How hormones became the new health frontier

Forget the work/life balance – the wellness world’s new holy grail is hormone harmony

Do you ever get the feeling that you’re a little out of whack? That something in your body is off-kilter? Living in this chaotic city of ours, there are all sorts of reasons why we might feel out of sync — one flat-white too many, a lunchbreak workout on an empty stomach, a niggle of anxiety sparked by an email or that 2pm slump at your desk. If this sounds familiar, then it may be worth asking the question — how much do you know about the state of your hormones?

Welcome to the latest health frontier. Naturally occurring in all of us, hormones — the chemicals the body produces that regulate the activity of many cells and organs — have an impact on almost every function in our body, from our mood to our appetite, sleep and energy levels. 

Now, thanks to a new wave of wellness approaches — from fitness classes that boost human growth hormone levels, to mood balancing diets and supplements that re-align the bodies’ vital chemicals — balancing them has become the new look-good-feel-good holy grail. 

‘The hormones in our bodies work in synergy — a quantity imbalance in one can have a drastic effect on all the others and in turn the way our bodies function,’ says Dr Shabir Daya of the respected health and well-being website

Given the range of functions they cover, it’s not hard to see how our penchant for eating late, guzzling alcohol, 6am spin-classes and stressful jobs might wreak havoc on this synergy. Daya says there are clear warning signs of imbalance — unexplained weight gain, stubborn belly fat, loss of muscle tone, uncontrollable cravings, irregular digestion, insomnia or poor sleep and fatigue. 

Perhaps it’s not surprising the supplement market is cottoning on to our interest in hormonal reset. Lumity is an anti-aging supplement with the tagline ‘Beauty you can feel’. Devised by Cambridge-based research biologist Dr Sara Palmer Hussey, it comes in two containers — one with tablets to be taken in the morning and one with tablets to be taken before bed. Both contain vitamins and nutrients, including selenium, vitamin D and magnesium, to combat the natural hormone decline that happens as we age (it’s worth noting that the new breed of hormone regulating supplements don’t actually contain hormones). 

Lumity claims to promote the stimulation of natural HGH, which has been shown to build muscle and firm tissue, burn fat and aid bone density, and has been linked to improve mental clarity and cognitive ability. Levels of it in our body deplete significantly from the age of 25 and are almost non-existent from our mid-30s.

Strong Nutrients’ Amino Slim is another supplement promising to aid HGH thanks to the presence of the amino acid l-ornithine. The range, founded by the nutritionist and personal trainer Zana Morris, also includes a Chill Pill, which contains vitamin B5, known to aid the function of the adrenal glands (responsible for release of adrenaline and cortisol) in turn regulating stress, hunger and sleep patterns. 

It’s not just supplements that are offering to bring harmony to our hormones. Triyoga in Chelsea recently held its first ‘yoga for hormone balance’ workshop, which focuses on stress hormone regulation through breathing and meditation, and Ten Health, which has branches around the city, is launching TenStretch: Slow Movement for Hormonal Balance. Designed by Dr Nick Panay, a consultant gynaecologist and hormone expert at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital, the discipline uses pilates to stimulate calming chemicals. 

The focus on calm is not a coincidence: long, arduous sessions are known to trigger the release of cortisol leading to fat being stored around the midriff. 

‘More is not necessarily better,’ says Dr Panay. ‘Workout sessions that last much longer than 45 minutes can crank up cortisol levels. If your approach to exercise, and indeed your life, is about high impact, this can lead to stress hormones predominating.’ But for exercise junkies panicking that they may lose their hit — fear not. You don’t have to walk away from harder workouts entirely. 

‘The key is in the intensity rather than the duration,’ explains Morris, who offers 15-minute personal training sessions designed to maximise fat loss at her Wimpole Street gym, The Clock. ‘You get a massive release of natural growth hormone that indirectly pushes protein back into the body and stabilises your insulin levels.’ Indeed, clients report an average of two inches of fat loss in two weeks.

In a similar vein, Los Angeles import and founder of Notting Hill’s FORM, Elissa El Hadj, has developed a class which promotes greater levels of HGH production by combining resistance with high-intensity cardio. The carefully selected exercises combine working with resistance cables and incorporating short, sharp bursts of high intensity cardio. ‘It’s not just one and then the other — the two are combined simultaneously,’ says El Hadj. ‘Both body resistance and cardio to some extent encourage the release of growth hormone, but when combined, a greater amount is produced.’ The training, she says, has the added benefit of inducing deep, restorative sleep, decreasing cortisol levels and improving mental focus and concentration, increasing energy levels, and stimulating blood circulation.

Diet is the final lock for hormonal equanimity. It’s no coincidence that the current nutritional zeitgeist emphasises avocados, nuts and oils. Combining fats with sugars has been shown to slow the release of insulin, a hormone which encourages the absorption of glucose and is thought to inhibit the breakdown of fat cells while stimulating the creation of body fat. Morris sees nutrition as an essential complement to her training and advises clients not to eat an hour either side of training, as any kind of calorific intake decreases HGH.  

Whatever you make of it, the wellness industry’s enthusiasm for hormone-harmonising shows little sign of abating. Indeed, many in the industry believe that the new classes and supplements are just the tip of the iceberg. 

‘I encourage patients to think in terms of being fit for life,’ says Dr Panay. ‘What we do now is an investment into our future health. The more you invest in the younger years, the more benefits you have in the future. There is an element of irreversibility to hormone imbalance and muscle and bone loss which is harder to recover in later years. So — carpe diem.’

Original article published in ES, in December, 2016