I think we can all agree that life is a little weird right now. We are dealing with unprecedented challenges caused by these chaotic and uncertain times on top of the already increased pressures of our modern lives. As might be expected, we are more consumed than ever before with topics such as stress and immunity.
For women, the impacts of stress and burnout are most profoundly seen in the disruption of our hormones. The best barometer for measuring the effects of stress on women’s bodies and minds is often the degree to which these internal messengers are out of balance. And it goes the other way, too. Hormonal imbalance can affect stress levels and immunity as these chemicals are in direct communication with our surrounding environments.
Given the important role they play in our health, it’s no surprise that “blame it on the hormones” has become the modern-day rallying cry for every physical or mental condition that doesn’t have a clear explanation. And this idea is not far off the mark.
When our hormones are out of whack, we are more susceptible to illness, our energy lags, and our bodies stop working at peak performance.
To ensure you are living the best and healthiest life possible, here is everything you need to know about what hormones are and how to keep yours in top shape.
“When our hormones get out of balance, we can be technically healthy but still not functioning at our very best.”
What Exactly Is a Hormone? Hormones are chemical messenger molecules that are produced by the endocrine glands (pituitary, thyroid, adrenal, parathyroid, pineal, pancreas, and ovaries). These molecules send signals and information to all the cells and glands of the body, and they regulate most processes that relate to growth, metabolism, reproduction, energy, mood, and much more.You can think of hormones like the gas and battery in a car. The body of the car can be perfect, but if the gas is low and there is no charge on the battery, it won’t run well. When our hormones get out of balance, we can be technically healthy but still not functioning at our very best.
What Are Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance? The symptoms of hormonal problems are extremely prevalent in women today. What is considered “normal” is often based on the average population, and the average population is becoming more and more unbalanced due to poor diet, chronic stress, toxins, infections, and other lifestyle factors.Symptoms of hormonal imbalance can include fatigue, anxiety, depression, insomnia, weight gain, frequent illness, PMS, irregular menstrual cycles, fibroids, ovarian cysts, infertility, hot flashes, memory issues, headaches, migraines, digestive issues, and immune problems. Really, the hormones can affect almost everything in the body.
Causes of Hormonal Imbalance Even when we’re not dealing with global pandemics and countless other serious crises, modern day life is not conducive to a healthy hormonal balance. Chronic exposure to environmental toxins and daily stressors can have a great impact on hormonal health. Here are a few common ways that our lifestyles can cause hormonal disruption.
Stress is perhaps one of the most important factors in hormonal health. While some stress is normal and unavoidable, chronic stress that continues for long periods without relenting is problematic. This causes the adrenal glands to secrete high levels of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. In order to make cortisol, the body commandeers the raw material used for progesterone. This results in lower progesterone which can cause stress headaches, migraines, PMS, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and infertility. Chronic stress and burnout can also deplete our levels of dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline. Given the pace of modern life, it can be hard to determine if your stress is normal or not. A hormone test can help you figure out how stress is affecting your internal balance.
Poor Sleep is another important factor in hormone regulation. While we sleep, our bodies go into a deep state of repair and rejuvenation during which they produce a hormone called melatonin. This hormone, which is also an antioxidant, helps our brains detoxify and keeps our cortisol in check. If we don’t get enough deep sleep, then elevated levels of cortisol can’t be processed out of our systems. The engine of the car must turn off in order to fill the gas tank and charge the batteries. Similarly, the endocrine system cannot regenerate and refuel if we are not getting enough sleep.
Toxins in our food, water, and air are huge contributors to hormonal imbalance. When toxins get into our bodies, they must be eliminated through the liver and gut. These are the same places where our hormones are metabolized. If we are exposed to a high level of toxins, the body has a harder time processing our hormones leading to imbalance. There is a category of toxins called endocrine-disrupting chemicals (or EDCs) that wreak havoc on our hormones by producing a toxic estrogen-like substance. These endocrine disruptors include pesticides, plastics, and petroleum and can be found in beauty products, body care, non-organic foods, cleaning products, and more. When these culprits get into our bodies, they can cause a host of health problems.
Infections can also disrupt our endocrine system and hormones. In order to fight acute or chronic infections, the body must send the troops to war. The troops are our antibodies and cortisol serves as the alarm system. Infections can cause our cortisol to go up and our progesterone to go down. High cortisol suppresses the immune system, while the lower progesterone may activate autoimmune diseases in some people.
Poor Diets that are low in high-quality omega-3 fats, protein, and phytochemicals will make it difficult for the body to produce hormones. Diets high in sugar and carbs and low in protein and fats may also disrupt blood sugar. Blood sugar dysregulation can strain cortisol production and lead to chronic inflammation and immune deficiency. It can also disrupt our menstrual cycles and hormonal balance.
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How Hormones Affect Stress and Immunity
Proper hormone balance ensures that we can deal with daily stress. But you’re probably wondering, doesn’t everything cause stress? Well, yes, kind of! From our modern-day lifestyles characterized by poor work/life balance and constant motion to things like poor diets, emotional distress, and negative people and negative news, our lives are filled with stressors.
Having balanced hormones helps us to effectively fight and handle these pressures. When the thyroid hormones are low, so is our metabolism and energy. When the adrenal hormones are out of balance, we feel anxiety, depression, insomnia, fatigue, blood sugar disruption, and immune deficiency. And estrogen and progesterone imbalance can lead to inflammation, pain, poor sleep, and menstrual cycle irregularities. Insulin imbalances lead to chronic inflammation and blood sugar problems. All of these areas must be in harmony for the exquisite machinery of our body to be communicating and running smoothly.
Dr. G’s Hormone Balancing Tips:
Start the day right: I drink a nutrient-packed “magic smoothie” each morning
Hydration is key: I drink water and herbal tea all day long
Eat your veggies: Include a rainbow of fruits and veggies plus clean protein at every meal
Exercise must be fun: I work activity into my day by walking almost everywhere and sweating it out in dance workouts
Keep your relationship strong: Once a week, my husband and I go on an NYC adventure
Post-work me time: After a busy day, I take a long shower or bath, anoint myself with calming body oils, and give myself a facial and hair treatment
End with gratitude: I meditate before bed to cultivate positive and calming thoughts
Check Your Hormones Annually
It’s good practice to have your hormones tested every year to determine their general health. If there are imbalances, consult with an integrative or naturopathic doctor to find a specific protocol that will work to get you back to a state of equilibrium.
Healthy Is Not Enough! It is not uncommon for women to be generally healthy but to not feel balanced or well. They may experience changes in mood, energy, weight, or their overall health. When this happens, a doctor will often do a scan to examine the body of the car, where everything looks fine. But this misses an important component of wellness.
You can be healthy and yet not operating at 100%. We need our hormones to be balanced and thriving so we can function at our best and have the energy to go beyond meeting our basic daily needs.
In other words, it is not enough to just be healthy; you must also be balanced and recharged.
These are special times. The external stressors that are impacting our lives and the lives of our loved ones are immense. Keeping your hormones balanced in order to reduce stress and support immunity will give you the peace of mind, energy, and equanimity to not only live life, but to enjoy it!