Your body is essentially ruled by your hormones. These chemical messengers circulate throughout your entire system carrying important instructions for your organs, cells and tissues. Hormones guide your mood, metabolism and more.
Your diet, how much exercise you get, your sleep habits and even your stress level all play key roles in your hormonal balance. When any one of these factors gets off balance, your ideal hormone levels often follow.
Working from dawn to dusk, not getting enough movement or simply just eating the wrong foods can have serious hormonal consequences. For some folks those consequences are swift, others can cut corners for longer before they catch up to them. But in the end we all pay the price.
The good news is that you can get things back on track and you won’t need a pricey, risky drug or a special “program” to do it either. In most cases all you need to do is follow in the footsteps of our ancestors.
I’ll have more on that “old-fashioned” fix to this relatively new problem in a few moments. But first let’s take a look at the signs you need to look for to determine if your hormones are out of balance.
4 signs of a hormonal imbalance—and their fixes
Most folks who have a hormone imbalance suffer with at least a few of the following four common warning signs…
1. Mornings are a real drag:
Do you dread mornings? If it’s always a struggle to wake up and get moving that’s a red flag that the hormones that control your circadian rhythms are off kilter. When the cyclical nature of these hormones is interrupted it results in fatigue and makes you feel sluggish and slow.
For example, cortisol—often called the stress hormone—typically spikes in the morning. This is your body’s way of waking you up and getting you, and your brain, moving. But when your cortisol levels dip too low… or just idle in neutral… it can feel next to impossible to climb out of bed without hitting snooze several times first.
Ironically, drinking too much coffee—or downing other stimulants—to keep yourself up and energized can be behind your struggle to get moving and you circadian rhythm imbalance. Stimulants often interfere with deep sleep, which can send your hormones spiraling out of balance. Similarly, using alcohol to unwind can backfire, hampering deep sleep, and leading to hormone hiccups, as well.
You’re not going to like this one, but trust me it’s not going to be nearly as bad as you imagine. I want you to swear off the coffee and alcohol for a full 7 days. But don’t panic, you can replace your morning coffee with green tea, so I’m not leaving you high and dry. And if you generally have another cup of coffee in the afternoon replace that one with green tea as well. But don’t have anything after 3:00 pm. And just drop the alcohol entirely for the week.
In the first few days you might feel a bit irritable and slow to get moving in the mornings. But you were likely already feeling out of sorts in the first place, so this shouldn’t be much different, and certainly won’t be much worse. However, stick with it and by the end of the week you’ll be getting up brimming with energy to spare.
2. The post meal crash:
Do you find yourself crashing in the afternoon after a hearty lunch, struggling to focus and keep your eyes open? Or does starting the day with a bowl of cereal or steaming oatmeal end up with you feeling like you need to crawl under your desk for a nap by mid-morning?
When high carbohydrate foods send you spiraling into a post-meal crash it’s a red flag that your insulin—or blood sugar hormone—isn’t functioning up to par. Insulin guides the sugars from your bloodstream into your cells, and when it’s not performing as it should eating a bunch of carbs can send you reeling.
If you’re overweight, out of shape or just generally in poor health your body may be struggling to process carbohydrates. When that’s the case eating a high-carb meal causes your blood sugar to skyrocket and because your insulin hormone isn’t working efficiently your body is then forced to send out more and more of it to try to compensate.
The result is you sometimes feeling so out of energy that staying awake can seriously feel like a struggle.
The fix for this hormone imbalance is one I recommend to folks anyway, which is making the switch to a low-carb diet. Adopting low-carb eating, a diet that’s closer to the way our ancient ancestors ate, will help improve both blood sugar and insulin control.1
Elevated insulin can cause you to pack on unwanted pounds, feel fuzzy headed and lack energy. But reducing the carbs you eat can help re-balance those hormone levels. No more skyrocketing sugar spikes, no more post lunch crashes and you’ll likely lose some weight too. And the “old-fashioned” Paleo diet is the perfect solution.
When you cut the carbs you begin to train your body to become more effective at burning fat for fuel rather than relying on the quick energy from carbohydrates.
3. Struggling with food cravings:
Food cravings can strike at any time and for a variety of reasons. But when one hormone in particular gets off balance it can send you rummaging through the cabinets looking for snacks.
Leptin is the hormone that’s responsible for making you feel full and satisfied. But when you’re on the go and distracted by your busy schedule, or when you make some poor food choices, your leptin signals can get lost in translation. Before you know it you have visions of sweet treats parading through your head.
If you often find yourself craving sweets, reaching for fruit, or fixating on dessert there’s a good chance your leptin levels are too low. Elevated insulin levels are often the cause. High insulin blocks leptin signals and kick starts cravings.
But once you reach for them you’re stuck in cycle that’s tough to break out of. Satisfying those cravings by shoveling in sugary sweets and simple carbs causes your body to pump out more insulin, which in turn suppresses your leptin signals kicking off even MORE cravings.2
Insulin isn’t the only hormone that can keep leptin from doing its job effectively. Cortisol, which is triggered by stress, interferes with leptin too, causing sugar cravings. It’s why so many of us tend to reach for a sweet snack when we’re feeling stressed out.
This fix is one you’re going to love. For the time being to satisfy those sweet snack attacks try a square of dark chocolate. Or freeze some grapes and berries and grave a handful when the cravings strike.
But keep in mind it’s just a short-term solution. The goal is to get rid of the cravings so concentrate on implementing #1 and #2 on this list.
4. Fatigued, freezing and facing dull skin & hair:
There’s an old saying “When mom isn’t happy NO one is happy.” That’s kind of how it is with your thyroid gland.
Your thyroid is in charge of keeping your metabolism on track, your energy levels topped up and your brain firing on all cylinders. But when your thyroid slows to crawl everything else in your body seems to grind to a halt too.
Over time stress triggers inflammation in your body. This chronic inflammation can affect your thyroid health, putting the brakes on.
Classic signs of a sluggish thyroid are …
- feeling fatigued,
- hands and feet that never seem to warm up,
- thinning and lifeless hair
- and dull skin and slow bowels.
Once again, cortisol plays a role here. The stress hormone drags down your thyroid hormone levels and prevents the conversion to the active “T3” form of the hormone. It can also make it difficult for your body to use the thyroid hormone it is making effectively.3
To fix your sluggish thyroid you’re going to want give this critical gland the support it needs and that means targeting your stress levels and inflammation. Start by dropping sugar and caffeine from your diet. Then cut way back on the alcohol and commit to getting more sleep.
Next talk with your doctor about running a full thyroid panel which includes your TSH, free T4, free T3, anti-TPO antibodies and reverse T3 numbers. Your doctor can use them to spot any thyroid problems that are developing below the surface, as well as give you some baseline numbers to work on.
1. A Low-Carbohydrate as Compared with a Low-Fat Diet in Severe Obesity, N Engl J Med 2003; 348:2074-2081
2. Revisiting leptin’s role in obesity and weight loss, J Clin Invest.118(7); 2008 Jul 1PMC2430504
3. Elevated thyroid stimulating hormone is associated with elevated cortisol in healthy young men and women, Thyroid Res. 2012; 5: 13
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