October 02 2017

Dear Mark: Hormone Normalizing Questions

By Mark Sisson

Inline_DM_Normalizing_Hormones_10.02.17For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering questions from last week’s hormone normalization post. First I discuss a lack of purpose in the mornings affecting sleep and what to do about it. Next, I explore the prospect of sun and fasting as hormone modulators. After that, I explain the meaning of max aerobic heart rate and correct a mistake I made. And finally, I suggest to one reader that she may need to eat more calories to normalize her sleep and thus her hormones.

First, Jason asked:

Loved the article ! I have tried all this but it has become almost impossible for me to sleep on time. Not that i don’t sleep enough but the timings are way too off. Maybe because i don’t have anything in the morning to look forward to. Can anyone please help ?

I’m not entirely clear on the meaning of “timings are way too off,” but I’m going to give it a shot. I hope it helps.

You say you don’t have anything to look forward to in the mornings. This is a common problem. It’s also a very serious problem that you need to address ASAP.

In a very literal sense, the morning is the beginning of the rest of your life. Each morning, you wake up from a black void. You’re dreaming, and your brain is active, but you’re not conscious in the sense we normally think about consciousness. “You” don’t really exist when you sleep. For all intents and purposes, you wake up each morning an entirely different person.

To start your life each day without purpose or meaning or even a vague idea of what to do will never produce positive results.

Your disordered sleep is a product of this. Search within and find meaning. It doesn’t have to be grandiose. Maybe you join a CrossFit box for morning workouts or sign up for a yoga class or a martial arts class in the mornings. Maybe you sit down right now and plan your mornings.

What are you going to make for breakfast?

Is the coffee maker clean and ready to go?

What will you wear?

When will you brush your teeth?

Get all that planned out and ready to go.

A purpose in life can be mundane. If you’re just stumbling toward a purpose, the mundane is actually the best choice because you have to do mundane things no matter what.

Good luck.

Aklay offered up a couple other ways to normalize hormones:

Hi Mark…..Sunbathing and fasting might have been missed?

Sunbathing is a good one. It increases vitamin D synthesis, which is required to produce steroid hormones. It’s relaxing, which can reduce stress. Yeah, sunbathing will help.

Fasting is a trickier question. I certainly considered it, but found the effect too variable for general use. Reason being, fasting is a stressor. If you’re in good shape, fasting can be a hormetic stressor—a stressor that you recover from stronger than before. A stressor that forces you to improve yourself and your health.

If you’re in a bad place, fasting can simply be a major stressor—one that makes you worse, not better. One that you can’t recover from. One that weakens your constitution rather than strengthens it.

I always suggest that people add intermittent fasting to an already-solid base of health, training, and stress regulation. IF can help you burn more fat, slip into ketosis, control your appetite. All this serves to reduce oxidative stress and the overall inflammatory load.

If the wrong person starts fasting, they get worse. It becomes a major impediment to hormone normalization. For example, I would never suggest that a pregnant woman or a woman trying to conceive embark on an intermittent fasting regimen. It’s pretty clearly deleterious to fertility hormones. Women in general are more sensitive to the stress-related effects of intermittent fasting, so I’d be extra careful if I were a woman.

If I had to boil this down, fasting can solidify your control over your hormones if you already have control. It will make your normal hormones even “normaler.”

LlamaAnna asked:

I don’t understand the comment about ‘lowering his assumed aerobic base heart rate’. The way you say it sounds like he just decided one day to concentrate really hard and things changed. What are you actually talking about here? If the exercise didn’t change, what did and how?

Thanks for the question. I actually misspoke. When Brad’s T was low, he was treating 145 as his max aerobic heart rate—the fastest his heart could beat and still remain in an aerobic, or fat-burning, state. So during runs or any endurance training, he’d keep track of his heart rate, slowing down only when it exceeded 145 under the assumption that he was in the maximal fat-burning state. This was a big mistake.

His actual max aerobic heart rate was 130, a full 15 points lower. Instad of spending his training time in the fat burning zone, he was spending all his time as a sugar burner. Yet, he was living and eating as if he was a fat-burner. Don’t get me wrong. Brad was still burning fat. It’s not a binary on-off switch from fat to sugar burning. But he was burning significantly more sugar than he assumed, and it was wrecking his hormone levels.

The exercise “changed” in that it got easier. He went easier. Same movements, same runs, different intensity.

Wilhelmina wrote:

I like the sleep more part, seriously I do. But having the menopause knocking at my door it isn’t easy. I want to, but I can’t convince my body to do the same. Some nights I sleep easily up till 12 hours, but there are nights I barely sleep at all. I have a cold and dark room, since I easily get it too warm, I have magnesium before bedtime, I got dim lights in the evening, barely more than candle light, eat clean (Really Mark, your low carb diagram made me even lose weight, where most would gain, awesome!) . Any suggestions are more than welcome!

Are you eating enough calories?

You say you’ve lost, or are losing weight. The older you get, the harder it gets, and the more you have to restrict yourself, which increases the toll that takes on your body. The more you have to restrict yourself, which the body can interpret as a stressor. Assuming you’ve covered all the other sleep hygiene facets—and judging from your comment you have—you should look at calorie intake.

Eating the fewest calories you can while obtaining the most nutrients and avoiding the negative side effects of calorie restriction, like lack of sex drive, loss of muscle or bone density, and low energy levels, is the way forward, as far as I’m concerned. Sleep disturbance is a lesser known but perhaps more dangerous side effect of too low a calorie intake.

I’m not saying pig out. Just try eating a bit more. An extra serving of butternut squash with dinner, another egg at breakfast, that sort of thing. Slowly and gradually titrate up your calorie intake until it produces a change in your sleep quality. If it doesn’t help, at least you’ve eliminated a factor from contention and you can move forward in your quest.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care and be sure to chime in with your input down below!


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22 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Hormone Normalizing Questions”

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  1. I’d agree that (extended) fasting can be a double-edged sword. It took me ages to try it, but I was excited about its potential for dampening/retuning the immune system, as I have MS (despite this I thought I was in pretty good shape, generally; I was just looking for that ‘extra 1%’).

    My initial experiences were very positive, but the more I pursued it (on a weekly 5:2 pattern), the worse I felt. I suddenly developed a severe problem with extreme rhinitis in the early hours, some joint pain, and serious fatigue. I can link these up because they only ever occurred on the days I fasted, though I’ve no idea what the mechanism was.

    Ultimately I gave up the extended fasting. Sadly the rhinitis became more regular before I stopped, and has persisted, and the fatigue led to me having my thyroid meds being increased.

    Ironically I had already been fasting before this, by missing the occasional breakfast or lunch, and felt very good for doing so (still do). It’s a shame because I felt absolutely brilliant on the longer fasts for a little while, but I should have listened to my body and reined it in once it stopped feeling good.

    If it works for you, I think that’s brilliant (and I am envious) – this is just a note for anyone else who’s thinking about it, and in a similar position x

    1. I’ve never had the desire or even seen the need for extended fasting. I mean, what for? I do IF daily from dinner (around 6pm) until lunch the following day (around 11am or noon). I do this because I don’t get hungry sooner. I don’t even think about food. This pattern feels natural and right for me, personally. (I seldom snack for the same reason.) But we’re talking about 14-18 hours of IF versus fasting for several days or more.

      If you have MS (or any other health issue) your body and immune system are already struggling. Giving the digestive system a daily rest isn’t the same as depriving it of necessary fuel for days on end. I fail to see the point in doing that. There’s nothing holy about extended fasts. In fact, it can be downright counterproductive. Simply cutting out between-meal snacking (mini-IF) or eliminating one meal per day can be more than enough fasting for some people.

        1. Dr. Fung’s work with fasting is also quite fascinating; I read “The Complete Guide to Fasting” in one sitting and found the research so compelling that I started my first extended fast the next day.

        2. I stand by my statement, David, your link notwithstanding. You are assuming extended fasts will create improved health in everyone, across the board. That isn’t the case at all. In actuality, extended fasting is a nutritional fad that might help some people but could easily harm others.

  2. Just a suggestion, as a motivator, ‘good luck’ implies that success is due to luck. I like what the Dutch say as a motivator: ‘success!’.

    1. Thank you for this! I love luck… I believe that luck is universal and available to all but we need to believe and create opportunities for luck. To really leverage luck, we need to have a “winning” mindset. With that said, I used “success” twice yesterday and I really liked it… it felt different.

      Today, I may try “success and good luck” or maybe that’s a bit long. Second thought, I’m going to start using “victory” because it makes me feel like one is going into battle and it primes us instinctively to fight for human life and succeed.

  3. Obtaining vitamin D via sunbathing, is also great for our immune system; such as in the case of leaky gut and thyroid issues (the two are connected).

    Jason, is everything alright? You question is alarming… Have you tried running 1st thing in the morning? It’s great for clearing the head and chasing away demons. Good luck!

  4. Not having anything to look forward to equals depression. That can be overcome. Perhaps Mark will do an in-depth article on natural ways to treat depression, if he hasn’t already done so. Often it means getting outside of one’s self in order to see things from a new perspective. Volunteering one’s services at a place where people are less fortunate can be rewarding on many levels. Working with animals can also be incredibly therapeutic. The key is to find a niche where we feel needed and useful. .

    1. Related to that, when what you face in life seems overwhelming, breaking it down into mundane pieces, and doing them one at a time can reduce the mountains to molehills, but you have to be consistent – a good start is a planned morning.

  5. You’d be hard pressed to find things more primal than purpose. Purpose was guarding the perimeter from danger (lions, hyenas, other tribes)… purpose was hunting and foraging to feed one’s tribe… purpose was building and weapon making to shelter and shield one’s tribe… purpose was care taking…. purpose was in teaching and tradition… This kind of purpose decided whether people would live or die.

    I always say that comfort is not good for the organism. In the modern world, we don’t really have to fight for anything anymore. This allows us to sort of exist but not thrive. If you want strength, health and happiness, you have to create purpose and you have to be willing to struggle. I like Mark’s simple suggestion to join a crossfit box because this puts you into battle. You now have the opportunity to struggle for something. You develop a sense of perseverance… a sense of winning… sense of community… a sense of purpose.

    What are your roles and goals in life? Do you go to battle… do you fight for something that you believe in… create these opportunities for your health… your children… your relationships… your career and so on. When you align purpose with your deepest passion you will find yourself jumping out of bed.

    1. Impressive credentials Kelli, Masters of Public Health Nutrition. Great site.

      1. I was eating primal years before the universities even had a course remotely like it – now they are copying primal concepts which they shunned only a few years ago, but again I’ve moved on ahead of the curve again.

        The most impressive credentials are from those who have “lived long and prospered” to quote Spok from Star Trek – Mark is an example. I have always considered attaining a Degree/Masters as an indication for the potential to learn, but not useful knowledge in itself, otherwise it can lead to self-delusion.

  6. Ok, I have a few comments here…in regards to hormone normalizing in general, I wanted to chime in that I have found maca to be helpful. Didn’t even think I had any issues…dug some out of my pantry after Mark wrote extensively about it in one of his posts on adaptogens over the summer. I’ve been blending one teaspoon into my coffee in the am (along with tons of other crazy stuff of course) Took awhile to notice anything (again, wasn’t having any major issues) but can definitely say it is having a positive effect on me. (Not giving any more details than that lol!) And like everyone else reading this, my heart goes out to Jason. Completely agree with everything Mark said. Just start small. Have a plan for the next day, and before you go to sleep do everything you can to get ready. If you are going to exercise, have the clothes laid out. Don’t over schedule yourself, but have some type of commitment so you actually have to be somewhere. Oh, and a big yes to sunbathing!

  7. I love to soak up my sun in the mornings by doing yoga outside. I have the view of the ocean and it is a great start to my day. And it does wonders for my sleep.

  8. Hi Mark – If one is trying to NOT intermittently fast, then how often should one eat? I regularly refrain from eating 12 hours each night. It’s not difficult. It’s just what I do to prevent waking up in the middle of the night needing to use the bathroom. But is this considered fasting (i.e. a stressor) since I’m an early-40’s woman?

  9. As far as I know, sunbathing is not only good for vitamin D but for regulating the circadian cycle, which will help you sleep better at night.

    So for example, me, who lives in a place where it’s cold and the sun is too low in the sky even at noon should go outside right now even if I won’t make any vitamin D.

  10. You kind of glossed over the whole menopause aspect in the last question. Sleep problems are extremely common in perimenopause and can be epic. I for one am not restricting calorie intake/trying to lose weight at all, but I am still hit with this typical pattern (one good night of sleep per week, hardly any sleep the rest of the week), waking up one hour after falling asleep, etc. I would love to read some insights into this hormonal s**storm of a life stage.

    1. My partner is having great success with Chinese herbs and acupuncture for her perimenopausal hot flashes. Almost disappeared immediately. The herbs she uses to help here sleep is Emperors tea pills by Plum Flower.

      I prefer a little bit of cannabis chocolate as a sleep aid. Reduces inflammation and pain, calms the mind, and lulls you into a nice peaceful sleep.

    2. For what it’s worth, I had the prob of waking up in the middle of the night, wide awake! Drove me nuts. Had my hormones checked and am now on bio-identical hormones and I sleep through the night ever since! I hope you can get relief!