Hormones have profound effects on your mental, physical and emotional health.
These chemical messengers play a major role in controlling your appetite, weight and mood, among other things. Normally, your endocrine glands produce the precise amount of each hormone needed for various processes in your body. However, hormonal imbalances have become increasingly common with today’s fast-paced modern lifestyle. In addition, certain hormones decline with age, and some people experience a more dramatic decrease than others. Fortunately, a nutritious diet and other healthy lifestyle behaviors may help improve your hormonal health and allow you to feel and perform your best.
1. Eat Enough Protein at Every Meal: Consuming an adequate amount of proteinis extremely important. Dietary protein provides essential amino acids that your body can’t make on its own and must be consumed every day in order to maintain muscle, bone and skin health. In addition, protein influences the release of hormones that control appetite and food intake. Research has shown that eating protein decreases levels of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin and stimulates the production of hormones that help you feel full. What’s more, participants’ hunger ratings decreased by 25% more after the high-protein meal compared to the normal-protein meal .
2. Engage in Regular Exercise: Physical activity can strongly influence hormonal health. A major benefit of exercise is its ability to reduce insulin levels and increase insulin sensitivity. Insulin is a hormone that has several functions. One is allowing cells to take up sugar and amino acids from the bloodstream, which are then used for energy and maintaining muscle. However, a little insulin goes a long way. Too much can be downright dangerous. High insulin levels have been linked to inflammation, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. What’s more, they are connected to insulin resistance, a condition in which your cells don’t respond properly to insulin’s signals. Many types of physical activity have been found to increase insulin sensitivity and reduce insulin levels, including aerobic exercise, strength training and endurance exercise. In a 24-week study of obese women, exercise increased participants’ insulin sensitivity and levels of adiponectin, a hormone that has anti-inflammatory effects and helps regulate metabolism. Being physically active may also help boost levels of muscle-maintaining hormones that decline with age, such as testosterone, and growth hormone. For people who are unable to perform vigorous exercise, even regular walking may increase these hormone levels, potentially improving strength and quality of life. Although a combination of resistance and aerobic training seems to provide the best results, engaging in any type of physical activity on a regular basis is beneficial.
3. Learn to Manage Stress: Stress can wreak havoc on your hormones. Two major hormones affected by stress are cortisol and adrenaline, which is also called epinephrine. Cortisol is known as “the stress hormone” because it helps your body cope with stress over the long term. Adrenaline is the “fight-or-flight” hormone that provides your body with a surge of energy to respond to immediate danger. However, unlike hundreds of years ago when these hormones were mainly triggered by threats from predators, today they’re usually triggered by people’s busy, often overwhelming lifestyles. Unfortunately, chronic stress causes cortisol levels to remain elevated, which can lead to excessive calorie intake and obesity, including increased belly fat. Elevated adrenaline levels can cause high blood pressure, rapid heart rate and anxiety. However, these symptoms are usually fairly short-lived because, unlike cortisol, adrenaline is less likely to become chronically elevated. Research has shown that you may be able to lower your cortisol levels by engaging in stress-reducing techniques like meditation, yoga, massage and listening to relaxing music. A 2005 review of studies found that massage therapy not only reduced cortisol levels by an average of 31%, but also increased levels of the mood-boosting hormone serotonin by 28% and dopamine by 31%, on average (37). Try to devote at least 10–15 minutes per day to stress-reducing activities, even if you don’t feel you have the time.
4. Avoid Overeating and Undereating: Eating too much or too little may result in hormonal shifts that lead to weight problems. Overeating is shown to increase insulin levels and reduce insulin sensitivity, especially in overweight and obese people who are insulin resistant. In one study, insulin-resistant obese adults who ate a 1,300-calorie meal experienced nearly twice the increase in insulin as lean people and “metabolically healthy” obese people who consumed an identical meal. On the other hand, cutting your calorie intake too much can increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is known to promote weight gain when it’s elevated. One study found that restricting food intake to less than 1,200 calories per day led to increased cortisol levels. Interestingly, a study from 1996 even suggests that very low-calorie diets could potentially trigger insulin resistance in some people, an effect you might expect to see in people with diabetes. Eating within your own personal calorie range can help you maintain hormonal balance and a healthy weight.