"I'm feeling hormonal," said nearly every woman in the world at some point in her life. What does it mean? Usually just that things feel pretty off, and hormones are an easy target because they really do affect so much of a person's overall health, from physical to emotional. Moodiness, migraines, stomach problems, weight gain, acne, anxiety—just a few of the issues people might suffer through on any given day, even for prolonged periods of time, thanks to wacky hormones. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what triggers these conditions, but there are a few everyday habits that could be the culprits. Luckily, you have the power to change each and every one.
Having a Toxic Beauty Regimen
Skin care and personal care are practically rituals, yet many people remain oblivious to the harmful additives in cleansers, creams, cosmetics, and other products that touch our bodies. The average woman may be exposed to hundreds of synthetic chemicals via skin contact daily. Pick out a few of the cryptic ingredients listed on the bottle and search them on the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database—most likely, some endocrine disruptors (aka hormone disruptors) will be revealed. Your immune, developmental, reproductive, and neurological health are at stake, so it might be time to overhaul a noxious beauty routine. Some of the worst offenders to look out for: parabens, phthalates (may be listed as "fragrance"), triclosan, and glycol ethers.
Stressing as a Way of Life
Sometimes we're masochists and wear stress like a badge of honor. Having lots of things to overwhelm us is like a status symbol of a full and rich life. Well, the negative effects of stress are as serious as a heart attack. Being constantly on freak-out mode spikes cortisol (the stress hormone), which can lead to anxiety, depression, poor memory and concentration, weight gain, and disease-causing inflammation. This is a no-brainer—prioritizing stress relief could curb the risk of these nasty hormonal issues, so it's gotta be done. Adaptogens may be the chill pills you need. These are herbs that naturally help the body to adapt to stress and regulate hormone production depending on its needs. Yup, they're smart. Maca powder is a miracle—the energizing butterscotch-like superfood is perfect for blending into a smoothie. Or pick up some ginseng or rhodiola supplements from the local health market.
Speaking of stress, exercise is the ultimate antidote for that. Physical activity can even help keep your thyroid, which stores and produces some of the most critical hormones, in check. (However, consult your doctor about exercising if you've been diagnosed with a thyroid condition.) But cardio workouts like running and cycling seven days a week could actually raise cortisol and affect estrogen and progesterone levels, potentially resulting in moodiness and even menstrual irregularities. Of course, this is by no means a suggestion to hang up your Nikes—keep that workout game strong, but make sure to take rest days, and try to switch it up now and then with lower impact exercise like yoga or light hiking.
Indulging Afternoon Sugar Cravings
So, that daily trip to the kitchen to rummage for a sweet snack? It's as bad a habit as you know your brain keeps telling you. (That's why it's called a guilty pleasure.) The hormone insulin turns sugar into usable energy, but too much sugar can spike blood glucose levels, which could cause insulin resistance—the body becomes less able to convert sugar into energy and instead stores it as fat. Translation: weight gain. Yes, your body does need glucose, but you're better off getting it from fiber-rich fruits.
With so many things on our agendas, sleep is often the first thing to go. That's so dangerous because it's a crucial time when the body naturally detoxes, recharges, and produces key hormones. Sometimes being busy isn't even the reason for staying up—late-night Facebook scrollers, you know who you are. Staring into the blue light right before (or during) bedtime can lower melatonin, the hormone that signals the body that it's time for some shut-eye. It only takes one night of sleep deprivation to raise cortisol levels and keep you chronically tossing and turning. Insomnia can also increase ghrelin, the hunger hormone, as well as lower leptin, a hormone that makes you feel full. There's that weight gain problem again. Just like managing stress is a must, you should also make sure to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night. No excuses. This is your total-body wellness we're talking about. Other ways to help re-balance hormones: take probiotics or eat probiotic-rich fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and miso. A healthy gut is associated with better hormone function. Also, the body produces some hormones out of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential to your diet; eat fatty fish like wild salmon or mackerel, or look to vegetarian-friendly sources like chia seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts. No one should have to write off feeling bad as just being "hormonal." Take care of yourself and your body will thank you.