When a hormone is out of balance you can feel like you're stuck in mud.
When a hormone is out of balance you can feel like you're stuck in mud or strapped to a run-away horse. Just ask anyone with untreated Grave's or Hashimoto's disease (that's high or low thyroid levels), hypogonadism (low testosterone or low estrogen), or uncontrolled diabetes. That's because hormones are your body's chemical messengers and have a direct effect on your metabolism, energy level, hunger, cognition, sexual function/reproduction, and mood.
There are around 50 hormones in your body and many more hormone-like substances (brain neurotransmitters such as serotonin and active vitamin D2, for example). Your pituitary gland is the "master gland"; it tells other glands to release hormones. The other hormone-producing glands are the pineal and adrenal glands, and the thymus, thyroid, and pancreas—plus men make hormones in their testes (testosterone) and women make them in their ovaries (estrogen, progesterone and testosterone). Quick aside: In women about 25 percent of testosterone is produced in the ovaries, a quarter in the adrenal gland, and one half in peripheral tissues.
It takes only a tiny amount of some hormones to cause big changes in every inch of your body. That's why, when they're out-of-whack, it can cause you serious trouble. In America, type 2 diabetes is the most common hormone-related disease. It happens when you become insulin resistant and that hormone, produced in the pancreas, can no longer regulate blood sugar levels, triggering a cascade of health problems from atherosclerosis to neuropathy and kidney disease.
The glands that make hormones are happy when you eat healthy fats like olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, fiber-rich foods like fruits and vegetables, lean animal protein like salmon, and plant-based proteins like 100 percent whole grains and legumes/beans. That nutritional mix lets your appetite-regulating hormones leptin (I am full) and ghrelin (I am hungry) signal you appropriately, so you don't overeat. Overeating and obesity dysregulate many hormone systems.
In addition, that healthy diet nurtures your thyroid hormones, which also help regulate weight. Perhaps most importantly, a healthy diet regulates the work done by trillions of microbes in your gut biome that assist in the regulation of hormonal output and produce hormone-like substances.
Manage Stress, Sleep Soundly
Cortisol is a hormone secreted by the adrenal gland in response to stress. If it is chronically elevated, it can reduce the activity of your hypothalamus, which in turn can cause imbalances in messengers that affect sleeping, eating, sexual activity, and cognition and mood. Then you may become tired and gain weight. That's why it is important to exercise regularly, meditate, breathe deeply, spend time with friends, volunteer to help others, have a purpose in life, and/or talk to a therapist.
Healthy sleep habits are also important to ease stress and regulate hormones. As you sleep, growth hormones, testosterone, cortisol and insulin are released. And studies show a correlation between chronically too little sleep and depression and weight gain.
Reduce Chronic Inflammation
Chronic inflammation comes from an overstimulation of your immune response to conditions that interfere with the peaceful workings of your body. That can happen if you are overweight or obese, are addicted to sugary and fast foods, smoke and/or drink too much, or are constantly under stress. Those factors can trigger hormonal changes, such as insulin resistance, low levels of testosterone and vitamin D, and elevated cortisol and they hype up your sympathetic nervous system, which increases heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, and pupil size and makes your blood vessels narrow.
Plus: Eating healthful foods and managing stress and sleep help reduce body-wide inflammation and stabilize your hormones, but you can't achieve real success if you are sedentary — 150 or more minutes of exercise a week is essential.
So make friends with your hormones and these powerful messengers will send you some good news about your energy level, your sleep satisfaction, your rate of aging, and your happiness.