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© 2019 by Ilana Hart. All rights reserved.

What does nutrition have to do with our hormones?

Updated: Nov 27, 2019

Hormonal imbalances can wreak havoc on the body. The good news is, that food and lifestyle changes can help restore harmony.

Have you ever thought about what the role of hormones are? I’m pretty sure that most people associate hormones primarily with menstrual cycles, sex and reproduction. Well, the truth is that hormones act as messengers who travel throughout the body and instruct our cells on how quickly or slowly to perform their duties.


When our hormones are out of balance (whether there’s a surplus or shortage), cellular processes begin to malfunction, leading to a whole host of issues, such as:


Fatigue, weight fluctuations, mood swings, depression, PMS & irregular menses (in women), erectile dysfunction (in men), decreased immune function, bladder & bowel irregularities, decreased work performance, etc.[1]


The good news is, that it’s possible to bring our hormones back into harmony – and one of the most critical steps to doing so is by regulating blood sugar levels, which can often be achieved through fairly simple dietary changes.


Blood sugar balance – why it’s so fundamental to our hormonal health


As I wrote about in a previous post, it’s important to maintain balanced blood sugar levels throughout the day by eating meals that consist of fiber, healthy fats, and protein (and staying away from nutrient-empty foods and highly processed carbohydrates). This is what helps keep the glycemic load down and lets our bodies absorb nutrients in a slow and steady manner.


On the other hand, when we eat meals with a high glycemic load, it leads to a state of “reactive hypoglycemia.” This means that our blood sugars increase quickly and then drop down quickly as insulin rushes out into the bloodstream to shuttle excess sugar into the cells. The problem is, when this happens over and over again, it puts strain on our adrenal glands, which become activated to combat the glycemic stress that the body’s in. And, if we continuously ride the blood sugar rollercoaster (i.e. keep having those blood sugar ups and downs), our body starts to think it’s in an ongoing state of emergency and begins pumping out cortisol, the long-term stress hormone that tells our cells how to behave in emergency situations.


Here’s a really great depiction of what the blood sugar rollercoaster looks like, from Josh Gitalis’ functional nutrition course on hormones and the endocrine system:

Hormones gone haywire


When the body’s in a heightened state of stress, all of our hormone production resources go toward making cortisol. And, this diverts resources away from generating sex hormones, because the body’s first instinct is survival, not reproduction. So, for example, less progesterone will be produced, which can lead to conditions like fibroids, endometriosis, and even breast cancer – which are all rooted in progesterone-estrogen imbalance. These are just a few examples of how our hormones can go haywire when the body is over-stressed.


Perhaps I’m over-simplifying here, but I just want to make sure that everyone’s following and getting the big picture. And of course, there are a whole host of other hormone-related ailments that can ensue, as I mentioned above.


So, stress management becomes really critical to balancing hormones – and the first way to address this is by focusing on a nutrient-dense, low glycemic diet to help bring blood sugars back into balance.


Food & lifestyle changes as a first line of defense


The good news is, the body would really rather be in a happy, equilibrium state – maybe it just needs some extra help. You’d be amazed at what can be achieved by making changes to the way you eat.


Even when it comes to meal times, aside from what you’re putting on your plate, consider as well your eating environment. Focus on your food. Take a few deep breaths in and out before you start your meal, as this is a simple yet effective way to clear out cortisol and switch the body into “rest and digest” mode.


Of course, other lifestyle practices can be extremely beneficial as well – like having a meditation practice, doing yoga, and finding ways to mitigate stress; as well as creating a healthy sleep routine and getting enough good-quality sleep each night.


If you need a helping hand to re-balance hormones through dietary and lifestyle changes, I’ve got your back! Just leave me a note here.


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[1] Josh Gitalis, Advanced Clinical Focus: Hormones and Endocrinology course 2018. Joshgitalis.com