In our current series on hormone balance, we talked first about the role of phytoestrogens in balancing hormones, then dietary factors in hormone balance. Today we look at the role of lifestyle factors in hormone balance, and the things that can be done to help support healthy hormone levels and reduce hormone-related symptoms.
There are several lifestyle factors that can play a role in hormone health.
Exercise has a ton of health benefits, as we all know – including helping to manage our weight. Some of our estrogen is produced in adipose (fat) cells, and studies do show that people who are overweight or obese have higher levels of estrogen and are at greater risk of hormone-dependent health issues. Exercise also helps the body to metabolize hormones and improves the body’s production of hormones. For example, testosterone levels are elevated for several hours after exercise. For women who might have low testosterone but who do not want to supplement with the hormone itself, exercise could be a good, natural way to boost endogenous production.
Sleep is another factor that is important for hormone balance, although it can be a tough one since hormone problems can disturb sleep, making it a bit of a catch-22. Cortisol is also at play here, as elevated nighttime cortisol can interfere with sleep and hormone production. It also seems that getting as much sleep as possible before midnight is good for the body, allowing it to do its repair and regeneration processes optimally. Our immune system’s housekeeping happens at night, so disruptions in sleep can negatively impact immune function – this is also dependent on cortisol levels falling adequately to allow the immune system to do its thing. Sleep deprivation impacts brain chemistry production too, which can lend itself to depression and/or anxiety, which can already be an issue with hormone issues.
The third consideration is to live as clean and non-toxic a life as possible. We talked about the issue with xenoestrogens in the post about dietary considerations, since food and water can be a source of those; but some also come from toxic cleaning products, the containers we use (especially soft plastics) and our environment. Suggestions here might include not getting regular amalgam fillings that contain mercury, minimizing vaccine exposure, having an air purifier in your house, switching to natural personal care and cleaning products and installing a whole-house water filtration system. It all makes a difference to your health. Toxins also fuel inflammation which can worsen hormone issues.
Finally, stress management is really crucial. Stress definitely contributes to hormone-related symptoms and imbalances. For one, stress impacts the adrenals significantly. When a stressor impacts the body, the first thing the adrenals will do is pump out more cortisol – it’s a coping mechanism, allowing the body to deal with whatever stress came along. The analogy we always hear is that if a bear comes along, we want that cortisol surge to be able to run away from it. But what if the bear moves in with us? Stress that is chronic will gradual erode adrenal health; cortisol levels will ultimately fall and we get into adrenal exhaustion. This impacts energy, sleep quality, immune function, ability to detoxify – and more. Chronic stress is insidious, and sometimes we don’t see the true impact until we’re in total depletion.
Step one is reducing stress where possible. Look at the five biggest stressors in your life, and see if you can find small ways to reduce them. One example of me was my bookkeeping. I would do my bookkeeping every day because I’m the type of person to be right on top of my finances. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it was just one more thing on my plate, I dreaded it, and when I am traveling and trying to switch off on vacation, I would still have to do it, or risk getting behind and having to play catch up later. Well finally I hired a bookkeeper to do all my books. Whew! What a relief. It’s not a massive change but it’s big for me – and I’m constantly relieved that I don’t have to do it. If you can find things like that too, to just take a few of the loads off, it all adds up and helps.
Step two is finding ways to manage stress – whether it be exercise, yoga, meditation/mindfulness, journaling or whatever – it’s important to slow down and do some self-care. I’m big on this right now – after all the stress of getting a book published while simultaneously managing my practice and going through IVF therapy, I committed to what I call self-care and soul-care. I signed up for a couple of workshops on self-care for health professionals, am getting weekly counseling, and have been saying no to a few more invitations if I feel they’re going to stretch me too far. I still have a long way to go in this journey, but it feels good to be more aware of it and taking small steps.
These lifestyle factors can all make such a difference in your overall health, including your hormone health and balance. Even small steps in the right direction add up, so don’t discount those small choices you can make every day – they’ll add up and make a significant difference over time.