Balancing hormones – Overview
A Problem affecting so many women (and even men) is hormonal imbalance. Many are not even aware that hormonal imbalance is the reason for weight gain, inability to lose weight, poor digestion, skin problems and many more.
Hormonal imbalances occur when the endocrine glands produce too much or too little of a certain hormone or hormones, which can initiate a cascade effect, ultimately affecting overall health. Normally, hormones alter during a
woman’s menstrual cycle, pregnancy, perimenopause, or menopause. However, in the case of severe imbalances that last for a prolonged period of time, it can underlie many disorders, such as thyroid disorders, diabetes, acne, obesity, and infertility.
The endocrine system is a very important system and is responsible for controlling homeostasis, or balance, in the body. Homeostasis is the process by which the body maintains stability, constancy, and equilibrium even when dealing with varying and sometimes unpredictable external environment factors. It works a lot like the nervous system, but instead of electrical signals, it uses glands to secrete hormones. Hormones are chemical messengers that regulate the normal process and bodily functions needed to maintain homeostasis. These messengers control most major bodily functions, from simple basic needs like hunger to complex systems like reproduction, and even the emotions and mood. They are secreted by both endocrine and exocrine glands. ! Hormones are chemical messengers that regulate the normal process and bodily functions need
Role of Hormones
Once the brain receives a signal, the endocrine glands produce and store hormones. The hormones are then transported from the glands to the targeted organs and tissues throughout the body to carry out the bodily functions and processes that require them. Once the messenger reaches the targeted site, the hormone binds and locks into the specific receptor site similar to a lock and key. These receptors are located on the surface of the cell or within the cell nucleus. After the connection has occurred a message is transmitted to the targeted site and carries out the specific action. These chemical messengers control the majority of the major bodily functions, including:
• Development and growth
• Regulating body temperature
• Maintenance of appetite and thirst commands
• Usage, storage, and production of energy
• Cognitive function and controlling emotions and mood
• Regulating metabolism
• Controlling stress
• Stimulation or suppression of apoptosis, programmed cell death
• Homeostasis of salt and sugar levels in the blood
• Healthy immune system
• Reproduction, sexual function, and reproductive growth
Hormone imbalance can be caused by numerous factors including diet, exercise, past trauma, lifestyle, and genetics to name a few.
Do you ask yourself any of these questions?
• Why am I always tired?
• I have tried every diet in the book, but I can’t seem to lose weight?
• Why am I always getting sick?
• How can I control my mood swings before and during my menstrual cycle?
• Why can’t I sleep well at night?
There are many potential causes of hormonal imbalance. Let’s cover some now.
Cortisol, the primary “stress hormone,” may surprise you by doing much more than just responding to stress. Cortisol is created in the adrenal cortex and is controlled by the hypothalamus, adrenal gland, and pituitary gland. Cortisol is a steroid hormone with receptors on most of the cells in your body. Cortisol, the primary “stress hormone,” may surprise you by doing much more than just responding to stress.
The many functions of cortisol include:
• Regulating stress levels
• Controlling blood pressure
• Maintaining blood sugar levels
• Reducing inflammation
• Regulating metabolism
• Facilitating memory
• Controlling the body’s usage of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates
• Balancing salt and water in the body
• Assisting in fetal development
• Playing a role in immune function In our high-stress society, the stress response is continuously activated, and the body is unable to return back to a homeostatic, comfortable state, which ultimately causes an imbalance and poor health
The Importance of Specific External Environment Factors
Environmental factors can specifically affect hormone balance. Specific external factors are related to your immediate environment, lifestyle, and habits. They include:
• Toxins and pollutants
• Alcohol, smoking and drug use
• Exercise and physical activity
• Age and age-related conditions
• Sleep and rest
Let’s talk about some of these specific factors.
Your lifestyle – including what you eat, what you breathe, and even what you touch - impacts every cell within your body! Did you know that chemicals can cause hormonal imbalance? Everyday our body is under attack from chemicals in our environment that penetrate cells and affect genetic expression. Many of these chemicals are endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that disrupt the normal hormonal function. EDC’s either mimic the natural hormone binding at specific receptor sites or block the normal hormone binding process. They disrupt the production, storage, secretion, transport, and elimination of hormones.
Naturally, hormone fluctuations occur during puberty, perimenopause, menopause and andropause, but unhealthy imbalances are initiated by stress, toxins, lifestyle choices, sleep, and food choices. The amount of stress you allow to permeate your life or the way you cope with the stressors you encounter influence hormone levels. In addition, the toxins that you allow to enter your body, including occupational hazards, cosmetic and body care products, household products, or food and drink choices, impact the function of the endocrine system.
Staying physically active helps to control weight, balance hormone levels, and facilitate the release of toxins.
Reducing or eliminating your alcohol consumption will minimize damage to the pancreas and liver. And don’t forget, after a long day, your body needs an appropriate amount of rest/sleep to allow the body to recover and rejuvenate. As you can see, there are many conscious decisions your clients can make to help their bodies be the best they can be!
Stress is a huge contributor to hormonal imbalance. Stress can be emotional, dietary, or physical. Emotional stress may be due to work, relationships, or finances. Dietary stress can cause an inflammatory process resulting from eating processed foods or allergens. Physical stress can be a result of trauma, illness, infection, major temperature
changes, surgical procedures, pain, lack of sleep, chronic conditions, or diseases. Both physical and emotional stress demand higher productions of cortisol from the adrenal glands to combat the stressor.
When higher amounts of cortisol are produced, progesterone becomes depleted as progesterone is a precursor to cortisol production. In what is known as the “pregnenolone steal,” the precursor hormone pregnenolone, which is used to synthesize both sex and stress hormones, is diverted to synthesizing cortisol instead of the sex hormones.
It’s like the body steals pregnenolone to use it for stress hormone production, which happens at the expense of
progesterone. As a result, progesterone levels often become depleted in chronic stress because of the demand for progesterone to make cortisol. This ultimately affects sex hormone production from the adrenals (testosterone and estrogen production), as pregnenolone is diverted towards cortisol production and away from sex hormone production.
When warming your food in plastic containers, spraying cologne, or applying nail polish, you are disrupting the function of hormones. Xenohormones are natural or artificial compounds displaying hormone-like properties associated with endocrine disruption. Xenoestrogens are xenohormones that mimic estrogenic effects similar to the
actual hormone with an uncontrollable overstimulation of cellular activity. Xenoestrogens are ten times stronger than natural hormones found in the body.
Similar to a stubborn stain, once the xenoestrogen has settled, it will be hard to remove from the body. They hide in your body fat, so the more body fat present, the more room toxins have to live comfortably. Xenoestrogens are found in dairy and feedlot beef because these unhealthy, bloated cows are often given synthetic growth hormone.
Toxic chemicals are hormone disruptors found in plastics (BPA and phthalates), pesticides (DDT), fungicides,
herbicides, acetones (nail polish removers), preservatives (parabens), and industrial pollutants (dioxins and PCBs).
These toxic chemicals are commonly seen in household cleaners and personal care products.
Even though men don’t experience menopause, they live through andropause. As men age, andropause causes a slow decline in testosterone. Heavy metals, including lead, mercury, aluminum, cadmium, and arsenic alter and reduce testosterone levels. Toxins expedite the process of lowering testosterone levels, and testosterone deficiency can cause serious health issues in men, such as reduced sperm count, impaired sexual function, and infertility.
You can implement healthy lifestyle changes in order to facilitate healing and long-term health.
Chronic diseases that are linked, in one way or another, to hormonal imbalance, can be especially helped by lifestyle
changes, because certain lifestyle changes can facilitate hormonal equilibrium.
For one, exercise is vital for maintaining hormonal balance. Weight gain caused by a sedentary lifestyle creates a perfect environment for toxin deposits throughout your body. During exercise, the brain releases “feel good” neurotransmitters, such as serotonin for a good night of sleep and dopamine for positivity/pleasure. It will also boost testosterone production, which naturally slows the effects of aging, and it also increases estrogen levels to lessen menopause symptoms.
A sedentary lifestyle combined with toxins from your diet is a perfect storm for weight gain. Most hormonal imbalances begin due to high levels of estrogen (primarily powerful xenoestrogens), which causes more fatty tissue growth and the production of even more estrogen. The estrogen determines that the fat cells are deposited around the belly area. This is the classic vicious cycle of estrogen dominance and excessive weight gain.
Feeling bloated and heavy is a textbook sign of fluid retention from high levels of estrogen and as well as your food choices. Low progesterone can also cause weight gain and difficulty losing weight due to its negative impact on the thyroid.
Besides diet and exercise, another important lifestyle decision has to do with sleep. The quality and amount of sleep affects how much leptin is produced, the hormone that controls your appetite. When staying up late, you might notice more frequents trips to the kitchen the next day. A lack of sleep causes low levels of leptin, which causes you to eat much more than you normally would.
Another important lifestyle decision, especially when it comes to maintaining or reestablishing hormone balance is alcohol consumption. Alcohol impairs the function of the glands that release hormones. Alcohol intake affects pancreatic function, which can cause malnutrition, leading to a disruption of other hormone functions. Even a night out with a few drinks impacts the function of testes and ovaries, causing sex hormonal deficiencies, infertility, sexual dysfunction, and issues related to sperm health, ovulation, fetal development, and menstruation. Alcohol also impairs calcium metabolism and degrades bone structure.
Finally, a lifestyle decision that is of the utmost importance when it comes to hormones is smoking. Smoking increases cortisol levels, especially in menopausal women. High cortisol levels lead to high blood glucose and insulin levels, which stimulate the ovaries to produce estrogen. Cigarette toxins interfere with the blood supply to reproductive organs, reduce bone mineral density, impair ovulation, and harm the fetus.
Food choices impact the amount of toxins that enter the body. Stay away from processed foods and refined sugars to avoid sugar spikes, weight gain, and many other harmful effects. You see, insulin works to maintain normal blood sugar levels because excess blood sugar wreaks havoc on the cardiovascular system. Upon consumption, food breaks down into glucose, and insulin transports the glucose in cells as an energy source.
When blood sugar is chronically too high you can develop insulin resistance and diabetes. Excess sugars not needed for energy are stored as fat, increasing your chances of obesity. Higher fat levels increase estrogen levels, leading to estrogen dominance.
Higher fat levels increase estrogen levels, leading to estrogen dominance.
Before I move on, one more point of emphasis is organic versus non-organic produce. While it may take some convincing to spend extra money on organic produce, trust me – the expense is totally worth it. Farmers are using more toxic herbicides and pesticides than ever before in an effort to combat super-weeds and super-bugs that are becoming increasingly resistant to these chemicals. No matter what you may have heard, these toxic chemicals do indeed impact human bodies – in many negative ways, especially as endocrine disruptors.
If you are one of those people who skips sleep in order to work, your body might be showing symptoms of hormone imbalance. Experts recommend sleeping 8 hours of non-interrupted sleep per night. While you are cozy in bed and fast asleep, your body is doing damage control from whatever happened during the day. The body needs to repair, detox, correct chemical imbalances, regulate hormones, perform immune functions, adjust blood sugar levels, process and store memories, and many other bodily functions. Most physical repair of the body occurs between 10:00pm and 2:00am, while most psychological healing occurs between 2:00am and 6:00am.
Balanced hormones and quality sleep are important for a healthy menstrual cycle. Lack of sleep affects all hormones, but especially estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, LH, leptin, and FSH.
Sleep deprivation muddles cortisol secretion at difference times of the day. Someone who is sleep deprived will have high levels of cortisol at night, when they should be low. High cortisol can cause diabetes and obesity. It isn’t a coincidence that we are once again connecting hormonal imbalance to diabetes and obesity. There is a direct connection, and with the incidence of diabetes and obesity on the rise, we need to be checking in on our sleep and other lifestyle decisions.
Did you know that you exert quite a bit of control over your hormone levels? Your actions impact your hormones. While many bodily processes, such as endocrine and immune function, were once seen as beyond our control, researchers have uncovered that the opposite, is in fact true. You are an active participant in your own healthcare!
Psychological/Mental Stress Can Create Hormonal Imbalance
If you feel tired, lethargic, unmotivated, or frustrated, chances are you are suffering under the weight of stress. You may have already reached and exceeded your physiological limit – taking on more than you can handle. After ruling out any major conditions or diseases, it is likely that your endocrine glands have been overworked, even causing adrenal fatigue.
The adrenals regulate and produce DHEA, cortisol, and sex hormones. Therefore, if you are showing symptoms ofadrenal dysfunction, you are over or under producing all of these important hormones. Your cortisol and DHEA hormones, along with other steroid hormones and systems in body, are affected by adrenal fatigue. And as you already know, high levels of cortisol for an extended period of time can be detrimental to your body.
Your body is designed to handle stress that is not long lasting. Once stress becomes unhealthy and sticks around for a longer period of time, the body struggles. Our body continues to produce stress hormones, which affect other bodily functions. Stress hormones aren’t only produced during life-threatening situations; they also respond to all kinds of stressors – even minor ones, including financial worries, unemployment, infection, digestive issues, smoking, alcohol, depression, and dieting. Long-term stressors lead to chronic fatigue, impaired mental clarity, unhealthy endocrine function, insomnia, immune system weakness, obesity, thyroid imbalance, and gut issues.
The Effect of Mental Environment on Hormones
Mental environment along with past trauma and evolutionary psychology, it forms the foundation of mental health. Defined simply, it is the culmination or summation of thought patterns and life outlook. Humans naturally have a tendency to think negatively and focus on their own weaknesses. Your goal should be a positive, strength-based mental environment, which is conducive to healing.
Did you know that there is mounting evidence to support the idea that positivity positively impacts health? Positive thoughts generate positive feelings and attract positive life experiences. That’s right - a positive outlook can decrease chronic inflammation, prevent chronic disease, and even lengthen life. Any negative viewpoint can always be flipped around to a positive one. That is, there are always at least two ways of looking at the same occurrence.
For the sake of your mental and physical health, which will you choose?
A strengths-based focus complements a positive outlook. Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, leverage what you can do to overcome your weaknesses. This is especially true when it comes to physical healing.
For example, you may feel intimidated by the idea of cooking fresh, whole foods in the kitchen. Try using your strengths, like organization and ideation, to sprinkle some fun into cooking.
So how does your mental environment impact hormone levels? Well it turns out that our conscious and unconscious mental framework impacts the emotions we attach to current and future events. For instance, if you tend to inflate and exaggerate the severity of situations in your mind (cognitive distortion), then you will likely have extremely powerful negative emotions about failing a test, for example. If you sincerely believe that passing the test is required for your continued survival, then you will emotional (and physiologically) react much differently to failing it than you would if you simply viewed the test as an assessment of your current knowledge.
You see, negative emotions are so powerful because they impact neurotransmitter and hormonal levels. You know how you feel your emotions physically? Well, that’s actually the chemical messengers associated with your emotions! Not only that but your negative emotions can, over the long term, wreak havoc on your mental wellbeing, actually causing mental disorders. If you develop depression, you may struggle to be motivated to cook healthy meals. Therefore, you might develop a nutritional deficiency, which further contributes to hormonal imbalance and exacerbates the mental disorder. As you can see, a negative, unhealthy mental environment is intimately connected with hormonal imbalance.
The Effects of Spirituality on Hormones
What does it mean to be a spiritual person? If you were to take a survey and ask people to describe their meaning of spirituality each response would be unique. The meaning of spirituality varies for everyone. But at its root, spirituality is a sense of connection – whether to the self, others, or a higher power. All humans crave this connection because our spirits are meant to exist in an interconnected web of spirits.
Deep down, we all have three basic spiritual needs: to be seen, to be heard, and to matter. The three types of spirituality – personal, communal, and environmental spirituality – all are a means to fulfill these spiritual necessities. Many people find spirituality within themselves by achieving a deeper sense of connection within their own mind. Spirituality can help gain a healthier perspective to understand you have a greater purpose in life than what you do daily.
People who focus on spirituality are better able to cope with daily life. When you pray, mediate, reflect, or perform yoga, you are building a stronger bond within yourself to deal with life’s stressors. For many, separating their mind and body from materialistic items helps achieve greater purpose.
This can help cope with change in life. By working to cultivate a healthy spiritual self, you are developing resilience and correcting the imbalances in your body. Gaining spiritual balance facilitates mental and physical balance. It is especially important for people who have experienced extreme trauma. Spirituality helps individuals find strength within to face the actual event.
As you are already beginning to see, spirituality is not the same thing as religion.
Religion is an organized practice that may or may not facilitate spiritual growth. Many people are spiritual but do not belong to a religion, and many religious people are not spiritual. Religion is concerned with rituals and rules that the whole community adheres to, whereas spirituality is a very individualized practice used to connect with the self, others, the environment, and even a higher power.
While some people choose to incorporate a religious organization into their spiritual practice, it is not necessary to in order to be spiritually healthy. Ultimately, each individual must find the right mix of religion and/or spirituality to fulfill their spiritual needs.
Keep in mind that there are different spiritual styles of coping with stress. Some examples include:
• Self-directing style - Even though you believe in a higher power, you solve the situation on you own.
• Collaborative style - You believe that together with a higher power, you are able to handle the current problem.
• Deferring style - This passive approach allows the higher power to handle the terrifying situation while you sit back and wait.
• Surrendering style - You consciously decide to surrender to the stressor that is beyond your control.
Personal spirituality is an individual’s connection with himself or herself. A connection with the self includes important aspects such as meaning, purpose, values, truth, and worth. To develop a deeper connection with the self, a person must purposefully spend time reflecting, journaling, and generally taking care of the self.
So what can cause a disconnection with the self? The shadow.
According to psychologist Carl Jung, the shadow is “the hidden, repressed … and guilt-laden personality” that lurks in the dark corner of the self. The shadow is usually primitive human emotions that an individual tries to hide, such as shame, guilt, fears, weaknesses, and desires.
Everyone has a shadow, but some people are better at identifying it and embracing it than others. If a person does not identify and embrace the shadow, it will haunt and even dominate the self, causing a deep disconnection.
But how can you find your elusive shadow?
1. Identify the area in which you most struggle.
2. Identify what you most dislike or judge about other people.
3. Identify what you love most about yourself.
4. Whatever is the opposite of #3 is your shadow, and it likely corresponds with #1 and #2.
Once you identify the shadow, learn to love it and embrace it! Cultivate compassion and humility as you remember that everyone has a shadow. The extent that an individual is able to embrace the shadow is the extent that he or she can achieve spiritual wellbeing. Honestly, it is as simple as that.
After you embrace the shadow, use it to serve. You will become more open and vulnerable, and others will be inspired by how you love and accept yourself. You will no longer have to suppress an important part of who you are.
Many chronic diseases and hormonal imbalances tend to occur in women. Whereas men die of acute heart attacks and strokes women tend to live long, sometimes miserable lives battling chronic disease and hormonal imbalance.
Why might this be? Women, in particular, tend to bottle and suppress emotions when they think others do not want to listen. It may be the case that women are more ashamed of their shadow and have a more difficult time identifying, accepting, and embracing it. Remember that emotions are directly tied to hormonal synthesis and secretion.
Women can be highly critical of one another, and likely this criticism extends to the self. But women who work through this self-critical tendency and take time to find their shadow will likely decrease symptoms of chronic disease.
But don’t simply focus on the negative shadow; bring to light your positive shadow. Traits that you idolize in others are actually dimensions of your own greatness that may not be currently expressed. This is your positive shadow, and you can work to develop it and integrate it into your personality.
If you have low self-esteem or other examples of spiritual disconnection with the self (like risky personal decisions), it is likely that poor personal spirituality is fueling physical issues. Think about it this way: a person with low self-esteem may be either constantly hypo- or hyper-aroused, almost expecting bad things to happen because he or she “deserves” it. This leads to chronically high levels of stress hormones, and as you already know, that’s bad news for the entire body.
It is so important to reconnect with the self and rediscover all of your amazing qualities.
Social connection is also a vital part of spiritual health. The tendency for people with chronic disease and hormonal imbalance to withdraw from their community and support system negatively impacts spiritual health.
The strength of personal spirituality directly influences the strength of community spirituality. That is, a connection with the self must be strong before connections with others will be healthy. Once this occurs, connections with others can help an individual learn and grow in the connection with the self, creating a virtuous circle.
Romantic, professional, and casual relationships, as well as friendships, are all important facets of communal spirituality. The health of a person’s relationships mirrors the health of a person’s spirit.
If someone is in an emotionally or physically abusive relationship, his or her spirit has been trampled.
Often, the help of a professionally trained counselor, can help the person recognize the cause of his or her spiritual disease and work to escape the traumatic relationship. Nobody should have the power to crush another’s spirit.
This is where the importance of setting boundaries comes into play. Boundaries help to demarcate where the self begins and where another ends. Boundaries are not only important when it comes to mental health; they are also vital to spiritual health. They help ensure that another person never has enough power to crush the spirit.
Remember that negative emotions, which are often the result of abuse, fuel the release of hormones. The strength and health of our relationships determines whether our response to stress will exacerbate physical problems, or whether we will be shielded from the effects of stress.
You may have heard the expression that no man is an island. The second that a person with chronic disease and hormonal imbalance begin to maroon themselves on an island, they are sadly moving further from healing.
Ultimately, we are an interconnected web of spiritual beings, and for our spirits to come to life, we need to connect with one another, becoming integrated into the web.
Environmental spirituality is the third and final component of spirituality. It encompasses not just a relationship with nature, but also a relationship with a higher power or creator.
People who are suffering with hormonal imbalance understandably can get caught up in the game of survival, and forget to notice the beauty all around them. This can lead to an inward focus and feelings of extreme anxiety. These are signs of environmental spirituality decline.
Throughout history, people have grounded themselves in nature. That is, they have found peace and tranquility in their surroundings. In fact, Native Americans believe that they are a part of nature—not separate from nature. But with our air conditioned homes and concrete cities, we often feel separate from nature. We may not even regularly see natural surroundings not made by man.
But many people with hormonal imbalances and chronic disease take comfort in escaping to the great outdoors.
Even if moderate exercise is too much, a simple mindfulness walk in the woods can do wonders for environmental spirituality. A regular rediscovery of nature reduces stress levels, but it may also do something greater than this: it likely helps to heal the spirit.
Because spiritual health is not currently measurable, it is ignored by mainstream medicine. You’re not likely to hear a mainstream healthcare practitioner recommend escaping the city for a camping trip!
Finally, for some people, a connection with a higher power (i.e. God, a Creator, etc.) is important for overall wellbeing. Across time and cultures, people have created many different forms of personal spirituality to connect with the divine. Likely, this has led to improvements in spiritual health.
Using Spirituality to Overcome Hormone Imbalances
Whether you are coping with hormone imbalances through communal, personal, or environmental spirituality these are some ways to maintain your spirituality:
• Spend 5 minutes daily exploring your purpose and role in life.
• Spend 5 minutes to explore how you are able to improve your community or world.
• Maintain your religious/spiritual beliefs as well as learn about other cultures and practices.
• Read a few affirmations or positive quotes daily.
• Spend some time daily in meditation or prayer.
Explore what works best to facilitate your own spiritual wellbeing.
Whatever you do, don’t overlook this vital component of health.