What Men Must Know about Hormones and Health 
Thursday, October 2, 2014
LifeTime WeightLoss in Lab Testing, Lifestyle, Metabolism, Performance Enhancement, healthy aging, hormonal health, hormone balance, hormones, men, men's health, sex hormones, testosterone

Gentlemen, do you know how your hormones are influencing your fitness performance, aging experience, and overall wellbeing?

Hormones are chemical messengers our bodies use to maintain physiological homeostasis or to adapt to new inputs.

To some degree, aging naturally produces gradual decreases in hormone levels and effectiveness.  However, to a much larger extent, we have control over the fate of our body’s internal environment. 

Before we address how to achieve a harmonious hormone balance, though, we must know a few details about these hormones in question….

The State of Our Hormonal Health

It’s estimated that as many as 1 in 4 men have marginal or low testosterone levels.

Modern lifestyles have created some of the unhealthiest environments for testosterone production and maintenance, mostly under the influence of sleep deprivation, life stressors, rampant sub-clinical nutrient deficiencies, and a “chronic cardio” infatuation.

Additionally, about a 1/3 of adults may be dealing with concerning degrees of insulin resistance. To boot, we’re more overrun by the effects of our major “stress” hormone (cortisol) than ever. The result? Anything but homeostasis – or good health.

One challenge to hormonal health is that few of these issues can be perceived before significant damage has been done. If earlier symptoms are present, we often dismiss them as the “normal” and inevitable effects of getting older.

Unfortunately, doctors seldom measure hormones unless there are serious medical concerns already present that aren’t being managed well with standard medical protocols (e.g. medications or check-ups resulting in clinical improvements). In other words, hormones rarely make it onto your healthcare radar until they are severely askew (as evidenced in markers such as glucose levels, cholesterol levels, or subjective symptoms such as erratic energy levels or serious anxiety).

Even when doctors do test hormonal levels and find imbalances, the standard protocol of pharmaceutical medications and – in some cases – hormonal replacement oversimplify a complex health picture.

It’s important to understand that dozens of your daily choices send direct messages to the hormonal environment within your body – messages that may be helpful or harmful.

In short, your hormones react to your every move.

Let’s take a look at how this hormonal truth plays out in a given day – both through the lens of an optimal lifestyle and in a “typical” modern pattern.

What Optimal Hormonal Health Looks Like

Although it might seem too good to be true, men of optimal health normally feel pretty good – if not great – physically speaking. After a night of deep, restorative sleep during which their bodies released a surge of growth hormone in those first few critical hours of sleep (before midnight), they wake feeling refreshed thanks to a nice (and natural) little peak in cortisol as the sun rises.

They spring out of bed with enough vigor (thanks again to cortisol for freeing up internal energy stores) to get in a quick workout (coffee optional but unnecessary).

Their workouts (especially if they include heavy resistance or strenuous intervals) further wake up their bodies and stimulate a surge in testosterone (greater surge from taxing type II muscle fibers and stimulating lactate accumulation) and enhance insulin sensitivity for the next 16 to 24 hours.

Aside from their bodies' clear benefits, the exercise floods their brains with uplifting, “happy” hormones, setting the tone for a day of less stress and more resilience.

The morning burst of activity also sets metabolism in motion. Thyroid hormones trigger cells to efficiently burn mostly stored fat and a little stored carbohydrate (glycogen) for energy.

Furthermore, all of this is done well before their hunger gradually arrives a few hours after waking, since their hunger-signaling hormone ghrelin has been sufficiently suppressed by enough shut-eye.

The first feeding (comprised of high-quality protein, fibrous vegetables or fruit, healthy fats, and possibly something starchy) nourishes their bodies with much-needed nutrients. They’re now actively re-building healthy, lean tissue and filling up energy reserves before the onslaught of morning meetings. Nonetheless, even males of optimal health probably still take their high-quality multivitamin and other important supplemental nutrients to cover their bases.

That balanced meal of protein, fiber, fat, and a controlled amount of carbohydrates is so satisfying that they stop eating when reasonably full, as the brain receives signals from cholesystokinin in the stomach and leptin from fat cells. Meals like this will require minimal amounts of insulin and will produce steady energy levels, focus, and hunger control.

An optimal metabolism easily returns to burning mostly fat after each meal like this because these mens' muscle, liver and brain cells quickly took up the small amount of carbohydrates from the veggies/fruit/starch and because insulin levels quickly returned to minimal. (A hat tip to the morning workout is also in order.)

A few more times each day their hunger gradually returns, and more balanced meals are eaten to keep delivering 1) amino acids to muscles needing repair and 2) glucose and fatty acids to active muscles and organs for use as fuel.

Because this lifestyle and (in particular) diet seldom requires violent or urgent hormonal response (e.g. a huge flood of insulin to help manage an elevated blood sugar), their bodies operate from relative homeostasis, and life fittingly seems rather calm on the outside. Stress (not to mention all the exhaustion, worry and hand-wringing that come with it) is of little bother.

That brings us to the conventional flip-side of this example. What does the hormonal picture of a “typical” lifestyle look like broken down into an ordinary day?

What Most of Us Accept in Lieu of Optimal Functioning

Having fallen asleep while watching T.V. the night before after eating a processed carbohydrate-based (a.k.a. insulin-stimulating) “boredom” snack, you’ve already managed to blunt your growth hormone release significantly.

Insufficient deep sleep won’t help you spring out of bed excited to test your strength. You decide to skip your intended workout. You begin the day instead with a low mood, even lower insulin sensitivity, and an un-inspired metabolism.

To compensate, you trip your feel-good triggers by relying on something sweet from the bakery selection along with a double dose of caffeine to wake yourself up and offer a boost of energy to tackle the morning’s task list.

Two hours later (or less), you’re wondering why you’re so hungry all of the sudden. Oh yeah, your leptin-ghrelin appetite balance is about as even as your blood sugar because of poor sleep, skipped workout, imbalanced food choices and unrelenting stress. What now?

Don’t worry though. That afternoon coffee or energy shot should get you through enough of your afternoon workload. You’ll be home just in time to collapse, energy spent, on the couch to catch the last few minutes of the game. After a stressful day, the sedative effects of a beer and some late night T.V. may lull you to sleep again.  

Which picture best describes your experience each day? Which would you rather choose for yourself?

The longer you maintain an unhealthy lifestyle, the more likely it is you will develop subtle (and eventually not-so-subtle) hormone imbalances that will stand between you and your ultimate fitness and health goals.

What We Can Do

What’s next? Get tested.

The fact is, if you never assess your hormones, you’ll never have a baseline to compare to.

As mentioned, health care professionals frequently deter patients from assessing hormones such as testosterone with the caution that these hormones fluctuate with many factors, including time of day, age, dietary choices, sleep habits, etc. While it’s true these fluctuations exist, using that to dissuade people from testing is misguided.

If we never measure hormone levels, we will never be able to see how our hormones are trending over time. The value in testing isn’t only a particular day’s reading but the ongoing shift we may witness over the years. Without establishing a baseline, we’ll be unable to discern imbalances when they can more readily be corrected. We also won’t know whether our lifestyle choices, nutrition patterns or sleep habits are on the right track or pushing us toward accelerated aging. This isn’t the way to proactively manage our health.

Are you interested in assessing your hormonal health and managing its impact on performance, aging and well-being? Talk to a fitness professional about what the Longevity & Vitality Premium lab panel can do for you. Thanks for reading.

In health, Paul Kriegler, RD/LD, CISSN, Pn1

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

Article originally appeared on LifeTime WeightLoss (http://www.lifetime-weightloss.com/).
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