Hormonal balance and stress reduction are core, underlying areas of your health. Hormones are chemical signals that your brain and body use to communicate between cells, tissues, and organs. It’s really helpful to view them as delivering information because they’re released for specific reasons that tell other parts of your body to behave in certain ways. For example, when adrenaline is released in response to a stress, that information — “switch into stress mode” — is communicated throughout your entire body. Cells, tissues and organs all begin acting differently because of it. These hormones can affect everything from what cells your body should make, what energy they should burn, how they should burn that energy (this is a fundamental key for optimal health) and so much more.
What Exactly Is Hormonal Health?
So when we talk about hormonal health, we’re talking about creating a situation where your body is producing plentiful amounts of hormones that are protective and healthy for long-term function, allowing your body to thrive.
Naturally, this means keeping hormones that sell long-term functions for short-term emergencies low. These hormones are needed to overcome stresses your body can face, but they often end up destroying those longer-term processes and health by making your body think it needs to do whatever it can to survive the immediate moment.
That’s why hormone balance is coupled with stress reduction; we want to limit the hormones involved in the stress reactions, while increasing the hormones involved in growth and maintenance of the body.
At a glance, we can easily see associations between different hormones that are elevated in the sickness state of the spectrum of health, as opposed to the association between specific hormones that are elevated when stress is low and the body is in the healthy state. In the stress and sickness state, we most notably see that the stress hormones like adrenaline, cortisol and aldosterone are all raised. This is no surprise, because too much chronic stress is the root cause of all breakdown and dysfunction in the body.
But while these hormones act quickly during times of stress, they also signal increased production of a few other hormones that slow down protective functions throughout the body in order to conserve energy in the face of longer stressor (for example, a famine that could last a year or more). These are hormones like estrogen, prolactin, TSH, rT3 and serotonin.
Now you probably see a few hormones on that list that you thought were healthy. Specifically, it’s common knowledge that estrogen is the female hormone and that serotonin is the happy hormone. And while both estrogen and serotonin have physiological roles that are important for the development in the body, they also act to signal stress in the body, and absolutely MUST be balanced by the protective hormones. For example, the true female hormone is progesterone, which is one of the most protective hormones the body makes. When estrogen is low and progesterone is high, estrogen can play its role in growth and development without the negative stress effects that high estrogen alone would bring.
Similarly, serotonin lowers metabolism and is heavily involved in the induction of hibernation in animals (which is not the same as sleeping, as animals in hibernation still fall asleep each night and then reawaken to the hibernation state). It has roles in the brain and especially in the movement of food in the digestive tract, but when elevated inappropriately, and when not protected by the protective hormones, serotonin has many of these negative effects in the body.
Not surprisingly, each of these hormones acts to increase the other hormones, leading to what we call the stress cascade. Increased adrenaline will lead to increased cortisol and estrogen, which lead to increased serotonin, which also increases prolactin and so forth. This makes it easier to understand this sickness state that your body is in when you’re on the sickness side of the spectrum of health.
But on the other side, we have the protective hormones like thyroid hormones (both T4 and T3), dopamine, pregnenolone, DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, DHT and DHP. These hormones are involved in longer-term thriving processes like energy production through healthy energy pathways, maintenance of bone, skin, hair and nails, improved muscle mass, muscle tone and body composition, and healthy blood flow and digestion. Similar to the stress hormones, these hormones all act to increase each other, and lend support for the “health” state.
This of course doesn’t mean that these hormones can’t be damaging when deranged or when inappropriately elevated; it just means that under normal circumstances, you want all of these hormones to stay high to keep your body in the thriving state where growth and maintenance happen easily.
Finally, we have certain hormones that fall in between, and act to bridge the gap, assimilate nutrients, or play on both sides of the fence. These are hormones like insulin and growth hormone, which can have either positive or negative effects based on the context — the hormonal balance — in the body.
Signs Of Hormone Imbalance
When we talk about hormone imbalance, we’re really talking about inappropriately elevated stress hormones in the context of low protective hormones. This leads to the sickness state, where your body is struggling to survive instead of growing and maintaining its structures to thrive and build. When stress hormone levels are high and the protective hormones low, there are wide-reaching negative effects in the body, including slow thinking, brain fog, weight gain, muscle loss, low sex drive/performance, depression, poor sleep, fatigue, aggression and irritability.
Since all disease and dysfunction stems from too much stress, the effects of poor hormonal balance really are wide-reaching. In fact, there’s a theory that aging isn’t a biological necessity but rather a result of accumulated stress over long periods of time. We tend to agree with this theory.
On a more specific level, we can break down individual hormones to their specific symptoms. Low testosterone/progesterone and high estrogen leads to fat gain, muscle and strength loss, low libido, low motivation and drive and poor skin/appearance. Low dopamine and high serotonin will have many downstream effects on other hormones, but from a behavioral standpoint, leads to learned helplessness (the “authoritarian” mind state), depression, low energy and fatigue and lack of sociability.
Dopamine and dopaminergic drugs make you feel adventurous, excited and happy, where the colors of the world seem brighter. Serotonin and serotonergic drugs make you feel afraid, anxious and dreary, where everything feels monotone and grey. Dopamine is like summer, where serotonin is like winter, which makes sense, given that serotonin is the hibernation hormone.
How Hormones Affect Everything Else In Your Body
Because hormones are the chemical messengers your body uses to communicate throughout cells, organs and tissues, it makes obvious sense that there will be a strong connection between your hormonal balance and all other areas of your health. For example, high adrenaline and cortisol causes vasoconstriction of your blood vessels, reducing blood flow and circulation and leading to poor digestion, brain fog, sexual problems and cold extremities. Cold hands and feet are a great indicator that adrenaline is high, and it’s an easy diagnostic tool you can start using today.
High serotonin leads to increased peristalsis in your gut, which reduces nutrient absorption and can result in diarrhea and other digestive disorders. High estrogen and prolactin can lead to depression and lack of motivation and drive, along with brain fog and overall reduced cognitive function. All of the stress hormones work to reduce your oxidative metabolism in order to conserve energy, which has even wider systemic effects since production of energy is at the core of your health.
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On the brighter side, all of the protective hormones help to improve all of these areas. Thyroid hormones increase metabolic function of cells and helps to improve blood flow and brain function. Pregnenolone, DHEA and progesterone help to heal all areas of the body, including the gut and liver, which are involved in just about every area of health. Testosterone, DHT and DHP work to increase blood flow and sexual functions, along with improving motivation, drive, confidence and focus. And just as hormonal balance affects all of these areas, these areas also affect hormonal balance, as we’ll discuss in the coming section.
How To Fix Hormonal Imbalance?
While fixing hormonal imbalance most definitely involves all the other areas of health, you can take certain actions that will specifically help to improve it. The most powerful thing is to stop chronic stress.
Now, when we talk about stress, we don’t only mean psychological stress, but also physiological stress, environmental stress, behavioral stress, social stress, nutritional stress, chemical stress and so much more. While this is a huge topic that extends beyond what we can discuss here, there are some simple things you can do right away to help.
The first is to improve your diet, specifically focusing on fixing micronutrient deficiencies and consuming adequate carbohydrates and minerals. Carbohydrates are necessary for optimal production of many of the protective hormones, like testosterone and progesterone, and a big reason for this is that both thyroid hormone production by the thyroid gland and thyroid hormone conversion in the liver is heavily dependent on carbohydrate consumption. Since thyroid hormones are itself a protective hormone, and since it is necessary for the creation of the steroid hormones like pregnenolone, progesterone, DHEA, testosterone, etc., not consuming enough carbs would certainly be shooting yourself in the foot.
Since we also want to be consuming lots of micronutrients, and since plant foods have beneficial phytonutrients, we recommend consuming lots of fruits each and every day. Fruits provide the necessary nutrients, along with beneficial sugars that your body will use to quickly shut down stress and promote higher levels of the protective hormones. In addition to micronutrients and carbs, you also want to get plenty of minerals, specifically the four macro minerals: sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium.
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Of these, sodium is actually the most important. This is because one of the stress hormones, aldosterone, acts specifically to hold onto sodium when you don’t consume enough of it (which is also why your body often craves sodium when you don’t eat enough). When aldosterone is elevated to retain more sodium, it does so at the expense of potassium and magnesium, and possibly calcium, resulting in a greater loss of these minerals. By consuming more sodium, you’ll provide your body with what it wants, reduce stress hormones and retain more of the other important minerals.
Finally, certain herbs like ashwagandha and forskolin help to lessen stress levels in the body, which can be extremely useful for preventing the negative effects that can result. In fact, ashwagandha has been shown to increase testosterone and reduce cortisol while forskolin has been shown to increase production of thyroid hormones.
Action Steps To Balance Your Hormones (Natural Remedies)
- Consume at least four to five servings of a variety of fruit per day.
- Eat adequate salt, based on taste and cravings.
- Consider supplementing with ashwagandha and/or forskolin.