The effects of hormones on your body aren’t limited to reproductive health. Hormone balance helps to keep us healthy by regulating many important functions such as heart rate, thyroid function, sleep, blood pressure, fat distribution, metabolism, blood sugar, stress response and energy level. To top it off, dysregulation of hormones in one area can have a profound impact on hormone function in other areas of your body. It’s an interconnected system.
Hormones are like little taxis for your cells; they carry signals from one place to another. The hypothalamus receives calls from the body, like a call center; the information is relayed to the pituitary, which acts as the dispatcher, and from there the taxi is given directions to their destination. The goal is to maintain smooth traffic flow so the signals arrive as they’re needed — not too soon or too late, and not too many or too few
The thyroid gland is a small organ in the neck that produces hormones which regulate body functions such as heart rate, temperature and energy levels. If this system isn’t working properly due to an overactive (hyperthyroid) or underactive (hypothyroid) hormone production then you might experience symptoms like weight gain/loss; extreme tiredness throughout your day (especially after exercise); difficulty concentrating; menstrual irregularities; infertility; sleep issues and fluctuations in heart rate. Hypothyroidism can also contribute to insulin resistance.
This is an autoimmune condition where your body attacks the thyroid. Hashimoto’s disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism, primarily affecting women between the ages of 30 and 50. The symptoms are similar to non-autoimmune hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s disease is more likely to develop concurrently with other autoimmune diseases.
Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas, and it’s the taxi that delivers glucose (blood sugar) to cells for energy. Thanks to our overconsumption of carbohydrates in our culture, especially in the form of processed foods and added sugar, it has become common for our cells to develop a resistance to insulin making it difficult to actually get the glucose into the cells where it is needed. The result is high blood sugar levels that can easily progress from insulin resistance, to pre-diabetes, to full blown diabetes, unless it’s managed. High insulin can also impact menstrual cycles and fertility by dumping estrogen into the system (uterine fibroids, heavy periods, sore breasts) and decreasing free testosterone levels (muscle loss, weight gain, lowered sex drive and osteoporosis).
Your adrenal glands are the primary source of your fight, flight or freeze response by releasing epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. Cortisol is another hormone released by the adrenals in response to ongoing stress. How common is ongoing stress in today’s world?! When your body exists in a near constant state of stress, both epinephrine and cortisol will increase insulin resistance. Say “hello” to that belly bulge or spare tire around the middle.
BLOOD PRESSURE / HYPERTENSION
Most hypertension has an unknown cause, but genetics and factors like obesity, tobacco and/or alcohol use, excessive salt intake, in addition to hormones made in the kidneys, adrenal glands and blood vessels can contribute to it. People with high levels of stress hormones are more likely to develop hypertension, and are at increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Post menopausal women are more likely to develop hypertension and can mitigate the risk by making lifestyle changes.
Obesity not only causes, but can be created by, dysregulated interplay among the intricate web of hormonal interactions and responses. Leptin, the “I feel full” hormone released by fat cells, normally signals when we’ve eaten enough, however the effects are reduced in obesity, and the “I’m full” message doesn’t make it to the brain. Glucose levels are elevated in obesity due to insulin resistance (described above). Sex hormone balance plays a role in fat distribution (lower body vs midsection). Adiponectin is a hormone secreted mainly by fat cells and is linked to weight loss and weight gain, and low levels are common in obesity and diabetes type II.
SLEEP / INSOMNIA
Poor sleep has been associated with obesity, hypertension, insulin resistance, menopause, hypothyroidism, depression, to name a few, and ultimately it lowers life expectancy. The pineal gland, located in the brain, produces melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone. Melatonin production stops during the daylight hours, however in our modern world, we are inundated with light well beyond sunset, which impacts the production of sleep hormones to fall asleep. In addition, sleep maintains your nervous system and controls your stress hormones, so healthy cortisol levels are critical for quality sleep. An imbalance of sex hormones is likely the culprit for insomnia during menopause.
Great for you
We most often think of sex hormones when discussing the general topic of hormones, however that’s just a small part of the powerful and extremely complex dance that takes place via the body’s endocrine system. It brings to mind an old song from the 1920s called Dem Bones (“The toe bone connected to the foot bone; The foot bone connected to the heel bone; The heel bone connected to the ankle bone…”). There are three primary hormonal axes in the body: hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, and hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (ovarian/testicular) axis. An unresolved imbalance in one axis can cascade into an imbalance in all three, so you can see how it’s an interconnected system that your body works hard to keep regulated.
Your hormonal balance is complex, to put it mildly, especially as a woman. We can help create that balance with diet, lifestyle and targeted nutrition. Set up your appointment today.
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Austin, TX, 78746
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