I talk a lot about how the body changes in your 40s. Do you feel it? More easily irritated. Brain fog. Tired, worn out. Can’t lose weight. You start to ache. Digestion slows, can’t eat certain foods, bloat, heartburn, constipation. Allergies you never had before. It’s hormones. And they begin to wane as early as your 20s.
Fast forward to menopause--when estrogen and progesterone really tank start to tank, and you feel all those things, some doctor’s say that’s your body’s way of saying, you’ve lived out your usefulness. Bye. What?! In 2017, how is that possible? To think a 50-something woman has lived out her usefulness because she no longer has a period? Maybe if all we’re good for is procreating—but we’re not monkeys anymore! Yet that’s what the body does.
Simply put, hormones are critical, they are what tell your body to grow or to atrophy. And if you’re over 25, they’ve already started to decline. By 40 you feel it. The good news? Diet can help you big time and will make or break your hormone health! ((OPENER))
The first thing you notice, is you can’t abuse your body like you maybe once did. Working out too hard or having too many cocktails—is now a three day recovery. The reality is, you’re at a crossroad: get serious about your health, feel good into your 80s and 90s like some of the nutrition gurus of past ((pic of Jack LaLanne) or, continue as you are, while the abysmal symptoms of aging become your daily reality.
The first order of business is to understand what hormones even are—this week’s Part 1. Then in part 2, we’ll talk about ways to support them, healthful things you can do now for your hormones and endocrine system!
Let’s get started now. Hormones are very complicated and I’m no endocrinologist—but I do understand the balance is critical. You have at least 50 different hormones in the body. They are the body’s chemical messengers and control everything from metabolism to homeostasis to growth to sexual activity to muscle contraction. Here are the biggies.
The thyroid. You’ve heard the occasional friend say “I’m hypothyroid!” and rant on about how she’s tired, gaining weight and feeling cold. This is a chronic health problem today—sluggish thyroid. The thyroid gland is located in the neck, and produces hormones T3s, T4s, and it’s responsible for growth and metabolism. Hypothyroid means low metabolism, fatigue. The causes? Could be toxicity from radiation or heavy metal exposure, iodine and/or selenium deficiency, food allergies or intolerance (gluten and casein), and hormone imbalance—usually caused by too much cortisol or stress, too many low quality carbs/sugars in the diet and not enough good fat. Your metabolism naturally starts to slow at age 20. You heard me, 20. Then we speed up this slowing down process with our anti-nutrient diet, ripe with processed and denatured foods. In the end, we’re tired, we’re tanking.
Then there’s insulin, produced by the pancreas. It tells cells to uptake sugar from the blood to place in the cells to store for energy. However, many people have more sugar coursing through their blood then their insulin and cells can handle. Thanks to our crap-can Standard American/Canadian Diet (SAD), insulin is called on too much. Our cells become inundated with sugar, more then they can handle, and insulin is constantly poking at the cells to get the sugar inside. After repeated abuse, cells malfunction and stop listening to their insulin receptors—they ignore them. This is called insulin resistance and it’s a precursor to diabetes.
Are you on that track? This is easily measured through a fasting glucose test. Many doctors give you the A-ok if you’re in the 20-180 range—that’s a wide range—I don’t trust it. For most people this number should be below 30. The 40-50 range could indicate the beginnings of insulin issues. The bad, bad news? These numbers go up every year as you age, if you don’t actively change your diet and decrease your sugar intake, insulin resistance becomes another symptom of the Standard American Diet, or aging, depending on how you look at it.
Next, your adrenals: The adrenal glands are just above the kidneys. They create aldosterone for fluid and electrolyte balance, which decreases with time and can create a drop in blood pressure with sudden position changes—ever get dizzy on the swings? Never used to. The adrenals also release cortisol, the famous stress response hormone. And as I said a moment ago, the effect of cortisol from stress on our bodies… is a killer. Cortisol should decline with age, but not so in our fast-paced stress-filled world. With cortisol coursing through our stressed-out veins, it ends up being a stealer hormone. Meaning it steals nutrient supplies from other hormones to make more cortisol. Why? Because cortisol is king; more important then all the others because your very survival, youcould depend on it.
If I’m faced with a life/death scenario, I’d rather have a ripe supply of cortisol so I can Rambo-down on my attacker, vs say DHEA, because I fancy taut skin and a tight derriere. I choose life over vanity any day. Unfortunately, in 2017, our stress is of the benign kind, and we never get to release that cortisol the way we’re meant to, not sitting at a desk or in traffic or yelling at the kids to get off PS4. Eventually after years of this non-life-or-death-stress, adrenal fatigue can set in. That looks like depression, insomnia, aches, brain fog—sounds like a lot of hormonal imbalances, don’t it?!
Then there are the youth hormones: growth hormone and DHEA. Some even call them the fountain of youth. Why? Because (at least when you’re young) HGH increases muscle mass, bone density and length, decreases body fat, and stimulate metabolism—the way cells breakdown food energy and make the substances needed by the body. This starts to decline in your 20s. 20s! Then there’s DHEA, made from cholesterol by the adrenal glands. Some people use DHEA hoping it will increase endurance and muscle strength, energy, decrease fat, and boost immunity, but this isn’t proven and doctors warn of nasty side effects. Advice to those wanting to jump on the youth hormone train—it’s probably best to try and keep them coursing through the body via a wholefoods diet, weight bearing exercise and interval training—as I will explain in Part 2.
Finally, in this oversimplified tutorial, there are sex hormones. As we age, both men and women experience a decline in testosterone. Low testosterone creates loss of lean muscle mass, lowered sex drive, low energy and mood swings. Estrogen is more complicated (it’s a mostly female hormone after all) and people can experience estrogen dominance as they age. Too much estrogen related to progesterone can produce mood swings, bloating, fybroids, insomnia and anxiety, even after menopause! Then there’s estrogen decline. Low estrogen occurs typically during/ after menopause, and that can feel like hot flashes, mental fog, night sweats, forgetfulness, anxiety, insomnia, depression, fatigue—sounds and looks like the body is saying a long good-bye to life. Yikes.
As you can see, there is a lot that can go wrong. However, the endocrine system can be greatly supported with quality whole unprocessed clean food, natural supplements, and good lifestyle habits. Even to the extent that the symptoms we just assume are ‘part of getting older’ could actually vanish. That’s coming up in Part 2! How to solve this, better stay tuned!