Hormones are chemical messengers that facilitate communication between the multitude of biological systems and glands within our body. They are part of the endocrine system, which is a series of glands that produce and secrete hormones that the body uses to control cellular functions. Hormones are delivered through blood vessels to cells in the body and regulate a number of physiological reactions in the body including growth, weight, development, hydration levels, mood, reproduction, tissue function, sexual function, energy metabolism, menstrual cycle, immunological behavior, sleep, homeostasis, synthesis and degradation of muscle protein, among others.
These are regulated by feedback through stimulation from the nervous system, chemical receptors in the blood, and hormones produced by other glands. Hormones can affect a number of different cells; however, they only influence the ones with specific receptor sites.
Hormones are responsible for both building new muscle and helping to burn fat, so it is important to have an understanding of which ones are released in relation to exercise, as well as an understanding of the physiological functions they influence.
There are three major classifications of hormones: steroid, peptide, and amines (modified amino acid hormones). Each class of hormone has a unique chemical structure that determines how it interacts with specific receptors.
- Steroid hormones interact with receptors in the nucleus of a cell.
- Peptide hormones are comprised of amino acids and work with specific receptors sites in the cell membrane
- Amines contain nitrogen and influence the sympathetic nervous system.
Hormones can either be anabolic or catabolic.
Anabolism is a succession of chemical reactions that build molecules from smaller components, which means that anabolism allows the body to grow new cells and maintain all the tissues. Anabolic processes usually require energy.
- The growth hormone, which is a hormone made by the pituitary gland that stimulates growth.
- Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas. It regulates the level of glucose in the blood. Cells cannot utilize glucose without insulin.
- Testosterone causes the development of male sex characteristics, such as a deeper voice and facial hair. It also strengthens muscles and bone.
- Estrogen is involved in strengthening bone mass, as well as developing female characteristics, such as breasts.
The catabolic process is a series of chemical reactions that break down complex molecules into smaller units releasing energy in the process. Catabolism provides the energy our bodies need for physical activity, from cellular processes to body movements.
Catabolic reactions in the cells break down polymers (long chains of molecules) into their monomers (single units).
- Polysaccharides are broken down into monosaccharides – for instance, starch is broken down into glucose.
- Proteins are broken down into amino acids – in some circumstances, protein is broken down into amino acids to make glucose.
When we eat, our body breaks down nutrients, which releases energy, which is then stored in molecules of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the body. ATP is considered to be “the energy currency of life.” The energy stored in ATP is the fuel for anabolic reactions. Catabolism creates the energy that anabolism consumes for synthesizing hormones, enzymes, sugars, and other substances for cell growth, reproduction, and tissue repair.
Exercise and Hormones
Doing too much exercise or overtraining can have a negative impact on hormones, creating hormonal imbalances and chronic inflammation.* It is true, regular exercise can help us manage weight, build stronger bones, release endorphins and lower stress levels, and gain muscle mass, among other things. However, too much exercise or overtraining can place chronic stress on the body elevating cortisol levels and impairing insulin production. This can cause us to gain weight instead of losing it since cortisol is also our fat storing hormone.
- Cortisol helps in muscle repair and recovery, and also helps to decrease inflammation and swelling in injured tissues.
In addition, both these things can also lead to developing an adrenal insufficiency, which means that the production of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline can be reduced drastically. In general, other hormones can be adversely affected like progesterone, testosterone, estrogen, and thyroid.
- Progesterone and estrogen control mineral absorption (particularly calcium), appetite, moods, and fertility, among other things.
- Testosterone: helps build bones and increase muscle mass. Women produce this hormone too in a lesser quantity than men.
- Thyroid: controls weight, body temperature, mood; impacts a host of vital body functions like heart rate, skin maintenance, growth, fertility, and digestion, among others.
These are some of the main reasons why hormonal imbalances affect our body enormously and why we need to regulate them again naturally and in the best way ASAP. Be very careful with HRT – Hormonal Replacement Therapy. These hormones will never be bioidentical to the natural ones.
*Acute inflammation is a normal mechanism our body uses to heal wounds.
Natural Ways to Regulate Hormones and Avoid Endocrine Disruptors
- Give your body time to recover and rest after each workout.
- Alternate cardio, HIIT, weight lifting with good, restorative sleep (7-9 hours), meditation, yoga, and time to rest between workouts.
- Get fiber from at least 3 cups of vegetables a day, combining raw with steamed ones. The phytonutrients of plants have a hormone-balancing effect because they bind to toxins, old hormones, and chemical substances, thereby clearing them out of your system.
- Get cortisol under control by getting enough sleep, finding ways to regulate your stress levels, and avoiding excessive consumption of beverages containing caffeine. Sometimes, even avoiding them completely!
- Cut out inflammatory foods like processed foods, sugar, soy, alcohol, pasteurized + homogenized dairy, and omega-6 oils, among others.
- Increase the consumption of healthy fats like avocado, olive, coconut, and flaxseed oils, chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, cashews, and omega-3 (fish + flaxseeds + algae).
- As much as is possible, avoid the use of and regular contact with industrial chemicals, cosmetics, detergents, heavy metals, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, different types of plastics and chemicals.
- Eat a lot of foods rich in vitamin D like mushrooms, fatty fish and egg yolks. Supplement after having checked out your hormone levels!
- Eat a lot of foods rich in vitamin C like broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, spinach, red cabbage, peppers, mango, and parsley, among others.
Always be mindful of poor nutrition for your individual needs. In case of doubt, consult a nutritionist.
In the end, moderation is the key.