Foods to Keep Your Endocrine System Happy and Healthy
Your endocrine system is linked to all kinds of functions in your body. Don’t undervalue its importance to your health!
The endocrine system may not be as glamorous as the nervous system, but it actually plays a similar role in the body. The endocrine system is involved in the sending and receiving of information too, using its own method to package and deliver vital stimuli to cells, organs, and tissues. Think of the nervous system like the internet where signals fly at great speed back and forth, carrying information everywhere, but these signals are short-lived. The nervous system, like the internet, is shiny and exciting, but that doesn’t mean the slower shipping companies no longer serve a purpose. We need solid goods and physical information sent across the globe, including sensitive papers, media, and the pretty electronics we use need to be transported too. This is where the endocrine system comes in handy as it secretes, packages, and ships hormones throughout the body. Hormones aren’t flashy. They don’t zip through the body like the showy electrochemical sparks that fly through neurons. They are clunky and slow, but they also stick around longer to make sure the job gets done correctly, reminding the tissues and organs of the original message. The endocrine system is deeply entrenched in the functions of the body. You expect the pineal gland, hypothalamus, adrenal glands, thyroid, pancreas, and reproductive organs to be involved with hormones, but the liver, kidneys, heart, bone marrow, fat tissues, and even skin produce and release important hormones as well. This oft forgotten system influences every cell, organ, and function of the body as it regulates mood, growth, development, metabolism, tissue development, and reproduction. This means we should treat this system well, even if it isn’t the most exciting part of the body, by eating the best foods, limiting stress, and getting some moderate exercise.
Processed food is more likely to contain chemicals that inhibit of affect the endocrine system. Many of these act similarly to hormones, disrupting the natural balance, confusing the body, and creating resistance to actual hormones. BPA is one of the most well-known, but there are many more like BPS, dioxin, phthalates, and perfluorinated chemicals.
Modern sweets are nothing like the fruits our bodies have relied on for thousands of years. These added sugars are not combined with fiber, water, and antioxidants in the treats of today like they are in nature. These simple sugars absorb too quickly where they mess with the natural balance of glucose in the body and interfere with insulin levels. Diabetes is an endocrine related disease.
Pesticides are another thing that wreak havoc on the endocrine system, confusing or inhibiting its function, especially organophosphates and atrazine. Avoid foods that are grown with pesticides as much as possible. Go organic when you can and don’t buy GMOs. Genetically modified foods are often engineered to resist pesticides so more can be used on them without adverse effects on yield, but the adverse effects come later as we consume these chemicals. Wash your produce well with a solution of clean water and apple cider vinegar.
Fats are a necessary part of our diets, even saturated fats, but toxins are also stored in fat tissue as a last ditch effort to keep them from causing damage. This happens in us and in animals too. Toxins can build up in the animal fats we eat and are released into our bodies as these fats are digested. Trans fats are also a big source of dangerous free radicals that can cause damage to sensitive organs and cells. Unhealthy fats contribute to obesity which then leads to other health issues, including impaired endocrine function.
Stress served a valuable purpose as humanity fought to survive for thousands of years in a dangerous world where other animals wanted to eat us. The body releases hormones that mobilize energy, increase heart rate, and shuts down unnecessary functions as we respond to danger. Unfortunately, constant stress in a world where the dangers are less tangible results in depleted energy stores, high blood pressure, heart disease, digestive problems, stunted growth, infertility, and unbalanced hormones. Control stress with moderate exercise, breathing, relaxation techniques, meditation, yoga, and tai chi.
It doesn’t take much to get your heart pumping, alleviate stress, and enhance every aspect of health. Take a walk, jump rope, take a quick job, do some jumping jacks, jog, swim, bike, dance, and get yourself moving.
Fruits and Vegetables
Eating healthy affects the entire body too. The endocrine system relies on numerous vitamins and minerals to function correctly, along with healthy fats and good protein. Calcium, vitamin C, and B vitamins are important to the formation and function of hormones. Leafy greens like kale, spinach, broccoli, turnip greens, mustard greens, and asparagus are always a good place to find vitamins and minerals. Choose organic produce as much as possible to avoid the pesticides, herbicides, and chemicals that inhibit or imitate hormones. Vitamin D is also important. Get this from mushrooms, lichen, and short exposures to the sun each day.
The building blocks for many hormones are fats. Your body needs a good amount of healthy fats to build the hormones the endocrine system relies on to send messages. Great sources of fats include coconut oil, chia seeds, avocado, olive oil, sacha inchi, seaweed, sunflower seeds, spirulina, nuts, and pumpkin seeds.
Amino acids are major building blocks for hormones too. We don’t need a ton of protein, but we do need a steady supply of all the essential amino acids. Hempseed, quinoa, chia seeds, brown rice, oats, beans, lentils, nuts, and other seeds are all great vegan sources of protein. Supplements are available too for those who may not get enough complete proteins, who don’t always eat well, or who exercise enough that they need more than most.
The mineral iodine is important in forming thyroid hormones. It is an essential nutrient that is involved with growth, development, energy production, and hormone sensitivities. Too much can be a bad thing, so it is better to get it from food rather than supplements. Sea vegetables are the best source for iodine. Try kelp, arame, hiziki, kombu, and wakame. Cranberries, navy beans, and strawberries are also a good source that may be more familiar. Natural Himalayan sea salt is a good place to find iodine and other minerals too, unlike table salt that has been stripped of its minerals even if iodine is added back.
These herbs are believed to help the body adapt to and lessen stress. Ginseng, gingko, astragalus, withania, ashwaganda, and jiaogulan are a few to look at. Many of these herbs have been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine to increase resistance to stress, combat disease, and boost mental and physical stamina. Learn how to choose the best kinds of foods!