Hormones are tricky. Produced by our cells, hormones are molecules that travel throughout the body and influence nearly every system and organ. Metabolism, libido, mood, sleep, appetite, muscle growth, and many more are all dictated in some part by hormones.
The problem is, balancing your hormones can be like building a house of cards on top of a flagpole. Hundreds of different factors conspire to trick our body into secreting too much or too little of one or more hormones. Diet, stress, sleep, exercise, exposure to toxins, and even sexual activity impacts the delicate hormonal environment. To further complicate things, the receptor cells that are triggered by hormones can become less and less sensitive over time, and we naturally produce fewer hormones as we age.
The good news is, you don’t have to be an endocrinologist to get a handle on your own hormonal balance. Hormones thrive in a healthy lifestyle. Anabolic hormones such as testosterone and human growth hormone love weight training, sleep, and human contact. Insulin levels are balanced by exercise and consuming fibrous vegetables, protein, healthy fats, and avoiding sugar. The muscle-eating hormone cortisol is mitigated by stress management and the use of a good multivitamin.
Think of it this way: Chaos breeds chaos. If you don’t exercise, eat too much sugar, have poor sleep habits, and haven’t seen the sun in days because you are too busy playing video games, it’s a safe bet that your physical, mental, and emotional health could use some improvement.
Balancing hormones is a holistic process. Making changes, even slight ones, across a wide swath of your life, can help optimize your hormones and enhance the effects of your diet and workouts.
A hormone-friendly diet is filled with lean protein, healthy fats, and plenty of fibrous vegetables. Carb consumption, specifically in the form of processed sugars, wreaks havoc on the hormone insulin. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that fructose-rich diets induce insulin resistance and lead to obesity and diabetes.
By eliminating all that sugar from your diet, you make some room for extra protein on your plate. Protein is the most satiating macronutrient, and that is because it inhibits a hormone called ghrelin which stimulates hunger and appetite. A study from the journal Nutrients experimented with putting calorie-restricted athletes on protein-rich diets and found that they experienced lower levels of ghrelin and their desire to eat was significantly blunted. Interestingly, the group who ate a moderately high level of protein (just a bit under one gram per pound of bodyweight,) received all the same satiating benefits as the group who ate a very high protein diet (about 1.35 grams per pound of bodyweight).
While overeating is disastrous for several different hormones, drastic undereating is not good either. Studies show that extreme dieting increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Female subjects who were restricted to 1200 calories a day exhibited greater symptoms of stress than those who did not excessively cut calories.
Sleep is the single most restorative act you can do for your body. Slumber is when systems reset, recharge, and when most hormone regulation is normalized. Research conducted at the Department of Medicine at the University of Chicago found that when they put volunteers into “sleep debt” their carbohydrate metabolism and endocrine function were negatively impacted and cortisol levels soared. The scientists described the effects of lack of sleep as looking similar to aging. A separate study found that subjects who were sleep-deprived had higher levels of ghrelin and experienced greater hunger and appetite, especially for high-carbohydrate foods.
Everyone knows that testosterone and human growth hormone help build muscle, expedite recovery, and improve a slew of things, including sex drive, sleep quality, and mood. What many people don’t realize is that exercise, especially intense exercise, tells your body to release more of these valuable hormones. Two factors seem to elicit the greatest response: compound exercises and intensity. One study found that testosterone was significantly spiked in athletes who performed speed squats. Subjects performed back squats at 70 percent of their one-rep max and moved the bar quickly, to train muscular power. Scientists hypothesized that this testosterone boost and the resultant muscle anabolism is why power athletes such as football players and sprinters carry so much lean muscle. One caveat: overtraining is known to be detrimental to testosterone output. If you train regularly and intensely, you need to be very serious about your recovery protocol.
Hormones hate stress, and poor nutrition is a major factor that drives stress. A good multivitamin is an excellent way to make sure your body has all of the essential micronutrients and trace minerals it needs to function in a world where stress comes from all sides. A brilliant study out of China illustrated this fact. Scientists examined the effect of a multivitamin on members of the military during high-intensity combat operations. They found that the subjects who received the multivitamin had superior recovery of their psychology, physical ability, and neuroendocrine-immune system.
According to The British Journal of Nutrition, a multi-mineral complex regulates several different reproductive hormones in women of child-bearing age. Researchers found that women who were given a combination of 10 different minerals experienced normalized levels of hormones such as estradiol, progesterone, testosterone, and others. Additionally the women who took the multi-mineral experienced regular ovulation with each menstrual cycle compared to women who did not receive the supplement.
The benefits of vitamin D never seem to end. We already know that vitamin D is crucial for the maintenance of testosterone levels in men, Higher levels of vitamin D, which is classified as a hormone itself, has also been proven to reduce levels of progesterone and estradiol, which helps reduce the risk of breast cancer risk in young women.
Several other supplements can exert beneficial effects on out-of-control hormones. One is a patented form of an antioxidant called Oligonol®. Derived from lychee fruit, Oligonol® can blunt post-exercise cortisol release. A study from the publication Nutrition Research and Practice showed that subjects who took oral Oligonol® for four weeks decreased their inflammation markers after a workout. Oligonol® has also proven to be beneficial for weight loss and anti-aging in some instances.
The herb Eurycoma longifolia, better known as Tongkat ali, has been used in Malaysian culture for centuries to increase strength and boost libido. Modern research has shown that the herb has a pronounced effect on men who are suffering from hypogonadism (low testosterone levels). One study followed a group of men who took Tongkat ali for a month. After four weeks, they showed dramatic improvement in both their testosterone levels and in the reporting of their symptoms of hypogonadism.