Hormones only account for about 5% of your health, but when that 5% gets out of whack, the other 95% doesn't work. Hormones are chemicals that carry messages from your organs to the cells in your body, and they are involved in just about every biological process.
All day and all night, Leptin is being released into our blood. Leptin's job is to communicate to our brain how much fat we're carrying and whether or not we are hungry. Typically, if our blood Leptin levels are low, our bodies say, "I'm hungry! Feed me!" Leptin levels rise as we eat so that our bodies know when enough's enough. However, if a person is overweight or obese they will be resistant to the effects of Leptin, and although their Leptin levels will be high, it won't communicate the feeling of satiety or fullness to their brain. So what's the solution?
Well, you could inject Leptin every day for the rest of your life. But who wants to do that?
If you're overweight or obese, you should bring your blood Leptin levels back to normal by losing weight. But, duh!
This might come as a surprise to you, but don't take the fat out of your diet. Leptin is produced in your fat cells, so if you take out the fat, your body will hold on to every last pound in fear that, soon, there won't be any fat left. In fact, you should increase your fat intake. I'm talking fish, avocados, extra virgin olive oil, and nuts. Not steaks and french fries. Definitely don't try fasting either. It might help lower your Leptin levels short term, but they'll jump right back up once you start eating... and eating... and eating again.
Being the caring trainer I am, here are five things you can do without spending money... or putting a needle in your skin.
1. Get some sun!
30 minutes a day of bright sunlight is sufficient.
2. Get some Zzzzz's!
When you're tired, sleep. When you wake up, get up! Listen to your body. Be consistent, too. Falling asleep at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning is ideal. You should also sleep in complete darkness, because even the tiniest amount of light creeping in can disturb your body's production of melatonin. If you're a scaredy cat who needs a nightlight, use a yellow bulb that filters out the blue spectrum.
The benefits don't stop there! While you're sleeping soundly you're producing melatonin, which supports your immune system, slows aging and cell damage, improves energy, and has been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
3. Get your rear in gear!
Whatever it is, do it. Every day. You can even kill two birds with one stone by getting outdoors and getting some sun while you run. Or hike. Or jog. Or walk.
4. Slow down.
Moving at the speed of light is fun, but the five minutes you spend meditating does something for your buns, and your head.
Ghrelin (GRAY-LEEN) is a hormone produced in your belly and intestines, and it tells your brain when your stomach is empty. Ghrelin is also notorious for slowing metabolism and decreasing your body's ability to burn fat. When you feel hungry, it means your ghrelin levels have increased. If you don't answer the call, it calls again. And again. And again. And your ghrelin levels continue rising until you're so famished, you want to eat an entire Sizzler buffet spread. (That means starving yourself doesn't work!) It takes about 30 minutes for ghrelin levels to return to normal after you're done eating.
Ghrelin also plays a very important role in sleep. If your ghrelin levels are inadequate, you might sleep a full eight hours, but you won't reap the benefits of a full night's rest. If your ghrelin levels are imbalanced, you will wake up tired the next day and have less dreams, and since dreaming promotes Leptin production, you'll end up back at the buffet tomorrow.
So what do you do?
1. Don't skip breakfast.
Most people who are obese report that they don't feel hungry after they wake up. But the number one risk factor for obesity is skipping breakfast. Your brain goes into crazy famine mode and shuts down your metabolism.
2. Drink a glass of water.
(If you want to get super-charged, add psyllium fiber.) A lot of us confuse thirst with hunger, so the best thing to do is drink a glass of water and then wait 10 minutes. If you still feel hungry, go for it.
3. Eat slowly.
By the time you sit down to eat, your ghrelin levels have already started to drop. When you eat slower, you have a better chance of feeling satisfied by eating less food.
4. Pay attention to what you're eating.
If you're watching Jersey Shore while you eat, you're way more likely to pig out. If you focus on what you're eating, you might actually get the memo that you're full.
Insulin acts as a messenger, transporting glucose into our cells to use as fuel for later. When carbohydrates or sugars are absorbed from the intestines into the bloodstream, which raises blood sugar, the Pancreas produces insulin. Insulin stops the use of fat as an energy source, so when insulin isn't being produced, the cells don't store the glucose and the body begins to use fat as an energy source.
Insulin resistance, which leads to type 2 diabetes, occurs when your cells stop using insulin properly. You keep feeding your body junk, in mass quantities, way too often, so your blood sugar is constantly high and your cells starve for energy because your pancreas can't keep up with the amount of insulin your cells require. Keep it up and you're at serious risk for heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney disease, nerve damage, gum infections, and amputation.
There's no cure for Diabetes, so here's a tip: DON'T GET IT IN THE FIRST PLACE!
1. Eat your fiber.
Whole grains, oat bran, barley, fruits, vegetables, and nuts are all high in soluble fiber, which have no calories because they pass through your body completely.
2. Get happy!
Carbohydrates boost seratonin, but only temporarily. And the side effect is that you end up with a bigger appetite and a fatter ass. Instead, close your mouth, get more sleep and have as much sex as you want!
3. Eat smaller and better meals, more frequently.
The larger the meal, or the greater the quantity of simple sugars consumed, the larger the insulin response. This is why it is best to eat small frequent meals and limit consumption of sugar and processed bread, pasta and rice. The whole grain (non-processed) versions of those products are much healthier choices.
I keep talking about stress and telling you NOT to do it. Now I'm going to tell you why. Picture this: when you are stressed your body releases two hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. Adrenaline fades quickly after the stress is resolved, but cortisol hangs on like an obnoxious admirer. Your body might think you ran a marathon, which then tells your brain that you need to refuel ASAP. You take that as a green light to indulge in junk, and then you wonder why you're suddenly 10 pounds heavier. Every time you stress, it's a predictable scene of you going postal, followed by massive cortisol production, food overload, and weight gain. Crazy, right? Cortisol is also produced following spikes in insulin, which occur when you eat white bread, white pasta, white rice, white sugar and other refined grains. ie: Junk. Here's more: cortisol is particularly attracted to belly fat, which is the only fat on the body associated with death. Fat belly = heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and cancer. But women are stress-free creatures, so we don't have to worry about that. *Sarcasm*
Changes in hormonal balance are largely dependent on the lifestyle we lead. A significant or sudden change in lifestyle, circumstances or attitude, such as losing your job, getting divorced, getting knocked up and popping out a baby, can fuck up your entire well-balanced system. That's why even though you might be doing the same things that you were doing five years ago, the skinny jeans just aren't fitting. You might not be able to duplicate your lifestyle or circumstances; you're a different Bitch now. But there was something you were feeling then that gave your hormones permission to chill out. Now you're stressing. Here's how to stop:
1. Cut out caffeine.
One Tall order of your favorite brew will elevate your cortisol levels by 30% in one hour, and cortisol remains elevated for up to 18 hours in the blood. There goes your entire fat-burning day.
2. Stabilize your blood sugar.
This one isn't hard. Eat frequent, small meals and keep them balanced with protein, complex carbohydrates (none of that white bread shit) and good fats like the ones in avocados, nuts, seeds, and olives. Diets that are rich in complex carbs are more effective at lowering cortisol levels than the low or no-carb diets like Atkins.
When you get off your lazy buns and move, you increase levels of seratonin and dopamine in your brain, which are brain chemicals that reduce anxiety and depression.
4. Chill out!
Meditate. Listen to relaxing music. Here's one I like: lie down for 10 minutes and focus on your breathing. Don't tell me you don't have 10 minutes.
5. Go to sleep.
Sleep is not a luxury! It is a necessity. Remember the last time you were sleep deprived? I bet you were slow, sloppy, and incredibly sour. I also bet you didn't know that during sleep is the only time your body repairs itself. Night Night!
ESTROGEN & PROGESTERONE
These two are the main reproductive hormones, but both are also responsible for a variety of non-sexual functions. Besides regulating the menstrual period, estrogen keeps the heart, bones and blood vessels healthy and operational. Estrogen also impacts a woman's skin, hair, breasts, mucous membranes, urinary and reproductive tracts, pelvic muscles, and her brain. Progesterone helps use fat for energy, is a natural diuretic, promotes sleep, enhances mood, and reduces the symptoms of estrogen dominance.
An imbalance in these hormones can be caused by a number of things. Like, too much caffeine, chronic stress, insulin resistance, having an affair with the drive-thru attendant, and texting as your main source of exercise. There are environmental factors as well, such as consuming non-organic fruits and vegetables, and hormone-fed cows and poultry. The biggest culprit of environmental-driven estrogen and progesterone imbalances are hormones in beef. (Reason number 20,810 you shouldn't eat fast food hamburgers!) These hormones are present in men too, so when your guy gets crabby on you, you know what to blame.
Imbalances have pretty crummy attributes too. If a woman's estrogen is too high (also known as estrogen dominance) she might experience anxiety, headaches, sore tits, bloating, weight gain, mood swings, exhaustion, hair loss, temporary amnesia, insomnia, irregular periods, and an aversion to sex. Or as most of us call it: PMS. More critically though, long-term imbalances can lead to mineral deficiencies, unstable blood sugar, infertility, gallblader and thyroid disease, breast cancer, uterine cancer, cancer of the ovaries, and stroke. Yikes! Generally speaking, women have an excess of estrogen in relation to progesterone anyway. Ironically, you might experience the very same symptoms if you are estrogen deficient. The good news is that there is one solution for both problems, so you can relax.
By the time women are in their late thirties or early forties, their ovaries can't produce enough progesterone to match up with their estrogen and they begin menopause. Early menopause can also be triggered by smoking cigarettes, being a fat ass, certain racial or ethnic factors, being broke, being sick, and of course the surgical removal of the uterus and or both ovaries. I'm smart, but I don't have a PhD, so if you believe you're going through menopause or are experiencing peri-menopausal symptoms, consult a physician.
I could be a smarty pants and give you a bunch of big words that only a mutant would understand, but the solution is really simple: the two biggest things a woman can do to counter this imbalance are stop stressing out and stop eating like crap. And if by now you don't know the difference between good food and crap, you deserve a medal, because even I am speechless.
Here's my humble advice for blocking estrogen, increasing progesterone, and bringing these two hormones back into balance.
1. Get more sleep!
Apparently sleep is really important for maintaining a balanced body and lifestyle, since it also helps balance your leptin and insulin as well. In the case of these two hormones, a full 8 hours will stop you from pigging out during the day and will help you stay in control of what food goes in your mouth.
2. Stop stressing out.
When your body produces more cortisol, the stress hormone, your progesterone levels decrease. FYI: Stress hormones block weight loss. Enough said.
3. Eat a REAL diet.
Seriously, do I need to repeat myself? Diets that are high in sugar lessen progesterone, so no more white pastas, white rice, and refined sugars. You should also beware of hormones in beef and poultry, and avoid bacon, beer, licorice and sausage. (Not your boyfriend's sausage. Have as much of that as you want!) To block estrogen, incorporate barley, legumes, apples, flax seed, tomatoes, garbanzo beans, tofu, and the fats in avocados, nuts, olives, and seeds. Women can even double their weight loss by eating 1 oz of nuts or seeds a day. Other foods that flush away estrogen deposits are the leafy greens, such as cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower and spinach. If you're especially wild, like me, you can also increase your intake of seafood, reduce your consumption of meat to a few times of week and buy only organic, hormone-free meat and poultry.
4. Check your Birth Control.
High doses of estrogen in birth control pills can lead to weight gain and water retention. The weight gain is temporary and will more than likely go away when you stop taking it, but using a pill with lower levels of estrogen can reduce the bloating, swelling and weight gain. Again, I'm not a doctor, so talk with someone who is before you make the switch.
Another option is to try a natural progesterone cream, such as one made from wild yams. It's not a substitute for the information above, but while you're eating your 1 oz of nuts, (Again, not talking about your boyfriend!) doing sudoku, and taking a nap, you can add this to the list and thank me later.
Most women associate this hormone with meathead men. While women only produce about one tenth of the amount of testosterone as men, it does play into our bodies' natural functions. We need testosterone for ovarian function, muscle building, bone strength, normal brain function, sexual behavior and libido.
A woman's testosterone levels are highest in her early twenties and begin to decline as she ages or because of poor nutrition. If a woman is testosterone deficient, she lacks the ability to build muscle mass no matter how much she works out. She might also suffer from low libido and depression. While there is no imminent danger to your health for low levels of testosterone, there are risks and damages. The biggest being osteoporosis, since this hormone plays a vital role in bone strength.
Symptoms of testosterone dominance include acne, smaller tits, facial hair, spontaneous male-pattern balding, rough skin, and suddenly sounding like John instead of Jane. But most women don't have that problem. Symptoms of testosterone deficiency include fatigue, depression, dry vagina, sex that hurts, missing periods, hot flashes, belly fat, and an embarrassing number of bogus orgasms.
Bring your testosterone back up to healthy levels by increasing your intake of good fats, such as avocados, fish, flax, olive and peanut oil, adding foods that are high in zinc and magnesium, such as legumes, grains, yogurt, nuts and seeds, and shellfish, and getting plenty of foods that are high in vitamin B6 like, wheat brain, bananas, watermelons, baked potatoes (with the skins), spinach, turnip greens, broccoli, bell peppers, asparagus, garbanzo beans, lima beans, cauliflower, chicken, pork, beef, rainbow trout, cod, snapper, halibut, salmon and tuna. Feel free to have one glass of wine with your vitamin and mineral-rich meal, but no more. And of course by now you must think I'm a total nymphomaniac, but it's really very true: a woman's naturally occuring testosterone levels drop off after a week of no sex, so get some... at least once a week.
I hope some of you aren't tempted to seek dangerous alternatives for balancing your hormones, since we've given you so many healthy alternatives. I may be wild, but I NEVER advocate the use of supplements, in fact I'm against them. Just in case I haven't gotten through, hormones such as synthetic testosterone, HGH, and Leptin have extremely costly and irreversible side effects. Women taking anabolic steroids experience thickening of the vocal cords resulting in a deeper male voice, male pattern baldness, facial hair growth, enlargement of the clitoris, breast tissue shrinkage, menstrual irregularities, infertility, glucose intolerance and extreme acne. For both men and women who use anabolic steroids there is increased aggression, rage reactions known as "roid rage", altered libido, anxiety and panic disorders, psychosis, depression, mania, and various other types of addictions. High blood pressure, an increase in bad cholesterol (LDL) and decrease in good cholesterol (HDL), heart attacks, strokes, liver dysfunction, cancers of the cardiovascular, hormonal, reproductive and nervous systems, and blood clots in the lungs have also been reported. Totally not worth it. Eat nuts instead.