Does your life feel like a song played badly out of tune?
If so, the problem may have to do with imbalances in your hormones, which are wreaking havoc on your body and mind.
There is one hormone in particular I am going to focus on today, and it could be at the root of your problems.
I will share with you 12 tips you can start using immediately to begin rebalancing your hormones and bring your life back into tune.
But first, ask yourself these questions:
- Do your mood and energy swing up and down, making your life crazy?
- Do you crave sugar or salt?
- Are you overweight and putting on more and more belly fat?
- If you are a woman, do you have premenstrual syndrome, painful or heavy periods, and a low sex drive?
- Are you depressed? Do you sleep poorly?
- Do you feel tired but wired?
- Do you need coffee to wake up in the morning and a few glasses of wine to calm down at night?
If you answered "yes," your hormones may be out of balance, and you are not alone ...
In fact, this is how most Americans feel because we are living out of harmony with our natural biological rhythms. This is because small molecules in our bodies that we depend on to keep us in balance are running haywire.
These messenger molecules are involved in almost every function of the body, and they are critical to our well-being.
They are our hormones - messenger molecules of our endocrine system - and neurotransmitters - messenger molecules of our brain and nervous system.
Understand how and why these systems get out of balance and you will go a long way toward understanding why Americans are so tired, depressed, and overweight!
Our hormone and neurotransmitter system is another one of the core systems of the body that we must address to achieve vibrant health. That is why Balancing Your Hormones is Key #2 to UltraWellness.
In today's blog - the second in this 7-part series on the 7 Keys to UltraWellness - I will explain why your hormones get out of balance, how to get them back in balance, how they work, and why so many of you feel miserable because of them.
The Four Major Hormonal Epidemics in America and Why They Are Making Us Miserable
All of our hormones and neurotransmitters work together as one dynamic system to help us maintain optimal health and keep us happy, focused, and peaceful. They are like a finely orchestrated symphony that must work together to keep everything in balance.
The command and control center for this process is in your brain. It is made up of the hypothalamus and pituitary glands.
This center sends signals to distant parts of the body to control everything from your stress response through the adrenal glands to your blood sugar balance through the pancreas to your thyroid hormone via the thyroid gland, to your sexual behavior and function through the reproductive organs. It also controls growth, sleep, mood, and much more.
In addition to these hormonal messengers you also have important brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, which send messages throughout your body to every cell, organ, and tissue and help you do everything from moving your arm to feeling happy or sad.
When your neurotransmitters or hormones are out of balance, literally everything in your body goes haywire.
There are four big epidemics of hormonal problems in Americans today that are sending millions of people out of balance: too much insulin (from sugar), too much cortisol and adrenaline (from stress), imbalances of sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone, and not enough thyroid hormones.
Although all 4 of these hormone epidemics are important, today I want to focus on the most common - and therefore the most problematic - of these conditions: too much insulin.
Insulin Resistance: Awash in a Sea of Sugar
Let me tell you the story of a man who came to me. His story may be all too familiar to you ...
James was a 46 year-old Wall Street executive who came to me for a cardiac stress test. He was a hard-driving, don't-look-up type of guy who was convinced he was dying of heart disease.
Every afternoon, he would experience the sudden onset of sweating, a racing heart, anxiety, and shortness of breath - in other words, he thought he was going to die!
He was also thick around the middle. After taking one look at him and listening to his story, I said, "You don't eat breakfast, do you?"
"And you feel tired after eating, so that is why you skip food during the day - to keep sharp for work," I continued. "And when you feel like that, you go to the vending machine for a soda and get a quick sugar fix, and in a few minutes you feel better."
Shocked, he asked, "How did you know?"
I explained to James that he was fighting with his genes and was insulin resistant, leading to wide swings in blood sugar that were responsible for his symptoms.
He couldn't regulate his blood sugar because he pumped out too much insulin. And this was leading to every one of his symptoms ...
When you eat too much sugar, flour, and white rice, your insulin levels spike.
When this happens, your cells become resistant to its effects. So you pump out more and more insulin, become even MORE resistant to its effects, and end up in the vicious cycle of insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance can cause energy and mood swings - AND it can take you down the slippery road toward high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, cancer, brain aging, dementia, and more.
But James is not alone in his problem with blood sugar control ...
Between 80 and 100 million Americans suffer from insulin resistance. It is not exactly the same in everyone, but the ultimate consequences can be similar.
Most people with insulin resistance have extra fat around the middle.
(Quick Tip: Check your waist-to-hip ratio - the measurement around your belly button divided by the measurement around your hips. If it is greater than 0.8, you likely have insulin resistance.)
You may be tall, thin, short, fat, or any combination of these and still have insulin resistance.
The only way to know for sure is to take an insulin response test, which measures blood sugar AND insulin while you are fasting and 1 and 2 hours after you consume a 75-gram sugar drink.
Just measuring blood sugar alone isn't enough. You HAVE to measure insulin - this is something that many doctors miss.
Insulin resistance is not a genetic defect, an error in our evolution, or a mistake by God. It is the result of the simple fact that we have strayed from eating in harmony with our genes. In other words, we do not fit into our genes.
Historically, we ate the equivalent of only 20 teaspoons of sugar a year as hunter - gatherers.
But just 200 years ago, we started consuming about 10 pounds of sugar per person per year - a 5,000% increase over our evolutionary ancestors!
As if that weren't bad enough, we now we eat 150 pounds per person per year, or about 1/2 pound each day - that's the equivalent of drinking 6 cans of Coke or eating 8 Snickers bars per day.
What's worst, the average child consumes 34 teaspoons of sugar a day!
That means that we are now eating 75,000% more sugar today than our ancestors did.
This is ridiculous - no wonder so many of us are sick, fat, tired, and depressed!
We evolved in a world without supermarkets, convenience stores, or fast food restaurants. We had to work for our food and had limited access to refined foods or excess calories.
In fact, our genes are pre-agricultural - we only started farming 10,000 years ago and only started refining flour about 200 years ago with the advent of the steam engine-powered flourmill.
With the advent of 15,000 low-fat foods (which are also high-sugar, high-calorie foods) on the market over the last 15 to 20 years, we have created an epidemic of increasing obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. The scientific foundation for the low-fat movement was shaky from the start, and the consequences of that movement were the exact opposite of its intentions - we are now the most unhealthy generation.
Madison Avenue got ahead of medical science to the detriment of us all.
How Does All This Sugar Harm Our Health?
Well, our bodies normally produce insulin in response to food in our stomachs, particularly sugar. When we eat too much sugar we produce FAR too much insulin, and this leads to a variety of health problems.
We once thought that insulin's only role was to help the sugar enter cells so it could be metabolized, transforming the stored energy of the sun (in plant foods) with the oxygen we breathe into the energy we use every day to run our bodies.
We were wrong.
Insulin has many other effects on the body. And when there is too much of it, the results can be catastrophic.
Here is what too much insulin really does to your body and health:
- Now we recognize insulin as a major switching station, or control hormone, for many processes. It is a major storage hormone - fat storage, that is.
- Insulin acts on your brain to increase appetite, specifically an appetite for sugar. Try as you might, as long as your insulin levels are high you will fight a losing battle for weight loss.
- It increases LDL cholesterol, lowers HDL cholesterol, raises triglycerides, and increases your blood pressure. Insulin resistance causes 50% of all reported cases of high blood pressure.
- It makes your blood sticky and more likely to clot, leading to heart attacks and strokes.
- It stimulates the growth of cancer cells.
- It increases inflammation and oxidative stress and ages your brain.
- It even increases homocysteine because sugar consumption decreases vitamin B6 and folic acid.
- Insulin also causes sex hormone problems and can lead to infertility, hair growth where you don't want to grow it, hair loss where you don't want to lose it, acne, low testosterone in men, and more. It also leads to mood disturbances.
Fortunately, balancing blood sugar and correcting insulin resistance are well within our reach.
Scientific advances of the last few decades show us how.
While some medications can help with insulin resistance, such as Glucophage, Avandia, and Actos, they have side effects and are only a Band-aid unless they are used along with a comprehensive nutrition, exercise, and stress management plan like the one described below.
Resetting Your Metabolism for Optimal Blood Sugar
My goal is to make your metabolism more efficient, to make your cells more intelligent and cooperative, not resistant. In other words, you will need much less insulin to accomplish the task of balancing your blood sugar.
You can achieve this by resetting your metabolism of sugar and insulin.
To do this you have to eliminate the things that are knocking you out of balance, and provide your body the things it needs to reestablish optimal balance and thrive.
Here is what to do:
- Stop eating flour and sugar products, especially high-fructose corn syrup.
- Don't drink liquid calories in juice and soda. Your body doesn't feel full from them, so you eat more all day.
- Stop consuming all processed, junk, or packaged foods. If it doesn't look like the food your great grandmother ate, stay away.
- Stop eating trans or hydrogenated fats.
- Slow the rate of sugar uptake from the gut by balancing your meals with healthy protein (nuts, seeds, beans, small wild fish, organic chicken), healthy carbs (vegetables, fruit, beans, whole grains), and healthy fats (olive oil, nuts and seeds, avocadoes, fish oil).
- Eat plenty of soluble fiber (30 to 50 grams a day).
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals.
- Make your cells smarter by giving them an oil change with omega-3 fats, which help fix cell membranes so that they can more readily receive the messages from insulin.
- Move your body: Exercise improves your cells' ability to work better, respond to insulin better, and burn sugar faster.
- Relax! Stress reduction also helps improve blood sugar control.
- Make your cells more efficient by increasing specific nutrients, such as chromium, vanadium, magnesium, vitamin E, biotin, the B vitamins, zinc, bioflavonoids, and some newer compounds including alpha lipoic acid, arginine, and carnitine.
- Herbs may also be of benefit. These include Panax ginseng, ginkgo biloba, green tea, fenugreek, gymnema sylvestre, bitter melon, and garlic.
Just balancing this one hormone - insulin - can have wide-ranging effects on all your other hormones and brain chemicals and is a great place to start on your path to vibrant health.
Just try these suggestions for 1 week and see how you feel - you may be shocked at how quickly your body can recover.
Now I'd like to hear from you ...
What do you think can be done to cleanse our food supply of so much sugar?
Do you believe the corn industry's ads on the safety of high-fructose corn syrup?
How can we protect our children from consuming massive amounts of sugar?
Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, MD