We are all striving for balance, both in our daily lives and in our bodies. This is particularly true of our endocrine system or hormones. Hormones are chemical messengers that govern many aspects of our well-being; from hunger and mood to hair growth and reproduction. They are constantly changing and responding to the environment (stress, food, movement) in a search for homeostasis and balance. When they are imbalanced we can feel tired, anxious and depressed or experience heavy menses, hot flashes or infertility. But when we are synced and balanced, well, it feels like the best version of ourselves.
Here are the top 5 ways we can help support our hormones in achieving this delicate balance for optimizing our health.
Eat Regular Meals
This sounds simple, but as busy women it is not uncommon to skip a meal or go long stretches without eating. Sometimes it is easier, sometimes we think it will help us lose weight – the truth is, it is not helping our hormones! The main function of our endocrine system is maintaining blood glucose balance (remember insulin is a hormone too), it will do this above everything else including optimizing thyroid, adrenal and sex hormone health. This is why eating regular meals, 3 daily if possible, is essential in achieving hormone balance.
Aim for 8 Hours of Sleep
Sleep is restorative. It is a time that our bodies can reset and repair. Aiming for 8 hours allows our natural circadian rhythm to play out which greatly influences our cortisol production. Cortisol, our stress hormone, should be highest in the morning upon awakening, gradually decrease throughout the day and rise slowly during the night. If we want resilience and adrenal health, sleep is crucial in keeping our cortisol levels in range.
Decrease Caffeine and Alcohol
I know, I know- this is a tough sell. Both caffeine and alcohol can play a big role in disrupting our sleep and impacting our adrenals regulation of cortisol. Caffeine is a stimulant and when we are stressed is a bit like adding fuel to a fire. Alcohol is a depressant and causes blood sugar imbalances. Best to enjoy both in moderation.
Crossfit, HIIT and marathons, we have a culture of working out hard. While there are benefits to these types of workouts, if you are stressed and your adrenal reserve is low they might not be the right fit for you right now. Exercise is a stress on the body, a good stress of course, but if you are already running on empty and at your limit, pushing your body in a high intensity exercise can be detrimental. Instead, think about moderate exercise – incorporate restorative and strength building practices like yoga, pilates, barre and walking into your exercise.
Incorporate a Daily Mind Body Practice
We have 2 branches of the autonomic nervous system; sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest, digest and reproduce). As a society, we spend a lot of time in fight or flight, where our blood flow is directed to our brain, heart and muscles so we can fight our perceived threat. We also produce more cortisol in this state to mobilize glucose as energy. If chronic, this stress state can lead to high blood sugar, inflammation and exhaustion. The opposite reaction is the parasympathetic, where blood is directed to our gut, our reproductive organs and our body’s natural healing mechanisms are turned on. Mind Body practices help train our bodies and minds to spend more time in this relaxed state. Start small, consistency is more important than length. Aim for 5 or 10 minutes every day – apps like Calm and Headspace are great tools.
While we can’t stay in balance all the time, our hormones shift throughout the day and throughout our lives, we can focus on our daily habits. These everyday choices can support regulation and stability of our hormone system.
About the Author: Lauren Houser, CRNP, is an Integrative and Functional Medicine Nurse Practitioner and Owner of Central Bucks Integrative Medicine in Buckingham, PA. With over 10 years of clinical experience, Lauren uses advanced speciality testing to determine root causes and individual treatments to promote health and healing. Lauren will be facilitating a workshop at Rise Gatherings Day of Renewal on April 25, 2019.