The importance of hormone health
As much as many women would like for their hormones to disappear at times, especially after a bout of hormonal acne or the highs and lows of the monthly cycle, they are pivotal to keeping the skin firm and bouncy, especially as we age. The decline in our hormones along with free-radical damage are two of the main protagonists leading to the degradation of collagen, which is the bouncy, mattress-like connective tissue that keeps our skin looking firm and healthy. The decline in hormones such as oestrogen, DHEA, melatonin and HGF (human growth factor) greatly contributes to the loss of skin thickness and sagging.
Oestrogen not only is important for maintaining skin thickness, hydration, elasticity and collagen synthesis but also it increases the fat stores under the skin that keep it looking lovely and plump. Its levels plummet by the mid-30s and are in full retreat in the late 40s. DHEA, a precursor hormone manufactured in our adrenals, is used to make other hormones but declines steadily after age 25. By 60, we are making around 15 per cent of what we were at 20.
Many of these hormones are also potent antioxidants that protect our skin from free radicals infamous for depleting collagen and elastin in the skin. While we may need to work harder to preserve our hormones as we age, the good news is we can help keep them active and balanced through lifestyle and dietary factors.
One of the best hormone preservers and boosters is sleep. When you sleep, melatonin and HGF are released and other hormones such as DHEA are protected. Melatonin is not only a potent antioxidant but also helps boost your levels of oestrogen. Our hormones are not isolated but are inextricably linked to each other in both their production and decline.
Another way to boost your levels of melatonin is to boost your levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin through diet and lifestyle. This includes a diet rich in B vitamins — B1, B2 and especially B6 — and the amino acid tryptophan. Foods rich in these include spinach, cauliflower, celery, fish, salmon, tuna, snapper, calf’s liver, lamb, turkey, lean beef, garlic, nuts, walnuts, mustard greens, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
Supplements such as the amino acid 5-hydroxytryptophan, evening primrose, SAMe and St John’s wort can also be helpful. Getting your morning dose of sunlight can also boost melatonin levels as can eating less (but well), sleeping in a dark room and meditation. Other nutrients that help produce serotonin are vitamin D, folic acid, selenium, calcium and magnesium. While eating these foods and nutrients are important, it is how you eat them that can determine how much serotonin is produced.
Eating carbohydrates and proteins together can reduce the body’s ability to make serotonin, so to optimise benefits, eat proteins and grains separately; ideally proteins with non-starch vegies as well as grains with non-starchy vegies. Hormones are super-sensitive to stress and the stress hormone, cortisol, disrupts serotonin, DHEA, oestrogen and melatonin, so where possible, relax! A study conducted by the Touch Research Institutes at the University of Miami School of Medicine shows that massage increases serotonin by 28 per cent and decreases cortisol by 31 per cent. Exercise is also a great way to boost serotonin levels.
DHEA is needed to produce oestrogen, so it’s important to keep this hormone in balance. As it is a hormone produced in the adrenal glands, its levels are closely related to stress levels. You can also help normalise levels with co-enzyme Q10, which is required for the production of steroid hormones such as DHEA. As vitamin B5 is the precursor to this antioxidant, you can boost levels by eating foods rich in this vitamin as well as consuming selenium found in Brazil nuts and quinoa.
Foods rich in vitamin B5 include calf’s liver, sunflower seeds, corn, broccoli, squash, eggs, mushrooms. The Ayurvedic herb, tribulus, is also said to be very helpful in balancing DHEA levels. Licorice, ginseng and vitamin C can also be very helpful in regulating the adrenal glands and bringing the ratio of cortisol to DHEA to a healthier balance. There are DHEA supplements available but they have received mixed reviews.
To balance oestrogen levels, you need to reduce stress and eat foods rich in phyto-oestrogens. These include wild yam, maca, soybeans, flaxseeds and herbs such as dong quai, black cohosh, red clover and paeonia.
Eating foods rich in essential fatty acids such as cold-water fish and flaxseeds helps keep hormones balanced as well as keeping skin cells resilient and healthy. Eating foods rich in amino acids helps as, not only are amino acids the building blocks of collagen, but they help boost the production of skin-loving hormones. Slow-cooked chicken bone broth (make sure it is organic) containing garlic and onions and both sea and land vegetables is rich in skin-building amino acids, minerals and antioxidants. It’s also great for lining the gut and helping boost digestive health.
As your hormones are metabolised in your intestine and it’s where your nutrients are made, balancing gut health is very important for the health of your hormones. Eating fermented foods, from kefir to sauerkraut (make your own as the commercial varieties are usually pasteurised and the good bacteria is spoiled), helps your body to receive high levels of good bacteria and keeps your hormones happy.
- Always check with your Health practitioner before taking supplements or making extreme dietary changes.