Lose weight the healthy way
Each January, commercial diet programs with pre-cooked food and signature gym memberships are flooded with business, as many of us refocus our attention on losing weight in the New Year. But there’s a more natural approach to our individual weight loss journeys, even in the presence of a challenge such as a hormone imbalance. There are natural alternatives to the commercial ideas thrust upon us – more scientific ways to approach healthy weight loss, specific to balancing hormones naturally.
Hormonal imbalances are multi-factorial disorders, meaning they are caused by a combination of factors, such as your diet, medical history, genetics, stress levels and exposure to toxins from your environment. Some of the major contributors to hormonal imbalances include:
- Food allergies and gut issues: an expanding field of new research shows that your gut health plays a significant role in hormone regulation. If you have leaky gut syndrome or a lack of beneficial probiotic bacteria lining your intestinal wall, you’re more susceptible to hormonal problems, such as diabetes and obesity. That’s because inflammation usually stems from your gut, and then impacts nearly every aspect of your health (1)
- Being overweight or obese
- High levels of inflammation caused by a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle
- Genetic susceptibility
- Toxicity – exposure to pesticides, toxins, viruses, cigarettes, excessive alcohol and harmful chemicals (2)
- High amount of stress, and a lack of enough sleep and rest
The good news is there are effective ways to balance your hormones naturally. Here are 10 ways:
1. Eat healthy fats (including coconut oil and avocados)
Eating a variety of foods high in short, medium and long-chain fatty acids is key to keeping your hormones in check. Your body needs various types of fats to create hormones, such as saturated fat and cholesterol. Not only are these essential fats fundamental building blocks for hormone production, but they keep inflammation levels low, boost your metabolism and promote weight loss.
My four favorite sources of anti-inflammatory, healthy fats include: coconut oil, avocados, grass-fed butter and wild-caught salmon. Coconut oil uses are plentiful. For example, coconut oil – or cream or milk – has natural anti-bacterial and fat-burning effects. Avocado benefits include improving heart health, lowering inflammation, controlling your appetite and contributing to your daily intake of fiber and nutrients, such as potassium. Salmon nutrition is also impressive: it’s one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to lower inflammation and help with cognitive functions.
2. Supplement with Adaptogen herbs
Adaptogen herbs are a unique class of healing plants that promote hormone balance and protect the body from a wide variety of diseases, including those caused by excess stress. In addition to boosting immune function and combating stress, research shows that various adapotogens – such as ashwagandha, medicinal mushrooms, rhodiola and holy basil – can:
- Improve thyroid function (3)
- Lower cholesterol naturally
- Reduce anxiety and depression (4)
- Reduce brain cell degeneration
- Stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels (5)
- Support adrenal gland functions (6)
3. Balance your intake of omega-3 to omega-6 fats
Since the early 20th century, the use of refined vegetable oils and intake of omega-6 fatty acids in our diets have skyrocketed. Because people didn’t also boost their intake of omega-3 foods during this time period, the result has been drastically elevated omega-6 levels. I’ve seen an onslaught of chronic diseases caused by inflammatory processes literally taking over our society – in large part because of disproportionate fatty acids in the Western modern diet.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a large component of brain-cell membranes and are important for cell-to-cell communication in the brain. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids help protect against hippocampal neuronal loss and reduce pro-inflammatory responses. (7) Research from Pennsylvania State University suggests that jumping from a ratio of one to one omega-3’s to omega-6s – the ratio our hunter-gather ancestors mostly enjoyed – to the astronomical ratio between 10 to one and 20 to one omega-3 to omega-6s – is one of the primary dietary factors causing many diseases in America. (8)
Here’s a rule of thumb: be sure to steer clear of oils high in omega-6 fats (safflower, sunflower, corn, cottonseed, canola, soybean and peanut), and load up on rich sources of natural omega-3s instead (wild fish, flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts and grass-fed animal products). You should also try to get a type of omega-6 fat in your diet called GLA (gamma-linoleic acid). GLA can be taken in supplement form by using evening primrose oil or borage oil, and it’s also found in hemp seeds.
4. Improve gut health and heal leaky gut syndrome
Leaky gut is a condition that not only affects your digestive tract, but also causes hormone issues. Gut problems have been found to trigger autoimmune reactions, such as arthritis and thyroid disorders. (9) So what exactly is leaky gut syndrome?
When undigested food particles – for example, gluten – leak through your gut into your bloodstream, they create disease-causing inflammation. This impacts the entire body, especially glands, such as the thyroid, which is very susceptible to heightened inflammation. Most people with leaky gut have a deficiency of probiotics in their guts. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that can actually improve your production and regulation of key hormones, such as insulin, ghrelin and leptin.
Steer clear of foods that can cause the most damage in your digestive system, including: processed foods, gluten, hydrogenated oils and added sugar. The top foods and supplements that help heal leaky gut include: bone broth, kefir, fermented vegetables, and high-fiber foods, such as vegetables and sprouted seeds. In addition, supplements, such as digestive enzymes and probiotics can aid in repairing your gut lining, which in turn can balance your hormones.
5. Eliminate toxic kitchen, beauty and body care products
Another way to eliminate toxins in your body is to avoid conventional body care products that are made with potentially-harmful chemicals including DEA, parabens, propylene glycol and sodium lauryl sulfate. A better alternative is to use natural products made with ingredients like essential oils, coconut oil, shea butter and castor oil.
The Environmental Working Group evaluated over 72,000 products and ranked them in an easy-to-understand guide to make sure you have a resource to keep your family safe. Check out EWG’s “Skin Deep Cosmetic Database” today for recommendations on which products to use and avoid.
Another thing to consider is your use of plastic bottles, aluminum cans and containers. It’s best to replace plastic and aluminum with glass and stainless steel because of the toxic effects of BPA. Another wise precaution is to switch from teflon pans to stainless steel, ceramic or cast iron, which can make a big difference in the amount of chemicals making their way into the food you prepare.
6. Exercise (especially interval training)
One of the best all-around activities you can do for your health is high intensity interval training (HIIT) − including one of my favorite types called burst training. If there is a silver bullet out there to help with a sluggish metabolism, weight gain and other issues, this just might be it! Exercise in general is great for balancing hormones because it reduces inflammation, can help you maintain a healthy weight, lowers stress, helps regulate your appetite and aids in getting better sleep.
Whether we’re talking about endorphins from a runner’s high, testosterone, growth hormone or insulin, HIT and burst training can help your body regulate production and use of these hormones. Exercise can also enhance your immune system, allow your cells to take up more glucose – which lowers insulin – protect you from depression and keep you more alert without the need for caffeine.
According to the University of Notre Dame Medical School in Sydney, “HIT is associated with increased patient compliance and improved cardiovascular and metabolic outcomes and is suitable for implementation in both healthy and ‘at risk’ populations.” (10) For people with hormonal imbalances, the key with exercise is to be careful not to overdo it. Training for a shorter period of time – about 20 minutes three times a week – but with higher intensity works well for most people who can’t afford to add any extra stress to their system. Keep in mind that optimal exercise can differ a lot from person to person, however, so it’s a good idea to seek advise from a professional if you’re ever unsure.
7. Reduce stress and get more sleep
Unless you get seven to eight hours of sleep every night, you’re doing your body no favors. A lack of sleep, or disturbing your natural circadian rhythm, can be one of the worst habits contributing to a hormone imbalance. How so? Because your hormones work on a schedule! Case in point: cortisol, the primary stress hormone, is regulated at midnight. Therefore, people who go to bed late never truly get a break from their sympathetic flight or fight stress response.
A lack of sleep, long-term use of corticosteroids and chronic stress are three of the biggest contributors to high cortisol levels. A report published in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism says, “Stress can lead to changes in the serum level of many hormones including glucocorticoids, catecholamines, growth hormone and prolactin.” (11)
Sleep helps keep stress hormones balanced, builds energy and allows the body to recover properly. Excessive stress and poor sleep are linked with higher levels of morning cortisol, decreased immunity, trouble with work performance, and a higher susceptibility to anxiety, weight gain and depression. To maximize hormone function, ideally try to get to bed by 10 o’clock pm, and stick with a regular sleep-wake cycle as much as possible.
8. Watch your caffeine and alcohol intake. And don’t smoke!
Caffeine in moderate amounts might be okay for some people, but drinking too much caffeine is almost as bad as not getting enough sleep. Caffeine – which can stay in your system for up to six hours – is a chemical that affects the central nervous system (CNS) and raises your heart rate, increases alertness and changes the way your brain produces hormones.
Although caffeine overdoses are rare, caffeine is capable of elevating cortisol levels if it interferes with your normal sleep cycle. It might also have an impact on other stress hormones, such as adrenaline production. You’re probably aware that caffeine is addictive by nature, increases nervousness and anxiety in many people, and is linked with insomnia.
If you need a little boost during the day, try not to drink more than one or two cups. Ideally, you’ll turn to matcha green tea or tulsi tea, which are much lower in caffeine. The good news is that once your health is back on track, small amounts of caffeine are usually toleraable, and even beneficial. Dartmouth Medical School reports that “caffeine has been shown to increase insulin levels, reduce insulin sensitivity, and increase cortisol levels. However, epidemiological studies have indicated that long-term consumption of beverages containing caffeine such as coffee and green tea is associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus.” (12)
Another important step is to watch your alcohol intake because high levels of alcohol – more than 2-3 drinks daily – can negatively impact liver functioning. Chronic alcohol consumption can contribute to estrogen dominance and has been found to interfere with pancreatic functioning, increase liver disease risk, lower testosterone and contribute to anxiety and malnutrition. The liver is very important for hormonal balance and has over 500 different functions in the body!
Of course, it’s extremely important to quit smoking too. Studies have found that smoking interferes with normal immunological and reproductive processes. Compared with nonsmokers, moderate to heavy smokers – who smoke more than approximately 10 cigarettes per day – have abnormal levels of steroid metabolites and reproductive hormones, up to 35 percent higher than usual. (13)
9. Supplement with vitamin D3
According to an article from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vitamin D3’s role in promoting health is more profound than previously suspected. According to the data, vitamin D has an impact on the following: “the adaptive immune system, the innate immune system, insulin secretion by the pancreatic β cell, multifactorial heart functioning and blood pressure regulation, and brain and fetal development.”
Vitamin D almost acts like a hormone inside the body and has important implications for keeping inflammation levels low. This is why people who live in dark areas often suffer from seasonal depression and other health problems unless they supplement with vitamin D. Sunshine is really the best way to optimize vitamin D levels because your bare skin actually makes vitamin D on its own when exposed to even small amounts of direct sunlight. Most people should supplement with around 2,000 IU to 5,000 IU daily of vitamin D3 if they live in dark areas, during the winter and on days when they’re not in the sun.
10. Back off birth control pills
In simplest terms, the pill is a type of hormone therapy that raises estrogen levels to such dangerous levels that it can cause many complications. I cannot urge you strongly enough to stop using the pill immediately, especially considering that there are many other, safer ways to prevent pregnancy. My thoughts on taking the pill can be summed up this way: Just say no to birth control pills! Studies show that the risks of taking them, especially long-term, can include: (14)
- Breakthrough bleeding between cycles
- Increased risk of breast cancer
- Increased risk of uterine bleeding, blood clotting, heart attack and stroke
- Increased blood pressure
- Weight gain
- Back pain
- Mood changes
- Benign liver tumors
- Breast tenderness
This article originally appeared on DrAxe.com and is republished here with permission.