Sven Wombwell
Article by: Sven Wombwell
Estimated 6 minutes read
Quick summary
In modern society, convenience has become more important than nutrition. Ultra-processed foods have become a staple for many. Due to their easy accessibility, long shelf life, and addictive taste, they are more common than you may be aware of. However, these convenient food options can harm our health, particularly with regard to hormone balance. In this article, we'll explore the impact of ultra-processed foods on hormone health and their hidden dangers.

Understanding Ultra-Processed Foods:

Ultra-processed foods are hitting the headlines all for the wrong reasons. They cause disease, reduce the quality of life and corrupt hormones. These foods are produced on a mass scale, undergo extensive processing, and contain many additives, preservatives, and artificial ingredients. They often have no likeness to their natural sources and are often found in packaged snacks, sugary drinks, fast food, and ready-to-eat meals. Processed foods are generally high in refined sugars, unhealthy fats, sodium, and artificial flavorings while lacking nutrients, fiber, and phytochemicals.

Over 60 % of the U.S. food supply is ultra-processed, and by reducing or cutting them out, you can reduce sugar and fat intake, improve long-term health and regian some control of your hormones.

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Processed Foods Disrupt Hormonal Balance

Ultra-Processed Foods, Insulin Resistance and Obesity

Ultra-processed foods are often loaded with refined sugars and high-fructose corn syrup, which can lead to insulin resistance over time (1). Insulin resistance occurs when our cells become less responsive to the hormone insulin. The results are high blood sugar levels and a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. Additionally, ultra-processed foods' high-calorie density and low nutrient content contribute to weight gain and obesity. Both of which can disrupt hormone balance.

Fat, particularly visceral fat, becomes the most significant issue. Visceral fat contains enzymes that convert testosterone into a type of estrogen called estradiol. The less testosterone in the body, the harder it becomes to lose weight. At the same time, the more visceral fat you develop, and the cycle continues.

Ultra-Processed Foods, Leptin and Ghrelin Imbalance

Leptin and ghrelin are hormones that affect how full or hungry you feel. When we are full, Leptin signals the brain to stop eating, while ghrelin makes you hungry. Ultra-processed foods, particularly those high in refined sugars and unhealthy fats, can disrupt the delicate balance between these hormones. Studies show that these foods can lead to leptin resistance (2), where the brain becomes less responsive to its signals, resulting in overeating and weight gain.

Ultra-Processed Foods and Estrogen Disruption

Certain chemicals in ultra-processed foods, such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, disrupt estrogen (3). Sadly, these chemicals, known as endocrine disruptors, can interfere with the natural hormones in our body, potentially leading to hormonal imbalances. Excessive exposure to these chemicals may also contribute to reproductive disorders, hormonal cancers, and other adverse health effects.

Ultra-Processed Foods, Cortisol and Stress Response

Too many ultra-processed foods can contribute to high cortisol levels, commonly called the stress hormone. High cortisol levels disrupt hormone balance, impair immunity, increase inflammation, and contribute to various issues. These can include anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders. Studies (4) also indicate high cortisol levels can increase the craving for poor-quality food.

Choosing Healthier Alternatives

  1. Whole Foods: Opting for whole, unprocessed foods is crucial for maintaining hormonal balance. Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats provide essential nutrients, fiber, and phytochemicals. These foods support overall health and hormonal regulation.
  2. Mindful Eating: Practicing mindful eating involves being present and aware of our food choices and our body's signals regarding hunger. Slow down, savor each bite, and pay attention to how different foods make you feel. This approach can help reduce cravings for processed foods and promote healthier choices.
  3. Reading Labels: Become a conscious consumer by reading food labels and ingredient lists. Look for foods with minimal processing, no artificial additives, and recognizable ingredients. Avoid products high in refined sugars, unhealthy fats, and artificial flavorings.
  4. Cooking at Home: Preparing meals using fresh ingredients gives you complete control over what goes into your food. At the same time, this allows you to choose nutrient-dense ingredients and avoid the harmful additives commonly found in ultra-processed foods. By cooking your own meals, you can create delicious, hormone-friendly recipes that nourish your body and promote optimal health.
  5. Seeking Professional Guidance: If you suspect you have a hormone imbalance, consult with a healthcare professional. They can help you develop a personalized plan to restore hormonal balance. Dietary adjustments, lifestyle changes, and hormone replacement therapy are all excellent options.

Impact on Mortality: New Research Insights

A recent study, "Association of Ultra-Processed Food Consumption with All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality: Population-Based Cohort Study," published in BMJ 20244, found that a higher intake of ultra-processed foods is associated with a slightly higher all-cause mortality rate.

The study followed 74,563 women and 39,501 men over several decades and found that participants in the highest quarter of ultra-processed food consumption had a 4% higher all-cause mortality and a 9% higher mortality from causes other than cancer or cardiovascular diseases compared to those in the lowest quarter​​.

Conclusion: Avoid Ultra-Processed Foods

Ultimately, food should not be produced in a laboratory. The best advice is if you can't pronounce it or your grandmother would not recognize it as food, don't eat it.

While ultra-processed foods may offer convenience and immediate satisfaction, they have a hidden cost to our hormone health. Eating too many of these foods can lead to insulin resistance, disrupt appetite-regulating hormones, interfere with estrogen balance, and elevate stress levels. By understanding the impact of ultra-processed foods on our hormones, we can make informed choices to prioritize our long-term health.

To safeguard hormonal balance, we should focus on eating whole foods, practicing mindful eating, reading labels and cooking at home. These small but significant changes in our dietary habits can support health and promote overall well-being.

In summary, hormones play a crucial role in numerous bodily functions, and maintaining their balance is essential for optimal health. Let's choose whole foods that support hormones so we can take control of our well-being, one wholesome meal at a time.

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4. BMJ 2024; 385 doi: (Published 08 May 2024)
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