For some of us, travel means a fun annual vacation. For others, it's an integral part of our lives and careers. Whatever the reason for your travel, it can definitely wreak havoc with your hormones.
There are numerous ways in which this happens. There’s the added stress, for one. Even regular flyers tend to find that simply getting to the airport and on the plane in time can be a stressful experience, but there’s also the change in the type of food you eat and the time at which you eat it, the change to your usual sleeping habits, and the disruption caused by crossing time zones. Just one of these factors can cause hormonal fluctuations, and it's totally normal to find that all of them play a role simultaneously!
We all know that jet lag and "social" jet lag (which is when you lead a chaotic and inconsistent lifestyle by choice) increase the risk of diabetes, hypertension, weight gain, depression, anxiety, and even cancer. When we travel across time zones, we disrupt our circadian rhythm, and this leads to an abnormally high and improperly timed release of the hormone cortisol. This, in turn, affects thyroid hormone production and reception. These hormones alter the rhythm of the release of hormones from our pituitary gland, the gonadotropins, which can alter our estrogen and progesterone output and upset the menstrual cycle—resulting in irregular cycles and missed periods.
Add into the mix the increased stress, the changes in food intake and food timing, and the disrupted sleep, and you have a recipe for hormonal chaos. And we now know that air travel by itself can change the microbiome of the gut, which can cause increased inflammation and affect your hormones. But there’s no reason to despair! By following these tips, you can keep your hormones humming:
1. Try to make healthy food choices.
Eat lots of vegetables and only small quantities of healthy animal products. Do not snack! Eat just two meals a day––three at the very most if you must. By timing your meals, you can "reset" your circadian clock.
2. Wherever you are, try to get to sleep by 11 p.m. and get seven to eight hours of sleep.
I take 0.5 mg of melatonin five hours before bedtime and then 6 mg half an hour before bedtime for three days. After three days, I reduce the amount to 3 mg. I usually add some ashwagandha, which also helps you to sleep at bedtime as well. And if you’re still struggling, you can take 50 mg of 5-HTP.
3. On the day before long trips, practice short-term fasting and sleep deprivation.
For trips lasting 10 hours or longer, this is a useful way of helping the body adapt to the new time zone. Last year, when I traveled to Dubai—where’s it’s 12 hours ahead of the time zone that I’m usually in—I stayed awake for the entire flight and didn’t eat. When I got there, I checked into my hotel and went to bed at 10 p.m., and I already felt completely aligned with the new time zone. As hard as it is, fasting and sleep deprivation are incredibly effective ways to get your body clock in sync with the new time zone. And as an added bonus, they also have been shown to improve your mood!
4. Use guided imagery and essential oils.
Others prefer meditation, Bach flower remedies, or progressive relaxation. All of these methods have been proved to reduce the level of stress in the body, so find one that works for you and then stick with it. (I find a couple of drops of lavender oil rubbed into the soles of the feet before bed is incredibly effective.)
We did not evolve to travel the world in just a few hours, so it’s no surprise that our hormonal systems don't quite "get it" when we go jet-setting. But by practicing timed eating, healthy food choices, stress control, and good sleep hygiene—and by incorporating a few effective supplements—we can keep our hormones in balance and our health optimized!
Ever wonder how the pros keep their hormones balanced when they travel?
And are you ready to learn more about what anxiety, brain health, and your diet all have in common? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Dr. Mark Hyman.