Background to the series.
Sixteen years ago I had a series on radio called Turning Back the Clock, which I presented in response to listeners in their 50’s and 60’s looking for rejuvenation and tips on staying young. Like me they were exasperated by the claims of the cosmetic industry that the various ingredients in their products could knock ten years off their age. I was asked to design a diet that would help reverse the signs of aging and this developed into a weekly challenge that was undertaken by nearly 100 listeners. The series became a book in 2010.
I try to practice what I preach! And certainly so far I have managed to maintain healthy key indicators such as blood pressure, blood sugar levels and cholesterol without medication, much to the surprise of my doctor!
In my opinion the answer to turning back the clock by several years is to consider and address a number of factors which include physical, emotional and mental age markers.
Link to part three and the eating plan to balance the pH in the body: Here
This week’s post is about the role that healthy fats and cholesterol play in the production of our hormones. Cholesterol is essential for the production of hormones as well as our brain health and other important functions. Whilst having too much of one kind of cholesterol is not healthy for our arteries or heart a balance of all kinds is needed: Why we need Cholesterol in our bodies – Smorgasbord Health
As we age our reproductive hormones naturally decrease, but they do not disappear and they still need the ingredients necessary to produce them. This requires that we maintain a diet that provides those nutrients. I know that this chapter is quite lengthy but please feel free to save to read later.
The Hormone Factor in the aging process
Isn’t it inevitable that all hormone levels are going to drop as we get older, and will we all be affected?
Most of us, when we talk about hormones, are usually referring to the reproductive ones such as testosterone, progesterone and oestrogen.
We all know that as we get older our reproductive hormones decrease and both men and women go through a menopause. Women are more affected by this, obviously, but men too experience a decrease in testosterone levels and the changes that this brings about.
However, our sex hormones are just three of the many hormones that are produced in our bodies and even though our reproductive abilities may decrease as we get older, the hormones involved are still active within our body. If they, and our other hormones, are looked after they will contribute to a healthy, energetic and youthful appearance. Sex does not stop when we get middle aged it just gets more creative and interesting.
I am not going to cover every form of hormone but it is important to remember that all hormones produced by the body are for a specific reason. They ensure that the complex processes within our bodies are working efficiently. When these processes are not working at an optimum level there is a breakdown in function over time, and damage and aging will take place.
What are hormones?
Hormones are some of the most powerful chemicals to be found in the body. They are bio-chemicals produced in special glands and then carried in the bloodstream to other glands, or cells, where they give instructions that activate certain processes.
They are secreted by a number of different glands such as the Pituitary, Adrenal, Thyroid, Pancreas, Ovaries, Testes and Pineal. Each gland may produce one or more different hormone to affect a process in the body. For example; the Pancreas secretes Insulin, Glucagon and Stomostatin. Insulin and glucagon are secreted according to the level of blood sugar and Stomostatin is the referee to ensure that not too much of either is secreted and that blood sugar levels remain balanced as a result.
Hormones are manufactured from components of food, which means that the type of diet you follow has a major impact on keeping hormone levels in balance! Hormones are either protein-like as in insulin, or fat-like as in steroid hormones.
Since our primary focus is on maintaining our health; through eating an optimum diet, we need to concentrate on providing the body with the most perfect environment for hormone balance and therefore lack of stress; which leads to damage and disease.
The hormone functions I am going to cover are Metabolism, Blood Sugar Levels and Stress Response because these, combined with low levels of the sex hormones Testosterone, Progesterone and Oestrogen, are some of the leading causes of aging.
Whatever the level of hormones produced by particular glands, if they are not communicating when they get to their destinations (such as the Thyroid Gland, Kidneys or Ovaries, they will not be effective – and the on-going functions they are supposed to stimulate will be disrupted.
I detail the foods that provide these essential nutrients for our brain and hormone productions at the end of the post.
How do we create the perfect environment?
Well, a good start is to be following a diet which is primarily sourced from all natural ingredients, is low in refined sugars and contains healthy fats. Being near a healthy weight will also help. There are certain foods that are very nutrient dense which are very important in creating the right atmosphere for hormones to work efficiently in balance.
One of the most important food sources is Essential Fatty Acids which are Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids (polyunsaturated fatty acids). The body must have these essential fatty acids, yet cannot make them itself.
One of the main functions of essential fatty acids is the production of prostaglandins which are hormone-like substances that regulate many body functions. Basically, they control every cell of the body on a second-by-second basis by acting as interpreters between the hormones and the cells they are being delivered to. As far as aging is concerned they are required for energy production, increasing oxidation and metabolic rates. Energy levels go up with high stamina with decreased recovery time from fatigue.
Prostaglandins are particularly important in the way that they balance all hormones including the reproductive ones. You also need to note that the brain does not function without essential fatty acids.
Monounsaturated fats are also important, as both these types of fats protect brain cells and the membranes and ensure effective passing of nutrients within the brain.
This last point is particularly important, because when we talk about hormones we tend to ignore the power behind the throne, which is the Hypothalamus. The other name of the Hypothalamus is actually the word Homeostasis, which means balance, which is very appropriate. It is located in the middle of the base of the brain and is connected to the Pituitary lobes, which form the most important gland in the body.
The Hypothalamus regulates:
- body temperature,
- blood sugar,
- water balance,
- fat metabolism,
- body weight,
- sensory inputs – such as taste and smell and sight,
- sexual behaviour,
- hormone productions,
- menstrual cycle regulation
- the automatic nervous system that controls functions such as breathing and the heart muscle.
So, when we talk about hormones we need to talk about brain health as a priority.
Apart from essential fatty acids – what else does the brain need to function?
I am sure that it is no surprise that I am going to say FLUIDS are essential for adequate brain function. Dehydration causes to cells to dry up and die but also prevents the nutrients and oxygen reaching the brain, uphill through the carotid artery.
Headaches, nervousness, dizziness and nausea are all symptoms that the brain is dehydrated. That’s what you get when you drink too much coffee and alcohol and get a hangover. They are mild diuretics that can drain the body including organs such as the brain, of fluid.
Additionally, every organ in the body, including the brain, has a pH balance that needs to be maintained. Without fluid the brain can become too acidic and damage occurs as I explained in the previous chapter on acidity and alkalinity.
B vitamins are critical for the brain.
- B1 (Thiamine) essential for the nervous system.
- B2 (Riboflavin) works with Vitamin C to help the Adrenal glands and therefore energy levels.
- B3, (Niacin) assists Tryptophan in making Serotonin and the formation of the steroid hormones and for warding off senility.
- B5 (Pantothenic acid) is required for making neurotransmitter chemicals and for steroid hormones Testosterone and Oestrogen, B6 (Pyridoxine) Serotonin manufacture, sleep patterns,
- B12 (Cyanocolbalamin) essential for proper functioning of the nervous system.
Other essential nutrients for brain health.
- Vitamin C a powerful antioxidant that protects the brain from free-radical damage but also works with other vitamins and minerals in a number of vital processes.
- Vitamin E which helps increase circulation of oxygen and glucose rich blood to the brain. As an antioxidant it also protects brain cells from damage and destruction. It also protects the essential fatty acids and the Prostaglandins from oxidising (more next week)
- Tryptophan that works with B3 and B6 particularly to manufacture Serotonin and Melatonin in the brain.
- Calcium which calms the brain and assists in sleeping (hot milk at night). Magnesium to help Calcium work and to help calm panic attacks.
- Phenylalanine an antidepressant nutrient that also stimulates memory.
- Zinc, which has a calming effect on the brain function and with vitamin C, protects the membranes.
What part do amino acids play in hormone production?
Amino acids are the building blocks that make up proteins, which of course is what we are made of. Vitamins and minerals can’t perform their specific functions effectively if the necessary amino acids are not present. Amino acids are either classified as essential or non-essential. The non-essential ones can be manufactured in our bodies but the essential amino acids have to be obtained from food.
All hormones require amino acids for their production. For example L-Arginine encourages growth hormones and constitutes 80% of semen, which is why a deficiency causes sterility and is also essential for prostate health. L-Tryptophan helps in the production of Serotonin and Melatonin and helps to control emotional behaviour. L-Glutamine is helpful for Thyroid gland function. Taurine is used for hyperactivity and poor brain function.
What about the health of the other hormone producing glands?
Most of the above applies throughout the body. A diet rich in antioxidants such as Vitamin A, C and E and essential fatty acids and amino acids will promote health everywhere. Having created a near perfect working environment for the bosses (the Hypothalamus and the Pituitary), we can turn our attention to the health of the Thyroid (metabolism, energy and growth) Adrenal Gland (sex drive, stress response and metabolism) and Pancreas (Blood sugar levels). If these organs are producing the hormones they are supposed to in the right quantities many of the problems we associate with old age would be much more manageable. Including energy and the ability to process our nutrients efficiently keeping us away from degenerative disease such as arthritis.
How can we take care of the thyroid?
The Thyroid needs Iodine and Selenium to produce an enzyme, which converts the amino acid Tyrosine into Thyroxine. If Thyroxine is at a less than optimum level there will be weight gain, fatigue, intestinal problems and thickening skin. This gland also produces a hormone that is responsible for calcium balance between blood and bones. If this is not working then too much calcium is leached from the bones, leaving them vulnerable to osteoporosis.
What function does the adrenal gland have?
The Adrenal gland is actually in two parts the cortex (male characteristics, sex drive, stress response, metabolism and the excretion of Sodium and Potassium from the kidneys). The Medulla, which produces the Adrenaline for metabolism and the fight or flight stress response.
If your stress levels remain high for long periods of time there will be an effect on the rest of your body. The body slows down digestion, maintenance and repair so that it is ready to run at any moment. It definitely speeds up the aging process because, like anything that is not maintained and is under stress, it slowly deteriorates. It will have a very big impact on all the rest of the hormones in the body including your sex drive – which is why stress plays a very important role in problems such as impotence.
A note here that if you have food intolerances you will be in a constant state of stress as the body deals with the invader. It will put a great deal of strain on the entire body, contributing to aging, which is why following a rotational eating plan (only eating suspect foods every five days) will help.
All the B vitamins, as well as Vitamin C, are necessary for the Adrenal glands as these are the nutrients that the body uses up most when in a stress reaction. Therefore they need to be replaced.
The Pancreas – Insulin production and blood sugar levels. What nutrients are needed for that to function healthily?
Like any of the hormonal glands, all of the nutrients that we have already mentioned are going to help the pancreas function better. In addition, it is important to follow some guidelines about eating certain foods that are going to stress the gland and put excess sugar into the bloodstream in addition to that made by the body.
So it is important to avoid too much refined carbohydrates and sugar (follow the healthy eating programme)
You should not eat too much saturated fat. Do not drink too many stimulants such as coffee and alcohol; be at a reasonable weight.
How about the food sources for the essential nutrients that are required to balance the hormones?
- Omega 3. Flaxseed oil, walnuts, pumpkinseeds, Brazil nuts, sesame seeds, avocados, dark green vegetables such as spinach, salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, tuna.
- Omega 6. Flaxseed oil, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds, olive oil, evening primrose oil, chicken.
- Omega 9. Olive oil, olives, avocado, almonds, sesame oil, pecans, pistachio, cashews.
Heat and oxygen destroy essential fatty acids so keep oils in dark glass containers.
B vitamins. Apricots, avocado, brown rice, carrots, chicken, eggs, whole grains, lambs kidney and liver, melon, nuts, oats, oily fish, potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, spinach, all salad vegetables and yoghurt.
Amino acids are found in proteins either animal or vegetable. Main sources are Soya beans, peas, beans, whole grains like brown rice, dairy products, poultry, lean meats and eggs.
©Just Food for Health 1998 – 2021
I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty-three years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines, radio programmes and posts here on Smorgasbord.
If you would like to browse my health books and fiction you can find them here: My books and reviews 2021
Thanks for dropping in today and I hope you will join me again next week for part five of this series and the impact of an ineffective immune system on our aging process. Thanks Sally.