You might just associate changing hormones with your teenage years, but these chemical messengers have been working hard in your body since the day you were born. The Hormone Health Network explains your hormones influence everything from hunger to your complex emotions. You’ve definitely heard of estrogen and testosterone, the main sex hormones in females and males, but there’s more to the equation than just these two. Cortisol, for example, is another one that helps your body respond to stress.
In an ideal world, your hormones would be totally balanced all the time. Unfortunately, that’s not really how it works. There are a lot of things in your life that can totally screw up this delicate system. It’s not all bad, though — most of these are completely within your control.
1. Eating too much sugar
We know your chocolate addiction is tough to kick, but it could really be messing with your hormones. After a really sugary meal, your insulin levels get a big spike, explains the Women’s Health Network. Insulin is the hormone in your body that allows you to use sugar, so causing it to jump to high levels can lead to irritability, anxiety, and poor sleep. This gets even worse for women who are nearing menopause.
The solution? You don’t need to cut out your favorite sweets completely, but be mindful of what you’re putting in your body. Too many refined sugars and carbs are bad news for your insulin levels, so go for more protein, healthy fats, and whole grains.
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2. Sleep deprivation — even for one night
Today’s world is fast-paced, which means you have a lot of responsibilities on your plate. Some days, sleep just doesn’t feel like an option. But you should know getting less than seven hours of slumber a night can seriously damage your hormones. Breaking Muscle explains the hormone responsible for suppressing your appetite lowers while the hormone that stimulates hunger actually increases when you don’t get enough sleep, and you know what this leads to — weight gain.
And that’s not all sleep deprivation does — it also increases stress by spiking cortisol. High cortisol levels have also been shown to lead to weight gain. Basically, getting too little sleep can expand your waistline.
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3. Yo-yo dieting
You know by now that crash dieting really doesn’t work, but even hopping from one eating plan to the next can be a mistake. Darcy Johannsen, Ph.D., tells BuzzFeed the hormone that revs your hunger rises substantially when you’re heavily restricting what you eat. And, you can expect to feel pretty exhausted. Your levels of adrenaline and thyroid hormones decrease, which will make it pretty tough to get off the couch.
Making healthier choices with your eating habits is a lot better than going for a crash diet. You’ll lose more weight in the long run and feel energized — all without detrimental effects to your hormones.
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4. Being in love
Everyone wants to be in love, but here’s the thing no one tells you — your hormones are in for a wild ride. Dr. Reginald Ho tells CNN the feeling of being in love can cause your body to produce more adrenaline, making your heart beat faster. For this reason, love can actually pose a health threat to those with heart conditions. And there’s a reason having sex can make you feel closer to your partner — two hormones that give you that feeling of attachment are released when you have an orgasm.
Even with the stress and adrenaline, love is generally good for you. And if you’re not romantically involved with anyone, not to worry — spending time with your friends and family offers plenty of benefits to your mental health (without that adrenaline-induced blood rush).
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5. Not hitting the gym…
You know you should be getting some form of daily exercise for your physical and mental health. But here’s another factor to consider: Your hormones can get seriously messed with if you stay sedentary. Holly Phillips, M.D., tells Women’s Health your body produces endorphins, feel-good chemicals, when you exercise. These endorphins help lift your libido, but when you spend all day and all night sitting, you can expect these hormones to drop. That leaves you with a really sad sex drive.
You don’t need to spend hours on the treadmill to increase your endorphin levels, though. Try going for walks during your lunch break or taking an exercise class for a fun way to get the boost.
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6. … Or hitting the gym too much
There’s an important balance between not exercising at all and going too hard at the gym. Researchers for the journal Sports Health outline how overexercising can actually increase your stress hormones and change your levels of testosterone. You’ll also get some pretty nasty side effects from pushing too hard in your workouts, like depression from those stress hormones, an elevated resting heart rate, and brain fog, says U.S. News & World Report.
If your daily gym session is leaving you burned out physically and mentally, it’s time to take a break. You won’t lose all your gains for incorporating more rest days into your routine. And your hormones will rebalance in no time.
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7. Your beauty products
Your favorite mascara and lipstick might make you look great, but they could be doing serious work on your hormones without you even knowing it. Cammi Balleck, a certified naturopath, tells Dermstore the average woman uses 12 products with over 168 chemicals in them in just one morning. And many of these chemicals can disrupt hormones in a way that can lead to weight gain, infertility, too much estrogen in the body, or a slowed thyroid.
There are a few main ingredients you should avoid when choosing your beauty products. Formaldehyde, for example, may potentially cause cancer and can be found in many nail products. And anything that has “fragrance” in it (hint: It’s in a lot of products) can totally throw your hormones off.
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8. Always thinking the glass is half empty
You probably get in a mental funk from time to time. Just don’t let it become a habit, as looking at life with a glass half-empty approach can have long-lasting effects. When you engage in negative thoughts or self-talk, stress hormones are released. And the more you ruminate and hang out with other negative folks, the more likely you are to become irritable and judgmental, according to Psychology Today. Because it’s self-perpetuating, those stress hormones will keep being released with your gloomy attitude.
Here’s what you need to know — you’re actually hardwired to think negatively. Your brain used to perceive worrying thoughts as threats to your survival, which is why it’s easier to focus on the bad rather than the good. Practice positive self-talk to get yourself into a better head space.
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9. Soy products
When tofu was gaining steam among foodies everywhere, you may have heard a few men refuse to eat the product because it would affect their manliness. Researchers have since debunked soy’s feminizing effects, but it can still potentially shake up your hormones. These products contain phytoestrogens, which are plant compounds that copy the effects of estrogen. For women, an estrogen imbalance can result in issues with libido, the menstrual cycle, and their mood, The Chalkboard explains.
If you’re eating tofu here and there, you probably don’t have to worry about your consumption. But if you’re wary of soy, try replacing some of your products with coconut or almond alternatives.
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10. Your weight
Weight fluctuations are a natural part of life, so gaining a pound here or there over the years isn’t going to throw your hormones into a tailspin. Women who are classified as obese, however, most likely have higher testosterone levels than thinner folks, a review from the journal Fertility and Sterility explains. As for men, the effects of obesity are the opposite. Maintaining a lot of body fat is associated with lower testosterone levels.
You might not think having a little extra testosterone is a bad thing, but here’s what can happen: In women, too much can cause frontal balding, acne, or irregular menstrual cycles, WebMD notes. As for lowered testosterone among men, they may experience a decrease in sex drive or even depression.
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11. Prescription medications
You know birth control is a prescription that can seriously affect your hormone levels, but it’s not the only one. According to AARP, statins and fibrates that are used to treat high cholesterol can cause problems with testosterone and estrogen production. Also, tranquilizers typically used to treat anxiety or insomnia may cause lowered testosterone levels. These medications can severely impact your sex life because of these effects.
Testosterone and estrogen aside, your thyroid (you know, the gland in your neck that produces hormones) may also be affected by your medications. If you’re worried, it never hurts to ask your doctor about it.
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12. Your non-organic produce
Adding more fruits and veggies into your diet is great, but if you can spare the extra cash, shoot for organic when you can. The pesticides used on a lot of produce can disrupt your delicate endocrine system, which works to produce hormones that are vital for your development. A review from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health says more than 105 pesticides, most of which are used to ward away insects, are known to be potentially disruptive to your hormones. And it doesn’t really even stop at produce — dairy, meat, and fish have also shown signs of pesticide residue that may be harmful.
If you need to pick and choose which foods to buy organic and which ones to skip, address the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list. These are the fruits and veggies that have the most pesticide residue.
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13. How much sunlight you’re seeing
There’s a reason you’re so much happier in the summertime. Healthline explains sunlight is thought to trigger the production of serotonin — the hormone that boosts your mood and keeps you focused. And at night, the sun setting triggers the release of melatonin, a hormone which helps you fall asleep.
If you live in an area that doesn’t get much sunlight, consider getting yourself a light box. This is extra beneficial for those with seasonal affective disorder, but it can also benefit just about anyone who has limited time to get out into the sunlight.
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14. Your vacation
Being jet lagged causes your internal clock to get out of sync with the clock time of the place you’re traveling to. This can throw your levels of melatonin off, which can then make you sleepy during the day and keep you wide awake at night. You’ll adjust eventually, but it takes some time — about a day per time zone crossed, says the Society of Endocrinology.
Maybe you’re not much of a traveler because your work schedule is totally unpredictable. Well, if you work both day and night shifts and have an inconsistent sleep schedule, you’re probably messing with your melatonin just as badly.
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15. Your love of red meat
Who doesn’t love a burger every once in a while? Women really shouldn’t make their red meat consumption too much of a habit, though, as it can raise estrogen levels, says Sara Gottfried, M.D. And having too much estrogen can cause serious issues. Livestrong.com explains an excess of this hormone can cause fertility issues, weight gain, and even an increase the risk of cancer.
You should also remember harmful pesticide residue that can disrupt your hormones is commonly found in all meats. Do yourself a favor and skip the hot dogs and hamburgers at the family barbecue.