Regaining balance

Nutritionist Angelique Panagos explains the importance of achieving optimal hormonal balance

If your menstrual cycle is the dance, then where does the music come from? Consider your hormones like a symphony, conducted by the endocrine system, which is made up of a number of glands and organs. These include the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, thyroid, pancreas, adrenal glands and ovaries (in females), and the testes (in males). They may seem unrelated, but they communicate and work together, the way different instruments make up an orchestra.

Your glands control important physiological functions by releasing powerful chemical messengers (hormones) into the blood. The word ‘hormone’ comes from a Greek word hormon, meaning ‘set in motion’, and that’s precisely what your hormones do: they trigger activity in different organs and body parts.

A delicate balance

It’s an intricate three-tier system that works like an efficiently run company – the hypothalamus in the brain is the MD and will release a stimulating or inhibitory hormone message to the pituitary (the manager), telling it what needs to be done, and the pituitary then communicates through hormone messages with the other endocrine organs (the workforce), and instructs them what to do. Once this chain reaction is complete, there is what’s called a feedback loop, where the end organ hormones feed back to the hypothalamus. This message is just as important, as it reports back the current hormone levels so that the hypothalamus can give the next command – and so the cycle continues.

Meet the sassy six

Now there are many hormones at work in your body, but there are six key players that I want you to be familiar with. I call them the Sassy Six, because they each play key roles in making you feel like your sassy self. They are: progesterone, testosterone, oestrogen, cortisol, thyroid and insulin. No hormone works in isolation; they work in synergy and, ideally, in balance.

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The first four of our Sassy Six are classified as steroid (or steroidal) hormones. Steroid hormones are derived from lipids, which are fats, cholesterol and circulating LDL (what’s referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol) in the bloodstream. In the liver, this cholesterol is used to make a precursor steroid hormone called pregnenolone. From pregnenolone we synthesize our other steroid hormones. So it’s important for hormone production that we have the right fats in our diet and that our liver is functioning optimally. Converting cholesterol to pregnenolone is an energy-intensive process, and cellular energy comes from a nutrient-dense diet. Already you can see the importance of food when it comes to hormone health.

So what happens if your hormones are not in balance? All sorts of symptoms can result, but here are just a few examples:

  • High cortisol causes that tired, but wired feeling, and contributes to belly fat.
  • Low cortisol makes you feel exhausted and drained, taking you from superhero to super cranky.
  • Low progesterone can lead to infertility, night sweats, insomnia and irregular menstrual cycles.
  • High oestrogen can cause breast tenderness, cysts, fibroids, endometriosis and even breast cancer.
  • Low oestrogen affects motivation, focus, flexibility, mood and libido, and can cause vaginal dryness.
  • High androgens (male hormones), such as testosterone and DHEA, are top causes of infertility, facial hair and acne.
  • A low thyroid can cause brain fog, fatigue, weight gain, constipation, cold hands and feet, and thinning hair.
  • Elevated insulin, the fat-storage hormone, causes the dreaded muffin top. It can also contribute to excess androgens, elevated cortisol, insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes.

The Balance Plan by Angelique Panagos is published by Aster at £14.99 in paperback. Visit www.octopusbooks.co.uk and angeliquepanagos.com

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