Experts share their top tips for optimising hormone wellbeing – and they’re all completely free
Supplements and biohacking are all very well, but sometimes it’s good to go back to basics. Wellbeing doesn’t have to come at a cost, as these free and simple hacks to harness hormone health show.
Health is becoming increasingly complicated. From biohacking to femtech, we can’t move for companies trying to sell us luxurious, technical and pricey gadgets, purportedly in the name of wellness. But recently, there’s been a move towards simpler, more holistic ways to bring a little balance and wellbeing to our lives.
And hormone health is no exception, with experts advocating that rather than trying to balance our hormones with fussy food trends and fads, we’re better off aiming to support our natural, inbuilt hormone balance in good old-fashioned ways.
“A lot of people don’t realise how important hormones are for practically every aspect of our health,” advises Dr Martin Kinsella, hormone expert and founder of BioID Health. “It’s vital that awareness of hormone health is raised and people begin to prioritise it, whatever our age.”
But the good news is that supporting hormone health and balance doesn’t have to be complicated or costly.
Here are some easy things to try.
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Bask in morning sunlight
While this might be easier said than done, with our British skies more often than not cloudy and grey, you should be making the effort to get as much morning daylight as you can – even if this isn’t strictly sunlight.
Natural daylight has a direct effect on circadian rhythm – hence our ancestors used to fall asleep when it got dark and rose with the sun. Our reliance on technology and electricity means we can lose touch with the natural ebb and flow of our sleep hormones (serotonin and melatonin), leading to poor quality sleep, tiredness and fatigue.
“Exposure to light is one of the most important cues for regulating the circadian rhythm,” explains sleep expert and psychotherapist Heather Darwall-Smith. “This rhythm is controlled by an internal ‘biological clock’ in the hypothalamus. Light exposure helps to set the timing of the biological clock and the presence of light in the morning helps to promote wakefulness, while darkness in the evening promotes sleepiness.”
Exposing ourselves to plenty of (preferably bright and sunny) morning daylight helps to regulate our production of these sleep hormones, supporting healthier sleep hygiene.
Manage stress levels
Stress plays havoc with our hormones. When we’re stressed, our bodies produce cortisol and adrenaline, and chronic stress leads to constantly raised levels of these hormones.
“Stress definitely pushes up cortisol levels, and from an evolutionary perspective, that is what it is supposed to do and is why it exists,” explains Dr Zoe Watson, a GP and founder of Wellgood Wellbring. “Cortisol acts to get the body ready for the fight or flight scenario by increasing blood sugar and also increasing blood pressure. However, if you are experiencing chronic levels of stress, this can lead to persistently raised levels of cortisol in the bloodstream, which can impact your sleep and cardiovascular health, among other things.
“So, reducing stress can help lower cortisol levels, but that can take a lot of work and isn’t always clear cut. I’d start by prioritising sleep, adding in some light exercise and looking carefully at what the sources of stress are in your life to see if anything can realistically be altered to improve things.”
And the good news is, post-Covid, it’s easier than ever to access resources remotely, meaning you don’t even need to leave the house to start working on your stress levels.
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Get enough sleep
Regularly getting enough sleep is crucial for optimal hormone health and closely linked to hormone regulation.
“Sleep definitely has a big impact on hormones,” explains Dr Watson. “Cortisol levels are released in line with circadian rhythm – being highest in the morning to allow us to wake up. If you’re chronically stressed and your cortisol levels are persistently high, this will affect your ability to get good quality sleep, so you can get stuck in a bit of a vicious circle. The key here is to ensure you have a good ‘sleep hygiene’ habit. That means no screens before bed and plenty of relaxing cues that tell your brain it’s time to sleep.”
Eat a well-balanced diet
A healthy, balanced and varied diet is an excellent way to maintain healthy hormone function, Dr Kinsella advises.
“Make sure you eat enough protein at every meal. This is important because protein influences the release of hormones. Try to reduce your alcohol and caffeine intake as well as refined sugar and eat plenty of healthy fats and fish – all of these things will have a knock-on beneficial impact on your hormones.”
“Our breath is our superpower,” says health coach and CBT practitioner Michelle Flynn. “We can optimise this by doing breathwork, which is free and can be done anywhere.
“Our hypothalamus is the system that controls our hormones and slow deep breathing activates this system.By continued breathwork, you can help to regulate your stress hormones, creating a feeling of calm.”
Move your body
The benefits of exercising on hormone function are well known. Getting your sweat on releases feel-good hormones – or endorphins – contributing to better mood as well as getting rid of excess cortisol, reducing our stress levels and promoting a sense of calm and wellbeing.
And it doesn’t have to be strenuous to be beneficial, as studies show that activities such as yoga can benefit hormone levels, particularly in peri-menopausal women.
“A regular holistic yoga practice of stretches, breathwork and meditation all help to increase the happy hormones serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins which, in turn, repress the stress hormones,” explains Laura Jones, a yoga teacher and women’s wellbeing specialist. “All these feel-good hormones work on stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us feel calm at ease and in control of ourselves. The effects of yoga are instant; little and often is ideal – just 10–20 minutes can have you feeling so much lighter and brighter in yourself.”
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