What do vitamin D, dopamine and insulin have in common? They're hormones. And while you may think of hormones as what turns your tween into a tough-to-manage teen or the trigger for hot flashes, they do much more than make your life miserable.
There are around 47 hormones, most produced by endocrine glands, such as the thyroid, pancreas, testes and ovaries. Exceptions include dopamine, which can be produced in the gut and brain, and vitamin D that's made by chemical reactions in the skin and converted into its active form in the liver and kidneys.
Hormones circulate through the blood and are used to control and coordinate metabolism, reproduction, growth and development, and to help direct your body's response to everything from injury and infection to environmental factors. They influence hunger, sleep, thirst, anger, fear and sexual behavior.
Handling Your Hormones. Hormones may seem like mysterious chemical powerhouses, but you can do a great deal to influence their impact on your body. You can do that directly (your food choices immediately impact secretion of the hormone insulin and blood sugar levels) or indirectly. For example, by adopting a healthy sleep schedule, you encourage proper secretion of the hormone melatonin, which helps you sleep - and then be alert. So here's how to make sure your hormones are helping you stay or become healthy.
1. The basics are, well, basic: Get plenty of exercise; eat a nutritious diet - when the sun is up (that's the best way to get the benefits of intermittent fasting); get regular restful sleep; and manage your stress response.
- Exercise helps your body dispel excess stress hormones (as long as you do it moderately with intermittent high intensity), regulates metabolism, helps muscle function and promotes good sleep. All those functions rely on appropriate doses of hormones such as insulin, growth hormone, thyroid secreting hormone, melatonin and testosterone (women have it too). Exercise helps make sure you're getting the right amount.
- A healthful diet free from inflammatory added sugars, red and processed meats, and highly-processed foods not only keeps hormones from over- or underproduction, it stabilizes your metabolism, protects your cardiovascular system, and impacts levels of the hormones leptin and ghrelin (appetite controllers), estrogen and testosterone. Also, through your gut, a healthy diet affects production of the neurotransmitter hormones serotonin and dopamine, which influence temperature, appetite, muscle movement and mood. By eating with the sun, you facilitate insulin and other hormones' functioning and that optimizes your metabolism. See Dr. Mike's book "What to Eat When" and go to WhenWay.com for guidance on adopting a sunny schedule.
- Stress response reduction using meditation, yoga, exercise and deep-breathing allows you to moderate the effect of stress hormones such as cortisol. When they're chronically high, they damage everything from your blood vessels to your brain.
2. Limit exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in cash register receipts; plastics; pesticides; canned foods (lining the cans); processed foods and their packaging; fire retardants in upholstery; detergents; toys; cosmetics and more. When various hormones are disrupted by EDCs, that can lower sperm quality and fertility and cause or contribute to endometriosis, early puberty, altered nervous system and immune function, certain cancers, respiratory problems, metabolic issues, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular problems, and growth, neurological and learning disabilities.
- Shop organic and eat fresh or frozen, not canned, foods when possible; replace plastic food containers and storage bags with glass.
- Reject register receipts.
- Avoid plastics marked "PC," for polycarbonate, or recycling label #7.
- Don't use plastic wrap made from PVC-recycling label #3.
- Avoid personal care products that list "fragrance," a catch-all term that can indicate the EDCs called phthalates.
- Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to reduce contaminated house dust; avoid reupholstering foam furniture; take care when replacing old carpet (the padding underneath may contain EDCs.
For a list of hormones and their actions, check out www.hormone.org/your-health-and-hormones and www.hopkinsmedicine.org. Search for "hormones and the endocrine system."
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer Emeritus at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into "The Dr. Oz Show" or visit www.sharecare.com.
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.