drop to normal levels.
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