Hormones have a bad reputation. Feeling bloated? Cranky? Craving carbs? Blame it on that time of the month. But hormones provide a host of health benefits and can help you lose weight, sleep better and stay sharp. Click through to learn five ways they can help you be your best—and how to harness their positive power.
Soothe stress with endorphins
HOW THEY HELP: These "feel-good" hormones can ease pain and create an overall sense of well-being.
Kick up the heat. Spicy foods can activate the nerve endings on your tongue that prompt your body to produce endorphins. Add a dash of cayenne pepper to roasted potatoes or popcorn, try hot sauce in scrambled eggs or on grilled cheese, or add chopped pickled jalapeños to sandwiches or potato salad.
Mellow out with mint. Chewing peppermint gum or smelling potpourri that includes mint can help stimulate a nerve near your nose that signals your brain to make endorphins.
Focus and stay alert with dopamine
HOW IT HELPS: Produced by your brain, dopamine plays a role in controlling your concentration and long-term memory. A surge of dopamine can give you amazing focus and motivation.
Play your favorite music. A study found that dopamine levels spiked when people listened to music they liked. Play your favorite songs the next time you sit down to pay bills—the music can help you power through an otherwise boring task.
Eat a protein-rich snack. Tyrosine, an amino acid found in high-protein foods, helps your body produce dopamine. Snack on 1 cup cottage cheese, 2 hard-boiled eggs or a handful of nuts.
Keep your weight in check with leptin and ghrelin
HOW THEY HELP: Leptin, released by your fat cells, lets your body know when you've had enough to eat and determines whether the food is stored or used as energy. Ghrelin, produced mostly in your stomach, sends hunger signals to your brain.
Eat dessert for breakfast. One study found that people had lower levels of ghrelin and fewer cravings throughout the day when they ate a carbohydrate-and-protein-rich breakfast including a small serving of a cookie, cake or chocolate. To avoid going overboard, make your sweet treat healthy: Try dark chocolate-chip whole-wheat pancakes with a dollop of ricotta cheese, whole-grain cinnamon raisin toast with 1 Tbsp almond butter, or ½ cup Greek or nonfat yogurt with 1 Tbsp honey.
Make sleep a priority. A Stanford University study of more than 1,000 people found that those who slept less than eight hours a night had low leptin and high ghrelin levels and more body fat. Before climbing into bed, call your cellphone voicemail with a verbal to-do list, or write down what's on your mind to help prevent worrying from keeping you awake.
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