It’s not just moody teenagers and menopausal women who are at the mercy of hormones. These powerful chemical messengers control us all and are at the heart of how we feel and how our bodies function. So, it’s worth taking the time to learn about how hormones work and what you can do to balance them with good nutrition.
What are hormones?
Cortisol, testosterone and adrenaline are three of the most well-known hormones. But there are actually over 200 of these signalling molecules, whizzing around our bodies as part of the endocrine system. They travel to our organs via the circulatory system and control our metabolism, growth, sexual function, weight, sleep, mood and appetite. That’s quite a to-do list. So, it’s no wonder that when our hormones are out of kilter, we’re going to feel it.
Although the phrase ‘feeling hormonal’ is often used in the context of females, make no mistake – hormones can play havoc with both men and women, young and old.
Hormonal issues in men include:
- Reduced sex drive
- Low sperm count
- Reduced muscle mass
- Reduced body hair growth
- Overdevelopment of breast tissue
- Osteoporosis (weak, brittle bones)
For women, common hormone issues include:
- Heavy, irregular or painful periods
- Hot flushes and night sweats
- Breast tenderness
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
Now we know what can go wrong when our hormones aren’t functioning as they should, what can we do to balance them? We’ve put together some pointers to optimize your hormonal health with good nutrition and healthy habits.
- Reducing insulin levels
- Boosting testosterone (for both men and women)
- Reducing adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones)
- Stimulating the production of endorphins (natural mood-boosting hormones)
It’s common to feel lacklustre and sluggish through autumn and winter. But if the thought of going for a jog on a cold, grey day makes you sink further under your duvet, think again.
It’s really important to over-ride our desire to hibernate and stay indoors all day. Getting outside and getting your heartbeat up will be well worth it. Even if it’s just a low-impact 20-minute walk. The combination of filling your lungs with fresh air and working your heart with cardio activity will promote feelings of happiness and well-being as your serotonin levels rise, and your cortisol levels drop.
Exposure to daylight, even on an overcast day, will regulate your body’s melatonin production (the hormone that controls your internal body clock). This will ensure you drift off into glorious, rejuvenating sleep at bedtime and wake refreshed in a positive state of mind.
Our expert nutritionist, Rita Arora, says, “Public Health England, commonly known as PHE recommend that adults and children over the age of one should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10mcg of vitamin D, particularly during autumn and winter. Vitamin D is found naturally in a small number of foods, including oily fish, red meat, liver and egg yolks. It’s also found in fortified foods like breakfast cereals and fat spreads. However, it’s difficult for us to get the recommended amount of vitamin D from food alone. Our main source of vitamin D is from the action of sunlight on our skin”. So another reason, to get out and get some sun exposure and fresh air!
- Improving fertility
- Improving autoimmunity problems
- Weight management
- Stabilising energy levels
Protein provides the building blocks for cells. And healthy cells mean healthy hormone production. What’s more, when we eat good quality protein, our digestive system breaks it down into amino acids which in turn play a critical role in creating hormones. For example, oysters are a great source of D-Aspartic – a rare amino acid that can boost low testosterone levels and reduce feelings of tiredness.
If you’re trying to maintain or lose weight, protein can help. Research has shown that meals containing a high-quality protein, such as grass-fed beef or organic chicken, reduce levels of the hunger hormone (ghrelin) while stimulating the satiety hormone (leptin).
- Boosting estrogen and testosterone (sex hormones)
- Cognitive function
- Healthier skin
Embrace avocados and feast on fatty fish. Because when it comes to good fats (as opposed to bad fats like saturated and trans fats found in processed cakes, biscuits and fast food), your hormones will be a lot happier.
Fats are essential for providing structure to cells. And as your brain is 60% fat, it’s important to include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in your diet to aid the production of the hormones made there, such as thyroid-stimulating hormone and growth hormone.
Good fats can also improve the appearance of your skin. Omega-3 fatty acids help keep skin thick and supple, as well as reducing inflammation. Dietary sources include nuts, seeds, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil and fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring.
A holistic approach
There are literally hundreds of ways you can help balance your hormones. In addition to those mentioned above, it’s helpful to remember what general lifestyle adjustments you can make with relatively little effort to improve the way you feel and function.
Try to eat as many different types of organic fruits and vegetables as you can because the wide variety in their vitamin and mineral content will unlock your hormonal health in different ways. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and sprouts help the liver metabolise estrogen, and vitamin C in cherries can improve sperm quality for men.
Stress creates a sort of hormone dominoes. The stress hormones – adrenaline and cortisol – have been directly linked to weight gain. This is because they increase appetite and emotional eating. What’s worse, is that elevated cortisol tends to cause fat deposition around the abdomen. Excess weight carried around our middle has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
It’s therefore really important to manage stress levels to get your mind and body in optimal shape. There are lots of things you can do to reduce your stress and there are plenty of great resources on the web, as well as deep breathing exercises, stretching and hot baths which can be done in the comfort of your own home with minimal fuss.
Seed cycling (one for the ladies)
Seed cycling is a growing trend in women’s health. Purported to help with symptoms of PMS, infertility and general menstruation issues, the idea is that a woman consumes specific seeds during the different phases of her cycle to balance levels of estrogen and progesterone.
Many issues that women consider to be ‘negative’ side effects of their period – tender breasts, mood swings and weight gain – are thought to be caused by an imbalance of estrogen and progesterone. The idea behind seed cycling is that we can re-balance these hormones and reduce the discomfort associated with menstruation.
There are many articles and variations of seed cycling online, but we’ve suggested one approach on the basis of a 30-day cycle (which you’ll need to adjust to fit your own cycle length):
Days 1-15 – 1 tablespoon per day of both ground flaxseed and whole pumpkin seeds to help increase estrogen levels.
Days 15-30 – 1 tablespoon per day of sesame and sunflower seeds to help increase progesterone production.
At Pure Package, we blend science and culinary creativity to produce delicious, healthy meals which can target specific health concerns. If you feel your hormones could benefit from being nutritionally balanced, explore our range of tailored home-delivered menus. Our client service team would be pleased to discuss the best programme for you. Email or call us on 020 7720 3250.