Happy February! In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’m covering the two most important sex hormones and how to promote their healthy balance. Before I studied hormones, they were really a mystery to me. They are so often talked about but rarely explained.
Before we jump in, let’s talk high level.
What are hormones?
An essential component to the proper function and harmony of our body is its ability to send signals to our cells, influencing their behavior. This is the job of our endocrine system. Our endocrine system is responsible for chemical signaling through the use of hormones. Think of hormones as tiny messengers that travel through your blood stream with a particular mission and destination in mind. Our endocrine glands as well as some organs are responsible for secreting these hormones. Some of these glands include our pituitary, thyroid, adrenal, and pineal, to name a few. A few organs that have endocrine functions include your heart, kidneys, pancreas, and of course, the male and female sex organs – the testes and the ovaries.
The two biggest players are estrogen in women and testosterone in men.
Estrogens are the primary hormones produced by the ovaries and include estradiol, estriol, and estrone. They are responsible for many of our physiological processes including regulating our cycles, the development of our reproductive system, and other sex characteristics like breast tissue, where we store our fat, and pregnancy. Estrogens also plays a powerful role in the body outside of just sexual health. They’re also linked to positive cognitive function and memory, mental health, mood, and have anti-inflammatory properties.
Unfortunately, hormone imbalances in women have become extremely common today. Pinpointing a cause behind a hormone imbalance can be difficult because they are often caused by a combination of lifestyle factors. Some of the most common symptoms include-
- Weight gain
- Hair loss or thinning
- Irregular periods
- Low libido
- Anxiety or depression
(Obviously, these symptoms can also look like or be symptoms for many other things. If you think you may be at risk it’s best to get your hormone levels checked at your doctor so you know for sure.)
In men, low testosterone symptoms can look similar (minus the periods :D). Testosterone is a hormone produced primarily in the testes in men. Having healthy levels of testosterone is critical for dudes! It helps you build and maintain muscle, increases sex drive and arousal, and promotes strong bones. Testosterone is also present in women, secreted in small amounts by the ovaries, and contributes to our libido. As we age, our testosterone levels naturally decline, so being aware of natural ways to boost testosterone can’t hurt!
So what contributes to low testosterone?
Honestly, the culprits here aren’t surprising. The healthier your lifestyle, the more likely you are to have healthy testosterone. A few things than can trigger lower levels-
- Diets high in processed foods, refined carbohydrates and sugars
- Not getting enough exercise
- Weight gain
- Certain prescriptions
While synthetic treatments for balancing hormones are common, they often treat the symptoms and not the root cause of your imbalance. There are plenty of natural steps that you can take to help encourage hormone balance in your body. These simple tips promote a healthy balance of hormones in both men and women- testosterone and estrogen included.
1. Reduce your exposure to toxins
Toxins in our environment can act as hormone disruptors in our body. This includes pesticides or preservatives in foods, hormones in dairy products, and phthalates or parabens in personal care products. The more you can reduce your exposure to these toxins, the less likely they are to mess with your hormones. This means buying organic when you can and always checking ingredients! There are plenty of trustworthy brands and sources out there for non-toxic products, you just have to do your due diligence. One of my favorite tools for determining toxicity is www.ewg.org. This site has a searchable database for both skincare and food products that rate them on a scale of toxicity based on their ingredients. I also recently learned of an app called “Think Dirty” that does the same thing. You can scan products on their app while you’re grocery shopping and it will give you a toxicity rating so you can determine which products are safest to use.
2. Eat healthy fats and good cholesterol
As I mentioned in my butter post, our bodies use cholesterol to make lots of important hormones, including estrogen and testosterone! Healthy fats have SO many incredible benefits in the body and are still very underestimated when it comes to their nutritional importance. Healthy fats are the building blocks of your hormones. So stock up on foods like avocado, coconut oil, raw nuts, clarified butter, wild caught salmon or grass-fed beef!
3. Promote a healthy gut through fermented foods and probiotics
What does a healthy gut mean? It means you have a healthy balance of good bacteria in your intestines. Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, or kombucha are great ways to boost the good bacteria in your gut. For women, studies show that there’s a direct line between levels of estrogen and the gut. A healthy gut promotes balanced hormones.
4. Get more exercise and lift weights
Exercise reduces stress, resulting in lower cortisol levels and thus promoting a healthier hormone balance. Exercise, particularly weight lifting and high intensity interval training, has also been shown to directly increase testosterone levels in men.
5. Avoid sugar
Sugar is bad for hormones in so many ways. Sugar feeds your bad gut bacteria which is the opposite of recommendation #3. It’s also extremely inflammatory and causes blood sugar spikes impacting your insulin levels and throwing the rest of your hormones off as well. While eliminating sugar all together can be a challenge, try sticking with primarily all natural sweeteners like maple syrup and honey. If you do eat any added sugars, try to keep it under 1 teaspoon per servings which is about 4 grams.
While these may not seem like groundbreaking practices, they are some of the most effective, natural ways to balance hormones. Simple lifestyle changes can make a huge impact on our health.
Wishing you a harmonious balance of sex hormones this Valentine’s Day!
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