As we age our body’s hormonal function starts to decline. Hormonal imbalance is not just caused by menopause or a hysterectomy, for example, but can also be due to other factors. For example, stress, food sensitivities, “leaky gut,” nutrient deficiencies, not sleeping well or lack of sleep, environmental toxins, any tension in relationships, as well as a refined carb-heavy diet. Various symptoms are linked to hormonal imbalance: hair loss, unexplained weight gain, mood swings and fatigue.
Cortisol and Insulin play a huge part in hormonal functioning. It is natural for the body to “switch off” these hormones as we age; however, it can happen earlier than expected, due to either one / more of the above-mentioned reasons, or because of a total hysterectomy (where the ovaries are also taken out). The impact of these hormones on our overall health (and sanity), is quite important. According to Dr. Anna Cabeca, adrenal insufficiency can occur. During the first phase the body begins to metabolize the muscle-proteins and this causes fatigue, weakness and muscle pain. It can also cause women to have cravings and experience sudden, unhealthy weight gain around the middle.
During the second phase more menopause symptoms kick in, because the adrenals are now impacting the balance of other minor hormones (for example oestrogen, progesterone and pregnenolone), in favour of creating more cortisol – the slowing down of the production of the thyroid hormone. “leaky gut” can develop, as well as sleep issues, moodiness and isolating behaviours. Hair loss, inflammation (causing joint pain), a decrease in immunity, a lack of libido and blood sugar issues, can all creep in!
The third phase is called adrenal hypo function. Adrenal hypo function is when the adrenals no longer pump out the required cortisol-level, because our brain has decided to shut down the production of cortisol! Why? In order to protect itself from these high cortisol outputs. Therefore, this feedback from the brain causes the adrenals to decrease the cortisol output as a defensive measure; causing our bodies to become more acidic and causing more inflammation.
Is there hope? Yes, there is! And I am not referring to the synthetic hormone replacement drugs. There is a more natural way to take care of your body. The first thing to do is to manage your cortisol levels…and the rest will follow. Here are a few tips how to manage it:
- Eat a more alkaline-based diet. There are many researches done that demonstrates that an acid-heavy diet (one consisting of many carbs, sugars and processed foods), elevate cortisol and insulin. Research also found a strong connection between dietary acid load and the conditions of bone health, obesity, cardiovascular disease and overall well-being. When you stick to a more alkaline-based diet it helps to restore the cortisol- and insulin-levels to healthier levels, plus it helps to reset your daily circadian rhythm, boosts your mood, decreases joint pain (inflammation), promotes better sleeping patters and helps you to lose weight. An added bonus is that such a diet also help to reduce bone loss and improves muscle mass. An alkaline diet is a diet rich in vegetables (however, there are some that can be more acidic than others – that is for another blog post). Meat, processed foods, sugar, dairy, caffeine and alcohol, on the other hand, is more acidic. I will look into more detail in another blog, but for now, try to eat 80% alkaline and 20% acidic.
- Drinking Maca. Maca is an adrenal adaptogen, which helps to balance your adrenals and hormones. However, please ask your medical practitioner first about it, especially if you are sensitive to certain foodstuffs or have allergies.
- A healthy lifestyle is key; not just for your physical health, but also for your mental and emotional well-being. Managing your stress better is the first step in the right direction. Exercise, as you know, plays an essential role in stress management. Whether it is a Yoga- or Pilates class, swimming or going for a walk; the key is to learn how to breathe properly and to learn to be mindful. Meditation is another wonderful way of reducing stress levels and becoming more mindful. After all, when you stress less, you accomplish more!
- Try to reduce environmental-toxins as much as possible. Avoid foods that have unnecessary additives and/or preservatives in, buy organic whenever you can and use beauty products that are free of parabens and phthalates.
- Get more sleep! When you are stressed it disrupts your sleeping pattern and there is nothing worse than not getting enough sleep. So, learn how to meditate if you struggle to “switch off” at night. Going to bed at the same time will help to restore your circadian rhythm. Avoid caffeine and “screen-time” (whether it is from your laptop, cell phone or television), at least an hour before bedtime. It is important to sleep in a dark room; so, turn off the lights and don’t forget to switch off your phone (or at least put it on silence). Just an interesting note on cell phones. A study indicated that, if your electronic device(s) are in your bedroom, your brain don’t switch off and go into the deep sleep needed for regeneration. Why? Because of the radiation. Best to leave it in another room instead of the bedroom. If not possible, put it on your dresser and not next to your bed.
- Healthy bowel and healing your gut. Healthy bowel movement is very important and can be maintained by eating more fruit, vegetables and whole grains (grounded flax seed is also good). However, if you suffer from allergies / sensitivities then do make sure to eat what your body is happy with. Our gut has bacteria that needs to be in balance in order for us not to suffer from constipation, bloatedness and/or a “leaky gut.” As mentioned before, a diet rich in alkaline foods is good, as well as eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. Drinking enough water is key, as is adding fermented foods, like yogurt, to your diet.
- A low-carbs diet high in healthy fats. We all know that eating plenty of refined sugars and starches not only plays havoc on our waistlines, but it can also spike our blood sugar and insulin levels. Swap your white bread for brown, wholewheat or rye bread, for example. Eating less butter and more olive oil, is another tip. Coconut oil is good but do use in moderation as it is high in calories! Avoid margarine at all costs – butter is far healthier.
Small changes can add up and bring you big results. So why not make a conscious decision, this year, to eat more healthy, drink more water, get exercise and, most importantly, get rid of and learn how to handle stress. Put your laptops down, leave your phone at home and get out into nature – even if it is cold! Reconnecting with nature, with oneself and with each other – the good old fashioned way – is a great way to relax and unwind.