9 Ways to Balance Hormones Naturally
Hormones. They’re all the rage (pun intended).
For years, the only time we talked about hormones was in reference to puberty, PMS, or menopause. Now, researchers are discovering the fascinating inner world of hormones––how they can affect everything from fertility, vitality, and longevity to our relationships and mood.
Most interestingly, behavioral endocrinologists are uncovering the effect that our behavior can have on our physiology, including the production, release, and reception of hormones in our body.
In other words, hormones and behavior are a two-way street. Hormones can affect behavior, and behavior can influence hormones. Since mood, hormones and behavior are all closely connected, understanding the inner-workings of their relationships can help us crack the code on naturally balancing hormones to improve our mood.
How Hormones Influence Our Mood
As men and women age, we naturally experience a decline in hormones like estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. While this transition is far more dramatic for women than it is for men, science has proven that both genders experience some sort of an age-related hormonal shift. This shift can wreak havoc on the body in many ways, often evidenced through mood.
As women enter perimenopause and menopause (a decade-long mental, physical and emotional transition), their mood can change. They can tend to feel more irritable, anxious, depressed, and suffer from low self-esteem, low libido and mood swings.
Similarly, as men enter andropause (gradual, age-related hormonal changes), their mood can change as well. They can tend to feel sad, depressed, unmotivated, and also struggle with low libido and low self-confidence.
What about feeling “in the mood?” As mentioned above, the decline in sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone and testosterone can lower libido for a few reasons. Firstly, emotional symptoms of hormonal imbalance like irritability and low-self esteem can get in the way of a healthy sex life. Secondly, plummeting hormones like progesterone and estrogen can lead to vaginal dryness and painful intercourse, while decreased testosterone levels can lead to erectile dysfunction. Collectively, these hormonal conditions can lower the chances of partners feeling “in the mood.”
While many people may be struggling with feelings of loneliness, depression, low libido and anxiety, the important thing to realize is that these symptoms are very common and not unfounded––they are often the result of an underlying hormonal imbalance. Just as our behaviors can influence hormonal imbalance, they can also help to correct it.
What Causes Hormone Imbalance?
Hormone imbalance can be caused by many things. While, ideally, hormones function as a symphony and remain in a state of self-sustaining balance––outside factors like alcohol, stress, toxic chemicals and aging can interfere with the flow and reception of hormones throughout the body. This can cause certain hormones to overcompensate for others, which can change our mood and make us feel more tired, foggy, unbalanced, irritable, and depressed.
For instance, a common issue in our 30’s, 40’s and beyond is that our cortisol levels can increase and contribute to hormone imbalance. Cortisol is known as the “stress” hormone, and is associated with the body’s “alarm system.” Its role in the body could be compared to that of an EMT or first responder.
While cortisol is anti-inflammatory and may be life-saving during times of crisis, our chronically stressful lifestyles can trigger an excessive release of this hormone. High, unbalanced levels of cortisol can affect our mood through feelings of loneliness, depression, and burnout.
Another cause of hormone imbalance is attributed to the overwhelming amount of endocrine-disrupting chemicals that make their way from our food and products into our bodies.
For instance, phthalates are a group of chemicals commonly found in food packaging, lotions, detergents, and housing materials and are designed to soften plastic. Over time, tiny phthalate particles can make their way into our bodies and mimic our hormones––binding to and blocking hormone receptors, which causes a disruption between the signals our body is sending and receiving. Endocrine disruptors like this can impact everything from mood to metabolism, fertility, cancer, and more.
Between unhealthy food, drugs and alcohol, poor lifestyle habits, stress, and toxic exposures, our endocrine systems can become burdened and disrupted, leading to hormonal imbalances, shifts in mood, and further illnesses.
The Relationship Between Hormones & Mood
In the same way that the negative behaviors mentioned above can create hormone imbalance, positive behaviors can restore balance. Certain healthful behaviors are associated with up-regulating the production of some hormones while down-regulating others, creating harmony in the body and stabilizing mood.
For instance, those who suffer from depression, anxiety, and loneliness due to high cortisol levels, may be able to alter their hormones through behavior change, which can improve their mood.
The balancing hormone for cortisol is oxytocin––also known as the “love” hormone. Known predominantly to produce feelings of calm, closeness and attachment, oxytocin is released in the body through events like kissing, cuddling, childbirth, breastfeeding, massage, and even cuddling with pets. *Despite its positive association, oxytocin is actually an emotion-amplifier, known to intensify feelings both good and bad.
When oxytocin is released in the brain, it travels through the body and connects with oxytocin receptor sites. It is controlled by something called a “positive feedback mechanism” which means the release of the hormone causes an action that stimulates more of its own release.
This action creates a magnifying effect––so if you’re kissing a partner, for instance, the positive feedback mechanism can keep you more deeply engaged in the action that stimulates its release. It can promote feelings of connectedness, which can provide the foundation for feeling a sustained, positive mood.
In the body, cortisol and oxytocin have a seesaw relationship. When one is up, the other is forced down. So, for someone suffering from high cortisol levels, spending some time doing oxytocin-producing activities can help naturally lower cortisol levels, while making you feel the positive effects of the “love” hormone.
Another example of how hormones and mood are affected by behavior can be explained through a 2009 study from the University of Michigan. In this study, researchers examined the link between interpersonal closeness and the hormone progesterone amongst 160 female college students.
Progesterone is a hormone necessary for pregnancy and essential body functions like bone growth. It is also known as the balancing hormone for estrogen. Together, they wax and wane to influence women’s menstrual cycles. While estrogen can cause a more positive mood, progesterone can cause a slightly more depressed mood, most commonly associated with PMS.
When the students spent time connecting over personal questions, progesterone levels increased or remained the same. When they spent time proofreading a paper on botany together, progesterone levels went down.
According to researcher Stephanie Brown, “Many of the hormones involved in bonding and helping behavior lead to reductions in stress and anxiety in both humans and other animals. Now we see that higher levels of progesterone may be part of the underlying physiological basis for these effects.”
Finally, another example of the relationship between hormones and behavior is sleep. On one hand, hormone imbalance can negatively impact sleep. On the other hand, sleep disturbance can negatively impact hormones and metabolism. This unfortunate relationship can make it tough to break out of the cycle of poor sleep and hormone imbalance.
From this data, we can begin to understand how engaging in certain behaviors can trigger the release of certain hormones.
How to Balance Hormones Naturally
Typically, when people seek support from conventional doctors for mood issues, they are likely to be prescribed antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, hormonal birth control or in some cases, hormone therapy. While these therapies can improve mood temporarily, they often fail to address the underlying causes––including the root causes of hormonal imbalance.
Our understanding of hormones is rapidly progressing, partially due to the influx of doctors and researchers exploring women’s reproductive health, which is deeply intertwined with hormones. Another impetus for endocrine research is the presence of hormone-disrupting toxic chemicals in our environment and the possible connections with decreased fertility and reproductive health issues.
The truth is, the word “hormones” has only been around for about 100 years. As our understanding of hormones increases, as should our landscape of options to balance hormones safely and naturally to improve mood and overall health.
Depending on your condition, there are a multitude of ways to unburden your body from endocrine disruption, balance hormones naturally and improve mood. Below are just a few.
9 Ways to Balance Hormones Naturally & Improve Mood
Spend Time in Nature
Multiple studies show that being outside in nature can help lower stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
Enjoy Natural Sunlight
Getting 10-20 minutes of natural sunlight during the day can not only release serotonin (a feel-good hormone/neurotransmitter), it can also help your body produce melatonin at night. Balanced amounts of serotonin and melatonin can help align your body with its circadian rhythm, which can improve sleep–– a key factor in mood.
Get Together with Friends
Many hormones have a strong correlation with how we socialize. It’s been proven that group interaction can actually support positive moods while diminishing negative ones, which is just another reason to make sure you’re spending enough time with friends.
Oxytocin, known as the “love” or “cuddle” hormone, can be released through getting cozy and cuddling with a loved one (or a pet!). This hormone can increase feelings of connectedness and improve mood.
Invest in Your Sexual Health
At different points in life, and for many reasons listed earlier in this article, sexual health may get put on the back burner. However, there are a number of important hormones that get released during intercourse, orgasm, and ejaculation that can quickly and efficiently benefit overall health and mood.
Exercise not only lowers stress hormones, but it also boosts endorphins which lead to a good mood.
Eat A Whole Foods Diet with Probiotics, and Cut Out Processed Food
Consuming a whole foods diet with plenty of fresh vegetables and natural probiotics can work wonders to improve mood.
Detox Your Lifestyle From Toxic Chemicals
As mentioned before, many common health, beauty, food and household products contain endocrine-disruptors which can negatively impact overall health.
As you can see, the relationship between hormones and mood is intricately intertwined. As many doctors and scientists have observed, the body is designed to function much like a symphony–– a multitude of interactions amongst the different parts of the body work to collectively produce the whole system. The endocrine system is just one part of the body, but works in tandem with everything from nutrition to movement and mood. As we remove behaviors that negatively impact our biology, and replace them with more positive ones, we can restore balance to improve mood and longevity.
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