Our endocrine system regulates the functions of daily living. When things get out of balance, it can impact everything from your appetite to your memory function and from your energy level to hair loss. Hormonal imbalances can occur over time or come upon us suddenly, so it’s a good idea to have basic knowledge of what our hormones are and how they act on the body.
Stress and Hormone Production
Our bodies have evolved to deal with danger by altering our hormonal balance when we’re under stress. For example, women under high levels of stress for extended periods of time can experience menstrual disruption because of gonadotropin suppression.
While previous sources of stress might have included food uncertainty or the physical risks of warfare, modern stress levels generally don’t include these physical risks. However, the stress response of the body continues to prepare for “fight or flight” energy requirements. For example, extreme emotional or physical stress can lead to high levels of cortisol production.
Stress and Diabetes
One of the unfortunate results of a high level of cortisol production in the body is an elevated glucose level. As the body responds to the danger signal as indicated by cortisol release, the liver releases glucose to provide the body with quick energy for escape.
When we were likely to be at risk of bear attack, this was helpful. However, as much modern stress doesn’t involve physically moving away from dangerous creatures, this elevated glucose level can become hard to reabsorb and may lead to diabetes for those with a predisposition to the condition.
Stress and Obesity
As the saying goes, “something’s gotta give.” When your body and mind are under extreme stress, leptin levels and response can be severely impacted.
Leptin is the hormone that the body secretes when we are sated or when our appetite has been satisfied. This critical hormone acts as a pair with ghrelin, or the hormone that tells you that you need to eat. However, stress can lead to leptin-resistance in some people. Thus, the hormone that tells you you’re hungry still works, but the hormone that lets you know you’re full doesn’t register with the brain and can lead to obesity.
Aging and Hormones
While hormones such as testosterone and estrogen can decrease significantly as we age, other hormones including cortisol only decrease slightly. This means that learning to manage stress effectively as we age becomes even more important, as the impact becomes more severe on the reduced strength and resilience of the aging body.
Effects of Testosterone Loss
The most commonly known effect of low testosterone on men include condition related to erectile dysfunction. However, low levels of testosterone can also mean thinning of the bones, which puts older men at risk for bone damage during normal activity as they age.
Testosterone testing requires a simple blood sample. While loss of sex drive and erectile dysfunction are often accepted as part of the aging process, loss of bone density is a destructive and insidious condition that should be monitored and guarded against.
One of the strongest impacts of low testosterone on women is related to muscle mass and bone density. The benefits of exercise, particularly weight-bearing exercise, cannot be denied.
Benefits of Exercise on Hormone Levels
Engaging in a regular exercise program helps you maintain and even build muscular strength and bone density. Exercise promotes healthy hormonal production, which aids in the following processes:
- burn excess calories secreted when cortisol levels rise
- reduces the amount of cortisol the body produces by releasing pent-up anxiety
- stimulates growth hormones to aid in muscle repair and development
- stimulates endorphins and contributes to exercise euphoriad
- promotes the production of aldosterone
- raises testosterone production
- supports your bones by raising parathyroid hormone production
Hormones and Toxin Release
Aldosterone levels can be boosted with exercise. This critical hormone supports your kidneys as they filter and shed toxins from your bloodstream. A poor diet, particularly one high in sodium and fat, overburdens the kidneys and liver and suppresses aldosterone production.
Hormones and Rest
The pineal gland secretes melatonin as daylight wanes and makes it easier to sleep well. Excess exposure to blue light off of electronic screens including computers, televisions, reading devices and cellphones can impact sleep quality by suppressing the release of melatonins. To improve your rest and give your body and brain the time to recuperate from the stresses of the day, good sleep hygiene is critical.
Consider reducing your exposure to screen time. Some have found they can further stimulate healthy melatonin production by reducing exposure to electric light. For example, try lighting candles in rooms you’re not using as the day wanes so you can adjust to a gentle darkness in these spaces.
As we age, our hormone production will naturally change. Menopause and andropause are a natural part of getting older. However, with a dedicated focus on proper exercise, a healthy diet and by making logical choices about light exposure we can reduce the impact of some of these hormonal changes. Be sure to contact your doctor about these changes so your hormone levels can be checked regarding illness.