Nutritional therapist, Angelique Panagos, gives us the low-down on how our hormones play a huge role in our health and happiness and how you can keep them in tip top shape!
How are your hormones impacting your body and how you feel?
Is hormonal-imbalance causing you concern? You’re not alone. Hormones are delicate things that are involved in a complicated dance, watching and regulating each other’s steps and moving to the same rhythms. Once balanced, they can create a beautiful synchronised dance, that will make you feel happy and healthy! Let’s get a better understanding of their roles..
Hormones control your cravings!
Unfortunately, weight gain and keeping cravings at bay is a lot more complicated than you’d imagine and goes beyond ‘calories in vs. calories out’. It saddens me when I see clients who’ve battled every low calorie diet under the sun (and it really is a battle!) only to see the excess pounds clinging on. The truth is the effect of our hormones is stronger than calories alone as they decide what your body does with food. For example, low estradiol (an oestrogen-based hormone) levels can have you opening the fridge more often – and usually not for anything green! Then stress and lack of sleep also throw your appetite-controlling leptin and ghrelin, i.e. ‘full’ and ‘hunger’ hormones out of whack, so you lose all sight of the stop sign and can eat everything in sight.
They can feed your insomnia.
If you find yourself lying awake in bed for hours, or feeling exhausted but can’t switch off, then hormones could be the issue! It’s time to meet your adrenals, the gland which produces the stress hormone, cortisol, to help in fight or flight situations. You see, stress equals life in acute situations! In prehistoric times, stress mostly came in the form of threats to our survival. Our bodies evolved to cope by preparing the body for immediate activity by holding on to energy from food: you either run or fight for your life. In this day and age, most of the time the stored energy isn’t used… so it stays within the body, as fat.
You might dismiss stress and think that it is a natural part of today’s busy lifestyle. And, for many of us, it’s all too easy to whip through life in constant stress mode – especially in a city like London! But the message of stress overrides other messages in the body, and this hormone imbalance can leave you too wired to sleep and in turn and foggy by day.
High cortisol levels can even raise your blood sugar, slow down your thyroid, and trigger sugar cravings. If that isn’t bad enough, it can also block the production other hormones like progesterone, lead to oestrogen dominance, and cause belly fat – say hello to the muffin top!
Hormones and that dreaded muffin top!
Speaking of muffin tops…I need to talk about the hormone insulin, which plays a vital self-regulating role, helping the body to circulate blood sugar (‘glucose’) to be used as fuel. It kicks into action once we’ve eaten and should (in theory, at least) balance our blood sugar levels. However, things don’t always run so smoothly! Too often, we’re throwing so much glucose at our insulin receptors in the form of refined sugary foods that they start giving up on us. This is when we become insulin resistant. In the end, the excess sugar swimming about in your bloodstream is stored as body fat! Furthermore, this can lead to type 2 diabetes, so it’s important to keep your insulin in check!
Hormones keep you feeling vital…or not!
Did you know women also need a healthy testosterone balance? Testosterone isn’t normally a hormone we hear a lot about when it comes to female health, but all hormones are important, and declining levels can soon see a loss of get-up-and-go, affecting everything from your sex drive to your gym motivation.
They help you go from anxious to zen
Anxiety can mean different things to each of us. It can range from restlessness, worrying, irritability, and even to having a full-blown panic attack. Regardless of which you are experiencing, it’s important to know that you are not alone.
Anxiety is a form of chronic stress, which causes the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Although today were not faced with the same danger as being face to face with a hungry lion, our bodies go through the same physiological changes when we’re stressed or anxious. Over time, persistently high cortisol levels can create hormonal imbalances, increasing sugar cravings and insulin levels. By working on your stress levels, as well as controlling your response to stress and balancing your blood sugar, your hormones can help you go from anxious to zen!
But its not all doom and gloom…
Hormones make you feel loved
And feeling loved keeps us feeling alive! Oxytocin is the ‘cuddle’ or ‘love’ hormone that surges when a mother breastfeeds and whenever we hug a loved one or enjoy a little bedroom action! We need to keep our hormones in check to make sure we actually have the libido to lead to the latter!
In short it’s a balancing act
We’ve really only touched on the basics in this article. The reality is more complex as other hormones come into play. But for now, I really want you to remember the above and start to consider how hormones interact with each other. Remember not to underestimate how lifestyle factors can negatively off-set these hormonal rhythms. With stress and sleep being two of our biggest offenders, we need to relax and get good quality sleep to help our hormones work for us and not against us.
There are also many ways to create happy hormones; the best way starts with a balanced diet – as a starting point, balance your blood sugar levels and base all snacks and meals on quality proteins, a portion of healthy fats and plenty of leafy greens. Reduce sugar and avoid refined foods, along and other hormonal irritants such as caffeine and alcohol, and you’re on the right track!
Get in touch with Angelique for more personalised recommendations and supplementation advice here or drop her a question on her twitter, @apnutrition