In part one of our two part blog we gave you the facts about the three most well known hormones, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone and directly took on the most common myths about each of them. In this article we’ll look at the three lesser known (and even less understood) but just as important, key hormones crucial to your health. They make your feel good, moderate stress and keep your metabolism and weight in check. Ignore them, and you’ll find yourself with weight gain you can’t control and stress you don’t manage very well.
Let’s jump in.
DHEA: Your Well-Being Hormone
A multifaceted hormone with far-ranging benefits, DHEA (the abbreviation for dehydroepiandrosterone) is produced mainly by your adrenal glands, but also by your ovaries. Like testosterone, DHEA can increase sensations of well-being and promote feelings of contentment. It can also boost your overall health, nurture your ovaries and brain, increase your memory and concentration, build your bones, enhance your fertility, and support your entire hormonal system, particularly your adrenal glands.
DHEA can additionally lift your libido, enhance your sexuality, and improve your sexual functioning. At the same time, sexual arousal and orgasm stimulate the release of more DHEA in your body.
Since DHEA converts directly into testosterone, and indirectly into estrogen (by way of testosterone), women often need only minute increases of DHEA in their bodies to experience substantial mood-improving, energy-boosting, and libido-enhancing effects. The effects of increased DHEA seem particularly favorable in women under excessive stress who need to revitalize their bodies.
If you have insufficient DHEA, you’re apt to have a reduced sense of well-being, diminished all-around health, and lower libido. You may also experience frequent fatigue, decreased fertility, reduced memory, and other symptoms.
Cortisol: Your Energizing Hormone
Cortisol is often referred to as “the stress hormone”—because your body releases it when you’re stressed— but it’s more appropriate to think of it as your energizing hormone. It’s produced in your adrenal glands, small glands above your kidneys that play a major role in the energy you feel in your body every day.
Keeping your cortisol level balanced is essential: the right level supports your immune system, enhances your normal blood-sugar regulation, and helps you respond appropriately to stressful events. Your body also has a natural cortisol cycle that continually promotes your energy and health in many other ways.
Myth: Since cortisol is your stress hormone, its only job is to be released when you have to deal with stress.
Truth: Cortisol has more than one role, and can actually help you to feel relaxed and sleep soundly.
When you’re in good health, you have an elevated cortisol level in the morning, and it gradually decreases as you approach evening. This helps you to wake up feeling full of energy, and enables you to feel tired at day’s end and sleep deeply at night. Cortisol is more than simply your “stress hormone,” because a healthy level quiets your mind and body at night, allowing you to get restorative, rejuvenating sleep and also to heal from illness.
If your natural cortisol cycle is imbalanced, owing to either low blood sugar or unrelenting stress, your cortisol level may become elevated at night and reduced in the morning—just the opposite of what you need to keep growing younger every day and night. If this happens, you may have insomnia at night and difficulty getting up in the morning, which can further compromise your health.
If you have low cortisol, the effects may include diminished energy, exhaustion, a lack of
get-up-and-go, reduced immunity, and exaggerated menopausal symptoms. On the other hand, if chronic stress causes your cortisol level to be consistently too high, your energy is also likely to collapse. In other words, imbalanced cortisol can deplete your energy either way, whether it’s high or low.
Excessive cortisol can also cause feelings of anxiety and fragility, lead to weight gain, particularly around your waistline, and aggravate menopausal symptoms. In addition, by throwing your other hormones out of balance, chronically high cortisol can jeopardize your overall hormonal equilibrium and wreak hormonal havoc. Your body may experience a continuous “distress” mode, rather than regular menstrual cycles with balanced levels of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and DHEA. This can cause you to stop ovulating consistently, which can lead to infertility, reduced progesterone, exacerbated PMS symptoms, and much heavier menstrual flow. Excessive cortisol can cause further mayhem by inhibiting your thyroid hormone function, which, as you’ll discover, is also important for your energy and vitality.
Thyroid: Your Dynamic Hormone
Your thyroid hormone is produced in your butterfly-shaped thyroid gland, which lies just below your Adam’s apple. Essential for your entire metabolism, your thyroid gland is a dynamo when it comes to energy production in your body.
A healthy level of thyroid hormone is essential for your body, mind, and spirit. It helps generate the drive you need to surmount new challenges in your life, overcome limitations, and achieve your goals; it also helps you maximize your vitality and maintain your ideal body weight.
Too much or too little thyroid hormone can send your health into a nosedive. Symptoms of excess thyroid, a condition known as hyperthyroidism, include anxiety, a rise in heart rate, increased appetite, heat sensitivity, hyperactive behavior, irregular menstrual cycles, and weight loss.
MYTH: Your thyroid is the only hormone that controls weight.
TRUTH: While your thyroid is critical in maintaining and regulating metabolism, estrogen and progesterone, as well as, testosterone all contribute to a woman’s healthy weight.
The opposite condition—inadequate thyroid hormone, known as hypothyroidism—is much more prevalent among women.
Hypothyroidism can decrease the rate of your entire metabolism and set off a broad range of symptoms that include easy weight gain, lethargy, fatigue, insomnia, headaches, migraines, depression, exacerbated PMS, heavy periods, irregular menstrual cycles, hair loss, dry skin, digestive problems, and constipation.
By slowing the rate of your metabolism, a low thyroid hormone level can in turn lead to additional symptoms affecting various organs and systems in your body. You’re not likely to have all these symptoms if your thyroid hormone is low, but some may be familiar. They include high cholesterol, reduced immunity, heart palpitations, low blood sugar, inability to lose weight, muscle and joint pain, recurring miscarriages, infertility, estrogen dominance and other hormone imbalances, anxiety, allergies, hives, hair loss (including loss of the outer third of your eyebrows), dry hair and skin, difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, and puffiness and swelling in your face (especially your eyelids) when you wake.
With so much at stake, restoring low thyroid hormone to a healthy level can be one of the most consequential actions you take to improve your all-around health and quality of life. Spending years of your life suffering needlessly from many of the above symptoms can take an inestimable toll on your body’s natural ability to achieve a more youthful hormone balance.
Taking control of your hormones beginning now, while you’re young will keep you both healthy and younger as you age and make the life you’re living now more productive. While there are a lot of ways to do it – things you already know, like eating better and getting enough sleep, knowing what your own “normal” is and keeping track of it over time with the help of a knowledgeable doctor can help you find the right solutions for you.
The Daily Wellness Team