Thanks to glands of the endocrine system like the ovaries, testes, thyroid and hypothalamus, special chemical messengers known as hormones influence the health of our minds and bodies every day — whether it’s basic needs like hunger and movement to more complex systems such as puberty and reproduction. Hormones can also influence our emotions and moods.
Typically, the endocrine glands produce the exact amount of each hormone required for our numerous bodily functions. But it’s possible to experience hormone imbalances because of aging and certain diet and lifestyle behaviors.
Also, hormones don’t play favorites. Both men and women can suffer myriad adverse effects to their hormones, says Dr. Don Colbert, author of Dr. Colbert’s Hormone Health Zone, who’s based in Dallas and Orlando, Florida. And many of these hormone hazards are avoidable, he says. Learn how you can improve your hormonal health and feel and perform at your best.
Identifying the disruptors
While aging is a common cause of decreasing hormone levels, other factors include “hormone disruptors,” such as stress, medications and exposure to toxic chemicals, Colbert says.
For optimal hormone health, “without a doubt, food and exercise are the first lines of defense,” he says. “Exercise is beneficial in keeping cortisol levels in check. It is also important to steer clear, if at all possible, of certain endocrine disruptors that are in foods and food containers.”
These food disruptors can include BPA, or bisphenol A, most often found in the lining of metal cans and in plastic containers; dioxins, the toxic compounds found in some of the fatty animal foods we eat; and mercury, often found in seafood, Colbert says.
To curb these disruptors, decrease your intake of meats, eggs, cheese, butter and cream, and eat fish low in mercury, such as wild salmon, halibut and flounder, he says.
Dr. Bonnie Gasquet, a hormone health expert and owner of the Studio Health Medical Spa in New Orleans, says a balanced diet provides the good cholesterol, vitamins and fiber that the body needs for proper hormone health.
“It then breaks these products down and builds hormones and other substances needed for cells to function,” she says. “Age, genetics, hysterectomy, thyroid issues, toxins, excess weight and obesity, not exercising, being deficient in vitamins, improper sleep regimen, increased stress, can all cause hormones to become imbalanced.”
Take some action
Signs and symptoms of poor hormone health can include low energy, foggy memory, weight gain, low libido, insomnia, joint pain and depression, according to Colbert.
To be more proactive, it’s as simple as visiting your doctor to check your hormone levels.
“First and foremost, get bloodwork done to measure where your levels are and if they are in balance as far as ratio,” Gasquet says. “Being at a normal number isn’t enough. The ratio with the other hormones needs to balance. It is essential to find an experienced provider who can walk you through your results and work with you to find solutions.”
When it comes to hormone therapies, Colbert “absolutely” recommends hormone replacement therapy, as well as natural bioidentical hormone therapy. Other “natural remedies” to improve hormone health include better diet, supplements, nutrition, exercise and good sleep.
“A well-rounded lifestyle will usually increase hormone levels across the board,” he says.
Gasquet adds that hormone balance is “important to live your best life. It affects every organ in your system, from metabolism to body temperature regulation, fertility, hair and skin, libido, energy, mood and bones,” she says. “There isn’t one system that is not affected by hormone health.”