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Healthy hormones for wellness and longevity

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Want to be healthier and happier? The secret could lie in biohacking your hormones. Here’s how you can do it and why hormones are so crucial.

Happy hormones are vital for good health. However, for many people their hormones are neither happy or healthy, and neither are they. With nearly half of women said to be suffering from hormonal imbalances, fixing this could be crucial to living a longer, healthier and happier life.

What are hormones?

Hormones are signalling molecules that travel through our bloodstream binding to receptor sites. You’ll have already heard of some of the most common ones such as testosterone or oestrogen. They have a profound effect on the physical and mental health of both men and women. They more or less run us and can govern everything from how healthy we are, how happy we are and our behaviour. If they’re out of sync, so are we.

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Symptoms include pain, discomfort, hot flushes, indigestion, constipation, mood swings, depression and other behavioural issues. The problem is that hormones play a critical role in many of our key bodily functions such as maintaining heart rate, blood sugar, growth and metabolism. This means that when there is hormone dysfunction, this can have a serious effect on our health and wellbeing.

Where are your hormones?

Hormones are found in the endocrine system. It serves as a thriving ecosystem for hormones and includes certain target endocrine glands such as the hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, pancreas, ovaries or adrenals.

In an ideal world these will all be working together, communicating and maintaining a harmonious body rhythm. For example, the hypothalamus will scan the blood stream for hormones produced by one of the target glands. This tells it what needs to be adjusted. The pituitary gland, in turn, detects this, and communicates the message to the relevant gland. Like a busy WhatsApp group, it’s a constant back and forth between your glands which allows your body to function.

When your hormones are out of balance, the system does not function properly and things start to go wrong. The body may begin to over or under compensate which can create all the negative symptoms such as weight gain, acne, depression or lethargy.

What happens to hormones as we age?

Levels of most hormones decrease as we get older; aging is still an issue for the hormones who levels don’t decline, because hormone receptors become less sensitive, leading to a general decline in our endocrine function as we age.

In women, the decline in oestrogen levels leads to menopause. There is no similarly-dramatic event for men, but testosterone levels do decline gradually. In fact, early research links falling testosterone levels with memory decline, arguing that the two could be linked, and possibly even suggesting a link to Alzheimer’s disease.

Decreasing levels of Human Growth Hormone can lead to decreased muscle mass and strength and a resulting increase in frailty risk. Age-related declining melatonin levels interfere with normal sleep-wake cycles (your circadian rhythm).

How to hack your hormones

The good news is that our hormones are in our control and with a few basic interventions can be brought into line, rather than running the show.

Avoid stress: Our adrenal gland handles stress in our system. In nature, we react to stressful situations with a fight or flight response. Our adrenal gland pumps out cortisol and adrenaline to give us the energy to deal with whatever situation we’re faced with. If you’re constantly stressed, you can experience adrenal fatigue leading to hormonal imbalances and other health problems.

So, if you’re anxious or under strain, it tends to work overtime. It pays to relax and avoid stress as much as possible. This is easier said than done in a modern world which seems designed to stress us out as much as possible. In the past year, almost three quarters of people say they have felt so stressed they didn’t think they could cope.

Nevertheless, it pays to try. However hard you’re working, try to find some time for yourself, get plenty of sleep and get out in nature. Try relaxation exercises, making time to unwind or a hobby which calms you down and gives you a bit of time to yourself.

Blood sugar: Maintaining a good balance with blood sugar levels is crucial to avoiding hormonal imbalances. Ditch foods which cause your blood sugar levels to spike, because when this happens, your body must work overtime to compensate which can cause hormonal imbalances. Devices that monitor your blood glucose (constant glucose monitoring, or CGM) are becoming popular and use apps to keep you informed, allowing you to make sensible food choices.

Use supplements: Supplements can help provide any ingredients which may be missing from your regular diet. For example, magnesium supports thyroid hormone production, vitamins can help organs such as the liver with detoxification and improve your hormonal balance. Probiotics can help with oestrogen production.

Exercise

You body is a finely-balanced machine. It needs just the right mix of ingredients to ensure it runs properly. However, it doesn’t take much to throw things out of balance. Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do to even things out help you to feel more like your old self. Not only will it help you feel happier in the long term, but it could also hold the secret to a longer and healthier life.

Keep active: Exercise, especially resistance training can boost testosterone levels; be wary of over-training, though, as endurance sports like distance running and inadequate recovery time can decrease testosterone levels. Exercise also increases dopamine levels, the so-called ‘happy hormone’, in the brain, leading to decreased stress and even helping to counter depression. Cortisol, Human Growth Hormone, insulin and serotonin are all positively affected by exercise.

Go natural: Many processed foods, such as non organic meat carry harmful chemicals which introduce xenoestrogens which are almost identical to the hormone oestrogen. They bind to oestrogen receptor sites overloading the body with oestrogens. They can also be found in some beauty products. If possible, buy organic.

Be good to your liver: Your kidneys and liver handle your body’s detoxification, so try to keep them healthy. Eat plenty of cruciferous vegetables such as Brussel sprouts, kale and broccoli. Don’t drink too much and, if necessary, take supplements such as vitamin C and bioflavonoids.

These are just a few hacks you can try. In general, the healthier you are the more balanced your hormones will be and, as a result, the healthier you’ll feel.

Image credits: By FREEPIK2 / Shutterstock, 5132824Pixabay, Ketut SubiyantoPexels

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Eleanor Garth
Deputy Editor Now a science and medicine journalist, Eleanor worked as a consultant for university spin-out companies and provided research support at Imperial College London and various London hospitals in a former life.
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