Spring cleaning can extend way beyond your home to your health — beginning with your hormones, which regulate just about every function in your body. When the endocrine system – the collection of glands that produce hormones to help your body function optimally – is out of whack (which can happen easily as you transition from one season to another), it can affect everything from blood sugar and mood to risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Getting the right nutrients and supplements flowing into the endocrine system, however, can make things right again — leading to more energy for spring cleaning, or come what may this May. Follow these tips from Laurie Steelsmith, ND, author of Natural Choices for Women’s Health (Three Rivers Press, 2005), on balancing your hormones through eating clean.
1. Keep Cortisol in Check
“Cortisol is an amazing hormone that will take stored sugar, known as glycogen, and convert it to glucose, a simple sugar, to feed your brain,” explains Steelsmith. “Your brain uses glucose to function, and when it can’t get enough fuel to keep working, then cortisol comes to the rescue. This is a good thing for our bodies — but when people eat too infrequently, or if they eat foods that are super sugary, they create blood sugar swings that can result in spikes of cortisol after blood sugar levels have dropped.”
Eating clean every three to four hours can help support healthy cortisol levels, as can ensuring adequate levels of phosphatidylserine (a molecule that helps maintain cellular function, especially in the brain), says Steelsmith, who recommends two capsules of the product InterPlexus Seriphos ($37, interplexus.com for where to buy) for those who find that cortisol spikes leave them anxious and restless at night.
2. Take a Testosterone Test
This hormone isn’t just for Hans and Franz wanting to pump up at the gym. Women need testosterone, too, for weight control, a healthy sex drive and energy. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can cause testosterone levels to rise abnormally, while unusually low levels can drain the body. Ask your primary care physician for a blood test to gauge how much testosterone is in your body. Steelsmith suggests drinking spearmint tea to lower free testosterone levels and following the steps on cortisol to boost testosterone levels.
3. Eat Right for Estrogen
Exogenous estrogens such as those found in conventionally farmed beef or in environmental chemicals can mimic estrogen in our bodies, says Steelsmith. These compounds can create hormonal imbalances; excess estrogen can cause weight gain, irritability, fatigue, anxiety and other emotional disturbances as well as menstrual symptoms in women. “But eating organic food and minimizing exposure to conventionally grown beef and other animals can profoundly influence a woman’s hormonal balance.” The supplements indole-3-carbinol and calcium-D-glucarate also help support healthy estrogen levels.
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4. C’mon, Get Happy Hormones
The “feel-good” hormones of endorphins and serotonin are affected by our daily food choices. Eating spicy foods with capsaicin — the compound in chile peppers — can naturally boost endorphins, according to a study in Psychiatry Investigation. Serotonin, meanwhile, is affected by vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. The Institute of Medicine recommends adults aged 19 to 70 get 600 IU of vitamin D per day and adults aged 71 years and older get 800 IU (although some experts and organizations recommend higher amounts). The USDA recommends that adults eat 8 or more ounces of seafood per week. Be sure to opt for cold-water fatty fish like wild salmon and mackerel, which offer ample amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
5. Know the ABCs of DHEA
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a naturally occurring hormone that makes the male and female sex hormones, androgens and estrogens. After age 30, levels begin to drop, as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) explains. Taking DHEA supplements has been shown in studies to be effective in warding off depression and in improving aging skin. But the NIH warns that DHEA can possibly be unsafe when taken in high doses or long-term, and people with diabetes, hormone-sensitive conditions, high cholesterol, liver problems and PCOS should be especially cautious before considering this supplement. A dose of 50 to 100 milligrams per day is generally safe for most.