Experts debunk common misconceptions about these complex chemical messengers.
Hormones rule our lives — these little chemical messengers help run practically every bodily function. “They regulate heart rate, metabolism and appetite, sleep cycles, sexual function, general growth and development, body temperature, mood and stress levels,” says Ana Gonzalez Herrera, Founder and CEO of Hormone University.
On top of the heavy workload, the job also requires them to be great communicators. “Hormones send signals that determine different functions around the entire body,” says Dr. Chika Okoli, MD, functional medicine doctor at THE WELL. “They all work together as one system — not in isolation — so, if one hormone is off, all can be off,” says Okoli.
But because hormones are complex, there’s a lot of misinformation when it comes to how hormones work. Luckily, Dr. Okoli and Gonzalez-Herrera want to set the record straight. Read on for how hormones affect your life and common myths that need debunking.
Common Hormone Functions
There’s a hormone — or multiple — that controls just about every part of your day. Here, Dr. Okoli gives a brief overview of some of the hormones that keep you functioning.
- Cortisol: the “stress hormone,” cortisol wakes you up in the morning
- Adrenaline/Epinephrine: responsible for "fight or flight" stress response in the sympathetic nervous system
- Noradrenaline/Norepinephrine: helps you "rest and digest," calming down the parasympathetic nervous system
- Melatonin: supports sleep
- Estrogen/Progesterone/Luteinizing Hormone/Follicle Stimulating Hormone: helps regulate female reproduction and mood
- Testosterone: regulates male reproduction and mood
- Thyroid: controls your metabolism
- Insulin: decreases blood sugar in response to what we eat
- Ghrelin: your hunger hormone
- Leptin: your satiety hormone
- Aldosterone: regulates water and salt
4 Hormone Misconceptions
Here, Gonzalez-Herrera and Dr. Okoli debunk some common myths about hormones.
Hormonal balance requires medication:
Hormone Replacement Therapy, which supplements the body with specific hormones, is a common recommendation for individuals with hormonal imbalance, but it’s not the only way to relieve your symptoms. Diet, exercise and lifestyle habits can play a large role in influencing your symptoms as well. Even making small lifestyle changes such as meditating, drinking more water or journaling can help you destress and balance cortisol levels.
Following a healthy diet with lots of fruit and vegetables gives the body important nutrients and vitamins. Based on your specific conditions, personalizing your diet to avoid phytoestrogens, sugar and processed or inflammatory foods can relieve many uncomfortable symptoms that persist with hormonal imbalance or menstruation. Another misconception when it comes to nutrition and hormones is that fat is bad. “We need healthy fats because hormone receptors lie in our cell membranes, which are largely made up of healthy fats,” explains Okoli.
Exercising daily also gives your body a boost of endorphins and helps regulate blood sugar and insulin levels, increasing your energy and reducing the risk of weight gain or disease.
According to Gonzalez-Herrera, this is what happens to these five hormones when you exercise:
- Irisin:Improves metabolism, helps turn bad fat into good fat, supports bone-building cells instead of fat storage and protects brain cells.
- Estrogen: Regulates the menstrual cycle and helps with estrogen dominance (high levels of estrogen).
- Testosterone: Boosts muscle growth, repairs muscle proteins damaged by exercise and boosts your sex drive.
- Human Growth Hormone (HGH): Strengthens muscles and bones and regulates fat metabolism. (High intensity workouts increase production of HGH).
- Cortisol: Regulates the body’s stress response.
“Depending on severity of symptoms and lab abnormalities, some may require medications as they implement diet and lifestyle modifications and supplements,” says Okoli. However, focusing on natural ways to help regain hormonal balance (diet, exercise and stress management) can have a significant impact on your wellness journey long-term.
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Men don’t face hormonal imbalances
Hormonal imbalance is often only attributed to women, but many men face the impacts of this condition as well. Testosterone (the main male sex hormone) influences sex drive, facial hair, muscle mass and more. “Low levels of testosterone causes low libido, mood disturbances (like depression) and loss of muscle,” explains Okoli.
On the other hand, high levels of testosterone can lead to high blood pressure as well as mood swings. “Metabolic syndrome, driven by insulin resistance, causes an increase in belly fat. Within fat tissue testosterone is converted to estrogen, increasing estrogen levels in men which can cause increased breast tissue, loss of body hair and more,” says Okoli. However, by implementing healthy dietary and lifestyle choices, testosterone levels can naturally become more balanced.
Hormonal imbalance is “normal”
While hormonal imbalance is certainly common, it’s not normal. Consider these imbalances an important warning sign that should not be ignored. “They are a symptom of an underlying root driver of disease or disorder,” says Okoli. “If left untreated, they will progress, leading to other symptoms, imbalances and ultimately chronic diseases.”
The good news? PMS, PMDD, PCOS and other conditions that are strongly derived from hormonal imbalance are treatable through natural lifestyle changes and/or medication. And, symptoms of hormonal imbalance (such as mood swings, fatigue, weight gain and lower sex drive) can be bettered by personalized treatment and care.
Stress has no effect on hormones
If you think a high-stress lifestyle isn’t affecting your hormones, think again! “Chronic stress has a significant impact on hormonal imbalance, as it triggers a chemical ‘tsunami’ in your body,” says Gonzalez-Herrera, adding: “If you feel off, have consistent mood changes, feel down — your hormones might be out of balance!” However, kicking stress to the curb is much easier said than done. Gonzalez-Herrera recommends focusing on your wellbeing first — invest in yourself, prioritize sleep, make time for mindfulness — even getting outside in nature can boost immunity, focus and mood.
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