Harness your hormones
Discover how rebalancing your hormones can turn back the age clock, tame cravings, and get your mojo back.
Do you ever ask yourself, Why do I feel so drained all the time? Why do I wake exhausted and then struggle through the day? These are the tell-tale signs of adrenal fatigue, a condition linked to sub-optimal adrenal function. The adrenals are small endocrine glands that sit on top of each kidney. They are called endocrine glands because they are important hormone factories. These are also essential to survival as they take charge whenever you are threatened, firing up the critical ‘fight or flight’ stress response.
The zest connection
Adrenal fatigue is increasingly prevalent, due to the extraordinary pressures of modern life. The onset of adrenal fatigue can be sudden or manifest over time. This disorder may be the consequence of a major stress event, demanding work pressures, illness, emotional conflict, environmental stress, or simply trying to squeeze more into less time. Eventually stress depletes and weakens the adrenals. Everything becomes an effort and you are less able to handle stress effectively. Poor nutrition, eating on the run and too much coffee exacerbate adrenal fatigue. The main symptom of adrenal fatigue is exhaustion - no matter how much sleep you get, you never feel 100 percent and find it really difficult to get going in the morning.
Specific nutrients are known to support adrenal gland function and aid adrenal recovery, including vitamin C, magnesium, the B-group vitamins. Withania (Withania somnifera) has long been used by Ayurvedic practitioners as a rejuvenating tonic. It is termed an adaptogenic herb as it improves the ability to adapt or deal with stress. Rehmannia (Rehmannia glutinosa) is the supreme adrenal tonic. This highly respected herb has been used extensively in traditional Chinese medicine to enhance vitality and wellbeing in those debilitated by ongoing stress.
Decoding the weight gain puzzle
Nothing is more discouraging than not being able to lose weight, no matter how much time and effort you put in. The truth is diets aren't sustainable, nor is there a magic pill to shed weight. However, fine-tuning your hormone balance is a good place to start to ensure weight loss success. When it comes to weight loss, the most influential hormones are insulin, which controls blood sugar levels, and the thyroid hormones which regulate the metabolic rate.
The human brain is hard-wired to seek out sugar as a source of fuel, and food manufacturers are acutely aware of this powerful biological urge. Our supermarket shelves are stocked with foods loaded with sugar. Even food items that you may think are healthy can contain too much, like muesli bars. Being aware of sources of sugar can help you choose wisely. Check sugar content on the nutritional panel - approximately 1 teaspoon of sugar is the equivalent of 4 grams of sugar.
Health experts link over-consumption of sugar with spiralling obesity rates. A high dietary intake of sugar creates a chain reaction that results in greater insulin production. Too much insulin rapidly depletes blood sugar levels causing ‘reactive hypoglycaemia’, which in turn leads to ravenous cravings for sweets and other refined carbs that put the weight on. A diet that limits refined carbohydrates and emphasises quality proteins and fats is the best strategy to put an end to this cycle of weight gain. Consuming the majority of your daily calories earlier in the day also works well, as insulin sensitivity is heightened in the morning.
When you are trying to lose weight, what you drink is just as important as what you eat. Soft drinks, fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy and vitamin water drinks, sweetened iced tea and cordials are collectively now the primary source of added sugars in the diet. A recent review warns that in addition to weight gain, higher consumption of these sugar-laden beverages is associated with development of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Ditch the fizz and go for filtered water - add some fresh mint for a burst of fragrant flavour.
The butterfly effect
The small butterfly-shaped thyroid gland is located near the front of the throat, just below the voice box. This gland produces the life-sustaining thyroid hormones. Even a slight shortfall can cause fatigue, poor concentration, hair loss, mood problems, and is a leading factor in weight gain. An underactive thyroid, termed hypothyroidism, slows metabolism which leads to weight gain. Dieting is not the answer as calorie deprivation switches off activity of 5-monodiiodinase, the enzyme responsible for activating thyroxine (T4) to the more powerful triiodothyronine (T3), the thyroid hormone that boosts fat burning.
The thyroid is extremely vulnerable to toxins so it is no surprise that thyroid problems are escalating as we are increasingly exposed to environmental pollution. There is a long list of harmful chemicals that irritate and inflame the thyroid. The most dangerous are organochlorine pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), phthalates, heavy metals, halogens, dioxins and furans. Halogens are a class of chemicals that are very closely related. The group includes; fluoride, chlorine, perchlorate, and bromine. Halogens are highly reactive, making them harmful even in small quantities. Iodine is closely related to these compounds but is often crowded out. Iodine supplementation offers the best protection against toxic halogens.
Heavy metals accumulate in the thyroid and disrupt normal thyroid activity. The sensitive thyroid gland can be affected by cadmium, aluminium, arsenic, mercury and lead. Heavy metals can also tip your nutritional balance. For example, mercury displaces selenium, which is the trace mineral critical for conversion of T4 to T3.
To sleep, perchance to slim
Melatonin is often termed the body’s biological time keeper. This hormone is produced at night by the pineal gland within the brain. Melatonin is produced in the absence of light stimulation to keep your sleep/wake cycle in sync; studies also show that optimal melatonin production may assist weight control.
A recent report suggests that some of the increase in obesity observed over the past several decades could be due to disruptions to natural circadian rhythms. Ongoing 24-hour circadian rhythms respond primarily to light and darkness to regulate sleep/wake cycles, hormone release, body temperature and other important body functions.
Natural melatonin production not only falls significantly with age, levels are also affected by shift work, jet lag, viewing television at night, late night computer use and a lack of sunshine. Light exposure at night can disrupt the timing of food intake and other factors that signal weight loss leading to excess weight gain. Getting at least 6-8 hours of restorative sleep in a darkened room can help maintain youthful levels.
Love your leptin
Leptin is a master ‘hunger hormone’ when it comes to appetite control and a healthy body composition. Leptin, from the Greek word leptos which means ‘thin’, is produced in stored body fat. Following a meal, leptin is released and enters the bloodstream. It travels to your brain to deliver a message that you are full and also signals how much fuel you have taken on board. An increase in leptin activity leads to decreased food intake, increased energy expenditure, and fat burning to promote weight loss.
Overweight individuals can develop resistance to leptin signalling, and this appetite control hormone is then not able to create its desired effects. Leptin resistance can set overweight individuals up for an ongoing cycle of weight gain. The race is on to develop a drug that mimics leptin, but the good news is proper nutrition, stress management and losing weight can help you master leptin activity.
Supplements for perfect hormones
* B-group vitamins Often termed the ‘stress vitamins’, these act synergistically to aid adrenal recovery. The demands of day-to-day life take a toll on these vitamins, so a supplement is often required. Folinic acid, B6 and B12 also reduce homocysteine concentrations, which may be elevated in mood disorders.
* Bioavailable diindolylmethane (DIM) This naturally occurring phytonutrient is found in cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage and broccoli. In supplement form bioavailable DIM promotes improved breakdown and clearance of oestrogens down the safe pathway, to reduce symptoms of oestrogen dominance. Higher oestrogen activity is a key factor in reproductive problems, such as uterine fibroids, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and dysmenorrhoea (painful menstruation). New research is investigating the role of bioavailable DIM in breast and prostate cancer.
* Chromium This trace mineral curbs sugar cravings and is an essential nutrient to support insulin activity. Ageing is often associated with apple-shaped weight, a sure sign the body is losing the ability to efficiently take up blood sugar and utilise it for energy production.
* Coenzyme Q10 (coQ10) This nutrient is essential for healthy mitochondrial function, the cells’ energy powerhouses. The body’s production diminishes significantly with advancing age, causing energy to wane. A supplement can top up your levels.
* Iodine This trace mineral plays a central role in healthy thyroid function, and is used to manufacture the thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). The ‘3’ and ‘4’ indicate the number of iodine molecules contained within these hormones. Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus) is a herb traditionally used to maintain healthy thyroid function. It’s also a wholefood source of iodine to replenish body stores.
* Maca (Lepidium meyenii) This high altitude superfood from the Andes has been used for centuries to enhance fertility, and is fast gaining a reputation as a natural aphrodisiac with beneficial effects on a waning libido. In addition, a study has shown maca may improve sexual arousal often blocked as a side effect of taking prescribed antidepressants.
* Magnesium This supplement is especially important if you have a very active lifestyle, as it maintains healthy muscle and nerve function. Magnesium also aids blood sugar regulation, and low levels are associated with blood pressure problems, muscle cramps, fatigue and sleep disturbances.
* Quercetin This plant phytonutrient has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Dampening the inflammatory response is important in people with excessive body fat. There is a strong link between obesity, insulin resistance and chronic, low level inflammation. The main culprit in initiating inflammation is sugar, which induces oxidative stress and inflammatory changes. Plus, inflammatory messengers suppress healthy insulin activity.
Stop Greenwash is a Greenpeace initiative. Some businesses are genuinely committed to making the world a better, greener place. However, for many, environmentalism is little more than a convenient marketing slogan. www.stopgreenwash.org
Our Stolen Future is a scientific detective story that explores the emerging threat of endocrine disruption. This website provides cutting edge science to demonstrate the link between environmental contaminants and health. www.ourstolenfuture.org
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a research organisation based in Washington, D.C. that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. EWG recently established the Kid-Safe Chemicals Interactive online magazine. www.ewg.org
Despite the fact triclosan is officially classed as a toxic substance this antibacterial agent is added to many consumer products, including liquid hand soap, personal care products, towels, toys, toothbrushes, cutting boards, and dishwashing detergent. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has found no evidence the widespread use of triclosan in liquid hand soap and other products gives consumers the germ-killing benefits they are promised. The EWG therefore advises consumers to avoid the use of this hormone-disrupting pesticide whenever possible. Check the EWG website for more information: www.ewg.org