‘Balancing Your Hormones – Slowing Down Ageing’ by Michael Smith published in Great Health Guide (Nov 2015). Ageing is an inevitable process however we can choose how we age. Our diet and lifestyle choices can speed up the process of declining hormones and this speeds up the ageing process. Read the rest of this article to find out how we can slow down ageing through balancing our hormones.
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GREAT HEALTH: Balancing Your Hormones – Slowing Down Ageing
written by Michael Smith
Ageing is inevitable, there is no disputing that, but we can grow old gracefully living a full and vibrant life, active in both body and mind or we can grow old ahead of our time, restricted in what we can do, spending more time visiting doctors and with a growing pile of medications to take each day. While our hormones naturally decline with age, it is our diet and lifestyle choices that speed up the process of declining hormones and this speeds up the ageing process. So what can we do?
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) utilises medication containing the hormones estrogen and progesterone and in some cases testosterone, that can help reduce symptoms of menopause. It is internationally acknowledged that HRT is the most effective treatment to combat symptoms of menopause and there is also evidence it may improve psychological wellbeing during this time. However recent studies have implicated HRT in an increase in ovarian and breast cancer as well as an increase in cardiovascular disease. Are there alternatives to HRT?
Treating the Cause!
Where there is hormone imbalance, rather than trying to balance hormones like estrogen, progesterone or testosterone, a better option is to treat the cause which is usually your adrenal glands. Cortisol and androstenolone (DHEA) are the main adrenal hormones that affect the sex hormones, causing them to decline more rapidly than they should, the adrenals also affect other hormones such as thyroid hormones and insulin that are involved in the ageing process.
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Signs and Symptoms of Hormone imbalance
Irregular menstrual cycle and PMS symptoms
Menopause symptoms like hot flashes
Weight gain can be caused by cortisol, insulin or thyroid imbalance
Hair loss and dry skin can be caused by adrenal or thyroid hormones
Low libido can be caused by low sex hormones and adrenal function
Depression and mood changes can be caused by many hormones
Cognitive decline can be caused by adrenal function and insulin
Fatigue can be caused by low thyroid and adrenal function
Digestion problems can be caused by adrenal and thyroid hormones
Cardiovascular disease can be caused by many hormones
What causes adrenal dysfunction?
Stress is the cause of the imbalance of the adrenal hormones, cortisol and DHEA. Not all stress is bad but when stress becomes chronic, health related problems occur. When most people think of stress they think of emotional stress caused by work, relationships and grief, however there are many other types of stress that can affect the adrenal hormones. Stress also includes physical stress like pain, injury or an operation, poor quality sleep, infections, too much or too little exercise or dietary stress from processed foods, or low calorie/ low fat diets.
How do you know if you have adrenal problems?
Traditional blood testing is a poor way to diagnose adrenal problems because the adrenal hormone cortisol, changes throughout the day, so a one off blood test will not reveal these changes. The best and most convenient way to diagnose adrenal problems is with a saliva hormone test or the dried urine test for comprehensive hormones (DUTCH). Both of these methods test the hormones at four to five different times throughout the day which can diagnose if cortisol is too high or too low as well as evaluate the cortisol rhythm which is equally important.
Adrenal function and Insulin Resistance speed up the ageing process
Cortisol controls your insulin levels so when both of these hormones are out of balance, it can lead to increased weight gain particularly in the area around the waist. This may also lead to insulin resistance and increased risk of diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease. When you have your regular checkup, request a test for your HbA1C levels. The HbA1C test provides information on the body’s control of blood sugar level and ideally would be less than 5.5% (37mmol/mol).
Besides addressing adrenal function it is important to include adequate amounts of protein in your diet (ideally 1 g of protein per kg of body weight) which works out to be around 20 – 25 g of protein with each meal. If you have excess weight around the waist, this may be a sign of insulin resistance, thus it is important to reduce the intake of processed carbohydrates and sugar from breads, cereals and other processed food sources.
Adrenal Function and Thyroid hormones slow down your metabolism
There are many different signs and symptoms of low thyroid function which will accelerate the ageing process, but often when you go to the doctor and have your thyroid tested, you are told that everything is ‘fine’. This is because doctors usually only test the level of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) produced by the pituitary gland, which is a poor indicator of low thyroid function. Since stress drives up cortisol levels this can lead the body to lower TSH levels and also cause the thyroid hormone T4, to be converted to the inactive form, reverse T3 (rT3), rather than the active T3.
Sixty percent of thyroid problems go undiagnosed because all forms of thyroid hormones are not being tested. The symptoms of thyroid problems include fatigue, weight issues, hair and skin problems, mood and digestion issues, all of which accelerate the ageing process.
Action steps to take
If you have many of these symptoms of hormone imbalance you should consult your Medical practitioner. The information in this article is to assist you to know what your hormones are doing as you age.
Rebalancing hormones may involve lifestyle changes, diet and nutritional supplements which will help you to feel at your best, however this article is not intended to diagnose or treat any conditions.
Author of this article:
Michael Smith is a Naturopath and Functional Medicine Practitioner at Planet Naturopath. Specializing in hormonal disorders, adrenal, thyroid and digestive function, Michael works with clients from the chronically ill to athletes wanting to improve performance. Consultations are available via Skype or phone. Michael can be contacted via his website.