Your hormones are often working together with your immune system. What’s significant about this relationship is that if you have certain hormones that are out of balance, it can lead to the development and continuation of chronic inflammation in autoimmune conditions.
The purpose of inflammation in the body
Often, we think of inflammation as a bad thing, and it is if it’s chronic. Inflammation is defined as a protective reaction by the body in response to a physical or chemical injury—if you’re fighting an infection or you’ve injured yourself, like a broken bone, muscle sprain, or strain, etc. This is the body’s first step in the healing process, so it’s actually a really important and necessary thing!
Chronic inflammation, however, is associated with poor health and disease. Unfortunately, women suffer 75% of all autoimmune diseases. Chronic inflammation may be responsible for causing the hormonal imbalance in the first place.
What hormones affect inflammation?
Before you go blaming all the hormones in your body, let’s talk about which ones are influenced by inflammation.
Estrogen. Researchers believe that declining estrogen plays a major role in joint pain during menopause. Low estrogen corresponds with the rise in cytokines interleukin-1 and interleukin-6 (pro-inflammatory chemicals). The hormonal changes experienced during menopause contribute to weight gain and extra fat cells, especially around the midsection, and add to systemic inflammation by creating extra cytokines and C-reactive protein—these chemicals promote inflammation in the body.
Cortisol. Cortisol is produced in large amounts in response to acute short-term stress, such as infection. A depletion of cortisol is often implicated in furthering a pro-inflammatory state. It’s important we have enough to handle short-term inflammation.
The issue with cortisol arises when inflammation doesn’t stop. After a “fight or flight” response is triggered, hormones should return to normal. If you’re constantly under stress, you’ll be constantly secreting cortisol which leads to higher-than-normal levels of insulin which promotes fat storage. This fuels more cortisol secretion, which starts the vicious cycle that creates chronic inflammation.
As we age and our estrogen and testosterone levels drop, the body favors cortisol as its counterbalance. This results in higher cortisol levels which can cause insulin resistance and reduced immune function. Excess cortisol has been linked to a low level of thyroid hormone. This can lead to trouble losing weight, chronic infections, fatigue, and a host of other conditions that may further compound the effects of inflammation.
Insulin. Insulin is produced by the pancreas in response to food in our stomach. Our modern-day diet contributes to this overproduction of insulin which functions as a pro-inflammatory substance and leads to insulin resistance. The production spirals out of control creating inflammation and oxidative stress which ages the brain. This domino effect leads to what is now called type 3 diabetes, also known as Alzheimer’s.
What you can do to fight inflammation and balance your hormones
What you just read might feel overwhelming and that’s okay! There are several things you can do to help your body reduce chronic inflammation and keep your hormones balanced.
Get to know your hormonal baseline. If you’re between 35-45, getting tested can help you determine where your imbalance lies so you can better help your body restore what’s on the low end or missing altogether. Chat with your healthcare professional about this.
Add adaptogenic herbs to your routine. You’ve probably seen loads of coffee alternatives emerge onto the market over the last several years. They are often filled with adaptogens like Ashwagandha. Adaptogens improve your entire body’s resistance to stress and aid in creating balance and harmony in the body which helps reduce inflammation and balance hormones. We put Ashwagandha in our PMS & Period Support!
Eat those veggies! Vegetables are packed with phytonutrients, or plant hormones, that have a hormone-balancing effect in the body. They also contain fiber which binds itself to old estrogens and helps clear them from your system. This lowers inflammation and helps balance hormones.
Remove or greatly reduce inflammatory foods from your diet. Our modern-day diet is loaded with processed foods that contribute to inflammation and hormonal imbalance. Things like processed dairy, gluten, alcohol, sugar, omega-6 oils, and soy. Deleting all these foods may have you feeling some sort of way, which is understandable. You can approach it with the 80/20 rule—avoid these foods 80% of the time and let yourself enjoy them 20% of the time.
Add in healthy fats. The fat-free diet has been debunked and thank goodness because healthy fats are really tasty! Add things like coconut oil, avocados, olive oil, nuts, and seeds. Avoid vegetable oils, peanut oil, canola oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, margarine, shortening, or “spreads,” all of which are high in omega-6 fats and promote inflammation.
Avoid as many endocrine disruptors as you can. We know that attempting to avoid every endocrine disruptor on the planet isn’t possible. Mainly because so many are outside of our control, but there are personal choices you can make to reduce your exposure. Be aware of plastics, air fresheners, dishwashing soap, laundry detergent, cleansers and cleaners, cosmetics, deodorants, toothpaste, and lotions. That list may feel like everything you own, but there are brands out there that avoid endocrine-disrupting ingredients in their products. It just takes a little research.
Don’t drink caffeine all day long. Relying on caffeine throughout your day raises your cortisol and slows down your thyroid. A great alternative is having an adaptogenic beverage when you feel that mid-day slump.
Find your unique stress-management technique. Yoga and meditation aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, so find something that helps you relax. This can be as simple as breathing more—we hold our breath more than you think! Maybe your body requires more sleep or a simple break at lunchtime where you disconnect from work altogether and just enjoy your meal. Spending time in nature has been known to lower cortisol levels, you can choose to read in a park, go for an easy walk, or just sit on the porch for a few minutes—you’ll get a bonus dose of vitamin D too!
Get yourself some Semaine supplements!
Your hormone levels directly affect your inflammation levels and vice versa. It’s crucial to prioritize keeping both in balance to avoid chronic inflammation and unbalanced hormones which could lead to more adverse conditions.