Balancing Act: Stay Strong And Lean By Maintaining Optimal Hormonal Balance

As our senses delicately interact and respond to our external environment, our endocrine and nervous systems are constantly at work... Learn more about how the body functions with regard to hormones right here.

What are you thinking right now? Do you feel happy or anxious? What did you choose to eat for your last meal? How many hours of sleep did you enjoy last night? Is it noisy where you are right now? How deeply or quickly are you breathing? Did you exercise today? How many cups of coffee have you had? Do you like the person beside you right now? Are you in a rush?

I'll bet you didn't know the answer to every one of these questions has an affect on your hormones.

As our senses delicately interact and respond to our external environment, our endocrine and nervous systems are constantly at work, manufacturing, delivering and processing a variety of hormones to maintain balance in our internal environment.

Our hormones spark tiny chemical signals that relay messages throughout the body and influence almost every aspect of our wellbeing. These amazing, naturally occurring substances control our growth, sleep patterns, mood, stress adaptation, immune system, metabolism and reproduction.

Hormones also influence how we build muscle, where we store fat and our ability to lose fat. That is why the key to building muscle and losing fat is healthy hormonal balance.

Are You In Balance?

Hypoglycemia, cravings, fatigue, mood changes, PMS, low sex drive or sleep disruption can all be subtle signs of hormonal imbalance. We should thank our body for these helpful clues because they tell us we need to take necessary steps to get back in balance through better nutrition, exercise, supplements, stress recuperation and even altering the way we think.

At the same time, these symptoms are so common they are often ignored or accepted as normal parts of life. Only after a more serious health concern arises are most of us forced to pay attention.

Many different types of hormones impact our wellness and body composition. Becoming familiar with these hormones and the signals that alert us to an imbalance allows us to alter our habits sooner, achieve optimal health and maintain long-term muscle growth and fat loss.

-> The Ins & Outs Of Insulin:

Insulin regulates the metabolism of carbohydrate in the body. It has critical anabolic effects because it encourages the infusion of sugars into our muscle cells and aids repair after a workout. However, insulin also instructs the body to store sugars as fat when they are not consumed as fuel.

When insulin levels are too high, weight accumulates as "love handles." This excess-insulin-related abdominal fat is not only unsightly, but it also poses a serious long-term health risk through its association with diabetes and heart disease. Cravings, chronic hunger, excess ab fat, high blood pressure and high cholesterol can all be indications of an insulin imbalance.

To return insulin levels back to an optimal state, insulin-sensitizing supplements such as conjugated linoleic acid or alpha lipoic acid are very helpful. These have been shown to reduce abdominal fat and to preserve muscle with regular use, especially when combined with a glycemically balanced nutrition plan and circuit training.

-> Think About Thyroid Hormone:

As the master of our metabolic rate, thyroid hormone influences the activity of every single cell in the body. With a marked deficiency of thyroid hormone, our metabolism slows, which can lead to weight gain, even when a proper diet and exercise regimen are in place.

Weight gain is not the only symptom a thyroid hormone deficiency. Other symptoms may include feeling cold, very dry skin, lack of or diminished ability to sweat during exercise, hair loss, irregular menses, constipation, unexplained fatigue, depression and poor concentration.

Since the amino acid tyrosine and the minerals iodine, zinc and selenium are essential for the production of thyroid hormone, our diet and nutrient intake are closely linked to its production. Occasionally supplements of tyrosine along with a high quality multivitamin can be useful in preventing or improving mild symptoms of thyroid hormone deficiency. A marked deficiency diagnosed by blood tests may require thyroid hormone replacement.

-> Cut The Cortisol:

Cortisol and adrenalin work together to help the body respond to stress. Adrenalin is a fast-acting hormone that responds immediately to stress and prompts the body to select fat as an energy source during stressful times.

While cortisol helps adrenalin to kick in, its physiological effects take much longer and it causes the body to draw upon muscle proteins as a source of energy. Over time, chronically elevated cortisol levels destroy muscle fibers, suppress immunity, affect memory and concentration, weaken bone mineral density and contribute to cancer.

The body responds the same way every time to all types of stress - cortisol levels rise. Stress can be caused by serious situations such as divorce, illness or work deadlines, or even something as seemingly insignificant as exposure to loud noise or cold temperatures, skipping meals or lack of sleep. Stress can even be brought on by working out too long or too hard and consuming too much protein in one sitting!

The solution is simple: prevent elevated cortisol levels by reducing stress. To do so, we must eat right, sleep right, think right, move right, laugh right and breathe right. Moreover, specific supplements can be used to protect our cells from the harmful effects of cortisol.

The adaptogenic herbs, such as Siberian ginseng and ashwaganda, lower cortisol and aid immune system repair. These are excellent choices before a workout. After workouts or before bed, supplements containing theanine (a green tea extract).

-> Estrogen & Testosterone:

Pre-menopausal women suffering from PMS, uterine fibroids, abnormal pap smears or ovarian cysts may have abnormally high estrogen levels, a condition called estrogen dominance. Addressing an abnormal estrogen level early is essential to easing symptoms of menopause and lowering the risk of estrogen-related cancers (breast, uterine).

When estrogen levels are high during the pre-menopausal years, excess body fat is commonly stored around the hips and thighs - the so-called "pear shape." Maintaining the correct balance of progesterone relative to estrogen can prevent this pattern of weight gain.

At menopause, many women accumulate weight around the waist. This "apple shape" is a result of hormonal changes at menopause, including a drop in estrogen and progesterone often coupled with an increase in cortisol and insulin. Men also tend to possess more estrogen as they age, with a similar outcome: an accumulation of abdominal fat and an increased risk of heart disease.

Testosterone naturally lessens in both sexes with aging and stress. This decrease contributes to muscle loss, decreased bone mass, increased body fat, decreased energy and lack of libido.

If you suspect an issue with an estrogen imbalance, search out products containing indol-3-carbinol and calcium d-glucarate. These are excellent for supporting the breakdown and elimination of hormonal waste in both men and women.

-> Gear Up Your Growth Hormone (GH):

GH orchestrates our natural repair processes, rebuilds lean muscle tissue and bone and directly influences our body composition. This hormone is released after strenuous exercise and during deep sleep, following the release of the hormone melatonin. If we fail to sleep enough, the production of melatonin decreases, less GH is released and, ultimately, our metabolism suffers.

There are a number of strategies for maximizing our growth hormone production. First and most obvious, get plenty of sleep! Then make sure you exercise regularly. Avoid sugary foods before your workout and high-fat foods afterwards, as both these habits are known to decrease GH production.

Be sure to keep your stress and cortisol levels under control. Finally, you may wish to consider amino acid supplements such as glutamine, arginine and ornithine, the precursors of growth hormone, after your workouts or before bed.

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-> Restore Your Serotonin:

Often referred to our "happy hormone," serotonin influences our mood, appetite and cravings. Serotonin lowers when we are chronically stressed, lack sun exposure and when our diet is lacking in protein.

When serotonin is low, we tend to crave carbohydrates and may experience symptoms of depression, which can make it difficult to stay motivated at the gym and to avoid high-glycemic carbs such as cookies, candy and pastry.

Along with a healthy dose of sunshine, relaxation and exercise, are products that can assist in restoring serotonin and provide chromium to balance blood sugars and aid the activity of serotonin (along with 5-HTP), which increases the production of serotonin naturally, without the side effects typical of antidepressant medications.

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Balance = Wellbeing

By paying close attention to subtle signs, hormonal imbalances that may alter our body composition and affect our overall health can be recognized. Once an imbalance is identified, it can be rectified with a harmonious blend of good nutrition, quality sleep, supplements, exercise and, most important, a positive mental attitude.

Making all of these factors priorities in your life will allow you to stay strong and lean, look and feel your best and enjoy lasting wellness.