In the popular TV show, “The Biggest Loser," contestants fight hard to quickly realize their dramatic weight-loss goals. By the end of the show, viewers and contestants alike are amazed by the end results. But, what is even more amazing (and for the contestants, frustrating) is the tenacity with which their bodies have fought to regain the weight after the show.
Surprisingly, researchers found that their slower metabolisms did not increase with the weight-gain, but instead remained low in a struggle to return their bodies to their original weight.
The issue raises an important but underexposed factor that plays an important role in everyone’s health and quality of life — hormone balance. The researchers’ findings coincide with what experts already know about hormones: Keeping them in harmony is vital to maintaining your physical health, as well as your mental and emotional well-being.
Walking the Tightrope of Hormones
Human hormones exist and rely on harmony, which is expressed in proper hormone ratios. Extreme dieting can contribute to hormone imbalance, but so can age-related decline, genetic predisposition to certain conditions, and more.
The benefits of bringing your hormones back into balance include reduced or eliminated instances of several common symptoms, as well as potentially dramatic improvements in your mood, behavior, and physical and mental health. Harmony in your hormone balance can also increase disease prevention and energy levels, help you better maintain a healthier weight, and reduce risks of mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety.
The good news is that, in most cases, finding the right hormone balance isn’t complicated. There are several things you can do in your daily life to help reduce risks of imbalance, such as:
1. Limit processed and plastic-wrapped foods. Studies show that more than 90% of people in the United States have traces in their blood of both plastic and bisphenol A (or BPA), a controversial chemical in consumer products. Both are known to disrupt hormone equilibrium. Furthermore, additives can impact hormones like leptin, which plays a significant role in obesity and can increase the chance of relapse in patients with eating disorders.
Limit your intake of processed foods and those that come pre-packaged in plastic wrapping or containers. Also, avoid heating foods in plastic, as the heat can increase the material’s levels of harmful chemicals. Instead, use glass, ceramic, or stainless steel containers to store your food.
2. Avoid cosmetics with phthalates. Phthalates are a type of chemical used to soften plastics, but they’re also found abundantly in cosmetics and hygiene products to provide pleasant fragrances. Phthalates and other commonly used hormone disruptors do not always come with warnings, though they are known to significantly disrupt hormone ratios when they are absorbed through the skin. Instead of fragrances and perfumes, choose natural essential oils that do not contain phthalates or other synthetic fragrances.
3. Try to avoid highly polluted areas. In 2005, high levels of pollution in the Washington area led to intersexed fish, which researchers discovered were the result of hormone changes caused by chemicals in the polluted water. Researchers have also found that such pollutants can mimic or block essential hormonal processes, leading to long-term health effects that can, in some cases, continue through generations. If possible, choose areas to live and work that are light on air and water pollution.
4. Maintain a fit and healthy lifestyle. Fat is a hormonally active tissue, and too much of it can disrupt your body’s overall hormone balance. Specifically, excess body fat corresponds to increased estrogen production — in fact, fat is the main source of estrogen in post-menopausal women. To keep estrogen levels in check, be sure to maintain control over your body’s fat supply by sticking to a healthy routine of balanced dieting and physical exercise.
5. Have your hormones checked regularly. Hormonal imbalance can affect anyone at any point in life and can dramatically affect your well-being on several different fronts. Recognizing a hormone imbalance can be difficult because there are several common symptoms, such as fatigue, weight gain, gynecomastia (or “man boobs"), and even thinning hair, skin, and nails. In addition to regular wellness checkups, ask your physician to check your hormone levels periodically to ensure they’re in proper balance.
Just as “The Biggest Loser" contestants had to learn, losing or having too much of key hormones can throw your entire life out of balance, so keep an eye on your daily habits to keep your hormones — and life — in check.
About the Author: Dr. Mark Calarco is the national medical director of American Addiction Centers, a leader in drug and alcohol abuse treatment. He is a pioneer in treating hormone imbalances in recovering individuals and has served as a board member for the State of Tennessee Medical Laboratory Board and the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. Dr. Calarco was also the first board-certified anti-aging and regenerative medicine specialist in Tennessee.