Updated 10/8/23; Originally posted 5/25/22
Hormones 101: Hormones are signaling molecules that drive the growth and metabolism of your entire body. Their presence or lack there of tells your cells how to behave. Hormones can help you feel alive, fertile, and strong or they can leave you feeling weak and old. Your endocrine system and chemical hormones should operate like a well oiled, intricately designed machine. Proper hormone levels and proportions provide a fabulous support network for your quest to feel better not older!
Hormones are all interlaced together in your body – their production and their function. The basic building block of all hormones is the fats stored in your LDL cholesterol. The “Mother” hormone is Pregnenalone, an important hormone for your brain and your own personal energy and valium store to draw on as needed. From pregnenalone, all other steroid hormones follow.
Hormones discussed in this post:
- Pregnenolone: The Grandma of Your Hormones & 7 Natural Ways to Increase Yours
- Oxytocin: The Love Hormone & 7 Ways to Raise Yours
- Insulin: The High Blood Sugar Hormone & 7 Tips for Healthy Levels
- Cortisol: The Stress Hormone
- Aldosterone: The Blood Pressure Hormone
- Progesterone: A Growth Stimulating Hormone & 7 Ways to Raise Yours
- Sex Hormones
- Ghrelin: The Hunger Hormone
- Leptin: The Satiety Hormone
- Additional Reading
You might also be interested in my posts about The Science Behind Boosting Your Thyroid Hormones and Perimenopause and Menopause: How to Sparkle and Slide Through the Second Half of Life. If you are looking for help making your Wellness Lifestyle better for your own hormone health, I would love to meet you either in my La Plata, Maryland studio or virtually!
Pregnenolone: The Grandma of Your Hormones
Prenenolone is the precursor to all the other steroid hormones which means without sufficient amounts of pregnenolone, the other hormones can not be made. Pregnenolone is a powerful anti-aging hormone all on its own. It is neuroprotective because it encourages neurogenesis – new brain cells – and because it facilitates repair of the myelin sheath around nerves. Pregnenolone supports your ability to make and recall memories. It brings you out of stress and calms your emotions so you feel a peaceful energy.
Pregnenolone is made inside your brain, adrenal glands, ovaries, testes, skin, and retinas. The mitochondria inside these cells make pregnenolone from cholesterol. Since mitochondria are also your internal environmental sensors, they will only make pregnenolone (or energy!) when they feel it is a good, safe idea. If you are having issues with all your hormones, let’s look at the top of the chain to support your wellness.
7 Natural Ways to Increase Your Pregnenolone Levels
1: Reduce the Toxic Load to Your Brain
Your mitochondria need to feel that they live in a safe environment in order to flourish and make pregnenolone. The older we get, the higher our toxic load unless we actively minimize our toxic exposure and regularly choose detox actions to improve our internal environment.
2: Have enough LDL Cholesterol
For most people this is too easy! We are looking for way to use our cholesterol for good and creating pregnenolone is one of those ways. If you are on cholesterol lowering medication, research whether this might be affecting your hormones in an undesirable way.
3: Raise your Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
It is a required ingredient for the conversion of cholesterol into pregnenolone. You can get yours from a supplement like BioActive Complete B-Complex or from eating 2 heaping teaspoons of unfortified nutritional yeast.
4: Raise your Vitamin B3 and B2
LDL cholesterol required a taxi driver to get to the mitochondria. These B vitamins are ingredients for the enzyme that transports cholesterol through the cell wall and delivers it to the mitochondria for conversion into pregnenolone. I get mind from BioActive Complete B-Complex.
5: Support your Pituitary Gland
The pituitary gland secretes the luteinizing hormone (LH) needed to stimulate the production of pregnenolone. If your pituitary is not up to par, you can encourage its improvement through the homeopathic remedy CellTropin. If your pituitary gland has been damaged from a lifelong sugar-rich diet or sometime more insidious like mold exposure from a water damaged home, you will want to detox first and heal second.
6: Make more Mitochondria!
The enzyme that stimulates the conversion from cholesterol to pregnenolone requires a lot of energy in the form of ATP. ATP is made by happy, healthy mitochondria. It is a lot of work and is damaging for mitochondria to make ATP. If you have more mitochondria available to work, they each need to do less and they will create less self-damage – resulting in increased numbers of mitochondria that are healthier. You can stimulate mitochondrial genesis every time you enjoy a Red/Infrared Light Therapy Session or get sun on your skin and eyes.
7: Protect Your Hypothalamus
This critical gland is the connection between your brain/nervous system and hormones/endocrine system. It is only partly protected by the famous blood-brain barrier which means it is easily damaged by chronic infections, toxins, and inflammation. You can stimulate healing with Red/Infrared Light Therapy, removal of toxins from your environment (see my Detox Program), or work with your Functional Medicine doctor for a complete testing/remediation protocol.
Oxytocin: The Love Hormone
Oxytocin is the most important hormone – “the hormone of love”. When we have high levels of oxytocin, we are happy, feel connected to those around us, feel less pain, encourage the breakdown of fat, are sensitive to insulin, and less hungry! Studies show that low oxytocin leads to obesity, poor metabolic health, and poor mental health.
For many people, oxytocin is known because it relates to creating the mother-baby bond at birth and to bonding sexual partners together through orgasm. Ocytoxin is sometimes also called the “tend and befriend” hormone because it promotes social bonding and relationship building. A woman’s ability to make more oxytocin during an orgasm then a man is one of Mother Nature’s ways of encouraging bonding between parents to protect the next generation!
The hypothalamus, located in the brain, decides to make the chemical messenger oxytocin and sends it throughout the brain and body. Once created, oxytocin changes brain chemistry, acts as an anti-inflammatory, stimulates healing, reduces cortisol, mobilizes sperm, stimulates adult stem cell regeneration, activates the vagal nerve, and more! For optimal wellness, you need to stimulate oxytocin frequently throughout the day because the hormone only lives for 3-5 minutes!
7 Ways to Raise Your Oxytocin Level
Touch works for babies and it will work for you! Try self fascial massage like we do in Fascial Release classes, a massage by your favorite massage therapist, or a hand or foot massage after a warm soak in Epsom Salts.
2: Yoga or other Moving Meditation
3: Sexual Arousal and Orgasm
Oxytocin levels rise as sexual arousal occurs and go through the roof after an orgasm. Any overdue pregnant woman should know that nipple stimulation is a great way to generate enough oxytocin to stimulate labor!
4: 10 Second Hugs
Hugs are powerful actions – when they are long enough to sink into the opportunity and enjoy it. Give them. Receive them. Share them!
5: Cuddle Time With Your Pet
The unconditional love given by and to your pet, particularly one tuned into your emotions, more than makes up for the inconveniences they sometimes give you.
6: Friend Time
Love is about more than sex! Time spent with a good friend or family member can be a huge gift to someone low in oxytocin.
7: Red/Infrared Light Therapy
The right kind of light can stimulate your hypothalamus to improve function and generate the right amount of hormones at the right time for wellness. Try a Joovv Light Therapy session and see how you feel!
Insulin: The High Sugar Hormone
Insulin, high blood sugar, and diabetes are locked together in the world of medicine. Insulin is often regarded as a “bad guy” when it looses its ability to lower your blood sugar. Insulin is a hormone with a much broader skillset than just dealing with your high blood sugar levels.
Insulin is a growth hormone that helps you heal, grow new brain cells, and so much more. Insulin is a signaling molecule that tells your cells and mitochondria that all is well enough that they can take the time to repair themselves. Insulin is so into growth that it stops cells from breaking down. Did you know that cancerous cells have 28 times more insulin receptors than normal healthy cells?
Optimal wellness involves having proper insulin levels smoothly changing as you exercise, eat, sleep, and otherwise live. Spikes and drops in your insulin create short term and long term problems.
7 Tips for Healthy Insulin Levels
1: Eat Balanced Meals of Fat, Protein, and Carbs
Fat does not require insulin but will fuel you, the protein keeps the blood sugar stable, and the carbs keep you happy (particularly women). Track your food intake with Cronometer and you will get your mineral and vitamin intake as well!
2: Eat When the Sun is Up and Don’t Eat After the Sun Goes Down
Sunset brings a rise of melatonin so you can sleep and less sensitivity to insulin. Let your body rest when the sun is down. This is called time restricted eating. Join me for my Fasting Program for Women if this is a challenge for you!
3: Exercise After You Eat
Put that sugar into your muscles! Take a walk. Do a few squats. Don’t run a marathon. Just don’t sit and watch a movie. Follow along a video from your Zen Anytime membership!
4: Stop Drinking Sugary Drinks
Your body needs water and electrolytes much more than it needs a sugary drink. You might be surprised at how much you like drinking water with LMNT in the morning and something like MindHealth Focus Powder or Neuro-Magnesium for your brain in the afternoon.
5: Feed your Brain Ketones
6: Snack on Protein, Fat, and Vegetables
Skip the donuts and cookies. Don’t have fruit alone. Check that smoothie recipe to make sure its not more fruit than anything else!
7: Make your First Meal of the Day Rich in Fat and Protein
You have been fasting from sugar all night – continue the trend by waiting a little longer so you use up more of the glucose in your blood.
Cortisol: The Stress Hormone
I’ll bet you are more intimately familiar with this “stress hormone” than is healthy! Cortisol is made by your adrenal glands as a response to whatever your brain thinks is stressful. Cortisol affects your whole body.
An increase in cortisol stimulates your blood vessels to contract, your liver to release glucose into your blood stream for your muscles to use, your blood pressure to rise, keeps you awake, and suppresses inflammation in the short term. Low cortisol is just as much of a wellness concern as high cortisol, even if it is less talked about. Your cortisol level affects both insulin and oxytocin levels due to their strong relationship.
To make wellness oriented changes to your cortisol level, you will want to add beneficial stresses (like the heat of an Infrared Sauna, mold-free mineral rich coffee in the morning, or exercise) to raise cortisol and focus on stress reduction to lower cortisol levels. If you are ready to make adjustments to your beneficial and non-beneficial stresses, let’s talk!
Aldosterone: The Hydration Hormone
Aldosterone is not talked about as much in the hormone world but it is an important piece of the puzzle we put together in order to optimize our wellness. Aldosterone is made in the adrenal glands like cortisol. Aldosterone is in charge of adjusting your blood pressure and helping the kidneys regulate the sodium/potassium levels of your blood. If you pee more frequently than you wish or have high blood pressure, welcome to the world of aldosterone.
Aldosterone stimulates the kidney to absorb sodium and to excrete potassium. Sodium will raise encourage water retention, raise blood volume, and raise blood pressure when combined with another kidney messenger that constricts blood vessels. Low aldosterone levels are present when you are dehydrated, have a low blood sodium level, have a high blood potassium level, and low blood pressure. High aldosterone encouraged the opposite body conditions: high blood pressure, low potassium, high sodium, and water retention or edema.
Aldosterone is mentioned in this post because of its relationship to electrolyte balance in your blood and cells, insulin level, cortisol level, and the fact that it uses up progesterone which you need for anti-aging! If you are choosing a low sugar, higher fat diet in order to encourage fat usage and lower your body’s insulin requirement be aware that insulin is part of the decision making process for aldosterone creation – you will need to intentionally add sodium to your diet in order to stimulate aldosterone production (like through LMNT electrolytes and Ultima Replenisher electrolytes).
Progesterone: A Growth Stimulating Hormone
Progesterone is a calming hormone that helps you enjoy life and exist pain-free. It is made in the ovaries (after ovulation), in the adrenal glands, and the brain. Progesterone has the task of complimenting and balancing estrogen in your body.
Progesterone gets the female body ready for pregnancy! During pregnancy, high levels of progesterone made by the placenta flood through mother and baby to maintain a healthy pregnancy. Progesterone plays a part in stimulating bone growth, supporting healthy brain function, and creating a fabulously functioning nervous system.
In the female menstruation cycle, days 17-21 are all about encouraging progesterone production. Progesterone will go down however when your cortisol level rises (i.e. when you are stressed), when your ovary function decreases with menopause, or with cycle-related estrogen rises.
Higher levels of progesterone make it hard for cells to respond well to glucose and insulin. Insulin resistance is more common when estrogen is low and progesterone is high (near menstruation or as women approach and live in menopause).
7 Ways to Raise Progesterone
1: Lower Emotional Stress
Cortisol steals away resources needed to make progesterone in the endocrine system so spend time focusing on balanced emotions through meditation, aromatherapy, and removing yourself from stressful situations.
2: Eat foods that help you detox from excess estrogen
Eat your sweet potatoes, grass-fed meat, and cruciferous vegetables to help your liver through Phase 1 and Phase 2 detox of estrogen so there are supplies available to make progesterone. If you are near La Plata, MD consider sourcing your healthy sustainably grown foods from the good folks at Next Step Produce.
3: Lower Physical Stress
Opt for body movements which are lower intensity in order to lower cortisol production and increase progesterone production – take a walk, practice yoga, focus on your core in Pilates and skip the more stressful workouts like sprints and heavy weights.
4: Get your Zinc
Zinc promotes ovulation (which is why sperm can encourage early ovulation) which stimulates the rise of progesterone from the ovary. Zinc also works in the brain’s hippocampus which deals with memory, emotions, and stress. Grassfed meat provides the perfect balance of zinc and copper for your wellness. If you are in Charles County, MD consider sourcing your grassfed meat from the good folks at Longview Farm. Another choice is to include zinc in your Custom Supplement Subscription.
5: Get your Vitamin B6
Not only does it help the ovary follicle produce progesterone upon ovulation, it helps the detoxifying breakdown of estrogen into the cancer-preventing forms rather than the more agitating forms. Just before menstruation, you need more! I get mine from BioActive Complete B-Complex or Liposomal Methyl B Complex.
6: Magnesium Supplement for your Brain
Magnesium is needed in order for your brain’s pituitary gland to create Luteinizing Hormone (LH) which signals the rest of the body to produce progesterone. Neuro-mag contains magnesium threonate, the only form of magnesium that goes through the blood-brain barrier and into your brain. Bonus – you are also supporting the creation of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) which will boost your thyroid hormones and metabolism.
7: Focus on Sleep
Hormone production is stimulated during REM sleep. REM sleep cycles tend to come at the end of the night just before you wake up. If you got to bed late and still have to get up for the alarm (or to pee), you might be cutting short your REM time and lowering your hormones by accident. Go to bed early enough to get your REM sleep!
While these might be first in mind when you think of the word “hormone”, all the sex hormones are highly affected by the levels of oxytocin, cortisol, and insulin so they are lower on the totem pole. They are also incredibly important for overall wellness – not just sex!
Estrogen might be known as the female hormone, but it affects the health and wellness of both men and women.
In addition to controlling a woman’s ovulation, estrogens control cholesterol metabolism, heart and cardiovascular health, fat deposition, bone health, and the integumentary system (skin, hair, nails). Estrogen helps you keep blood sugar low and avoid fat deposition by increasing cell sensitivity to insulin. Estrogen helps increase serotonin production in the brain; serotonin is the neurotransmitter that helps banish anxiety and depression.
In men, 25% of estrogen is made in the testes and the rest is made by body fat cells. In women, the ovaries play a huge part in estrogen production but the adrenal glands and fat cells must not be forgotten (especially since estrogen production in the ovaries plummets with menopause). Estrogen, like all the other hormones is created from cholesterol and broken down by the liver (Phase 1 and Phase 2 Detox) to be excreted via the bowels (fiber required!) when not needed.
The 2 Estrogen Receptors
Estrogen molecules work because they slide into estrogen receptors inside cells and “turn on” certain chemical reactions. Within cells, there are two types of estrogen receptors – Alpha and Beta.
- Alpha receptors are found in the endometrium of the uterus, breast, hypothalamus (the brain), and the efferent ducts of testes. Alpha receptors encourage cell growth and can be pro-inflammatory.
- Beta receptors are found in the brain (especially around the verbal acuity centers in women), bone, lungs, heart, kidneys, prostate, intestinal mucosa, endothelial lining of your blood vessels, and the hormone releasing cells inside the ovaries. Beta receptors decrease cell growth, are anti-inflammatory, and protect against cancer, buffers stress, relaxes blood vessels to improve blood flow, and is found in the brain and body near oxytocin receptors.
The 3 Forms of Estrogen
There are actually 3 forms of estrogen in both the male and female bodies. The proportions of each change throughout your life and greatly affect your overall wellness.
- Estrone (E1) is a “weak” estrogen that can be held in reserve and converted into Estradiol (E2) and back again as needed. This form becomes the most prevalent form after menopause when Estradiol levels plummet. E1 is made by fat cells – primarily in your belly fat. E1 has a strong affinity for the Alpha receptors which encourage cell growth.
- Estradiol (E2) is the most active or potent form of estrogen. This “strong” estrogen is high in a woman’s body during her potential childbearing years (puberty to menopause). The erratic lowering of this form during menopause is what causes symptoms like hot flashes, mood swings, and night sweats. E2 is created in your ovaries, testes, and adrenal glands. E2 is strong because it buries deep into the estrogen receptors inside cells like those of your blood vessels. When the liver breaks down excess E2 (called estrogen metabolism), E1 is produced. E2 likes the Alpha and Beta receptors equally.
- Estriol (E3) is the “weakest” form of estrogen. It is created in the liver as a by product of the metabolism of estradiol. E3 is often called the “pregnancy estrogen” because is present in high levels during pregnancy when the placenta starts making E3 like crazy. Once E3 binds to a cell, E2 can not interact with the cell at all. E3 has a strong affinity for the Beta receptors which offer protective benefits all over the body and are anti-inflammatory in nature.
Estrogens are constantly being broken down and recreated (metabolized) by the liver and endocrine system. Problems occur when the broken down bits (metabolites) create inflammation or can not be fully broken down and excreted. This delicate detox dance is unique to you and sometimes you need a bit of help to figure out what works for you.
Testosterone is a critical hormone for both men and women. Proper levels of testosterone facilitate muscle growth, happy moods, low pain levels, and a nice strong sex drive.
Most of a man’s testosterone is made in his testes leaving his adrenal glands responsible for making just 5% of his testosterone. For a woman, the entire body is needed: 25% in her ovaries, 25% in her adrenal glands, and 50% in her peripheral tissues (like muscles!).
7 Ways to Boost Your Testosterone
1: Exercise to build muscle
Particularly for women, exercise is a beneficial stress that stimulates testosterone production. Resistance training like Pilates Equipment sessions work like a charm – especially when combined with some outdoor whole body work.
2: Take your zinc
Eating oysters (helps with the next item!), other foods, or supplement to get enough zinc for your body to make testosterone, power your immune system, and do all the other tasks Zinc can do.
3: Get sexually aroused
You need to use it or lose it! Testosterone supports a healthy sex drive but a healthy sex life supports good testosterone levels too!
4: Ditch your sugar habit
When you lower your sugar intake, you will shift your insulin levels, lose weight, and also boost your testosterone level (and other sex hormones will improve).
5: Lower your stress
Your body responds to stress by making cortisol which will detract from your ability to make any sex hormones. Low stress means better sex hormones – testosterone included!
6: Eat good fats
Good fats contribute to high levels of HDL cholesterol – a crucial building block for testosterone. Choose foods that raise your HDL levels and your heart and testosterone levels will both thank you!
7: Sleep fabulously
Sleep is when you make hormones. In particular, REM sleep is when you both dream and make testosterone. Dream well!
When I hear the word “ghrelin” my mind goes to “grumble” which makes sense given that your ghrelin level rises when your tummy is grumbly and hungry!
Ghrelin is produced in your stomach in order to make you eat (it is a growth hormone). Ghrelin quickly travels via your central nervous system to the hypothalamus in your brain. Ghrelin is what gives you the munchies and makes sure the reward center of your brain thanks you for it. Ghrelin reduces your ability to use fat as energy and is part of your insulin release regulation. Ghrelin wants you to eat and store fat. Thank goodness fast acting ghrelin has an opposite hormone – Lectin.
Leptin’s role in the body is to make you stop eating. As the hormone of satiety, leptin tells your brain that you have enough nutrients and should no longer need to eat. Leptin also cues your thyroid hormones to rev up your metabolism and get to work using up that food’s energy.
Guess who makes leptin? Your fat cells! So you would think that the more fat you have – the higher your leptin levels – the less you should want to eat right? Wrong! You will indeed have more leptin floating around in your blood but your cells will be ignoring it – leptin resistance. If you are leptin resistant, your body will slow down and store the energy (hello bigger fat cells). Leptin plays the long game which is why it is practically impossible to change your weight quickly and keep it long term.
Leptin’s weight management partner is ghrelin – the hunger hormone. Leptin always wants you to stay the same weight. To make weight changes, you have to go slow and work to increase your sensitivity to leptin.
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