Hormones have a huge influence on our health and wellbeing, but you don’t have to become a slave to them.
Hormones are chemical messengers that help regulate different processes in the body. From feeling hungry to when it’s time to sleep, we need hormones to keep our bodies on track.
But what happens when your hormones are out of balance? Discover seven natural ways to help prevent the hormonal see-saw.
What are hormones?
Your hormones include adrenaline, insulin and cortisol and the thyroid hormones, as well as the sex hormones oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone.
Hormones are secreted by various glands around the body including your pituitary, thyroid and adrenal glands, and travel through the bloodstream to reach their target organ.
The hormonal, or endocrine system is complex and often compared to an orchestra, playing a symphony. If all the instruments play in tune, in time, beautiful music results. But if one or more elements goes wrong, the whole production can fall into chaos.
When hormones are out of balance
Hormones can affect nearly all aspects of our health and wellbeing. But we may notice an imbalance most when our sex hormones are out of kilter.
In women, this is most evident at times of change during the reproductive years – puberty, around menstruation, during and after pregnancy, and throughout perimenopause (the five to 10 years leading up to menopause).
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- You may experience:
- premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- irregular periods
- weight loss or gain
- low libido
- depression and anxiety
- feeling tired
- poor skin
- digestive issues
- vaginal dryness
- hot flushes or night sweats
Conventional treatments for hormonal issues can include hormonal contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy (HRT). But there’s a lot you can do with diet, exercise and lifestyle changes to help restore hormone balance.
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What causes hormonal imbalance?
Because your endocrine system is so complex, there’s no single cause of hormone imbalance. They can all fluctuate and affect each other.
There are, however, some key factors known to knock them out of kilter:
- being overweight
- chronic stress
- poor sleep
- lack of or excess exercise
- a poor diet or reliance on stimulants and depressants like caffeine, sugar and alcohol
You can see from this list how easy it is for your hormones to tip out of balance. If you’re stressed, for example, you may sleep badly and rely on alcohol. Or if you have a poor diet and don’t exercise you can become overweight.
Seven steps to rebalancing your hormones
1. Love your gut
According to research published in the Journal of Medicinal Food in 2014, many hormones are actually produced by the beneficial bacteria in the gut (the microbiome). Help keep your gut healthy with a balanced diet, abundant in fruits, vegetables and whole foods.
Add fermented foods like kefir, kombucha, miso, sauerkraut and kimchi to your diet, which have been shown to increase the number of friendly bacteria in your gut.
2. Take magnesium
This essential mineral is a muscle relaxant, known to help reduce stress and tension, and promote better sleep. It’s known to be useful for relieving PMS and menstrual cramps too.
A study by the University of Edinburgh in 2015 reported that magnesium also helps regulate our body clocks, which stabilises hormone release throughout the day and night.
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3. Focus on sleep
Good sleep helps us keep stress and hunger hormones in check, while poor sleep is associated with higher morning levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Aim for eight hours sleep a night, sleep in a cool dark room, and try a valerian and hops tincture, shown to promote deeper sleep. Avoid drinking caffeine and alcohol in the evenings too.
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4. Try adaptogens
This group of herbs may help the body adapt to stress and regulate hormones. They are known to help stabilise blood sugar and insulin, improve mood and support adrenal gland and thyroid function.
A trial by Indian scientists in 2012, and a review of evidence by the Swedish Herbal Institute in 2010, found Siberian ginseng, ashwagandha and rhodiola to be particularly useful managing stressful situations.
Several studies have also shown agnus castus to be effective for tackling symptoms of PMS and perimenopause.
5. Make time to exercise
Experts agree that being more active can regulate mood and energy levels. It’s great for relieving feelings of uneasiness and can help relieve PMS. Aim for 150 minutes’ moderate-intensity exercise a week, minimum.
6. Get your vits
The B group of vitamins play a key role in mood and energy. Taking a B-complex supplement could help to regulate stress hormones.
7. Eat the right fat
Short-, medium- and long-chain essential fats are vital for hormone production. Eating a variety may keep inflammation low, boost metabolism and keep your weight in check.
Include coconut oil, olive oil and avocados as well as oily fish (salmon, mackerel, trout), flaxseeds and oil, or take a daily omega-3 supplement. Evidence published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2016 found omega-3s could have an influence on ovulation and female fertility.
When to see your GP
Some hormone imbalances need medical intervention. Always tell your GP if you experience any symptom that’s not normal for you.
If you suspect an imbalance and your symptoms don’t respond to diet and lifestyle changes, see your GP to rule out other causes.
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
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