Lets talk about hormones for a while…. no, don’t roll your eyes.
Did you know that our bodies are made up of way more hormones than just estrogen and they all need to be balanced and working together for optimal health? There are well over 100 hormones in our bodies that are all hopefully working well together. BUT for the sake of simplicity I am only going to discuss the ones that tend to go wonky during middle age…or better known as the perimenopause/menopause years.
A full work up by your Dr. can give you a better idea what hormones may be acting up. Doing your own research and knowing which questions to ask and what tests to request will go a long way to getting you on your way to feeling your best.
In no particular order these are some main hormones to have on your health radar. It is a fascinating topic and I encourage you to dive into your own research and learning!
Serotonin – Serotonin controls your mood, appetite, and your sleep cycles. Low serotonin levels are responsible for mood swings, emotions, poor memory, cravings for carbs therefore weight gain, low self esteem, poor sleep, and low pain tolerance. Serotonin makes us happy. Low serotonin makes us depressed and anxious. Low levels are associated with SAD ( seasonal affective disorder) stress, and digestive disorders. Production of serotonin increases with exposure to sunlight, a healthy diet and more fun filled activities.
Melatonin – Melatonin is a derivative of serotonin. It is released from the pineal gland and regulates your 24 hour body clock, influencing your nervous system, endocrine system and immune system. As a bonus melatonin decreases cortisol and protects us from the harmful effects of stress It is dependant on adequate protein in the diet and naturally declines with age and menopause. Supplementaion often helps those over 45 who experience sleep issues.
Epinephrine/Adrenaline – This is one that you have most likely heard of; it’s also called adrenaline. Among a whole list of other things, epinephrine is responsible for what is known as the, “fight or flight” response. This is the hormone that tells you when to fight and when it’s best to run. Adreneline is usually provided in high amounts for short periods of time during stressful situations. When you get used to living a stressful lifestyle, adrenal fatigue can come into play, which contributes to a tired but wired feeling, insomnia and exhaustion. This is very common for women in their 40’s. Also see cortisol, which is produced by the adrenal glands also, which is realised during longer periods of stress.
Dopamine- Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is associated with pleasure. It is released in high amounts during pleasurable activities such as eating ( mmmmm cheesecake) sex, exersise and other enjoyable activities. It is necessary for well being, alertness, creativity, and concentration. High levels of dopamine can contribute to addictions to food, sex, gambling or anything else that gives us pleasure. Even checking your facebook page can give you a small hit or dopamine when a notification comes in. Dopomine can also be released during high amounts of stress. Some people become addicted to stress for that hit of dopamine to keep them going when they are fatigued. Dopamine deficiency can lead to cravings, for food, stress or stimulation.
Insulin – Insulin is essential and its main purpose is to process sugar in your bloodstream and carry it to your cells to be used as an immediate fuel source, or saved for later as glycogen in your liver or muscles. Anything excess will be stored as fat. Insulin also triggers dopamine… which of course is a pleasure hormone, and makes you easily feel addicted to sugar rushes. If your insulin levels are elevated at any point it is called insulin resistant and it puts you at risk of diabetes. Elevated insulin often shows up as belly fat, and a proper diet can reduce the spare tire and lower your insulin levels reducing your risk of diabetes.
Testosterone – Testosterone is the major male hormone produced in the testes, but is also produced by the ovaries in women as well as the adrenal glands in both men and women. Testosterone enhances libido, bone density muscle mass, strength, memory and fat burning. Testosterone like many of the other hormones taper off with age and stress. Surplus testosterone in women often results in polycystic ovarian syndrome ( PCOS) and excess hair growth including facial hair, acne, male pattern hair loss, increased insulin resistance and weight gain that causes that round apple shape.
Progesterone – A major contributor to the body’s support of pregnancy. It is produced by the ovaries before menopause, and after menopause by the adrenal glands. Progesterone is a natural diuretic, sleep aid, antianxiety compound, and supports the thyroid gland. It helps build bone density, reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol, improve the appearance and texture of skin and hair, balances the immune system and prevents PMS. As the hormone drops, it can cause a counter effect of estrogen dominance as they balance each other. Excess progesterone, while rare, usually results from excess use of creams or pills, and results in acne, bloating, water retention, depression and weight gain.
Estrogen- Although estrogen is usually considered one hormone, it is actually made up of 3 hormones. Estadiol, the strongest and most prevalent hormone that plays critical roles in the body. It gives us a glow, protects our cells, prevents wrinkles, and a host of other good things. Estrone is the bad estrogen which contributes to estrogen dominance, and boost cancer risks. Estriol is the weakest of estrogens and is produced when estradiol and estone convert to estriol. It appears to block the effects of estrone. All three forms need to work together. Estrogen is present in both women and men, but in lower doses in men. Estrogen dominance is when there is more of the bad estrogen than good, or when there is an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen dominance is one of the leading causes of breast, uterine and prostate cancer ( in men). It also can cause, PMS, weight gain as fat around the belly, varicose veins, fibroids, endometriosis, and ovarian cysts. Low estrogen also leads to weight gain, thanks to an increase in insulin, drop in serotonin causing depression, urinary incontinence, fatigue, hot flashes, sagging and thinning skin.
*I have a full post on estrogen here, if you want more information on this one*
Cortisol- unlike adrenaline, whose purpose is to provide energy in a short burst to get you out of a sticky situation, cortisol is often elevated with chronic stress, whether real ( financial trouble or divorce) or imagined ( worry). Cold, hunger, injuries, low blood pressure, broken bones, inflammation or extreme exercise and emotional upsets all cause the brain to activate the stress pathways and increase cortisol production by the adrenal glands…which also produces the adrenaline. Extreme and prolonged periods of elevated cortisol can lead to permanent physiological changes. While we need cortisol to survive in times of stress, excess can cause weight gain ( cortisol fuels your desire for fatty foods and carbs), interferes with thyroid function, causes blood sugar imbalance, irregular sleep patterns, and elevated insulin levels. Reducing stress and controlling cortisol levels is imperative for health and wellbeing.
DHEA- DHEA is short for dehydroepiandrosterone….and NO I am not making that up. Produced by the adrenals as precursor to estrogen and testosterone this hormone is one of the most abundant and has huge benefits. It is known to support healthy immunity and prevent autoimmune imbalances, aid tissue repair, improve your sleep, and counteract the negative effects of cortisol. It helps us lose fat and build muscle, boosts libido, helps us to feel motivated and energetic. ( seriously….where do I get more of this??) If your DHEA levels are low you may experience all the opposite effects of the good stuff I just listed. Too much ( from taking supplements) and you run the risk of increased testosterone and estrogen, increased cancer risks, hair loss, anger, aggression acne as well as deepening voice, hair loss, and growth of facial hair in women.
Thyroid-Thyroid imbalance is a huge topic, but the thyroid must be balanced to ensure optimum health. The thyroids job is to regulate your metabolism, organ function, cholesterol levels, and pretty much every function in the body. Too much thyroid hormone and you may suffer from hyperthyroidism. This throws your metabolism into high gear and sufferers often feel hot, and experience rapid heart rate, weight loss, or weight gain if the appetite is kicked into overdrive, irritability, insomnia, shakes and digestive trouble. You may also just feel hyper and wired all the time…although fatigue is also common. Hypothyroid is when you do not have enough thyroid hormone. This condition is more common than hyperthyroid. With hypothyroidism every system in your body slows down, you feel tired and have extreme fatigue, you usually have sluggish digestion, weight gain, dry skin, poor memory, depression, and hair loss.
Growth Hormone- Growth Hormone affects almost every cell in the body. It has a major effect on feelings, actions and appearance. This is regenerative hormone that declines with age. Released during sleep it is essential for tissue repair, muscle building, body density, and body composition. If you are low in this important hormone, you may experience premature cardiovascular disease, loss of bone density, abdominal fat, decreased muscle mass, sagging skin, depression, anxiety, elevated LDL cholesterol, and fatigue. Sleep is vital for the production of this hormone. There are risks to supplementing growth hormone such as raised blood sugar, insulin resistance, increased risk of diabetes, abnormal bone growth and possibly prostate cancer in men.
This is just a run down on the main hormone players! The body works best by having everything balanced. Modern life, stress, poor diets, and sedentary lifestyles all contribute to hormonal imbalances.
The bad news is that without balanced hormones you are setting yourself up for a life time of illness, weight gain, and metabolic distress. The good news is that with proper nutrition, exercise, stress reduction and lifestyle changes most imbalances can be reversed and you can be feeling better again. Talk to your Dr. about getting all of these important middle age hormones tested to see everything is working correctly.
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