At first glance many people would say no. Hormones are a whole separate system from what you eat. There shouldn’t be any relationship. But the truth is the two are closely related.
Common Health Issues
Insulin resistance is the condition when the insulin needed to move glucose into the body’s cells is not sufficient and the pancreas needs to pump out ever increasing levels of insulin to accomplish this goal and keep the glucose levels stable in the body. It is typically a precursor to full fledged type 2 diabetes and can go on for a number of years. Insulin is a hormone so that of course is a key hormone affected by our diets. But insulin also affects other hormones in the body. Because it is such a significant hormone, it becomes very difficult for the body to balance other hormones when insulin is not well regulated.
Surges of insulin can affect the production of certain enzymes in the body. In men the enzyme aromatase that converts testosterone into estrogen is affected. This causes a normal or low normal testosterone level but a high estrogen level, and this is commonly seen in andropause or “manopause.”
In women, high insulin levels cause an increase of an enzyme called 17,20-lyase, and this increases the production of testosterone. Estrogen levels can also go up because 17,20-lyase converts DHEA, which is an adrenal hormone, into the estrogen-testosterone pathway. All of the hormones in that pathway increase, including estrogen, but testosterone increases the most. Symptoms include: PCOS (the primary cause of inferitility), depression, weight gain, hair loss, and facial hair growth. Estrogen rising suppresses FSH, which is a pituitary hormone that acts on the ovaries, and that suppression of FSH is actually what causes the infertility. All of this is hormonal and all of it is impacted greatly by the body’s insulin levels.
Gut health is a favorite topic of mine. As I have studied the work of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride in the GAPS book this past year I have been very impressed with how significant the gut is to every bit of our whole body health. If your gut does not have a good balance of beneficial to harmful bacteria, important nutrients are not absorbed and the body essentially starves for the nutrition it needs. This leaky gut and bacterial and fungal overgrowth causes inflammation (the million dollar word in health these days). Inflammation suppresses the function of the hypothalamus and the pituitary in the brain, which produce the stimulating hormones, and then it also suppresses the function of the adrenals and the ovaries and the gonads in men that produce the actual hormones. Thus poor gut health leads to an imbalance of hormones in the body.
One of the most effective ways I have seen to heal the gut is with the GAPS diet, a healing elimination diet that heals and seals the gut and allows the body to then do its own healing in other areas, including hormones. Fermented foods and probiotic supplements are also key to this healing process.
Adrenal health is starting to get much more attention as people begin to realize that these small glands in our bodies are critical to the management of all the rest of our hormones. Pregnenolone is a hormone made by the adrenal glands and it is the precursor to all of the different adrenal and sex hormones that are produced in the body. Cholesterol is the precursor to pregnenolone, thus a low cholesterol can be a real problem for the production of hormones, especially the adrenal hormones.
Stress of various kinds has a direct effect on this whole process, since when we are under stress we produce cortisol. Cortisol also needs pregnenolone as a precuursor. If the cortisol levels are high and stay high, that means there is limited prenenolone available for other hormones. This is one reason it is so important to deal with the stresses in our lives and learn how to manage them. It is also important that we are getting enough cholesterol to make the needed hormones. That is why the current craze to have a low cholesterol diet can actually be a problem to health.
Fatty Acid Balance
Many people are familiar with omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. The balance of these two acids in the body is important to good health. Fatty acids are important because they are building blocks for hormones by way of the prostaglandins pathway. Prostaglandins help regulate our response to hormones. If you have too many omega 6 fatty acids they can lead to inflammation. If you have a larger amount of omega 6’s they will oversee conversion of the fatty acids into substances that are not so inflammatory. The long chain fatty acids, omega 3’s, can also improve insulin sensitivity. It is best for health to have a much greater amount of omega 3’s and much less omega 6’s.
How to Improve Hormonal Health With Your Diet?
Here are 10 basic steps to take to improve hormone health:
- Eat a whole foods diet.
- Cut out sugar and alcohol.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Eat fermented foods for gut health.
- Avoid plant fats like margarine, corn oil, soybean oil, vegetable oil, peanut oil, canola oil, and shortening. Instead use coconut oil (especially good for hormone health), real butter, olive oil (if not heated), and animal fats like lard and tallow from grass fed animals.
- Limit caffeine as thise can be hard on the hormones and endocrine system.
- Make sure you are getting enough magnesium as it is part of so many different processes in your body. Magnesium is in leafy green vegetables and some nuts. It can also be taken as a supplement or through a lotion or spray applied to the skin. It absorbs best through the skin.
- Consume a large amount of protein and healthy fats first thing in the morning, as soon after waking as possible. This promotes satiety and gives the body the building blocks to make hormones.
- Don’t snack. When you are constantly eating, even small amounts, during the day it keeps your liver working and doesn’t give hormones a break. Try to space meals at least 4 hours apart and don’t eat for at least 4 hours before bed.
- Cut out grains or only eat them sprouted and soaked to cut out the lectins and make them easier to digest. This is important for gut health.
For more information:
Do you suspect you have a hormone imbalance? Has changing your diet changed your health?
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