Ok ladies, let’s talk all thing’s hormones! Hormonal imbalance issues are a fairly common complaint we see in store at Nourish. Working through these concerns can be very complicated and treatment plans need to be individualised. The aim of this blog is to help provide you with a basic understanding of what hormones are and how you can help support hormonal balance.
What are hormones?
Hormones are chemical messengers produced by the endocrine system. These messages then travel through the bloodstream to relay information to organs and tissues throughout the body. Hormones play a huge role in many processes, for example they influence our mood, regulate sleep patterns, impact stress and energy levels, control hunger and satiety, regulate menstrual cycles and ovulation, as well as being crucial for conception and initiating menopause.
It is completely normal for women to experience hormone fluctuations daily, as hormone levels rise and fall depending on the situation and state your body is in. For example, a stressful day at work or a poor night’s sleep can massively impact the amount of hormones being released into the bloodstream. Hormonal imbalance tends to become an issue when hormones become chronically high or low.
Signs of hormonal imbalance
Some signs and symptoms that you may have an underlying hormonal imbalance issue include:
- Inability to sleep (wide awake at night, tired during the day)
- Irregular menstrual cycle or no menstrual cycle during childbearing years
- Painful and/or heavy menstrual cycle
- Persistent acne along the jawline
- Brittle hair, nails, and bones
- Difficulty to conceive
- Regular carbohydrate or sugar cravings
- Hot flushes
These symptoms could relate to a wide variety of hormone related conditions such as menopause or perimenopause, polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, amenorrhea, melatonin deficiency, prediabetes and many more. If you have any of the above symptoms it would be best to visit your GP to discuss these and investigate the root cause.
What can we do to support our hormones?
There are a few key things that we can do to support our hormones. Adequate sleep, managing stress, eating a balanced diet, and eating ENOUGH food, are just some on the list. Let’s delve into these 4 areas a bit more…
Sleep plays a huge role in how our body functions, both physically and mentally. You may have heard of the term ‘circadian rhythm’ which is also known as our sleep-wake cycle. This 24-hour cycle responds mainly to lightness and darkness, and the main hormones involved are melatonin and cortisol.
Cortisol begins to increase when we wake up in the morning until late afternoon when melatonin will become the dominant hormone that prepares the body for sleep. Disturbances to this rhythm occur when we are exposed to artificial light from watching tv or being on phones and laptops in the hours leading up to sleep as the blue light can block melatonin from being produced.
Disturbances can also occur for night shift or FIFO workers, and people who travel often that are affected by jetlag. An imbalance of this cycle has been linked to mood disorders, decreased immunity, and most obviously, sleep issues. Melatonin is available on prescription in various doses, speak to your GP if you think you may benefit from this.
Eating enough food
Some symptoms such as a lack in energy, absence of menstrual cycle (amenorrhea), fatigue and brittle hair or nails can be signs that you are not eating enough food. When we don’t consume enough food over an extended period, we are not providing our body with substantial energy for all body systems to function optimally.
This can put a lot of stress on the body so it makes the smart decision to shut down any non-vital systems, most commonly the reproductive system, to conserve as much energy as it can to survive. As a result, the menstrual cycle ceases and ovulation does not occur, therefore the hormones that you would naturally produce when you ovulate, such as progesterone, would not be produced.
It is strongly advised that you see a health professional such as a GP and Nutritionist if you think this may be you, as this can cause mood disorders, bone density and fertility issues later down the track.
A healthy balanced diet consisting of regular meals throughout the day is an important step to having healthy hormones and minimise hormonal imbalance. Hormones love fats, particularly unsaturated (healthy) fats such as fatty fish, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocado. The reason for this is that fat is used in the production of hormones, therefore we need to consume enough in the diet to ensure we create optimal amounts of each hormone.
Adequate protein is required at each meal to regulate the hormones that control hunger and satiety, and complex carbohydrates (fibre) are important to help bind hormones such as oestrogen and excrete excess amounts from the body. Studies have shown that women who followed a low carbohydrate diet had significant disruption to hormone production and they developed higher cortisol levels due to the higher stress load on the body.
Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands and is the main stress hormone in the body. When cortisol levels are chronically high it can wreak havoc on the body leading to a variety of complications such as stubborn weight gain, sleep issues and anxiety.
Cortisol has a tight relationship with the hormone insulin, which controls blood sugar levels in the body. When cortisol levels increase, body cells can become more resistant to insulin and blood sugar levels can be consistently high, leading to increased refined carbohydrate cravings.
Many women who feel like they have tried everything when it comes to losing weight, may not have considered how high stress and cortisol levels can impact weight loss success. Practising mindful eating, exercising regularly and journaling are just some methods that you can apply to manage stress in your life.
This blog has discussed just 4 of the many factors that can influence our hormone levels. Other modifiable factors include exposure to environmental toxins, alcohol consumption and smoking, and of course non-modifiable factors that are out of our control such as ageing and genetics. We suggest speaking to a health care professional, or booking an appointment with our consulting Nutritionist if you do have any concerns for a more individualised approach on your health.