The Links Between Your Hormones and Diet
Modulating Hormone Levels with Your Diet
We all know that hormone levels decline as we age. Although this is part of normal aging, there are several ways lifestyle decisions that you can make to improve your health and optimize your hormone levels. In the first article in this series we described the importance of exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle. This week, we discuss how your diet can affect your hormone levels and reduce the symptoms of aging-related diseases.
The Effects of Dysregulated Hormone Levels and How to Fix Them
Several hormones are important for maintaining a healthy metabolism and immune system, and allowing levels to fall too low or climb too high has a series of negative consequences. However, there are many natural ways to alter hormone levels without resorting to pharmaceuticals.
The problem: Estrogen is critical for female fertility and reproduction. When levels fall too low, it results in symptoms such as low libido, and altered menstrual cycle, mood swings, and depression.
The dietary solution: Although estrogen cannot be obtained from the diet, phytoestrogens are a family of compounds found in a number of foods. They exhibit weak estrogen-like effects. Good sources of phytoestrogens are soy and flaxseed. For example, the isoflavones (a type of phytoestrogen) in soy were reported to reduce the symptoms and improve the health and quality of life of postmenopausal women . Of course, too much soy can lead to unwanted estrogen-like effects so it is important to consume in moderation.
The dietary solution: A number of dietary supplements have been linked to increased testosterone levels. For example, low vitamin D levels are associated with hypogonadism, and increasing vitamin D levels could increase testosterone levels . Vitamin D-rich foods include fatty fish such as tuna and salmon, egg yolks, beef liver, and vitamin D-fortified foods including milk and cereals.
The problem: Insulin is a critical metabolic hormone that regulates fat, protein, and carbohydrate metabolism and promotes the absorption of glucose from the circulation into muscle, fat, and the liver. Insulin levels that are too high lead to hyperinsulinemia, which is the cause of a number of metabolic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Conversely, hypoinsulinemia, or low insulin levels, can lead to weight gain, poor concentration, fatigue, and a lack of motivation.
The dietary solution: The best way to prevent insulin-related symptoms is to reduce your risk of insulin resistance. This includes not consuming excess calories and selecting complex carbohydrates. For example, avoid refined products such as white bread and pasta, and instead select whole grain breads, beans, bran, lentils, vegetables, and oats.
The problem: Cortisol is a stress hormone secreted by the adrenal glands; it plays a key role in the fight or flight response. Although this is a critical hormone, excess circulating levels can lead to increased stress, hypertension, and obesity. This can be particularly problematic in peri- and postmenopausal women, who are already more susceptible to obesity.
The dietary solution: Alcohol and caffeine can both increase cortisol secretion. Therefore, these products should be avoided if you are under chronic stress or if you are peri- or postmenopausal. In addition, studies suggested that the weight loss caused by following either Nordic nutrition recommendations or an paleo diet reduced cortisol levels .
Eat the Right Type of Food
There are many other ways that eating certain foods can be beneficial or have negative effects on the levels of specific hormones. However, one of the main concerns with the modern-day food-chain is the high levels of hormones in many items we consume. Although meat can provide valuable nutrients, it is important to remember that not all meat is created equal! Many animals consumed in the United States are not fed a natural diet: they receive antibiotics and hormone-based diets, which could have the knock-on effect of altering hormone levels in anyone consuming the resulting meat. Therefore, it is always best to reduce meat intake and select organic, grass-fed meat and meat products whenever possible.
The changes in hormone levels that we all experience can be very stressful, and you might be confused about how you can reduce your symptoms. Making just some dietary changes, together with a regular exercise program, really can make a difference!
- Messina, M., Soy foods, isoflavones, and the health of postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr, 2014. 100 Suppl 1: p. 423s-30s.
- Lee, D.M., et al., Association of hypogonadism with vitamin D status: the European Male Ageing Study. Eur J Endocrinol, 2012. 166(1): p. 77-85.
- Stomby, A., et al., Diet-induced weight loss has chronic tissue-specific effects on glucocorticoid metabolism in overweight postmenopausal women. Int J Obes (Lond), 2015. 39(5): p. 814-9.