From growth and development to sleep patterns, metabolism, mood, and even reproduction, hormones play a key role in how your body looks, feels and functions throughout your lifetime. In fact, while you may already know that hormones fluctuate throughout the day and month for both men and women, many people are surprised to learn that they also follow defined seasonal patterns. Understanding exactly what they are, how they change throughout the seasons and how the food you eat affects them will allow you to optimize your health.
Hormones are chemical substances that flow through your body carrying messages to all your cells and organs. Basically, they tell your body what to do, how to do it and when to do it.
Hormones are signalling molecules which are responsible for many physiological and behavioural processes.
Many of the feelings you experience in a day — hunger, tiredness, sexual arousal — are all due to the hormones regulating your body. The human body produces 50 different hormones at any given time. The pituitary gland is responsible for many of them as well as taking care of signalling to other glands to release them as needed.
One of the hormones produced by your pituitary gland is the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) which stimulates the production of cortisol. Cortisol is often referred to as the “stress hormone” and its main job is to maintain both blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Other examples include thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which regulates your metabolism, and antidiuretic hormone which regulates water balance and sodium levels.
There are several other “hormone factories” in the human body controlled by the pituitary gland. Oxytocin, known for playing a large role in childbirth, breastfeeding and bonding processes is produced in the hypothalamus but is released into the bloodstream by the pituitary gland. Similarly, testosterone, which regulates libido, fat distribution and muscle mass, is produced in the testes (men) and ovaries (women), but it’s only released into the body after being signalled to do so by the pituitary gland.
Less exposure to natural light in winter means lower vitamin D levels – a hormone in itself – with a profound effect on others, such as the pituitary gland.
As you can see, hormones affect your body in all kinds of unique ways. But what’s even more interesting about them is that they follow cyclical patterns, which means that their production and release levels change with the seasons. In fact, studies show that most of the hormones created by the pituitary gland, like endorphins and TSH, peak in late summer while those produced in other areas of the body like oxytocin and testosterone, typically peak from winter to spring.
While these seasonal discrepancies are natural, experiencing them can be anything but pleasant. After all, sudden drops in hormones can lead to mood swings, depression, fatigue, weight gain and blood sugar problems to name just a few. So it makes perfect sense that many people tend to feel happier and more energetic in summer and sadder and more sluggish during winter.
But the good news is that food can help you rebalance your hormones and reclaim your health. Believe it or not, what you eat actually impacts your likelihood of experiencing insomnia, poor concentration, sugar cravings, adrenal fatigue, anxiety, and weight gain all year long, but especially during the winter months when many of your most important hormones are crashing.
Cruciferous vegetables, collard greens and dark leafy green vegetables are particularly helpful to rebalance hormones.
Cruciferous vegetables like arugula, bok choy, broccoli and cauliflower; collard greens; and dark leafy green vegetables like dandelion greens, kale, mustard greens and swiss chard, are excellent examples of foods that help regulate hormones. Introducing good fats into each meal is another way to reclaim your body and your health instead of suffering through the symptoms of hormonal imbalance. These good fats include things like avocados, fish, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils. It is also recommended to include whole grains like brown rice, oatmeal, millet, quinoa and whole wheat as well as herbs and spices such as garlic, ginger, paprika and turmeric.
Fermented foods improve your digestive system and enhance your immune system to help you fight off any illnesses you may be exposed to. Examples of beneficial fermented foods include kefir, kimchi, kombucha, tempeh, and sauerkraut.
If you don’t follow a vegan diet, high-quality proteins like grass-fed meats, wild-caught salmon, greek yoghurt and tofu will help your body repair tissues, lose belly fat, and increase your muscle mass.
Looking at micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), you should pay particular attention to foods that are high in calcium, iodine, iron, magnesium, selenium, vitamin B12, Vitamin D, and zinc as they all affect hormone production.
Recent studies recommend consuming up to 30 different plant foods per week, including spices and herbs.
To increase your calcium, eat foods like milk, cheese, and green leafy vegetables. Fish, dairy products, and iodized salt are all ways to make sure you consume enough iodine. When it comes to your iron intake, include beans, lentils, and cashews in your meals. Spinach, peas, and potatoes are all excellent sources of selenium, while beef, tuna and nutritional yeast provide vitamin B12. Herring, egg yolks, and mushrooms can give you a boost of vitamin D. Lastly, oysters, crab, and beans are loaded with zinc.
Remember, it’s perfectly natural for hormone levels in both men and women to rise and fall during different seasons of the year but your diet plays a key role in your ability to regulate them and feel better than ever.
Words: Chiara Saccardo
Chiara Saccardo is a Nutritionist and DNA Life Practitioner specialized in rebalancing hormones in women in their 40s and 50s. She qualified in Nutrition from the world-renowned College of Naturopathic Medicine.
Opening picture: © Trang Doan, Pexels.