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The Road to Hormonal Harmony

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The Road to Hormonal Harmony

Finding Balance and Thriving

by Marlaina Donato

Like a well-built home, the human body’s quality of life depends upon a sturdy foundation. A complex, hormonal matrix determines our vitality and impacts major areas of health, including growth and development, stamina, sleep cycles, bone health, blood sugar levels, fertility, weight and mood. Fifty hormones take turns keeping us alive, as well as impacting lesser concerns such as hair and skin quality.

Excessive stress, certain pharmaceutical medications, hormonal contraception, auto-immune diseases and, in rare instances, tumors can throw the body into metabolic chaos. Supporting these fundamental allies through lifestyle changes that include a nutrient-packed diet, improved gut health, supplementation and medication, when needed, can help us get back on track. Most importantly, prevention is possible with the same approach.

“Hormones are the behind-the-scenes influencers, ensuring your body operates smoothly and adjusting to the ever-changing demands of your environment and internal states. When this delicate balance is thrown off, the consequences can be widespread, affecting virtually every aspect of your health,” affirms North Carolina-based hormone specialist Deborah Matthew, M.D., author of This Is Not Normal: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance.

Even a slight imbalance of certain hormones—whether a deficiency or an excess—can compromise digestion, raise low-density lipoprotein (“bad” cholesterol), downgrade sex drive, foster cognitive issues, amp up anxiety and even affect heart rhythm. Lifestyle factors like smoking, poor diet and lack of exercise also play a role in disturbing equilibrium. Matthew explains, “Hormones are chemical messengers that coordinate many functions well beyond the realm of reproductive health. They are produced by your endocrine glands and circulate through your bloodstream, delivering critical instructions to every tissue and organ.”

Oxytocin and Other Key Players

Like orchestra players, hormones work together, but the hormone oxytocin is the conductor. Hormones such as estrogen and testosterone, as well as the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, cannot be produced or used properly without oxytocin. Good gut health also depends on it. “The most powerful hormone in our body, hands down, is oxytocin. It also happens to be an alkalinizing hormone and helps oppose the negative, chronic effects of cortisol, our stress hormone,” says Anna Cabeca, a triple-board-certified OB-GYN and author of The Hormone Fix, Keto-Green 16 and MenuPause. “Oxytocin is what we refer to as the love and bonding hormone. It’s also a longevity hormone—muscle-regenerating, mood-elevating, pain-relieving and immune-boosting. It is vital to have a high level of it if we want to boost and support the other hormones.”

Cabeca recommends boosting oxytocin naturally. “It can be as simple as thinking of something that puts a smile on your face, brings you joy and happiness, makes you laugh or gives you that warm fuzzy feeling inside,” she explains, adding that cultivating a sense of gratitude “will help boost your oxytocin level and reduce your stress hormone cortisol, which, when too high, leads to inflammation and acidity.” Her other go-to oxytocin allies are funny movies, being in nature, hugs, intimacy, therapeutic massage and activities with others like yoga classes, hiking or team sports.

The symbiotic relationship between the thyroid and our stress-fighting adrenal glands is also fundamental in systemic harmony. A 2015 study published in European Thyroid Journal revealed that 5 percent of patients with autoimmune thyroid disease also had an underlying primary adrenal insufficiency. An older study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism in 2009 showed that 41 percent of patients with compromised adrenal function also suffered from hypothyroidism.

“In today’s high-stress environment, our cortisol production can become dysregulated. This is often called ‘adrenal fatigue’, although that term is not recognized by the conventional medicine world,” says Matthew. “This cortisol dysregulation often results in profound tiredness, cravings for salt or sugar, reliance on caffeine for energy and difficulty handling stress.” She notes that despite its widespread occurrence, adrenal compromise slips between the cracks of conventional diagnosis. Recognizing the interconnectedness of bodily systems is vital.

“A holistic approach to thyroid and adrenal health considers the entire spectrum of an individual’s health, lifestyle and emotional well-being,” Matthew says. “Holistic practitioners often employ comprehensive testing to uncover subtle imbalances, utilize natural supplements like adaptogenic herbs to support function and recommend dietary and lifestyle changes that address underlying causes of thyroid and adrenal symptoms.”

Fertility Factors

For many, planning a family is one of life’s high points, but according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 percent of married women under the age of 30 struggle to conceive; about 22 percent of married women between ages 30 and 39 are hit the hardest. The frustration can be agonizing. “I often say that infertility is not a diagnosis; it’s a symptom,” attests Aumatma Simmons, a double-board-certified naturopathic doctor, endocrinologist and fertility specialist at the Holistic Fertility Institute, in Berkeley, California. “When we consider infertility as a symptom, we start understanding that it is the check-engine light that our body is giving off, trying to tell us something is out of whack. Maybe it’s the hormones or something somewhere else in the body. The root causes must be discovered and addressed.”

Common contributors to infertility include amenorrhea (absent periods) caused by physical or emotional stress, weight extremes (obesity or underweight) and age. Simmons underscores the role of diet and lifestyle in both women and men. “It is well-researched that lifestyle habits like smoking, alcohol and marijuana can contribute to fertility and pregnancy outcomes. Additionally, there is ongoing research about the role of sedentary lifestyles and body mass index as potential indicators of pregnancy outcomes. Even blood sugar and inflammation in the male partner can impact fertility, as well as a woman’s ability to carry a pregnancy to term.”

Simmons directly attributes food habits to egg and sperm quality, asserting, “Diet is vital in the role of implantation. There are studies that have shown that gut inflammation contributes to uterine inflammation, which directly affects implantation and pregnancy outcomes.” She also connects the dots between the mental and emotional health of both parents and baby success. Negative talk, poor self-esteem, responsibility overload and an inability to let go or ask for help can also foster infertility.

What We Can Do

Taking a few steps toward a more balanced body can go a long way. Cabeca emphasizes, “Deep, restorative sleep is essential to regenerate and rebalance. Physical activity is absolutely necessary for hormone circulation throughout the blood and lymphatic system, so doing things that make you huff and puff and sweat daily is critical.” She also recommends alkalizing the diet by amping up hydration and fortifying meals with low-carbohydrate food sources, low-glycemic fruits like berries, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables and sprouts. Adding intermittent fasting to the mix also packs a positive punch, especially as progesterone and estrogen levels decrease with age and we have a higher risk for developing insulin resistance.

Everyday foods for hormonal happiness include healthy, high-fat foods like avocados, raw butter, ghee, egg yolks (rich in choline and iodine for healthy thyroid function), soaked nuts and seeds, flaxseed, hemp and olive oil; clean proteins like quinoa, organic pasture-raised poultry and beef, wild-caught fish, lentils and beans; and spices like turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, garlic and fresh cilantro. Avoid trans fats, sugar and refined carbs, which trigger inflammation and disrupt hormonal balance.

Matthew recommends cortisol-lowering activities like meditation, yoga and breathwork, which help balance cortisol levels, improve our resilience to daily stressors and support overall hormonal health. She also stresses the importance of seven to nine hours of restful sleep by “establishing a consistent bedtime routine, minimizing exposure to blue light from screens before bedtime and creating a sleep-conducive environment in your bedroom. Many of your hormones are produced at night while you are in a deep sleep.” More shut-eye also regulates stress hormones and helps to repair the body’s cells and tissues.

Life is better when our bodies are happy, and change begins with small, inspired steps. Cabeca reminds us, “Create a life rhythm that works for you.”

Marlaina Donato is a visionary artist, composer, author of several books and long-time journalist for Natural Awakenings. Connect at BluefireStudio.art.

Photo Credit: JLco Amaral from Getty Images/CanvaPro

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