How lifestyle can influence your hormones
As those who follow me on my Instagram page may know, I struggle a lot with hormonal balance and seem to be super sensitive to any sort of lifestyle factor in which knocks off my hormones. I feel like for me personally I seem to have the food & movement thing down, it’s not perfect but I try my best with these factors. However, with the whole stress thing, I find it hard to be in the present moment and have a habit of thinking ahead a lot & not realising how hyped up my mind (& body are getting).
As for myself I have experienced a lot of hormonal sensitivities and bad PMS symptoms.
The pain correlated with my cycle has been so bad its landed me in A&E. I’ve also had issues with not having menstruated for long periods at a time, particularly correlated with my increased weight loss, which resolved after my removal of gluten and alteration in diet. I’ve also experienced severe hormonal acne in the past which has been difficult to deal with so hormonal balance is a real interest for me. Now I am currently focusing on stress management and mindfulness to reduce cortisol levels to enable my hormones to regulate naturally and reduce any inflammation that could be influencing my painful cycle.
I just want to highlight that every person will be unique and individual with what they want to concentrate on or what is influencing their own hormonal balance. I wanted to bring awareness to three points which influence hormones and play a vital role in the management of any type of hormonal condition.
Stress plays a crucial part in the production and management of hormones. Stress is known to inhibit the hormones involved in follicular development. This can also lead to inhibition of progesterone synthesis and release. Long term exposure to stress can lead to reproductive impairment of reproductive function.
One study which reviewed dysmenorrhea (period pain) upon women’s stress levels found that women who were experiencing highly stressful situations were increasingly more likely to experience increased levels of pain associated with menstruation. Other studies have found those who are stressed may have a 60% increase in levels of dysmenorrhea. This has not been consistent between all groups of women within relevant studies showing stress may affect women differently.
The link between stress and painful periods is thought to do with progesterone, this hormone has been shown to influence the synthesis of prostaglandins which can affect uterine tissues and vascular tone. An imbalance in prostaglandins can influence the amount of pain you experience on your monthly cycle. Stress hormones themselves including adrenaline and cortisol have also been shown to influence prostaglandin synthesis directly.
The pain experienced is not influenced just by the time of the month but stress at certain points in your cycle, so the whole month’s stressors could be having certain effects on your eventual menstruation. Therefore, it is key to understand how to control stress management all month long and to continuously maintain a habit of this. Stress management techniques can include mindfulness, taking time out for yourself, learning to be present and acute stress management techniques.
Food is obviously my number one thing to talk about since I just love the subject but nutrition is quite underestimated when it comes to hormonal health. A lot of people have the thought of what does what I eat have anything to do with my cycle? In fact, it has a lot to do with your cycle. Having the right nutrient intake will allow the body to form hormones in correct amounts and regulate them throughout the body. Healthy fats have an influence in the production of hormones and are essential to their regulation. These fats include polyunsaturated and mono unsaturated fatty acids and some saturated fats. These can come from sources such as nuts, seeds, oily fish, avocado, ghee, coconut oil.
Maintaining a healthy weight is also important when it comes to regulation of hormones. Too much adipose (fat) tissue can increase levels of oestrogen circulating the body. This is particularly troublesome for those with conditions that are influenced by excess oestrogen for example, endometriosis. Other conditions such as PCOS also produce hormonal alterations. Alternatively, an excessive loss of fat tissue can result in the body not being able to produce hormones and can stop the menstrual cycle all together (Amenorrhoea). This can be caused when an individual’s BMI is below 19.
Omega 3 fatty acids have also been shown to reduce inflammation levels associated with certain gynae long term conditions. High consumption of processed foods containing a lot of saturated and trans fats will increase chances of inflammation within the body. Including a lot of these foods around this time will also reduce the intake of vitamins and minerals which can aid in hormonal production that will come with fruits and vegetables.
Taking care of your gut health through increasing foods with probiotics and taking time with meals with also help with absorption of vitamins and minerals which influence the hormonal production pathway. Turmeric has also been found to reduce prostaglandin levels in certain studies, however the bioavailability of turmeric is a complication but this can be assisted with the consumption of black pepper with supplementation. It is thought that you should take a turmeric supplement a week leading to menstruation if you suffer with increased dysmenorrhea.
I would like to highlight that this isn’t about finding perfection within diet but making small changes which could potentially have a big different in terms of hormonal health.
Low intensity exercise can help lower cortisol levels which are associated with increased pain in the menses. However, over exercising can place more stress on your body, increasing cortisol levels and possibly causing low BMI and low adiposity. Finding a balance with exercise is key. Exercise will also assist with weight management, lowering the amount of oestrogen produced from adipose (fat) tissue.
Exercise will also allow for release of endorphins and chemicals which will help any reduced mood and anxiety that can come with having hormonal issues or a long-term condition. Exercise such as yoga can also be beneficial for stretching and relaxing the nervous system and well as reducing inflammation within the body from a reduction in cortisol levels.
Other exercise can include swimming, biking, rowing and free weights. Finding what works for you and making a habit out of it is essential for regular maintenance of hormones through exercise.
I hope this helps give a little insight into aspects of hormonal health and lifestyle factors, treating conditions through lifestyle interventions is becoming increasing known and for a good reason. By making these changes to your lifestyle, it can have a considerable impact on your mind & body. Happy hormones!
Wang L, Wang X, Wang W, et alStress and dysmenorrhoea: a population based prospective studyOccupational and Environmental Medicine 2004;61:1021-1026.