Our body’s hormones work like an orchestra. When one instrument is out of tune, the entire production struggles to maintain harmony. Each plays a part in influencing the others and determining how well the whole concert works.
Fortunately, our body has masterful conductors, including the endocrine system, which coordinates all of the glands and the hormones they produce. “Players” include the adrenal, hypothalamus, pancreas, pineal, pituitary, reproductive and thyroid/ parathyroid glands.
“A healthy endocrine system is essential to making hormones in appropriate amounts throughout our life,” says Theresa Dale, Ph.D., a naturopathic doctor who practices as a traditional naturopath and clinical nutritionist in Oxnard, California, and has authored Revitalizing Your Hormones. “For example, when the ovaries shut down after menopause, the adrenal glands continue producing progesterone and other essential hormones.”
Dale, dean and founder of the California College of Natural Medicine, further assures that contrary to assertions from some conventional medicine reports, the body is able to produce necessary hormones throughout our entire life. Hormones function as chemical messengers that commute through the bloodstream as part of the information super highway that connects the brain to the DNA managers of the body’s cells. “Hormones communicate with chemicals produced by the brain called neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, which greatly influence energy levels, moods and other bodily functions such as moving memories from short- to long term storage,” explains Dale.
For 20 years, she has seen patients with critical hormonal imbalances respond to her recommended three month, endocrine-rebuilding diet, comprising three daily meals of steamed, sautéed and raw foods, fish, whole grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, fresh fruits and vegetables, plus two raw vegetable or seed snacks. The regimen strives to balance metabolism, cleanse the body, restore immune function and revitalize the endocrine system.
Kokomo, Indiana, resident Sylvia Egel, national director of coaching and education for Metabolic Balance, a personalized nutrition plan to balance metabolism and hormones, optimize health and increase energy at any age, agrees that hormones can be restored and balanced via proper food selections. “Our lifestyle and dietary choices strongly affect our metabolism and hormonal health, as do stress levels and sleep patterns. Eating at the wrong time, in the wrong place or in the wrong order, and even poor combinations of healthy foods, can be almost as problematic as eating junk food,” says Egel. She also warns against snacking, emotional eating, eating on the go, skipping breakfast and waiting too long between meals.
Diana Hoppe, author of Healthy Sex Drive, Healthy You, an obstetricianand gynecologist in San Diego, California,who leads clinical trials related to women’s health at the Pacific Coast Research Center, also sees first hand how what we eat directly affects our hormones. She attests that our bodies need a balance of three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fat. “But for 20 years, we have been advised to decrease fat intake in favor of fat-free options that have been detrimental tous, because we need fat to produce hormones and maintain healthy hormone function. Certain fatty acids and cholesterol serve as building blocks in hormone production and cellular function, especially the reproductive hormones of estrogen and testosterone,” says Hoppe.
Food can be medicine for hormones. One of the most important hormone-balancing fats is coconut oil, which heals skin, increases metabolism and supplies a quick source of energy. Egg yolks are a good source of choline and iodine, essential to the production of healthy thyroid hormones, plus are rich in vitamins A, D, E and B-complex vitamins. Avocados have lots of healthy fat that helps absorb and utilize nutrients. Nuts and seeds, olive oil and salmon are all rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids that help stabilize hormone levels. Eating the right foods and incorporating healthy fats into meals increases overall energy, reduces hormonal fluctuations and helps us feel more balanced. Says Dale, “The majority of individuals are surprised to learn that hormone health doesn’t depend on age,but rather on a complex of factors, like the air we breathe, the water we drink, the quality of our diet, good sleep and adequate exercise, plus the relative health of our relationships and emotional life—and that’s just for starters.”
Linda Sechrist is a senior staff writer for Natural Awakenings.