Most people are familiar with the hormonal changes that take place in women as they age, called menopause. But few people know that men experience similar changes over their lifetime as well. In addition, there are many more hormones in the body than just estrogen or testosterone. For the sake of clarity, this article will discuss hormone imbalance in adults. Hormone imbalance in children is another subject altogether.
What Are Hormones?
Hormones are the chemical messengers in the body. They are carried throughout the body in the bloodstream, so they are measurable by blood tests. Hormones work slowly over time and the body functions best when hormone levels are kept steady.
Hormones are made in the endocrine glands. The major endocrine glands are the pituitary, the pineal, thymus, thyroid, adrenal glands and the pancreas. Additionally, men produce hormones in the testes and women produce hormones in the ovaries.
Hormones are powerful substances that control a number of functions. Hormones regulate many processes including growth and development of the human body, metabolism, sexual function, reproduction and mood.
Different endocrine glands regulate different functions, and all of them work together to maintain homeostasis.
The body functions best when hormones are in balance, but it is surprisingly easy for them to become imbalanced. Hormones can become imbalanced in a variety of ways, but many of them stem from over-processed foods, environmental toxins and stress, and it doesn't matter if someone is a man or woman.
- The Food/Stress Cycle:
One of the most common hormone imbalances is the food/stress cycle. What happens is that when food is consumed, it causes blood sugar to rise. The hormone, insulin, is then released to distribute that sugar to the various cells throughout the body. Usually this process works well, regardless of sex.
However, in the hurried day-to-day lives that nearly everyone leads, it is common for the body to be inundated with refined carbohydrates, like white sugar, or foods that break down into simple sugar like potatoes. When this happens, the body has to try and compensate by releasing extra insulin in an attempt to use that sugar. This leads to the "crash" after the candy bar, so to speak. And because this whole process adds to stress levels in the body, cortisol, also known as "the stress hormone", increases sharply. This increase can cause sleep disturbances as well as causing a disruption in other hormones.
- Environmental Toxins:
Many of the products men and women use every day expose them to toxins that can greatly influence hormone levels. These substances often mimic hormones in the body and when they leach into the products that are consumed they can cause fluctuation which result in a number of problems.
Bisphenol A, also known as BPA, is a chemical found in plastics. This substance mimics the hormone estrogen in the human body, and while that may not sound too bad, it really is. Some cancerous cells thrive on estrogen, so elevated levels could cause cancerous cells to develop and spread. In addition, elevated levels are linked to obesity, which has a whole host of problems associated with it.
Check plastic containers for the triangle marking that is typically on the bottom. If it has a 3, 6, or 7 in it, get rid of that container. These are the containers that leach the most BPA into foods and drinks.
Phthalates (pronounced they-lates) are another substance that mimic hormone action and have been shown to decrease levels of thyroid hormones. This can lead to obesity and fatigue. Phthalates are often found in artificial fragrances, which are used in nearly every cosmetic product on the market for both men and women, from deodorants to shampoo. Products that don't contain phthalates will be labeled so.
- Menopause and Andropause:
Everyone is familiar with menopause, the point in a woman's life where she stops having monthly menstrual cycles and can no longer have children. This whole process is regulated by hormones, or rather the loss of hormones. What many people don't know is that men experience a similar reduction in hormone production as they age called andropause.
Though it is not widely recognized, there is some indication that men experience many of the same bodily changes and mood changes that women do as they age. These hormone changes can affect sexual function and physical appearance. Some symptoms to watch for in a man include depression, trouble sleeping, weight gain, the development of breasts, a condition called gynecomastia and sexual dysfunction. If a man notices any of these symptoms he should see his doctor.
Just as it's easy for hormones to become unbalanced, it's fairly easy to rebalance them again. Here are some simple ways to rebalance hormones without costly pharmaceuticals.
- Eat small, well balanced meals frequently. This will help avoid the spike and crash associated with the food/stress cycle.
- Take a good multi-vitamin and mineral supplement every day
- Exercise regularly
- Establish a bedtime routine that will promote healthy sleep
- Reduce daily stress
If someone is still experiencing difficulties there are many supplements available over-the-counter to help.
- Fish oil supports hormone balance
- Black Cohosh , Arginine, Ginko Biloba, Ginseng, and Damiana can help with the some of the sexual affects of menopause
- Soy has estrogen properties and is widely used for menopause support.
- SAMe and St. John's Wort can help with the depression and anxiety that accompany menopause and andropause.
- Magnesium and CoQ10 are helpful with fatigue. CoQ10 is also helpful with diabetes, another hormone imbalance.
Hormone imbalance can make people feel like they are going crazy. But by simply being mindful of one's diet, and careful about the products one use's, many hormone problems can be avoided. While menopause and andropause can't be avoided, following the same tips can make all the difference between just getting old and growing older gracefully.