Hormones regulate almost every function in our bodies. Therefore, if we want to stay healthy as we age, keeping them in balance is important. But hormonal problems are common — even typical — in our society. These imbalances show up as osteoporosis, menstrual pain and menopausal problems in women, along with fatigue, poor sleep, depression, anxiety, chronic pain and the inability to lose weight. (Our weight and appetite are controlled primarily by hormones, more so than by the number of calories we eat. More on that next week.)

I treat many patients who rely on medication for hormone imbalances, such as thyroid hormones, estrogen, testosterone, insulin, etc. Why are these hormone imbalances so common? The problem is not that we inherently have weak thyroids or wimpy ovaries. The problem is we have been stressing our hormonal systems throughout our lives, and these problems are just “the chickens coming home to roost.” Our hormonal system can only take so much abuse before it starts to go out of whack.

As is often the case, there is a common thread through all these problems: It is lifestyle. The No. 1 hormone imbalance in our society, which is the driver for most other hormone problems, is chronically high insulin levels. This primary problem is directly related to our diets.

We all know sugar will cause insulin levels to rise, but any carbohydrate-dense food will do the same. This includes grains, fruit juices, pastas, even some fruits such as bananas and apples. Carbs are, at their core, sugar; starches are simply thousands of glucose molecules chemically strung together.

For this reason I strongly disagree with the dietary advice to eat a lot of whole grain foods. Grain-based foods cause blood sugar increases and insulin release, whether they are whole grain or not. And while whole grains have more nutritional value than the more processed ones, even whole grains are at least 50 percent carbs. This means that when you are done digesting them, 50 percent of what you ate is converted to sugar. The worst culprit is wheat, but all grains are carb dense.

These chronically high insulin levels and fluctuating blood sugar levels are a major source of stress on the body. These imbalances can in turn upset the regulation of other hormones.

Cortisol levels are raised, with effects such as increased belly fat, poor sleep, and inability to concentrate. Thyroid levels can be affected, leading to fatigue and weight gain if the thyroid becomes underactive or anxiety and weight loss if the gland is pushed in the opposite direction. Sex hormones also become unbalanced, with the results mentioned above, including osteoporosis.

This whole series of events is triggered by a diet heavy in foods that trigger insulin release: processed foods and grain-based foods. There are plenty of natural treatments for hormone imbalances, and most patients benefit from them. I primarily use acupuncture and herbals. But lifestyle changes are the cornerstone. I recommend patients stop eating carb-dense foods, especially soda, pastries, sweets and foods composed mostly of grains. This includes cereals and pastas.

I understand these recommendations are the opposite of what we are being told. But look at the health of our nation. Diabetes is becoming epidemic, with 26 percent of seniors diagnosed and 400,000 new cases diagnosed every year.

Also, about twice as many seniors are thought to be “pre-diabetic,” which means their bodies are having a hard time regulating their blood sugar, just not to the point of full blown diabetes.

This is a direct result of eating a carb and grain based diet, aggravated by low fat foods. I actually heard a medical doctor admit the huge upswing in diabetes is a result of the low-fat diets they have been recommending for years.

If you want to help your hormone balance and age healthfully, drop your carb consumption. My patients who make this change typically notice big improvements in their overall health.

Dr. Michael Noonan practices chiropractic, chiropractic acupuncture and other wellness therapies in Old Town. He can be reached at noonanchiropractic@gmail.com.