So, what is a hormone? We’ve all heard about hormones—we might even know the names of some hormones, particularly testosterone and estrogen. But what are they really?
Hormones are signals, and each one targets specific tissues in the body. A hormone is your body’s way of saying, “It’s time to make something happen.” For an obvious example, the release of large amounts of testosterone and estrogen when kids approach their teenage years signal all sorts of things: physical growth, hair growth, voice changes, sexual organ development and a bad attitude that, we hope, is temporary.
But hormones are an important part of physical health well beyond puberty.
There are roughly 70 hormones in your body. They’re all important, but let’s talk about a few.
- Insulin: This is a big one, and when it goes wild, you get diabetes. It basically signals your tissues to take nutrients into them, though we know it as related to sugar because it signals your cells to take glucose (a sugar) into them, which the cells use for energy. When we bombard our bodies with sugar, we have to constantly create more insulin, which, after a while, your cells start to become desensitized to them.
- Ghrelin: This hormone signals your stomach to feel empty, and then we feel hungry. When we overeat, our body gets used to always having some food in our stomach, so ghrelin becomes overused—much like insulin with too much sugar—so we might not actually be hungry, but ghrelin makes us think we are.
- Leptin: Ghrelin’s opposite is leptin. Rather than making us feel hungry, it decreases our appetite and increases our metabolism.
- Testosterone and estrogen: These hormones are big players during puberty, but they remain important throughout adulthood. They are crucial for a healthy sex drive, fertility and, for testosterone, muscle growth and strength.
- T3: This is such an important hormone that most of us have never heard of. If you go on Wikipedia, the first paragraph says, “It affects almost every physiological process in the body, including growth and development, metabolism, body temperature, and heart rate.” T3 comes from the thyroid gland, and a lot of people—particularly women—have thyroid problems, which translates to widespread physiological problems throughout the body.
Hormone boot camp
Here’s the best news of the day. Are you ready? Hormones can be TRAINED! It’s obvious that we train them already, just usually in a bad way. You train your pancreas to release more insulin when you eat sugar all the time. You train your stomach to release more ghrelin when you overeat. How about training your hormones to work in your favor?
One thing you can do just to ensure that your body has the raw materials to make hormones is to eat lots and lots of healthy fats—things like avocados, nuts, seeds, clean protein, olives, butter, fatty fish, coconut oil, etc. The basic molecular structure of hormones comes from these fats.
(On a side note, it’s actually good cholesterol [HDLs] that are the building blocks of hormones. I bet for some of you, it’s weird to hear a doctor tell you to eat fat and cholesterol. The thing is, there are good and bad kinds of both. The good stuff comes from the foods I just listed. The bad stuff comes from things like saturated fats in fried foods and added fats in processed food)
Next, you’ve got to maintain a healthy balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats. This may sound complicated, but it’s not really. The best way to do it is to drastically reduce or eliminate your consumption of foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids, like canola oil, safflower oil and vegetable oil. If you’re eating the healthy fats mentioned above, that’s it. Problem solved.
Don’t do things that mess with your hormones. This one goes particularly for women, who these days are on all sorts of pills designed to do just that. And I’m talking about birth control pills mostly. There are non-hormonal methods to practicing birth control that don’t completely throw your hormones out of whack. My suggestion is to explore those options instead. But this also applies to men taking testosterone or HGH. It has nice short-term results, but it will mess you up over time.
Address toxicity in your environment. Outside toxins that come in cleaning products, skin care products, in old buildings, on processed and non-organic food wreak havoc on our hormone balance. As far as make-up and skin care products, avoid products with DEA, parabens, propylene glycol and sodium lauryl sulfate. Consider using more natural products made with coconut oil, shea butter, aloe, etc. Plastic is made with a hormone-disrupting agent called BPA. For that reason, I recommend drinking out of glass bottles, avoiding packaged food when you can and storing your leftovers and food in glass containers.
Manage your stress. When you get stressed, you have a similar response to eating too much sugar. Rather than producing insulin, however, you produce adrenaline and cortisol. The former makes you aggressive and contributes to cloudy thinking and judgment. Cortisol, quite frankly, makes you fat.
The reason for this is quite interesting from an evolutionary perspective. Stress exists for the primitive man to survive when under threat of being attacked or when food isn’t available for a period of time. These are both pretty serious situations. Nowadays, because our bodies haven’t changed much since those times, we get stressed about traffic or deadlines or ex-wives or whatever. In comparison, these aren’t as threatening as saber-toothed tigers or famine. Nevertheless, our bodies have the same response. Instead of running away very quickly or using nutrient stores in our body, we just get fat and angry.
So manage it somehow. You can exercise more, meditate, pray, pursue hobbies, spend time with loved ones, go on a walk or even consult a mental health professional.
Get more sleep. Being tired, and particularly being tired day after day for a long period of time, is similar to being very stressed out and the body has a similar response. You produce cortisol, ghrelin and gain weight and have increased appetite for bad food. Get a minimum of seven hours of sleep a night.
Being physically active is an amazing way to bring your hormones back into balance. For men with low testosterone levels, lifting weights is a sure-fire way to boost those T-levels. The thyroid hormone we talked about T3 is stimulated by exercise, and exercise floods your brain with endorphins, a pain-reduction hormone. Exercise also helps regulate blood sugar, which in turn helps your body produce less insulin and lowers the risk of developing or exacerbating diabetes.
Deal with inflammation. When your body is in a constant state of heightened immunity, it damages many things including the glands that create your hormones. A lot of us have chronic inflammation, which comes from a leaky gut.
See, several aspects of modern society—things like medications and processed food—have a tendency to wear down the lining of our intestines, opening up spaces between the cells and allowing foreign food particles to be introduced into the bloodstream. Naturally, our immune system attacks these particles and our bodies become inflamed.
If not fixed, you can have a constantly high-alert immune response in your body going on 24/7 for years. That’s when we get autoimmune diseases like thyroiditis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, etc. So, fix your leaky gut, prevent inflammation, protect your hormone balance.
The good news is that it does not take very long for a leaky gut to heal—only four or five days actually. The reason it doesn’t heal for years is because we keep putting the bad stuff in.
We deal with leaky gut a lot at my clinic. The general overview is this: go on a four-day liquid fast of some kind. This can be bone broth, lemon water or protein shakes.
Then go on a minimum of 30 days of a cellular healing diet, which is essentially nothing but good fats and organic proteins.
That should basically make your leaky gut go away. After which, your responsibility is to avoid the things that gave it to you in the first place: pesticide-ridden fruits and vegetables, processed foods with all manner of unpronounceable additives, unnecessary medications.
In a nutshell, that’s how you balance your hormones. It’s quite simple, but involves work, effort and dedication. But trust me, it’s worth it.