How to keep our hormones happy
Dr Libby has just released her 12th book, and is bringing her new live event, The Hormone Factor, to Havelock North on September 19. In the two-hour event, Dr Libby will explore ageing, hormones, emotions, beauty and biochemistry. The Hormone Factor will
How often do you feel like you woke up on the wrong side of the bed?
It’s normal to experience a full range of emotions and to respond to certain situations or incidents with sadness or anger, for example, but when we regularly feel flat, moody or down for no apparent reason, it can be quite perplexing — not only for us but for those closest to us too.
Fluctuating moods can completely change our experience of life. They can influence the foods we choose, whether we get up and do something active or not, how productive we are at work, and the way we speak to the people we love most in the world. And for many people, it can feel as though they have no control over this.
But the truth is, more often than not, we can have a positive impact on our mood by addressing the balance of hormones associated with our happiness. So let’s take a look at some of the happy hormones in the body, and how we can support their balance. Please always seek support whenever you need it.
Serotonin: Serotonin is one of the most well-known happy hormones; it functions as a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger in the brain) that helps us to feel happy, calm and content.
However, about 80 per cent of, or perhaps even more, serotonin in the body is actually made in the gut. There is a direct link between the brain and the gut, known as the gut-brain axis, and with information flowing in both directions of this link, there really is something to the phrase “gut feeling”!
Serotonin is also linked to our sleep hormone, melatonin. There is a see-saw between the two, so when melatonin goes up, serotonin goes down. For some people though, this pattern can end up the wrong way around. If this happens, you might feel down and sleepy for most of the day but great in the evening, which can make it challenging to get through the day! Melatonin is destroyed by light, so it can be helpful to minimise light exposure at night and increase your exposure to bright light in the morning — try to go outside in the daylight early in the morning and exercise, if possible.
Progesterone: Progesterone has a variety of biological functions, aside from its role in fertility. It is a powerful antianxiety agent, an anti-depressant, and a diuretic, which means it helps us to eliminate excess fluid. If we don’t make enough progesterone or if there is an imbalance between oestrogen and progesterone, it can drive mood fluctuations. You may notice this more in the lead up to menstruation where inadequate amounts of progesterone can result in us feeling anything from intense irritability to extreme sadness, sometimes within the same hour!
During our childbearing years, progesterone is made predominantly in the ovaries during the second half of the menstrual cycle, once ovulation has occurred. If you experience irregular ovulation or your ovaries don’t surge progesterone production, which can happen with chronic or significant stress, this can mean that you’re not consistently making enough progesterone each month.
After menopause, ovarian production of progesterone ceases but we can still make some from our adrenal glands. However, because our adrenals are also responsible for making our stress hormones which, from a survival perspective, is a higher priority than making progesterone, chronic stress can compromise this.
Endorphins: These hormones help to reduce pain as well as boost our mood. Many people will recognise that almost euphoric feeling after a burst of vigorous exercise — this lovely feeling is courtesy of endorphins, which are stimulated by physical activity. Remember, however, that over-exercising can lead to stress hormone production. If you feel weary after exercising, you might have overdone it. Aim to feel energised after exercise.
So now that we know a little bit about some of the hormones responsible for our mood, what actions can we take to support optimal levels of these?
Move more throughout your day: The mood-lifting effects of exercise are well-established, but many people still believe that they have to slog it out at the gym or run long distances to get any benefit. Moving your body regularly in a way that you enjoy is going to be much more sustainable than trying to stick to a regime that you truly dislike. Incidental movement is also highly beneficial so don’t avoid movement — look for more ways to incorporate it into your day.
Incorporate breath-focused practices: Stress can have a significant impact on the production of hormones that help us to feel calm and happy.
One of the most effective ways we can reduce stress hormone production is by slowing down our rate of breathing, particularly the exhalation. Diaphragmatic breathing (long, slow breaths that move the belly in and out) communicates calm to our body, as we would never be able to breathe this way if we were truly exposed to life-endangering stress. Try doing 20 long, slow breaths, or embrace another breath-focused practice, such as meditation, tai chi or restorative yoga.
Support great digestion: Digestion is the process through which we extract and absorb all of the nutrients from our food , many of which act as building blocks for our hormones. To help improve your digestion, chew your food well, avoid or minimise highly refined, processed foods that contain artificial substances, and do your best to eat in a calm, relaxed state.
Choose mostly whole, real foods: The way we nourish ourselves has an enormous impact on how we look and feel on a daily basis. Focus on choosing mostly nutrient-rich whole foods. This will provide the nutrients that are needed for great energy, as well as for the creation of happy hormones.
■ Tickets $39.99 from www.drlibby.com/ events