Are Your Hormones Out of Whack?

This is a good article by Dr. Oz….

 

By Dr. Mehmet Oz

470_2661688I think of the body’s hormones as musical instruments in an orchestra: Each plays its own part in creating a perfect concert–until the day one is out of tune and throws off the entire melody.

Although it was many years ago, I still remember one of the first patients I saw with a hormonal disturbance. She was a lovely woman in her early 40s who was a little heavy; despite having tried every diet under the sun, she couldn’t seem to shed the extra pounds. As we talked and she mentioned a few more of her concerns–dry skin, brittle hair, a lack of energy (even shortly after her morning coffee)–I realized I needed to test her thyroid levels. Sure enough, they were too low. With proper medication, my patient’s skin and energy improved, and she was no longer a prisoner to a simple chemical imbalance.

No one should have to live with an untreated hormone problem. Some require medical care, while others may be addressed with lifestyle adjustments, but almost all are treatable. Here is a guide to some of the most common signs of hormone imbalance–and what you can do to restore harmony.

Estrogen

The Clues
If you are overweight, you may have elevated estrogen levels; fat cells actually produce the hormone, so extra weight can lead to too much estrogen in the body. This can be a serious problem because excess estrogen can fuel breast and uterine cancers. During menopause, on the other hand, all women experience a natural drop in estrogen levels, along with side effects that range from hot flashes to headaches to joint pain.

What You Can Do
I know I sound like a broken record, but if you carry extra pounds, exercising and watching your diet are essential: Losing weight can improve your estrogen balance and simultaneously reduce your risk of cancer. (An overweight or obese postmenopausal woman who loses just 5 percent of her weight could potentially cut her risk of breast cancer by up to 50 percent.) I also suggest that women with too much estrogen avoid foods that are high in phytoestrogens (plant compounds that mimic the hormone), such as whole soy products.

For women going through menopause, there is some evidence that herbal supplements such as hops and black cohosh may help alleviate symptoms. But if the symptoms interfere with your daily life, talk to your doctor to see if hormone replacement therapy is right for you.


Testosterone

The Clues
In the years preceding menopause, a woman may suffer from decreased testosterone as her ovaries and adrenal glands slow the production of sex hormones. This may explain why many women experience a drop in libido during this period of their lives. Excess testosterone, however, may be the result of a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS); possible symptoms include irregular periods, male-pattern baldness, a deepening voice, and excess body hair.

What You Can Do
If you’re concerned about low libido, try incorporating more zinc-rich foods–like oysters and sesame seeds–into your diet (zinc appears to be linked to an increase in testosterone levels), and ask your doctor about testosterone supplementation. To treat PCOS, your doctor might recommend taking birth control pills containing synthetic hormones that reduce the production of testosterone. It’s also important to avoid refined sugars and other carbohydrates in your diet (insulin resistance is linked to a boost in testosterone production) and to eat more fiber (which counteracts blood sugar spikes and promotes the excretion of excess sugars from the body).

Melatonin

The Clues
Low levels of melatonin, the hormone responsible for maintaining the body’s circadian rhythm, are associated with poor sleep and depression. Our bodies may produce less melatonin as we age, which could explain why some older adults have more trouble sleeping than children do.

What You Can Do
If you struggle to get enough shut-eye, try taking .5 milligram of a melatonin supplement one to two hours before bedtime. I’d also suggest drinking melatonin-rich tart cherry juice: In a pilot 2010 study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, subjects who drank two cups a day experienced some relief from insomnia.

Ghrelin and Leptin

The Clues
Stomach growling? Thank ghrelin. Produced in the stomach, ghrelin cues the brain that you’re hungry. After you eat, leptin swoops in to tell the brain you’re full. If these two hormones fall out of sync, you may lose the ability to recognize when your body is satiated and overeat as a result.

What You Can Do
Try your best to get a full night’s sleep: A Stanford University study found that habitual sleep restriction (five hours a night as opposed to eight) raised a person’s ghrelin levels by nearly 15 percent, lowered leptin levels by 15.5 percent, and was directly associated with increased body weight. Other research has shown that exercise and stress reduction may help keep ghrelin levels in check.

Thyroid Hormone

The Clues
Thyroid hormone regulates how fast you burn calories. One in ten women doesn’t produce enough of it–a condition known as hypothyroidism, which can lead to weight gain, depression, and fatigue. On the other end of the spectrum is hyperthyroidism, in which the thyroid gland releases too much of its hormone, causing symptoms such as anxiety, a racing heart, excessive sweating, even diarrhea.

What You Can Do
If you have hypothyroidism, a daily thyroid hormone replacement pill can help correct the imbalance. You might also want to consider eating more onion. This veggie contains kaempferol, a compound that may kick-start production of the hormone. If you have an overactive thyroid, your doctor may prescribe one of several treatments, from radioactive iodine–to slow hormone production–to surgical removal of the gland; most patients respond well once they get the proper care.

Aldosterone

The Clues
Aldosterone regulates your body’s sodium-to-water ratio. But a condition called renal artery stenosis–a narrowing of the blood vessels that supply the kidneys–can trigger the release of the hormone, causing a surge in blood pressure.

What you can do
A heart-friendly lifestyle that keeps your blood vessels healthy can also be a kidney-friendly lifestyle. Minimize salt intake, follow a low-fat diet, get some exercise, and don’t smoke.

Cortisol

The Clues
When you’re under pressure, your cortisol spikes to provide the body with a quick dose of energy. Chronic stress, however, can keep your cortisol elevated continuously–a dangerous state, since the hormone can suppress the immune system and has been linked to the accumulation of abdominal fat.

What You Can Do
When I’m stressed, I close my eyes and breathe deeply for two to three minutes with one hand on my chest and the other on my belly; my chest stays still while my abdomen rises and falls. As you calm down, your cortisol should drop to normal levels.

The Hormone Factory

A brief tour of your body’s finely tuned endocrine system

1. Pineal Gland
Named for its pinecone shape, the pineal gland is tucked between the two hemispheres of the brain. It’s still a bit of a mystery, though we know it produces the sleep hormone, melatonin.

2. Pituitary Gland
Known as the master gland, this pea-size organ releases hormones that stimulate the other glands to, in turn, release their hormones.

3. Thyroid Gland
Think of this gland as the thermostat for your metabolism: It can increase or decrease the rate of calorie burn by releasing more or less thyroid hormone.

4. Adrenal Glands
Perched atop your kidneys, these glands secrete hormones that control your “fight or flight” response to stress (cortisol and adrenaline) and your blood pressure (aldosterone), among others.

5. Ovaries
These organs produce more than eggs; they manufacture and release the most important hormones for female development: estrogen, progesterone, and–yes–testosterone.

The Sunshine Vitamin: Get Your Vitamin D

The Sunshine Vitamin: Get Your Vitamin D

Let the sun shine in! Experts say women aren’t getting enough vitamin D, an essential vitamin that helps the body absorb calcium and has been shown to decrease the risk of some diseases.

By Diana Rodriguez
Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH

More and more studies are showing how important vitamin D is to women’s health — and that many women aren’t getting enough of this essential vitamin.

Though you can up your levels through both your diet and supplements, soaking up a little sunshine is the best way to get vitamin D. But we’re also told to limit our time in the sun because of the damage it can do to our skin — so what gives? You can get your daily dose of vitamin D and protect your skin, too, so you don’t have to sacrifice any aspect of your health to give your body what it needs.

The Importance of Vitamin D

Vitamin D promotes the body’s absorption of calcium, a mineral that helps keep bones and teeth strong. Vitamin D also regulates the body’s calcium levels in the blood, as well as levels of the mineral phosphorus, which also helps to promote healthy bones and teeth.

Vitamin D deficiency can be serious, causing bones to deteriorate and weaken. In adults, a vitamin D deficiency can lead to the bone condition osteoporosis and, in children, it can cause rickets — soft and weak bones.

Although more research is needed, vitamin D also appears to have many other beneficial effects. Studies have shown that vitamin D in sufficient levels can help boost the immune system and possibly decrease the risk of getting some cancers.

Research shows that vitamin D deficiency may increase the risk of:

  • Broken bones
  • Breast cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes
  • Viral infections, such as the flu
  • High blood pressure

Where to Get Your Vitamin D

500 mg calcium supplement tablets, with vitami...

Image via Wikipedia

The body produces vitamin D, but it needs sunshine to do it right. You can also take a vitamin D supplement or get vitamin D from certain foods.

Foods rich in vitamin D include:

  • Fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and oysters
  • Vitamin D-enriched cereal
  • Some eggs (but the hens must have been given vitamin D)
  • Vitamin D-fortified orange juice
  • Margarine and butter
  • Vitamin D-fortified milk
  • Dairy foods including cream and cheese

The Vitamin D Conundrum

So just how much vitamin D do you need? It depends on your gender and age. Get too little vitamin D, and you’ll feel the effects of vitamin D deficiency. Too much of it — and your blood can contain too much calcium, harming your lungs and heart.

Here are the standard recommendations for vitamin D intake for women:

  • Age 14 to 50: 200 international units (IU)
  • Age 51 to 70: 400 IU
  • Age 71 and older: 600 IU

Many physicians are now testing vitamin D levels in their patients and finding that many women (and men) have low vitamin D levels. If your level is low, your doctor may recommend much higher supplement doses, often 1,000 to 2,000 IU a day.

How to Boost Vitamin D Levels

To get enough vitamin D from the sun, you need to spend about 5 to 15 minutes in the sun, just three times each week, without sunscreen. Too much sun exposure can cause sunburn and increase the risk of skin cancer, so make sure you limit your exposure. Also, you can expose your arms and legs, but you should always protect your face with sunscreen. If you don’t feel safe in the sun, turn to your diet and a vitamin D supplement to get the vitamin D you need.

Remember that you still need vitamin D in the winter. For many people, especially those in northern climates, it’s hard to get enough sun during those months, and a supplement may be necessary. African-Americans and others with darker skin tones may also be less able to absorb enough sunlight for sufficient vitamin D production from the sun alone.

Other Essential Vitamins

One of Vitamin D’s main roles is to help ensure that your body can absorb calcium, but you’ve also got to make sure you’re getting enough calcium so that vitamin D can do its job. You should try to get between 1,000 and 1,200 daily milligrams of calcium through diet or supplements (calcium supplements are available with vitamin D, enabling you to get both in one pill).

A daily multivitamin can also offer essential vitamins to help protect women’s health. Multivitamins usually contain vitamin D — often 200 IU or 400 IU — so be sure to read labels. Look for a multivitamin that also contains these vitamins:

  • Folate (folic acid) to help prevent anemia
  • Vitamin A to promote bone health and healthy cells
  • Vitamin B6 and B12 to prevent birth defects, some cancers, and heart disease
  • Vitamin C to prevent infection and promote collagen growth, which helps form healthy bones and teeth
  • Vitamin K, which helps blood to clot and promotes strong bones

Vitamins, including vitamin D, are an important part of women’s health. But still, be careful to limit unprotected sun exposure and to get enough dietary vitamin D or take a vitamin D supplement if you want an alternative to the sun.

Weekend Splurging Done Right

By Madeline Vann, MPH
Medically reviewed by Christine Wilmsen Craig

Researchers tracking 48 adults in a weight program for a year found that they ate, on average, 200 calories more on Saturdays, the most dangerous day for weight management. Over time, those 200 extra calories add up to a few pounds gained over the course of a year — not the goal of a maintenance program!

While everyone deserves a day off, you need to be careful not to overdo it. You don’t want to consume too many calories and slip back into the patterns that caused your weight gain in the first place. Maintaining a healthy weight means keeping up with the smart eating habits and lifestyle changes that enabled you to drop those pounds in the first place. The lion’s share of your daily maintenance calories should be spent on nutritious foods every day.

Weekend Calories: Indulge in Moderation


“Sometimes we need it. If you have been really good during the week, it helps to know that at least one day a week you can eat those foods you are avoiding on those other days,” says Donna L. Weihofen, RD, MS, health nutritionist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisc.

So how do you splurge without destroying your healthy habits? Weihofen, who admits to having a sweet tooth, advises keeping an eagle eye on calorie counts. Your reward can make or break your weight-management plan. A rich chocolate fudge sundae, for instance, can easily add up to 1,000 calories or more — calories that probably equal half of your daily allotment. That’s a large number to compensate for with extra exercise or cutting back on calories at other meals.

Don’t let your weekend turn into a food wasteland. A few smart steps can help you indulge without the calories or guilt:

  • Share that fudge sundae with your spouse or kids.
  • Go for tiny tastes, like a mini-cheesecake instead of an entire slice, or a single square of chocolate instead of a whole bar.
  • Eat a healthy breakfast to control your appetite.
  • Eat more whole grains, fruit, and veggies as your day gets started so that you’ll feel full longer and feel satisfied with small splurges.
  • Split an entrée or skip the bread basket when eating out, especially if you want a taste of dessert.
  • Limit your alcohol — drink water or another calorie-free beverage between drinks — or apply those calories to a food you’d enjoy more.

Weihofen adds that it is important not to allow yourself to feel so deprived of the foods you love that you throw calorie caution to the wind come Saturday. “If you really have a taste for something, budget it in,” she says. This may require a little research in terms of calories and portion sizes, but is worth it in the long run if you are able to stick to your game plan seven days a week.

I thought this was a very good article and some tips to keep in mind on that splurge day!

Clifta Coulter Perez

Reno Personal Fitness Trainer and Nutrition Coach