Hormones matter! They are a major dictator of our mood on a day to day level. Anyone who has gone through hormone replacement therapy including taking birth control pills or had a health condition that effects hormone balance can attest to this. Whether you handle a the stressors of life stressor with grace or with catastrophe is dictated by the release of key hormones in an appropriate, and balanced manner.
What are hormones, and what do hormones do in the body? Hormones include metabolic hormones such as thyroid hormone, insulin and leptin, that regulate our energy production, blood sugar levels and appetite. There are our stress hormones, also known as adrenal hormones, such as adrenalin, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. There are also our sex hormones, such as progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone.
These hormones affect your body’s ability to feel satisfied after meals, maintain emotional stability, have clear cognition, make steady energy and feelings of motivation, have desire for sex, closeness and intimacy, allow us to have easy, painless menstrual cycles and the ability to conceive (fertility), cultivate a sense of passion and drive in life, promote feelings of self worth, and confidence in managing the obstacles and difficulties of life. Yes! All of these qualities relate to the balance of hormones in our body. They are truly our “feel good” chemicals. The more you identify with these qualities, the more balance you have in your hormone production. If these seem like foreign traits, there is likely an overarching imbalance in your hormonal state.
While conventional medicine does usually acknowledge the importance of hormones, there is generally a jump to “symptom masking” interventions such as birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy. While these tools can help reduce unwanted symptoms in the short term, they are not actually changing the underlying dysfunction that is causing the problem.
There is always a root cause to hormone imbalance. The problem is not that your body just doesn’t produce the right synergistic complex of hormones- there is rarely a truly genetic component to these issues. Most people have the ability to produce the beautiful cocktail of hormones that allow us to thrive. The problem is that for some people, there are things that are actively preventing your body from doing this. Major factors that are obstacles to optimal hormone production include nutrient deficiencies, chronic emotional and life stress, toxic exposure, and imbalances in the gut microbiome. If you are looking for a longer term solution that will actually stimulate your body to naturally produce more balanced levels of hormones, we can start intervening on the level of lifestyle, nutrition, and supportive herbs and supplements.
What are some of the most important hormones to look at? While all the hormones are important for our health, mood, and overall sense of well being, I am going to focus on two that I commonly see dysregulated in clients coming to my practice.
Cortisol is the most common “stress hormone” that people talk about. It is especially indicated when it comes to longer term or “chronic” stressors. Cortisol is produced by our adrenal glands and dysregulation in cortisol is closely tied to conditions such as anxiety, PTSD, chronic fatigue, and dysautonomia/POTS.
Cortisol can either be too high or too low. High cortisol is signified by a feeling of being “tired but wired”. It is often associated with high anxiety, feeling “keyed up”, and racing thoughts. It can also by associated by blood sugar instability, high blood pressure, and rapid heart rate. Low cortisol is signified by chronic fatigue, low stamina (getting exhausted quickly by mental or physical activity), muscle weakness, and low blood pressure.
Testing: It is difficult to test accurately for cortisol levels because it should be at different levels during different times of the day. Cortisol should be highest in the morning and slowly decline through the day. A 24 hour urine test is recommended.
How do you optimize cortisol through nutrition?
-Balance your blood sugar. Every time we have a blood sugar spike, cortisol goes up. This can keep us on a stress hormone rollercoaster through the day
-Cortisol is made from cholesterol, some of which can be produced in the liver, but some of which is optimally obtained by diet. A diet high in saturated fat is wonderfully supportive for the adrenals, brain and nervous system.
-B vitamins are necessary co factors for the transition from dietary fat into steroid hormones such as cortisol.
The thyroid hormone is the primary modulator of our immune system and metabolism. While people might associate extreme thyroid dysfunction with having a goiter or Hashimoto’s, many people have subclinical low thyroid that is not enough to cause a “red flag” on test results at the doctor’s office but is enough to cause chronic mental health symptoms.
Low thyroid is signified by symptoms such as hair loss or thinning hair, constipation, a slow metabolism and/or difficulty losing excess fat (or just feeling “puffy”), dry skin, often feeling cold (especially in fingers and toes), low basal body temperature, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and a general “sluggish” feeling.
Testing: Most doctors will just test TSH, which is just scratching the surface at testing the hormone. A comprehensive panel of TSH, T3, T4, and Reverse T3 is a much better option. Additionally, even if all these numbers are in normal range, a low basal body temperature (taking your armpit temperature in bed, first thing in the morning, before getting up) is an important indicator that something is amiss with your thyroid.
How do you optimize thyroid hormone through nutrition?
-Get plenty of dietary protein, especially from animal sources. These are going to be highest in the amino acid tyrosine, which is the direct precursor to thyroid hormone.
-Prioritize B vitamins, zinc, Vitamin C, Selenium, and Iodine in your diet. These are all key nutrients in the production of thyroid hormone. B vitamins and zinc are best found in red meat and organ meats, selenium is high in brazil nuts and seafood, vitamin C is high in citrus as well as cruciferous vegetables, and iodine is high in seafood and sea vegetables, especially kelp.
Because hormones play such an important role in our day to day wellness, addressing imbalances are an essential step in your mental and physical health journey. While conventional medicine tends to focus on “symptom masking” through pharmaceutical interventions, we can get to the underlying causes of these imbalances through simple yet profound lifestyle changes. Remember, there is always a root cause to hormone imbalances. The problem is not that your body just doesn’t produce the right synergistic complex of hormones, the problem is that something is actively preventing your body from doing this. By giving our bodies the right building blocks, those obstacles will naturally resolve themselves and your hormones will rebalance naturally.
If you are ready to take the next step, make sure you visit my “Mental Health and Nervous System” page to see all my current offerings! Plus, watch my youtube video below for more information about adrenal fatigue.