Each part of our bodies, our heart, brain, digestive system, have specific roles to play. Yet, they all must interact with each other so that we live and function at our best. Hormones from our endocrine system act as messengers traveling to our organs to tell them what to do and when to do it. When our hormones get out of balance, we may start to feel sluggish, have mood and appetite changes, experience loss of libido, and even notice changes in our skin.
While our hormones naturally change with age, imbalances can occur from various lifestyle and environmental factors. Women in perimenopause during their late forties can experience a decrease in progesterone as well as testosterone levels creating sleep disturbances and loss of muscle mass. Throw in a high stress job, kids’ activities, and caring for aging parents, and you have the potential for adrenal and cortisol imbalances. Managing all of this can be tricky. While some women may ramp up their HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts which are great for boosting growth hormone and testosterone levels to boost metabolism and restore muscle mass, if you’re already in a state of sympathetic overload – the fight/flight/freeze status that comes with chronic stress, you could be adding more fuel to the fire. Instead, more gentle forms of exercise such as yoga, biking or walking in nature can be incorporated into an exercise routine to bring balance and allow the adrenals to reset.
Then, there’s nutrition. When following a very SAD (standard American) diet, inflammatory foods can wreak havoc on insulin levels as well as the thyroid. Insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome is a leading cause of chronic disease as well as health care dollars spent in our country. Diets high in processed foods can trigger the immune system leading to autoimmune thyroiditis. An inflamed thyroid and abnormal thyroid hormone can then lead to hair and skin changes, chronic fatigue, as well as heart disease. In fact, one study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital showed that women with higher risk factors for cardiovascular disease were more vulnerable to the effects of even mild hypothyroidism. Increasing our intake of whole foods and organic fruits and vegetables, can not only decrease inflammation through phytonutrients, but increase our daily fiber intake. This leads to improved elimination of waste and hormone metabolites. When our digestive tracts are not moving adequately, hormone metabolites can be reabsorbed into our circulation. These metabolites may not only be toxic but can further alter the activity of the endocrine system and hormone production.
What else can we do when we’re eating well and exercising appropriately? This is where Functional Medicine can help. By taking a personalized, deeper dive into health, we can optimize wellbeing by evaluating hormone levels, the microbiome, genetics, cardiometabolic risk factors and more. With this knowledge, we can create a plan using lifestyle modification, nutrition plans, nutriceuticals, bioidentical hormones, and appropriate medications when indicated to restore balance so you can look and feel your best.