Being involved with health and fitness most of my working life, I have always felt in control of my well-being. Routinely stimulating all the right buttons has kept everything running smoothly and in a sense this is all I have ever known.
It wasn't until my almost clean regime took a turn for the worse that I found myself amongst the millions of women out there feeling 'pretty darn bad', and it hit me like a ton of bricks when I realised the missing link.
My health deviation took place in the form of a six week vacation which involved a couple of glasses of wine per day, lots of dining out, and no exercise (except for walking). In my opinion a fairly well-balanced break from the norm and I assumed my body would cope with it, but I was wrong. I felt physically and mentally drained, had no energy and my strong lean body remained slim in clothes but felt 'squidgy' in parts. Having always been in total control of my body this was the most challenging, awful, wake-up call I have ever experienced.
My hormones were in disarray. Unstable insulin levels were causing blood sugar disturbances and my cortisol (stress hormone) levels were at an all time high. This impacted my sleep patterns which in turn affected the hormone (leptin) and actually this babe was on her way to becoming a disempowered ageing fatty boom-boom by encouraging all the hormones that make you FAT and unhappy.
BUT more importantly what hormone was I neglecting that could take me down quite so badly?
Having personally experienced the natural effects of testosterone through exercise and healthy eating, I have to admit it is my favourite hormone! Testosterone is made in the ovaries (which is what gives us our femininity) and the adrenal glands and whilst most of us still associate it as a "male hormone", it is critically important for women too. It's one of those empowering hormones and women with normal to high levels of testosterone generally have assertive tendencies - which is why I know my body had it in bucket loads (and lost it in bucket loads). How could I have taken this amazing hormone so for granted? I believe this happened because I had never experienced 'not having testosterone in my body' and although it's been a tough lesson learnt, I am equally grateful as it's enabled me to truly understand the powerful impact testosterone plays in woman's health.
Testosterone is highest in women in their twenties and drops dramatically by the time we hit 40 causing major hormonal and endocrine havoc. It builds muscle, burns fat, increases libido, boosts energy, increases sex drive and strengthens bones. One of it's many benefits is the boosting of neurotransmitters, the brains chemicals. It helps mental health by lifting depression and increases optimistic, positive thinking whilst a lack of it can leave us feeling forgetful, disorientated and fuzzy.
It's recently been hailed as the new "botox" and women (especially those approaching menopause) are queuing up and spending huge amounts of money to fix their libidos, depression, and energy levels. Women with low testosterone levels often experience chronic fatigue, low libido and a decreased sense of well-being. So, this is a hormone everyone needs to keep in check!
The good news is that you have the power to make your body produce more testosterone! And even better, it needn't cost you a cent. The number one line of defence should always be a lifestyle strategy.
And here ladies is how to boost those testosterone levels naturally.
- Consume more quality protein in your diet. Eat a small protein source at every meal, such as lean red meat, poultry, cold water fish, tofu, legumes and/or nuts.
- Intermittent fasting has been shown to increase testosterone by nearly 200% and even up to 400%.
- Healthy fats, healthy fats, healthy fats! Eat an avocado a day, olive oil, walnuts, almonds, flax and chai seeds. Consume fatty fish, and add a flax or fish oil supplement to your diet. The body requires these types of fat to stimulate the production of testosterone, so make sure 20 to 30 percent of your caloric needs are met with these types of fat.
- Limit your intake of alcohol. Alcohol disturbs many of the body's natural hormonal processes and too much alcohol blunts testosterone production.
- Limit your tea/coffee intake to no more than two cups per day.
- Eliminate sugar from your diet. It plays no healthy role whatsoever.
- These foods will naturally boost your testosterone levels; pomegranate, olive oil, oysters, coconut, cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts), whey protein, garlic, fenugreek, ginger.
- Have sex once a week which will keep naturally occurring testosterone levels up.
- Minimize stress and cortisol levels. Unnatural elevations in cortisol can really reduce testosterone since these hormones work in a see saw-like manner; as one goes up the other comes down. Stress and high cortisol levels can also increase food intake, weight gain and the storage of harmful body fat around your organs. The knock on effect will negatively impact your testosterone levels. Stress clearly affects health and hormone levels and therefore for optimal health you should try to reduce repetitive stressful situations in your life.
- Optimize your Vitamin D levels - Try to get regular sun exposure or supplement with 3,000iu of Vitamin D. A 12-month study found that supplementing with around 3,000iu of VitaminD3 per day increased testosterone levels by twenty five percent.
- Sleep. Research suggests around 7 - 10 hours of sleep per night is best for long-term health and boosting your testosterone levels.
- The supplements Ashwagandha, ginseng, zinc and DHEA are all good testosterone boosters.
- Exercise is one of the most effective ways to boost your testosterone, with resistance training coming up as the best type of exercise to boost testosterone both in the short term and long term. It's a known fact that resistance training changes the hormonal environment in your body for the better. Your HGH and testosterone, two major fat-burning hormones - which assist in building muscle and burning fat - are hugely elevated during strength training sessions.
- HIIT training is also very effective in boosting both testosterone and HGH.
So there you have it - take charge - you are the boss of your hormones!