4 Ways You May Be Negatively Impacting Your Hormones—Without Even Realizing It

When we hear the word “hormones” we may think back to awkward days spent in junior high sex-ed class—but that’s just the beginning. Hormones are responsible for far more than our libidos and body hair.

Hormones act as signaling molecules (also known as chemical messengers) that help to regulate a lot of our key bodily functions, affecting our moods, metabolism, appetites, sleep cycles, and so much more. They’re responsible for a significant amount of our physiology and behavior, and without even realizing it, there’s a lot we can do to throw our hormones out of balance.

But before we get into how that might happen, let’s break down how it all works.

First, hormones are created in our endocrine glands, including—but not limited to—the hypothalamus (regulates sex drive, temperature, mood, hunger), the pancreas (produces insulin), the thyroid (controls calorie burning and heart rate), the pineal (produces mood-affecting serotonin and sleep-regulating melatonin) and the pituitary (controls all the other glands and is sometimes referred to as the “master gland”). On top of those, there are several other glands, including the ovaries and testes.

All of these glands work in tandem to manage your hormones—which include many you’ve probably heard of, like the main sex hormones estrogen (in women) and testosterone (in men), progesterone, cortisol (or, the “stress hormone”), melatonin, along with others. These hormones then travel through the bloodstream to our tissues and organs.

When your hormones are thrown off, you can end up feeling fatigued, anxious, depressed, and you may experience hair loss, infertility, and weight gain.

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Here’s how your hormones can get thrown off:

1. Eating Poorly

Our diets play a role in almost every aspect of our health, and our hormones are no exception. The impact of hormonal disruption can be significant, leading to everything from weight gain and exhaustion to digestive issues.

For example, when we eat way too much sugar, our bodies can become insulin-resistant. (We need insulin, a hormone, because it moves the sugar we consume into our bloodstreams to be used for cellular energy). Too little insulin could lead to metabolic disorder or type 2 diabetes.

So what to do?

“The most important aspect of food is quantity,” says Dr. Spencer Nadolsky, a board-certified family and obesity physician for SteadyMD and author of The Fat Loss Prescription. “Most people who are consuming too much energy are getting it through highly processed, high-calorie ‘junk’ foods like chips, candies, donuts, etc.” These foods are high in carbohydrates, sugar, and fat while also being low in protein.

Related: Here’s What A Day Of Clean Eating Actually Looks Like

Does this mean you have to kiss that weekend-morning pancake stack goodbye? Not at all. “Enjoy those foods as a treat once in a while, and eat less-processed foods whenever possible,” Dr. Nadolsky advises. “Focusing on a more whole-food approach while still being mindful of portions will help you lose belly weight and improve your hormones.”

2. Not Getting Enough Sleep

Our hormones impact the function of our sleep cycles (the reason you get sleepy at night and wake up in the morning—thanks, melatonin!) so getting enough sleep is key, according to an article in the journal Endocrine Development. In fact, says Dr. Nadolsky, her patients with hormonal imbalances often deal with sleeping issues.

Related: Here’s Exactly What To Do At Night To Have A Great Sleep

A lack of sleep can disrupt testosterone and cortisol levels, and it can throw our hunger cues off as well, Dr. Nadolsky explains. “The issue isn’t as sexy as nutrition or exercise, so it doesn’t get the spotlight it should. When a patient’s sleep is off, this is usually where I start to help them improve their health—specifically their hormonal status.”

How much sleep should you be getting? Aim for seven to eight hours (nine or more is too much, though). Also: You should also put away the iPhone while lying in bed (no thanks, blue light), find a relaxing and intentional nighttime ritual, and cut the caffeine after your morning cup, if possible.

3. Stressing Out

Similar to the way disrupted sleep patterns can alter the balance of our hormones, chronic stress also plays a role, too, according to research in the Journal of Pharmacy and BioAllied Sciences. Ongoing stress can alter hormones in ways that impact growth, promote mood disorders, and lead to other health issues.

And remember how we said food can affect our hormones? Well, chronic stress can also affect how we eat: “Changes in our cortisol regulation and hunger hormones can occur from chronic stress,” says Dr. Nadolsky. This can create an insidious cycle: Stress can lead to an increase in hunger hormones, potentially driving us to eat more highly processed foods, which leads to additional weight gain, which then disrupts our hormones even further, Dr. Nadolsky explains.

Your plan of attack? Adopt a lifestyle that allows you to seriously de-stress. Whether that’s through adopting a quiet daily yoga regimen, performing periodic breathing exercises, turning to an essential oil routine, meditating in the morning before commuting, or taking an Epsom salt bath before bed, it’s key to regulate those stressful emotions.

Related: It’s Time To Stop Being So Scared of Meditation

4. Using Certain Plastics

Food, sleep, and stress are critical components when it comes to balancing our hormones better, but we also have to pay attention to the products we use—especially plastics. Industrial chemicals like BPA and phthalates are found in polycarbonate plastics that we frequently use to package our food and water, which means they easily get ingested.

These endocrine-disrupting chemicals have a significant impact on our hormones. “More and more studies are showing these may really be a threat even at low levels despite what we thought was maybe safe before,” says Dr. Nadolsky. There’s growing evidence, according to a statement released by the Endocrine Society, that shows endocrine disruptors can affect reproduction, cancer growth, thyroid function, metabolism, and obesity, as well as cardiovascular endocrinology and neuroendocrinology.

While total eradication of these synthetic compounds from our packaging and products may be unrealistic, there are many steps we can take in our day-to-day lives to help reduce our exposure and help keep our hormones in check. These include using ceramic and glass for cooking and food storage, limiting canned and processed foods, and buying products that are labeled as BPA and phthalate-free.

The Bottom Line

Regulating your hormones is important for your health, and like any health regimen, you’ll see the most success by starting with small, manageable changes.

“The biggest bang for your buck will be trying to maintain or achieve a healthier weight and waist circumference through proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep and stress management,” says Dr. Nadolsky, but that won’t happen overnight. Be kind to yourself, and work on incorporating these changes into your lifestyle one day at a time.

If you feel you do have a hormonal imbalance, an endocrinologist can help.

Here’s a useful guide to keeping your hormones healthy:

The 6 Best Supplements For Healthy Hair

Are your locks looking a little lackluster lately? Maybe your once-thick mane is now noticeably thinner, and it seems no fancy conditioning treatment can resurrect your brittle strands.

The truth is, our hair can tell us a lot about our general health, so if your strands seem to have lost their strength and shine—particularly if you’re not actively damaging your hair with, say, problematic heat styling or chlorine on the regular—it could be your body’s way of letting you know that it needs some TLC. Here are six supplements that can help.

1. Multivitamins & Multiminerals

Dr. Daved Rosensweet, founder of I Wonder, Doctor, a website about nutrition and supplements, recommends both a high-quality daily multivitamin to support overall health and a multimineral complex, which will offer up minerals like zinc, copper, selenium, magnesium, and calcium. When used to supplement a well-balanced diet, these can help bridge the gap between any potential nutritional deficiencies.

Inadequate amounts of minerals have been shown to play a key role in hair loss. For example, a lack of zinc and copper both have been associated with hair loss and thinning, according to a study in Annals of Dermatology.

Just take note: If you don’t want to increase your iron intake due to an iron disorder, there are some multiminerals that come without iron.

2. Protein

Next, Rosensweet says it’s a good idea to take stock of whether or not you’re getting enough protein throughout the day. If not, he advises adding protein powder to your daily regimen, as well. After all, our hair is made out of protein and minerals.

So how much protein do you actually need? About 0.8 grams of protein per every kilogram of bodyweight, according to the USDA. So a 130-pound person would need 48 grams of protein per day.

However, that’s just a baseline. If you’re a weightlifter or an endurance athlete—or even if you’re trying to lose weight without losing the muscle you’ve packed on—you’ll need more (somewhere between 1.2 and 3.5 grams of protein per every kilogram of bodyweight). More on that here.

3. Biotin & Collagen

You’ve probably seen dozens of biotin- and collagen-based shampoos, conditioners, and beauty supplements out there—and there’s a good reason for that (besides the two ingredients being super-on-trend these days): Studies suggest that age-related hair loss is associated with a lack of collagen, while research in the International Journal of Trichology found that biotin promotes overall hair health.

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4. Vitamin D

People tend to associate vitamin D with bone health, but it may also play a role in our hair’s health. In fact, a study in Dermatology Online suggests that vitamin D is integral in the cycling (or regrowth) of our hair follicles.

Vitamin D is also something plenty of people are short on—especially those living in less sunny environments—so it’s key that you get enough for your overall health.

5. B Vitamins

B vitamins play a key role in promoting hair health. We already know that biotin (B7) is crucial, but so is cobalamin (or B12), the lack of which is connected to excess hair loss in some cases of anemia.

Pantothenic acid (B5) helps to prevent early graying, and boosts the hair’s natural color. But its benefits are more than, well, strand deep: Vitamin B5 also promotes hair growth and regulates the function of sebum glands.

Folate or folic acid (B9) helps support hair health by creating red blood cells and hemoglobin, both of which transport oxygen to hair, helping to promote the growth of new hair follicle cells.

6. Viviscal

Viviscal is an oral marine protein supplement many people use to promote hair health. It features a blend of AminoMar complex, biotin, and zinc.

Related: Shop supplements, topical products, and more.

Other Considerations

If your diet is on point but your hair is still an issue, there could be another culprit: your hormones. Hair loss on the scalp and the body may indicate hormonal issues, like with people who have severe hypothyroidism or other endocrine system disorders.

The endocrine changes that occur after giving birth can result in postpartum hair loss, and may last for as long as 15 months. And for women experiencing menopause, the hair follicles are also affected.

With hormonal hair issues, you might notice thinning hair or strands that fall out in large clumps when you brush it. If you suspect your troublesome tresses might be related to a hormonal imbalance of some kind, consider making an appointment with your doctor.

The Bottom Line

“When someone’s hair is not healthy, there are underlying problems, and very often they’re nutritional,” says Rosensweet. This means that healthy hair begins with healthy nutritional habits.

The very best place to start is with a diet rich in organic (versus non-organic) foods, says Rosensweet—particularly fruit, vegetables, and dairy, which studies, like this one in the British Journal of Nutrition, have shown contain more antioxidants (which protect against oxidative stress that also affects hair) and omega-3 fatty acids (good for your hair, skin, an overall health) than their non-organic counterparts. So, the more nutrients we can get naturally–and organically—from our meals, the better.

Related: I Drank Collagen For 30 Days—Here’s How It Turned Out

There Are Two Types Of Cardio—Here’s Why They Both Matter

Sure, you can deadlift serious poundage and you just ran a 10k, but do you know the difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise? (It’s OK—it’s not totally obvious.)

Here, we refer to the experts for a breakdown on the two different types of cardio that do a body good.

Aerobic: Moderate impact for sustained use

Aerobic exercise pumps oxygenated blood from the heart to the muscles. It’s powered by oxygen and fat, which is why it’s associated with weight loss, according to the American Journal of Medicine.

Aerobic exertion is typically low to moderate (think: hiking, swimming, or biking at a comfortable pace), which means it can be sustained over a longer period of time. If you can talk while you’re doing it, you are probably doing an aerobic activity.

Dani Urcuyo, Family Medicine resident at the Cleveland Clinic and CrossFit specialist, explains: “Predominantly aerobic exercises have many benefits, including optimizing cardiovascular health, improving mood, and reducing the risk of many chronic disease like diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.”

In fact, regular aerobic exercise has been shown to help reduce glycosylated hemoglobin (or blood sugar levels) in patients with type 2 diabetes, according to Sports Medicine, as well as effectively promote mood stability, according to the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research.

Anaerobic: Short, high impact

Anaerobic exercises, on the other hand, can be categorized as high-intensity activities sustained over short bursts of time (hello HIIT class). If you engage in a full-on sprint where you can’t produce enough oxygen to go for a long period of time (hence the shorter intervals), you’re exercising anaerobically. This sort of exercise is also beneficial for weight loss and muscle growth.

Related: Shop supplements to increase your energy and vitality.

With this form of exercise, glycogen begins to be used as fuel (since there’s not enough oxygen to power the body). With a lower presence of oxygen in the blood during these quick bursts of anaerobic activity, carbohydrates break down in our body and leave behind lactic acid, which causes fatigue and discomfort. This is the anaerobic threshold (a.k.a., the “wall”) you eventually hit when you exercise as hard as you can.

Don’t let the short intervals fool you: Anaerobic exercise offers plenty of benefits: “Anaerobic exercise helps to develop muscle mass, which in turn boosts metabolism,” Dr. Urcuyo says.

In fact, according to one study, a group who did anaerobic exercise after aerobic exercise (versus only performing aerobic exercises) showed the greatest reduction in their body mass index (BMI), according to the World Journal of Cardiology.

The Bottom Line: Go for Both

Think of aerobic and anaerobic cardio as your go-to tag team—both are beneficial for your health. In fact, both energy systems are active when we exercise, but, notes Dr. Urcuyo, “It’s the duration of the activity that dictates the proportion each of these energy systems is active.”

During a 5-K run, for example, the aerobic system is more active than the anaerobic system. But if you hit the track for an hour of 100-meter sprints with short rest periods between each one, then your anaerobic energy system is getting the most use.

Related: Should You Be Doing A HIIT Workout?

“Nature doesn’t make a distinction between exclusively aerobic or anaerobic exercise,” explains Dr. Urcuyo. “Rather, both systems function on a continuum, and that’s how we should train.” If you alternate short bursts of riding a bike or running as fast as you can in-between a more moderate running or biking pace, you’re engaging in both aerobic and anaerobic exercise.

To get the most out of your exercise routines, Dr. Urcuyo recommends using functional movements as the foundation of a 15-minute workout, three times a week. One workout he suggests: “In 12 minutes, complete as many rounds as possible of 10 deadlifts, five pull-ups, and a 200-meter run.” An additional weight-lifting session can be added for optimized training, and a long run, row, or swim—which counts for aerobic cardio—makes for a great recovery day activity.

Variety keeps our workouts interesting and maximizes the benefits of exercise by engaging different parts of our bodies in different ways. By creating routines that utilize both aerobic and anaerobic cardio, we reap the positive effects of each.

As Dr. Urcuyo says, “Predominantly aerobic and anaerobic exercises should be included in almost everyone’s training, primarily because that’s exactly what life demands of us.”