How Your Hormones Affect Your Whole Body (& What To Do About It)
We’ve been conditioned to think that hormones are this awkward byproduct of puberty, that causes voices to break and acne to crop up at the most inconvenient times. Or the post-middle-age menopause symptoms of hot flushes and night sweats… And this is true, and representative of what can happen with changing levels of hormones, but hormones are so much more than that. The human body (or specifically, the endocrine system) secretes and circulates some 50 different hormones that are responsible for widespread bodily functions, from regulating nutrient metabolism to activating our innate survival responses with the stress hormone cortisol.
But what actually are hormones? They are best described as chemical messengers secreted by the glands of the endocrine system, which travel through the bloodstream to various organs and tissues in the body. The hormones then tell these organs and tissues what to do or how to function.
The endocrine system (made up of the glands that secrete hormones) controls the level of hormones in your body such as estrogen, testosterone, insulin, and adrenaline. They all should work in harmony just like an orchestra, however, if one is out of balance, then this may cause serious health problems.
Hormonal imbalances are caused by many different factors such as exposure to pollution and chemicals, chronic stress, digestive issues, unhealthy diet, lack of sleep, being overweight, and other genetic factors.
These imbalances are often represented by a suite of common symptoms such as; weight gain, irregular periods, infertility, low libido, thinning hair, digestive problems, depression, anxiety, mood swings, skin problems (acne), insomnia, and tiredness - which means they can have a profound impact on our overall health and wellbeing. The widespread impact of hormonal imbalances is often largely overlooked, especially in the ‘traditional’ medical schools- but sometimes these imbalances can be the root cause of our health concerns.
If we are to take a look at how hormones impact our mental health and happiness, you’ll find it to be quite surprising. It’s not uncommon to find yourself feeling like you got up on the wrong side of the bed - and this may say more about your hormones than how many hours of rest you got.
Fluctuating moods can completely change our experience of life, affecting not just how we feel about each and every day but also our relationships with those around us.
More often than not, we can have a positive impact on our mood by addressing the balance of hormones associated with our happiness. Let’s take a look at some of the more common hormones associated with mood.
One of the better-known happy hormones, serotonin, functions as a neurotransmitter in the brain and helps us to feel happy, calm, and content. What you may not know about this lovely hormone is that around 80% of it is made in our gut. There really is something to the phrase “gut feeling” – it’s hard to feel great when you are suffering from digestive challenges! Another common scenario involves a see-saw between serotonin and melatonin. Melatonin is our sleep hormone; it is responsible for sending us to, and keeping us, asleep. They work antagonistically, so when one goes up the other goes down. For some people though, they end up in the wrong way. If this happens, you might find yourself feeling down and sleepy most of the day but great in the evening which can make it a challenge to get through the day!
Endorphins are also well-known for their mood-lifting effects. They help to reduce pain as well as helping us to feel uplifted. Many people know of the link between endorphins and exercise, and indeed, they are stimulated by physical activity.
Then there is progesterone. When we think about this hormone we might only think about the role it plays in our fertility, but it has other biological functions in the body. Progesterone is a powerful anti-anxiety agent, an anti-depressant, and a diuretic, which means it helps us to eliminate excess fluid. Progesterone is supposed to be the dominant hormone in the second half of the menstrual cycle, known as the luteal phase, and during our childbearing years, it is predominantly made in the ovaries. However, progesterone can also be made from our adrenal glands, and this becomes our main site of production after menopause. Because our adrenals also make our stress hormones, chronic stress – which is extremely common these days – can compromise our adrenal progesterone production. Stress can also contribute to irregular ovulation, and ovulation is required to stimulate the increase in progesterone in the second half of the menstrual cycle.
Another place your hormone imbalances may be showing up is your skin. You know those nasty breakouts. You scrub and you wash and you tone and you moisturize, and still, they show up just when you least need them, like right before a big interview, presentation, or meeting with your new in-laws.
Or if you’re struggling with excess weight and food cravings - you guessed it, check your hormones. Hormones can affect our feelings of hunger and satiation.
It’s easy to see just how much of an impact our hormones have on our overall health and wellbeing - and because they’re responsible for so many functions in the body it should be no surprise.
If you’re interested in discovering your hormones further, or want to be guided by leading experts in the fields to dive even deeper, discover the Food Matters Nutrition Certification program today!
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