A guide to hormones

HORMONES AFFECT EVERY ELEMENT OF YOUR DAY AND ARE CONTROLLED BY FAR MORE THAN YOUR PERIOD. TAKE STOCK AND START LIVING YOUR BEST LIFE.

Have better stamina, success, strength, and sex by taking control of your hormone balance

THERE ARE A FEW UNIVERSAL GOALS we all share. Count having great energy, health, passion, and fulfillment among them. Beneath those aims rest a web of influences, and at the heart of it all are your hormones. These little chemical couriers have huge effects on the body. Traveling through your bloodstream from the eight major endocrine glands, your hormones power you up (or down) and drive growth, reproduction, sex drive, mood, muscle tone, and more. So how can you optimize your hormone balance to improve your life on all fronts? We’ve got answers. Here, the definitive guide to better stamina, success, strength, sex, and sleep.

1. FOSTER STAMINA & SUCCESS

 

YOU HAVE EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO REVERSE FATIGUE AND LIFT THOSE CLOUDS.

When your hormones are in balance, your energy is high and mind is clear, your muscles respond to training, and you don’t sweat the small stuff. But tip the scales in any direction and you won’t feel like yourself. “Your hormones are like an orchestra,” says Prudence Hall, M.D., founder and medical director of the Hall Center, in Santa Monica, CA. “If one is too high, the others are off.” Yet there are simple ways to bounce back, especially when it comes to stamina and success.

MONITOR YOUR HAPPINESS HORMONES.

“The hormones that affect energy the most for younger women are thyroid, adrenals, and estrogen. For menopausal women, the focus is estrogen,” Hall says. First, get your hormone levels checked if you’re always fatigued or sad, Hall says. The most common red flag is low levels of vitamin D. Deficiency in this hormone (not actually a vitamin) is linked to depression, according to research in Molecular Psychiatry. Hall recommends supplementing with 2,000 to 5,000 milligrams daily.

TAP INTO YOUR WORKOUTS.

That euphoric “runner’s high” that occurs after a great workout comes from norepinephrine and epinephrine. These hormones assist in creating energy during cardio workouts. A study published by Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism found that epinephrine and norepinephrine levels were greatly elevated after a session of HIIT, too. But don’t overdo it, warns Hall. The older you get, the more rest you need. Aim for two days’ rest after HIIT sessions to give your body time to recover.

(CLEARER) THOUGHT.

Happiness may lie in a happy gut, in no small part because your gut health influences hormone production. That means avoiding triggers that can cause inflammation and GI distress. “Food intolerance is huge,” Hall adds. “Most grains (corn, gluten, sprouted wheat, oatmeal) are not actually high quality,” which makes them harder to digest and can disrupt nutrient absorption and hormone production.

THE FIX: Ferment it. Although the exact mechanisms by which probiotics in fermented foods can balance your gut and enhance your mood are unclear, research in the Journal of Applied Microbiology outlines how probiotic fermented sources (like kimchi, pickles, and sauerkraut) can help maintain health. Try swapping in alternative proteins like hemp and pea for whey and soy, which are common allergens.

SETTLE YOURSELF WITH SUPPS.

Try a supplement like DHEA (a naturally occurring hormone that is also manufactured from wild yam and soy and can affect mood). Other supps to try: ashwagandha (aka Indian ginseng) and iodine, a key supplement for women, Hall says. Aim for 10 to 12mg of iodine per day.

IT DOWN.

Cortisol, or the stress hormone, gets a bad rap, but it helps regulate immune response and glucose production and helps the body deal with stress. Yet too much can cause problems. To mitigate, try researchbacked stress busters such as meditation and massage.

2. BOOST STRENGTH

DOING STEADY-STATE CARDIO? AVOID CONSUMING CARBS BEFOREHAND SO YOUR BODY USES FAT AS ENERGY INSTEAD.

There’s a lot going on inside your body when you’re getting your sweat on. That “exercise high” you may feel after an intense lifting session, along with gradual muscle growth and fat loss, is due to the work of the hormones insulin, glucagon, cortisol, human growth hormone (HGH), epinephrine, and norepinephrine. They’re responsible for adding lean mass and firing up your metabolism.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF YOUR FAT-FIGHTING HORMONES.

Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that helps control fat and carb metabolism. It also reduces glucose in the bloodstream and can cause fat to be stored as adipose tissue instead of being used as energy. Glucagon is released when blood-sugar levels are low, and it discharges free fatty acids (FFAs) from adipose tissue. So how can you harness them to burn fat effectively? Start by avoiding carbs 30 to 45 minutes pre-workout if you’re doing lowintensity cardio, says Pete McCall, exercise science faculty member at Mesa College in San Diego, CA. “The carbs will elevate insulin and will be used for fuel rather than free fatty acids being used.” FIND YOUR

NUTRIENT WINDOW.

To build muscle with these hormones, you’ll have to influence an insulin spike, which depends on the time between when you work out and when you eat. In general, aim to consume a combination of protein and carbs, such as a protein shake, within 30 minutes of working out. When you exercise, the insulin receptors on muscle fibers are activated; when insulin molecules from the carbs in your diet latch on to receptors, the muscle cells take up both glucose and protein more easily, which can enhance muscle growth.

GROW SOME MUSCLE.

HGH facilitates muscle growth, fat loss, and enhances immune function. Unfortunately, as we get older, HGH levels drop, leading to less lean muscle and more body-fat stores. To stimulate HGH, keep on hitting the weight room—especially after the age of 30. “Lifting weights is very critical to prevent HGH levels from dropping drastically,” says McCall. And make sure you’re mixing things up in the gym: The American Physiological Society published a study that found HGH levels were more enhanced with moderate to heavy workout regimens with a varied weight load.

3. HAVE BETTER SEX

Beyond the obvious, sex has a long list of benefits, including improving cardiovascular health, boosting the immune system, lessening pain, and lowering blood pressure. But out­of­whack hormone levels can sabotage your libido. Adrenal glands are at the source of your desire, which produces testosterone and estrogen, among others. The International Journal of Impotence Research found that low libido levels were directly correlated with low levels of total testosterone, free testosterone, and DHEA­S in pre­ and postmenopausal women. So how to get your groove back despite fluctuating hormones? Here’s how to coursecorrect hormones:

RETHINK THE PILL.

Estrogen, testosterone, and DHEA are the main hormone influencers over sex drive. And if you’re among the 17% of women of reproductive age who use birth control pills, take note: “Hormonal birth control pills essentially shut down ovaries, stopping them from making testosterone,” says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale Medical School. Testosterone is key for libido, and if your sex drive is low, she advises that women on birth control taking a pill with progestin in it instead. Certain progestins, like those in pills such as levonorgestrel, will act more like testosterone in the body and will be less likely to interfere with libido. Or switch to an IUD, which allows testosterone to be produced naturally pills essentially shut down ovaries, stopping them from making testosterone,” says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale Medical School. Testosterone is key for libido, and if your sex drive is low, she advises that women on birth control taking a pill with progestin in it instead. Certain progestins, like those in pills such as levonorgestrel, will act more like testosterone in the body and will be less likely to interfere with libido. Or switch to an IUD, which allows testosterone to be produced naturally.

TRY AN Rx FOR PEAK AROUSAL.

Several natural remedies may play an important role in boosting sex drive. mediates smooth muscle like that in the clitoris and vagina, and has been shown to provide significant improvement in arousal in female subjects. A few that might help you get in the mood more often:

Research in Urologic Nursing found that supplementation with herbs like damiana, an African shrub that might boost dopamine levels, and ginseng, which is associated with higher energy and stamina, may rouse libido. The same study also highlighted L­arginine, an amino acid precursor to nitric oxide, which mediates smooth muscle like that in the clitoris and vagina, and has been shown to provide significant improvement in arousal in female subjects.

A research analysis in the 2015 Cochrane Database Systematic Reviews found that DHEA may improve sexual function. However, because DHEA forms male and female hormones in the body, it can quickly turn into too much of a good thing. The National Institutes of Health recommends 25 to 50mg given daily for androgen deficiency, but talk to your doctor about an amount that might be right for you.

Research in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that adaptogen Tongkat ali also improved libido, energy, and stress hormone balance by increasing the amount of free testosterone in the body. These findings may suggest that other adaptogens like ashwagandha and maca (a Peruvian root used to treat low energy and female hormone imbalances) may help naturally boost sex drive.

4. SLEEP DEEPER

YOUR BEST RECOVERY— AND FAT FIGHTING— HAPPEN DURING SLEEP.

The quality of your sleep undoubtedly affects how you feel throughout the day. Sleepless nights can have a domino affect on hormones, stimulating mood swings, food cravings, bad workouts, and much more. “Sleep and hormones go both ways: They create a vicious circle that’s kind of hard to break,” explains sleep expert Shawn Stevenson, author of Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to a Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success.

GET SOME SLEEP SAVINGS.

When you’re running low on sleep, the hunger and satiety hormones ghrelin and leptin can work against you. Ghrelin makes you want to eat, whereas leptin suppresses appetite. After you experience a significant lack of sleep, leptin levels can drop and ghrelin levels will increase, making you feel hungry but not satisfied, according to research published in Journal of Sleep Research. Result: Poor eating habits and a bigger waistline.

MELLOW MELATONIN.

Also known as the sleep hormone, melatonin isn’t just produced by the pineal gland of the brain—it’s also made and stored in the stomach’s gastrointestinal tract (GI).

“Melatonin should really be called the ‘get a ­good sleep hormone’ because it helps you to go through your sleep cycles more normally,” Stevenson says. When you’re following a healthy sleep pattern and diet, melatonin levels should peak at night, but when those get off track, so does your sleep. Melatonin can also affect your mood, even more so if you are perior postmenopausal. The reason: Melatonin synthesis is controlled by estrogen and progesterone. A study in the Journal of the North American Menopause Society found that postmenopausal women have lower nighttime melatonin levels than perimenopausal women, yet perimenopausal women experienced a delayed melatonin peak time, causing more anxiety. To better regulate melatonin levels with age, Stevenson recommends taking melatonin precursors such as  5­HTP or L-­tryptophan, or natural sleep aids like chamomile tea, kava kava, and valerian root. But steer clear of pure melatonin supplements, he warns: “These can override your system.”

CONQUER CORTISOL.

Cortisol is another hormone in the complex sleep ­hormonal mix. “Cortisol should spike in the morning and gradually decline and bottom out in the evening,” says Stevenson. When there’s a lack of sleep, this hormone will be out of sync—which is why people can often feel like they’re more tired in the morning than at night. A study published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity discovered that cortisol levels are low when a proper sleep schedule is followed and high if there’s sleep deprivation, since exercising right before bed can raise cortisol levels. To best take advantage of the shifting hormone levels, get your workouts done in the morning.