After the age of 40, our hormone levels decline dramatically and one of the first places we see this is in our skin. Changing levels of hormones such as oestrogen, testosterone, adrenaline and insulin are extremely important chemical messengers that affect many aspects of your overall health. They can also affect our skin in many ways, including itchy skin, redness due to hot flushes, rosacea, skin may become more oily or more dry, thinner skin and may also become more sensitive. Hyperpigmentation, sagging, fine lines, and wrinkles may appear as our hormones fluctuate. Areas where skin is thinner, such as the neck and eye area, are usually first to show signs of ageing and hormonal imbalance.
Unfortunately, the ageing process is out with our control, however there are lifestyle changes we can make to naturally balance our hormones and therefore minimise the effects of ageing and to improve skin health.
Which Hormones Cause Hormonal Ageing?
It can help to understand how hormones work in the body and affect the skin to solve skin issues. Here’s how the different hormones affect the skin.
Oestrogen, when balanced, makes us look and feel youthful, gives us energy and a healthy libido, and makes us feel upbeat. This hormone also keeps skin plump, hydrated, and smooth. As you can imagine, once oestrogen goes out of balance due to perimenopause or menopause, skin begins to look older. Studies on postmenopausal women show that low ageing skin oestrogen levels are linked to dryness, fine wrinkling, thinning, decreased elasticity, and a decline in collagen.
Oestrogen drives the formation of collagen and elastin, the building blocks essential to keep skin plump, hydrated, and strong, so as oestrogen declines it will have a direct impact on the skin.
It’s not just the decline in oestrogen that influences your skin, it’s also the relative levels of androgens, which, as some studies have shown, can influence your skin’s oil production and even hair growth.
As oestrogen levels drop then this leads to excess levels of testosterone in your body, which means you’ll start noticing some other differences in the way your skin appears. Testosterone increases oil production in the skin, which is why woman at midlife often experience hormonal acne due to elevated testosterone levels. Low levels of testosterone usually cause skin to feel dry, thin, and irritated and skin conditions may appear.
Progesterone and oestrogen interact with each other and when oestrogen is out of balance, progesterone usually follows suit. This means that lower levels of progesterone show up on the skin in much the same way as oestrogen, thinning, sagging, and dryness. But since this duo works together, balanced hormone levels can mean that progesterone supports the effects of oestrogen.
Fortunately, there are changes we can make to our lifestyle which will help how these hormonal changes impact the ageing process. The main factors which influence hormonal balance are Diet, Exercise, Sleep, Stress and the Environment.
DietInclude Protein with Every Meal
Consuming adequate amounts of protein is extremely important. Not only does protein provide essential amino acids that your body can’t make on its own, but your body also needs it to produce protein-derived hormones — also known as peptide hormones. Peptide hormones play a crucial role in regulating many physiological processes, such as growth, energy metabolism, appetite, stress, and reproduction.
Protein intake influences hormones that control appetite and food intake, communicating information to your brain about how much energy you have.
Experts recommend eating a minimum of 20–30 grams of protein per meal. You can do this by including high protein foods such as eggs, chicken breast, lentils, or fish at each meal.Focus on Gut Health
Your gut contains more than 100 trillion friendly bacteria, which produce numerous metabolites that may affect hormone health both positively and negatively.
Your gut microbiome regulates hormones by modulating insulin resistance and feelings of fullness. For example, when your gut microbiome ferments fibre, it produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) such as acetate, propionate, and butyrate. Both acetate and butyrate aid weight management by increasing calorie burning and thus help prevent insulin resistance.
You can improve your gut health by increasing the number of plants consumed in your diet and increasing diversity rather than eliminating food. Experts such as Dr Tim Spector at Zoe recommends eating 30 different plants per week.
Increase Fibre in your Diet
Fibre is essential to a healthy diet. Studies have found that it increases insulin sensitivity and stimulates the production of hormones that make you feel full. Although soluble fibre tends to produce the strongest effects on appetite by increasing fullness hormones, insoluble fibre may also play a role.
Having a fibre-fuelled diet helps keep your gut healthy. It also lowers cholesterol, protects your heart. Fibre can also help improve your blood sugar responses to food.
Therefore, it is important to try to eat several high fibre foods each day.
Eat Healthy Fats
Including high quality natural fats in your diet may help reduce insulin resistance and appetite.
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are unique fats that are less likely to be stored in fat tissue and more likely to be taken up directly by your liver for immediate use as energy, promoting increased calorie burning. MCTs are also less likely to promote insulin resistance.
Furthermore, healthy fats such as omega-3s help increase insulin sensitivity by reducing inflammation and pro-inflammatory markers.
Additionally, studies note that omega-3s may prevent cortisol levels from increasing during chronic stress.
These healthy fats are found in pure MCT oil, avocados, almonds, peanuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, fatty fish, and olive and coconut oils.
Reduce Sugar and Alcohol intake
Minimising added sugar intake may be instrumental in optimising hormone function and avoiding obesity, diabetes, and other diseases.
The simple sugar fructose is present in many types of sugar. All alcoholic drinks contain sugar and are responsible for more than nine percent of the ‘free sugar’ consumed by people aged between 18-74 in the UK. Despite this, many people forget to factor in what they drink when calculating their daily sugar intake.
In addition, sugar-sweetened beverages are the primary source of added sugars in the Western diet, and fructose is commonly used commercially in soft drinks, fruit juice, and sport and energy drinks.
Long-term fructose intake has been linked to disruptions of the gut microbiome, which may lead to other hormonal imbalances.
What’s more, fructose may fail to stimulate the production of the fullness hormone leptin, leading to decreased calorie burning and increased weight gain.
Therefore, reducing your intake of sugary drinks and alcohol can improve hormone health.
Eat a Mediterranean Diet
Replacing a diet high in red meat and processed and refined foods with a Mediterranean-style diet rich in whole grains, legumes, and fish may help you manage your oestrogen levels.
Oestrogen is a hormone involved in both female and male reproductive health, as well as blood sugar balance, bone and heart health, and immune and brain function.
However, oestrogen levels that are either too low or too high have been linked to acute and chronic health conditions, including obesity, metabolic disorders, and various cancers.
Dietary choices may contribute to changes in your oestrogen levels.
Research shows that the Western diet — primarily composed of refined sugars and animal products — is linked to higher oestrogen levels.
On the contrary, following a Mediterranean-style diet rich in whole grains, seeds, fish, legumes, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower may help reduce oestrogen levels and, thus, cancer risk.
Physical activity strongly influences hormonal health. Aside from improving blood flow to your muscles, exercise increases hormone receptor sensitivity, meaning that it enhances the delivery of nutrients and hormone signals.
A major benefit of exercise is its ability to reduce insulin levels and increase insulin sensitivity.
Insulin is a hormone that allows cells to take up sugar from your bloodstream to use for energy. However, if you have a condition called insulin resistance, your cells may not effectively react to insulin. This condition is a risk factor for diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
However, while some researchers still debate whether the improvements come from exercise itself or from losing weight or fat, evidence shows that regular exercise may improve insulin resistance independently of body weight or fat mass reduction.
Many types of physical activity have been found to help prevent insulin resistance, including high intensity interval training, strength training, and cardio.
Being physically active may also help boost levels of muscle-maintaining hormones that decline with age, such as testosterone, IGF-1, DHEA, and human growth hormone (HGH).
For people who cannot perform vigorous exercise, even regular walking may increase these hormone levels, potentially improving strength and quality of life.
No matter how nutritious your diet or how consistent your exercise routine, getting enough restorative sleep is crucial for optimal health.
Poor sleep is linked to imbalances in many hormones, including insulin, cortisol, leptin, ghrelin, and HGH.
For instance, not only does sleep deprivation impair insulin sensitivity, but poor sleep is associated with a 24-hour increase in cortisol levels, which may lead to insulin resistance.
Plus, your brain needs uninterrupted sleep to go through all five stages of each sleep cycle. This is especially important for the release of growth hormone, which occurs mainly at night during deep sleep.
To maintain optimal hormonal balance, aim for at least 7 hours of high-quality sleep per night.
Stress harms your hormones in several ways.
The hormone cortisol is known as the stress hormone because it helps your body cope with long-term stress.
Your body’s response to stress activates a cascade of events that leads to cortisol production. Once the stressor has passed, the response ends. However, chronic stress impairs the feedback mechanisms that return your hormonal systems to normal.
Therefore, chronic stress causes cortisol levels to remain elevated, which stimulates appetite and increases your intake of sugary and high fat foods. In turn, this may lead to excessive calorie intake and obesity.
Research shows that you can lower your cortisol levels by engaging in stress reduction techniques such as meditation, yoga, and listening to relaxing music.
Try to devote at least 10–15 minutes per day to these activities, even if you feel you don’t have time.
Eliminate Toxins from your Environment
To balance your hormones naturally, it’s important that you eliminate toxins in your body by avoiding conventional body care products that are made with potentially harmful chemicals, including DEA, parabens, propylene glycol and sodium lauryl sulfate. A better alternative is to use natural products made with ingredients like essential oils, coconut oil, shea butter and other plant based oils.
To replace toxic body care and cleaning products, to reduce the number of toxins in your household. Switch to natural skincare brands such as Ermana and replace toxic cleaning products with natural ones or even try making your own with vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and essential oils.
Your hormones are involved in every aspect of your health. You need them in very specific amounts for your body to function optimally.
Hormone imbalances may increase your risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other health conditions.
Although ageing and other factors that affect hormones are beyond your control, you can take several steps to help manage your hormone levels.
Consuming nutritious foods, exercising regularly, and engaging in other health-promoting behaviors' such as meditating and getting enough sleep can go a long way toward improving your hormonal health.
* Please consult your GP if suffering from Perimenopausal/Menopausal symptoms to discuss Hormone Replacement Therapy. These lifestyle changes can help the transition in conjunction with HRT.