Hormones direct such vital functions as growth, reproduction, and metabolism. While hormonal imbalances get blamed for health problems from mood swings to weight gain to depression, some people intentionally increase their levels of certain hormones using supplements, to build muscle strength and restore lost youthfulness, for example. But the facts are complex—you need to understand what hormones are and how they work to avoid the dangers associated with hormone imbalance.
Hormones Are Chemical Messengers That Carry Information Through Your Body
Your body is an awesome machine composed of 100 trillion cells. Hormones are chemical messengers that flow through your blood, carrying information from one group of cells to another. This coordinated process keeps your body functioning.
Most people have heard of hormones like insulin, thyroid, estrogen, testosterone, human growth hormone, cortisol, and vitamin D. There are dozens of others with indispensable roles in maintaining health. Many are made by endocrine glands, such as the thyroid, whose only job is to produce and secrete hormones. Other organs, such as the stomach, intestines, heart, and skin, produce hormones, in addition to performing other critical biological functions.
The process of maintaining all your body’s vital functions within the range needed for survival is called homeostasis, and hormones play a major role in making sure these requirements are met—no easy feat.
Three Ways to Mess Up Your Hormones
Experts have concluded that more than half the people in Western societies develop a hormone-related disease at some point in their lives. These include diabetes (both type 1 and type 2), polycystic ovarian syndrome, osteoporosis, and hypothyroidism.
Your body is designed to precisely regulate the exact amounts of hormones and receptors it needs. However, hormone-related disease occurs for many reasons, and sometimes cannot be avoided. Prevention of these diseases may be possible if you avoid the three most common ways of messing up your hormones. Here they are, in reverse order of destructiveness.
Enjoying the worst of modern lifestyles.
Examples include staying indoors all day, sitting for hours at a stretch, not getting enough exercise or being inactive, sleeping too little or erratically, and frequently skipping meals. Contact with fragrances, herbicides, pesticides, and thousands of other manmade chemicals can disrupt your hormones as well.
Second guessing your body by supplementing with hormones that are not for clinical treatment of a diagnosed disease.
As you have learned, your body closely fine-tunes the hormones it produces and how it deploys them. Artificially high hormone levels as a result of supplementation can be profoundly dangerous. Use of hormones for general lifestyle goals such as “anti-aging,” building stronger muscles, losing weight, and enhancing sexuality can result in serious long-term consequences.
Supplementing with hormones should be a thoughtful decision made by a fully informed patient in partnership with a knowledgeable health team, and only after considering all options for treatment.
All animal foods contain hormones (whether the animal was raised following organic practices or not). Animals, like humans, need hormones to maintain homeostasis and to reproduce, and animal hormones are often similar or identical to human hormones. In addition, your digestion and metabolism of animal foods can act to disrupt your own hormonal functioning in multiple direct and indirect ways.
Four Essential Plant-Based Foods For Hormonal Balancing
Kelp, wakame, and other seaweeds are rich in iodine, which helps normalize your thyroid gland.
One of the healthiest foods for women, Maca is a Peruvian root vegetable that is most easily found in powder form in health stores. It’s rich in protein, B1, B12, calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc, which promotes healthy testosterone levels. Maca increases libido and fertility, and eases menstrual cramps, moodiness, anxiety, and depression. It also increases physical stamina, athletic performance, and mental focus. To get the benefits, just add a tablespoon or two of maca powder to your morning smoothie.
Coconut oil promotes normal thyroid function and balances your insulin levels. Use it to cook, or add a tablespoon to your smoothie for most nutritional benefit.
This plant promotes healthy adrenal gland, which produces hormones like adrenaline that regulate the body’s response to stress. It also helps with infertility, chronic fatigue, and eczema. Most of the so-called licorice in supermarkets don’t contain the actual plant, so try drinking licorice tea for most benefits.
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