From the monthly rollercoaster of our menstrual cycle to the unpredictable changes that come with pregnancy, perimenopause, and other events in our lives, the fluctuations in our hormones sometimes leave us feeling powerless. Although we might not be in total control of what happens to our bodies during hormonal changes, we are in control of certain lifestyle habits that can be detrimental to our health. From poor sleep to chronic stress to inactivity, some of our daily routines have a negative (though avoidable) impact on our health.
1. Poor Sleep Habits
We all know it is crucial to maintain healthy hormone levels because our hormones play a significant role in our overall wellbeing. Sadly, one of the most common lifestyle habits that can negatively affect our hormones is poor sleep habits. Poor sleep quality not only leaves us feeling groggy in the morning and unable to focus on our daily tasks, but it also disrupts the natural balance of hormones in our body and affects our mood, and overall quality of life.
Sleep disturbances can lead to obesity, diabetes, and disruption of many hormones including leptin and ghrelin, two important hormones that regulate appetite and fullness. Poor sleep also affects our growth hormones, cortisol, and melatonin levels. It’s very important to get enough sleep each night to ensure your body can properly function when you are awake. This means getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night, creating a consistent sleep schedule, and making your sleep environment as comfortable, peaceful, and relaxing as possible.
2. Sedentary Lifestyle
Living a sedentary lifestyle can lead to hormonal imbalances which are detrimental to our health over time. With increasing demands on our daily lives and with many people working sedentary jobs, it is easy to fall into the trap of prolonged sitting with limited activity. This sedentary lifestyle can cause a range of health problems from obesity to diabetes to heart problems. An inactive lifestyle also promotes insulin resistance which can cause increase in blood sugar, and the development of type 2 diabetes, weight gain, and excessive male hormones.
Regular exercise plays a crucial role in regulating cortisol and other hormones in the body. Even simple exercises like brisk walking or practicing yoga can have a significant impact on your hormones. Exercise can also regulate growth hormones which are important for tissue repair and muscle growth. Incorporating regular physical activity into your daily routine can also help promote hormonal balance. If you find yourself sitting for prolonged periods, consider taking mini breaks throughout the day to keep your body moving. On the opposite spectrum, over-exercising is not beneficial as it can put a lot of stress on the body, increase cortisol production, and disrupt other hormones.
3. Poor Diet
What we eat has a huge impact on our health and wellbeing. Consuming a diet high in sugar, unhealthy fats, and processed foods can cause hormonal imbalances which subsequently lead to weight gain and other health problems. An unhealthy diet can lead to an increase in insulin resistance which increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A diet deficient in the nutrients the body needs can disrupt the production of hormones like thyroid hormones and sex hormones.
When we consume too many unhealthy foods, our bodies can experience imbalances in insulin and leptin, two hormones that are important for regulating our appetite and metabolism. This can lead to weight gain and other health problems like insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
To maintain balance, it is important to focus on a healthy and natural diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and lean proteins. Eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods can also help keep your hormones and health in check. Instead of reaching for sugary snacks or processed foods when hungry, try incorporating more whole foods into your diet. Foods like leafy greens, berries, nuts, and seeds are all great choices for promoting hormonal balance.
4. Excessive Alcohol Intake
Alcohol in moderation is generally considered safe and, in some cases, even beneficial. Alcoholic beverages like red wine, which is rich in polyphenols, can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Too much alcohol, on the other hand, can have a negative impact on our entire body. Excessive alcohol consumption can cause damage to the liver, an organ that plays a crucial role in regulating hormone levels in the body.
Chronic alcohol consumption can lead to disruptions in the communication pathways between the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems causing profound hormo
nal instabilities in different parts of the body. Chronic use of alcohol can also lead to imbalances in glucose, insulin, testosterone, estrogen, parathyroid hormone (regulates calcium and bone structure), cortisol, and several other hormones. This can manifest as many illnesses including stress, osteoporosis, menstrual irregularities, thyroid problems, immune dysfunction, reproductive deficits, and behavioral disorders. It is important to only drink in moderation, if you have too.
You most likely know smoking can damage your lungs, heart, and other organs. But did you know that smoking can also impact your hormonal balance in so many ways? Nicotine (the main component of cigarettes) and other toxic components of cigarettes can lead to various endocrine imbalances in the body. Nicotine can disrupt pituitary, thyroid, testicular, ovarian, and adrenal functions. Smoking is associated with an increased risk of hormonal imbalances, including a decrease in testosterone levels. Women who smoke have been shown to have higher levels of testosterone (male hormones) and lower levels of free estradiol (female reproductive hormone) compared to non-smokers. This can lead to a range of health issues, from decreased libido to muscle loss and infertility.
Smoking has also been linked to increased cortisol levels in the blood leading to chronic stress as well as insulin and blood sugar irregularities. Smoking can also lead to a complicated menopause accompanied by hair loss and facial hair in women due to imbalance in the production of estrogen and progesterone. In addition to hormonal imbalances, cigarettes also increase the risk of other serious diseases like heart disease, lung diseases, and breast cancer. Women who smoke are more likely to age faster, have skin problems, experience fertility issues, and have menstrual problems.
6. Chronic Stress
We juggle multiple responsibilities, so it is not uncommon to feel stressed from our various work, family, and personal commitments. When you are stressed, your body releases cortisol, a hormone that plays an important role in the body's "fight or flight" response. However, when cortisol levels remain consistently high due to chronic stress, it can lead to hormonal imbalances that can affect your overall wellbeing. Chronic stress affects other hormones, such as sex and thyroid hormones.
So, how can you minimize the impact of stress on your health?
First, try to identify your stressors and eliminate them where possible. Incorporating relaxation techniques into your daily routine is also a great place to start. Try yoga, meditation, and deep breathing; or simply take a few moments to yourself each day. Finding ways to unwind and relax can also regulate cortisol levels and promote hormonal balance.
7. Exposure to Endocrine Disruptors
We are exposed to many chemicals daily including harmful ones known as endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors are natural or man-made chemicals that interfere with or mimic our natural body hormones. Endocrine disruptors generally interfere with our natural hormonal balance and have negative effects on our health. One of the most common endocrine disruptors is Bisphenol A (BPA) which is found in linings of canned foods, some plastic bottles, and cash registers. BPA has been linked to an increase in estrogen production as well as several diseases including cancers, obesity, and infertility.
Endocrine disrupters can also be found in everyday items like certain plastics, food, toys, cosmetics, detergents, liners of metal food cans, pesticides, and even beauty products. The good news is that there are steps you can take to reduce your exposure to toxic endocrine disruptors and protect your hormonal health. One way is to limit your use of plastic products and choose glass or metal containers instead. You can also opt for organic foods and use natural beauty and cleaning products which are less likely to contain harmful chemicals. Other environmental toxins that can affect your hormones include pesticides, lead, and mercury.
8. Too Little Sun
Limited exposure to sunlight can be risky to our health because the sun provides more than just light and warmth. Sunlight improves sleep, reduces stress, fights depression, regulates weight, and can prolong our life. Sunlight strengthens our bones, regulates our immune system, and may even reduce blood pressure. Exposure to sunlight helps our bodies produce Vitamin D which is essential for maintaining healthy hormone levels and our overall wellbeing. Unlike other vitamins that are present in food, Vitamin D is synthesized in the skin through the processes of a photosynthetic reaction triggered by direct exposure to sunlight. Thus, the most common reason for Vitamin D deficiency is inadequate exposure to sunlight. Unfortunately, many women do not routinely get enough sun exposure which can lead to a deficiency in Vitamin D and other hormonal imbalances.
Vitamin D is also critical because over 1000 genes in the body are regulated by the active form of Vitamin D (1,25 dihydroxyvitamin D3). Vitamin D deficiency leads to bone disorders in children (rickets), and in adults it can exacerbate osteoporosis and osteomalacia (bone softening). Vitamin D is involved in the production of hormones like testosterone. To ensure that you are getting enough Vitamin D, spend more time outdoors in the sun (with sunscreen to protect your skin from premature aging, cancer, and sunburn) and discuss the option of Vitamin D supplementation with your healthcare provider.
9. Poor Gut Health
Good gut health is essential for attaining balanced hormones. Eating a nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory diet can support a healthy gut lining while providing nutrients needed for hormone production. Since the gut plays a crucial role in regulating hormones in the body, an unhealthy gut can lead to hormonal imbalances. For instance, the microbiome of the gut plays a major role in estrogen regulation, and when gut health is not optimal, there is an increased risk of estrogen-related diseases, such as breast cancer, PCOS, and endometriosis.
Poor health gut also affects many other hormones. Your body absorbs nutrients from the gut and uses them as building blocks for cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, and thyroid hormones. When the gut is in disequilibrium, some of these critical functions fail and the body cannot produce the hormones we need in the right quantities. Poor gut health can cause inflammation which can negatively impact our immune system and endocrine balance. Incorporating fiber, probiotics, and natural digestive enzymes into our routine is beneficial for promoting a healthy gut.
Over-the-counter and prescription medications can affect our endocrine system and disrupt the process of hormone production in our body even when used as directed. Some of these effects are beneficial while some are not. For instance, the use of metformin to manage high sugar levels, or levothyroxine to improve the symptoms of hypothyroidism, are both beneficial effects of medications that act on our hormones.
Some other medications, such as birth control pills and steroids, can affect the natural balance of hormones in the body just by the way they work. Birth control pills works by introducing synthetic hormones into our bodies to modify and disrupt our natural hormones in order to prevent pregnancy. In some cases, some of these changes in our natural hormone pattern will have undesirable outcomes, such as changes in mood, weight gain, decrease in energy, and decrease in libido. Steroids, often used for treating conditions like asthma or arthritis, can also have negative effects on hormonal balance in chronic use.
We know how crucial it is to maintain a healthy hormonal balance for our overall health and wellbeing. By prioritizing healthy sleep habits, stress management, regular physical activity, and a balanced and healthy diet, we can promote hormonal balance and support our overall health and wellbeing.