If you think about your health on the simplest level, it’s the chemical signals (hormones) transmitted from one cell to another that determine bodily functions like cell growth, detoxification, immune response, inflammation and tissue repair. If these signals are in balance, we have the potential to age gracefully and remain youthful longer. If they are out of balance, the risk for the conditions associated with aging—such as cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis or heart disease—is magnified. These messenger signals not only affect our internal biochemical processes, but our outward appearance as well by influencing the look and feel of our hair and skin.
According to Dr. Joey Shulman, vice-president of nutrition at Truestar, “The key to restoring the skin’s healthy glow is twofold: healthy skin must be addressed from the outside with proper creams, cleansers and moisturizers, and from the inside with specific vitamins, minerals and foods.” Hormonal balance along with vitamins, supplements and diet is key for healthy, glowing skin.
The habits and behaviors we adopt to maintain and promote optimal hormonal balance also greatly benefit the skin and support a preventative lifestyle. Let’s address each of the major hormones that impact our appearance and discuss methods you can use to achieve the healthy balance necessary for radiant, youthful looking skin.
High levels of insulin can accelerate wrinkling of the skin. Excess insulin occurs with an overindulgence of sugar or simple carbohydrates as well as with insulin resistance. Avoiding these foods and eating a balance of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats every three to four hours will help keep your insulin levels balanced. Supplements such as chromium and conjugated linoleic acid may help improve insulin sensitivity, resulting in lower insulin levels. Sleep deprivation is also associated with high insulin levels, so good sleep habits are essential.
Estrogen is produced by the ovaries prior to menopause and by the adrenal glands after menopause. Your adrenal glands will produce less estrogen if they are fatigued, which is common with a stressful lifestyle, sleep disruption, irregular eating habits or illness. The drop in estrogen production that occurs with age makes your skin thinner and less elastic, which causes more wrinkling and sagging. A study of 3,875 postmenopausal women concluded that estrogen helped aging women have younger looking skin and helped maintain skin’s collagen, thickness, elasticity and ability to retain moisture.
As estrogen levels decline, the hair on the scalp thins, as does the hair in the pubic area. Replacing declining estrogen levels reduces this hair thinning and benefits the skin. Simple dietary changes can also help support healthy estrogen levels through the intake of phytoestrogens, such as flaxseed and soy products. Have one serving of soy every day and add 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed to your smoothies daily. Increase your intake of vegetables such as broccoli and brussels sprouts—they contain indols, compounds that are essential to healthy estrogen balance.
When necessary, herbal support of estrogen can be helpful. Herbal products such as licorice, angelica, red clover or black cohosh are often used for this purpose. Natural hormone replacement in the form of creams containing the three types of estrogen (estriol, estrone and estradiol) may also be beneficial, but these must be obtained by prescription through your MD or ND. When using hormone replacement therapy of any kind it is essential to have your hormone levels tested prior to using these products as well as during treatment to be sure the dosage is correct and to avoid risky excess levels.
Excessive testosterone, in women or men, may result in acne on the face, chest or back. With age, women tend to experience an increase in androgen (a male sex hormone) levels and a decline in estrogen, while men tend to experience the opposite; an increase in estrogen and testosterone decline. A decline in testosterone may cause a decrease in sex drive and motivation and increased body fat in both men and women. Signs that a woman’s testosterone levels may be too high include male pattern balding and an increase in body or facial hair.
Male or female, saw palmetto may help address the acne and male pattern baldness common with this imbalance. If a testosterone deficiency is suspected, herbs such as tribulus terresteris, stress management and weight-bearing exercises may help to restore optimal levels.
Dry skin is a problem that increases with age. Interestingly, DHEA turns on oil production and seems to help combat this problem. DHEA is a hormone that is a precursor to other hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone. DHEA levels tend to decline with stress as well as with age. Because of this, many physicians supplement their patients' diets with DHEA.
DHEA supplements are not without risks and, like all other hormones, should not be taken unless a clear deficiency has been established through proper assessment. Relora has been found useful to increase DHEA levels and to lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that can be harmful if elevated over extended periods of time. Good sleep habits may also help establish healthy DHEA levels.
Have you ever wondered why a pregnant woman’s skin glows? The secret is the high levels of progesterone common in a healthy pregnancy. Progesterone is very beneficial for skin elasticity and improves circulation to the skin. Progesterone levels decline with menopause as well as with stress. Low progesterone levels are also associated with conditions like PMS, fibrocystic breast disease, infertility, increased risk and incidence of miscarriage as well as polycyctic ovarian syndrome. Men with prostate conditions also tend to have low levels.
Progesterone levels may be supported with the use of evening primrose oil, herbs such as vitex or wild yam and natural progesterone creams. Stress management and healthy sleep is also crucial to maintaining healthy progesterone levels.
Growth hormone affects just about every cell in your body. It has a major effect on how you feel, act and look. Because levels tend to decline with age, growth hormone supplements are promoted as a way to "reverse" the effects of aging. Growth hormone is released while we sleep. It is essential for tissue repair and building muscle and for maintaining bone density and a healthy body composition.
The release of growth hormone is dependant on the production of melatonin while we sleep. Melatonin is a potent antioxidant; it helps to combat the negative effects of cortisol and it is essential to restful sleep. If we sleep in complete darkness, melatonin will be released, causing the body to cool down. As the body cools, growth hormone is released and begins to work its regenerative magic. If we do not sleep in total darkness or if we eat after 8 pm we put ourselves at risk for low levels of both melatonin and growth hormone. Growth hormone production may also be increased with the use of supplements like glutamine and arginine.
Along with proper balance of the hormones discussed here, diet, vitamins, water and essential fatty acids (EFAs) are crucial to the texture and appearance of the skin. EFAs help keep the skin healthy by preventing dryness. Do yourself a favor and pick up a potent supplement of omega-3 oils—your joints, brain, heart and eyes will thank you for it!