By Amy Capetta
Hormones regulate everything from digestion to mood, sleep to weight. But certain habits can make these chemical messengers go haywire, ultimately causing an imbalance in your system that can affect your emotional and physical health. So if you do any of these, consider making a few changes.
1. You’re not having enough girlfriend time.
Since most of us are over-scheduled, fun time with our friends tends to land at the bottom of our to-do list, but this could actually offset your hormones, says Sara Gottfried, a gynecologist and author of The Hormone Reset Diet. “Female connection raises oxytocin,” which reduces stress and cardiovascular issues and prolongs your life. “The net result from spending time with friends is that you feel soothed and at peace.”
2. You overdo it at the gym.
While exercise can boost feel-good hormones like serotonin, too much treadmill time can result in higher than usual levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, according to researchers from the University of New Mexico. And that could disrupt your menstrual cycle, affecting your fertility. “Instead, choose adaptive exercises, like yoga, Pilates, or barre fitness,” suggests Dr. Gottfried. “These forms of exercise increase your stress resilience.”
3. You’re choosing certain canned goods.
It’s healthiest to drink from plastic bottles that are labeled BPA-free. However, this controversial chemical (bisphenol-A) can also be found in canned soups and tomato sauce, says Jen Landa, an ob-gyn and hormone specialist. “While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still says it’s safe, there’s data that shows it interferes with women’s fertility,” she says. If the BPA-free label isn’t on the outside of a can, Dr. Landa suggests purchasing food in glass jars.
4. You’re following a low-fat diet.
Limiting your intake of good fats, like omega-3 fatty acids, might increase inflammation, which Dr. Landa says can turn on estrogen, convert your testosterone to estrogen, as well as block some of your progesterone receptors. “And these factors can make you fat, moody, PMS-y, along with causing heavy periods, cystic breasts, and increasing your risk for fibroid tumors.” She recommends adding healthy fatty foods, such as salmon, walnuts, and avocado, to your daily diet.
5. You indulge in comfort foods.
Dairy and desserts, crackers, pasta, and breads made from white or whole wheat flour can “raise cortisol, making you feel stressed, along with causing weight gain,” says Dr. Gottfried. Other foods to limit: sugar, artificial sweeteners (which can raise levels of the hormone insulin), alcohol, and non-gluten grains, such as rice (brown, white, or wild) and quinoa. You may want to consider substituting some of your most consumed foods on this list, for example, almond or coconut milk for regular milk, suggests Dr. Gottfried.
6. You use too much hand sanitizer.
“If you’re constantly using it, you’re possibly altering the mix of good and bad bacteria in your body,” says Dr. Landa. “As a result, you might be increasing inflammation, which means you could also be setting off your hormones.” Although there’s no data that raises a red flag about these sanitizers, the FDA is currently investigating the possible harmful effects from antibacterial soaps, since a particular chemical — triclosan — may boost estrogen levels in women, as well as suppress thyroid hormone function in both sexes.
7. You’re using beauty products with parabens.
Cosmetics, shampoos, conditioners, lotions, or shower gels that have parabens — which could also be known as propylparaben and ethylparaben — could be affecting your hormonal balance and upping your cancer risk. A study published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology discovered that 99 percent of breast-tissue samples from 40 breast cancer patients had traces of at least one paraben — and that 60 percent percent of the samples had traces of five different parabens. While scientists are unsure of the source of these preservatives, Dr. Landa recommends purchasing items labeled as “paraben-free.”
8. You’re eating non-organic dairy and meats.
The extra money for the organic version of livestock products could do your body good. “The animals on conventional farms have probably been fed antibiotics and hormones that probably set off your hormone balance,” says Dr. Landa. While the debate is still ongoing, the Environmental Working Group says that previous studies have shown that the artificial hormones used to promote growth in beef cattle, dairy cows, and sheep may increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer. Plus, regular consumption of antibiotics can wreak havoc on your digestion system. “And when your gut bacteria is messed up, it affects the way your hormones metabolize in the body.” For example, a study by Virginia Commonwealth University discovered that gut bacteria may produce steroid hormones, as well as affect the stress hormone cortisol.
9. You’re missing micronutrients.
Dr. Gottfried explains that when your thyroid gland, which produces and regulates thyroid hormones, is missing copper, zinc, selenium, or vitamin D, you can have vague symptoms — such as weight gain, fluid retention (like feeling puffy), moodiness, fatigue, or hair loss, especially if the outer third of the eyebrow and lashes have fallen out. Why? Because your thyroid hormones affect how fast all your organs work, including your brain, heart, and muscles. Her advice: “Fill the gaps by taking a high-potency multi-vitamin.”
10. You have a negative mindset.
According to Dr. Gottfried, “you can actually think your way into hormonal misfires!” she says, admitting that she speaks from personal experience. “My hormones didn’t get better until I owned the way I stressed myself out — which was far worse than my external stressors — because I added in a layer of body dissatisfaction, guilt, and resentment.” Dr. Gottfried learned to retrain her mind on a daily basis by practicing visualization, yin yoga, and meditation, which have been linked to reducing levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, for 30 minutes each day.