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Hormones and Your Health

Author: Chief Steve Petrilli

April 3, 2023

You know how challenging it can be as a law enforcement officer to maintain a diet that meets your body’s nutritional needs.  In order to help you make the best choices, it is important to understand the role that hormones play in health, wellness, and vitality.  When your hormones are functioning properly, it allows your body to perform optimally.  There are many factors that affect hormones in the human body.  One of the most powerful influencers of hormone regulation is food.  Yes, the food that you eat has a major impact on hormone function in your body. 


Hormone optimization is an incredibly powerful lens through which to view food.  Quality foods have an optimal effect on hormones and are extremely effective for satiety, reduction in bodily inflammation, and weight loss.  Conversely, foods that are low quality, highly processed, sugary, and packed with refined seed oils do just the opposite.


Insulin, ghrelin, and leptin are among the most important hormones in your body that are affected by food.


·       Insulin is released in your body by the pancreas most significantly in response to carbohydrate consumption.  When insulin levels in your body are chronically elevated, it leads to fat storage, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.  Leptin is your satiety hormone, and it is partially controlled by the foods that you consume. 


·       Leptin is a hormone found in adipose (fat) tissue that signals satiety to your brain.  The down regulation of leptin receptors is known as leptin resistance and can be a major obstacle when trying to lose body fat.  Leptin resistance, which is driven by excess body fat and excess sugar consumption, causes your body not to receive the satiety messages being sent to your brain.  The key to regulation of leptin can be found in regulating the glycemic index of the food that you eat and making movement, such as walking, part of your daily routine.


·       Ghrelin is your hunger hormone, and it is also partially controlled by the food that you consume.  It is produced primarily by your stomach, with minimal amounts also being produced by your small intestine, pancreas, and brain.  It signals your brain to consume energy/calories when you need them.  Ghrelin can be negatively affected by excess body fat and excess sugar consumption.  When your body fat is high, your ghrelin levels tend to remain high even after consuming meals.  Like leptin, you can regulate your ghrelin by regulating the glycemic index of your food and moving.


Let’s examine how carbohydrates can affect your hormones by comparing broccoli and cereal.


·       Broccoli is considered a low glycemic, high-quality food option that has desirable effects on your insulin, ghrelin, and leptin.  Think about the last time you consumed a cup of broccoli.  Did you continue to feel hungry and proceed to eat 600 calories of broccoli?  Let’s be real, no one ever overeats broccoli.  This can be explained by the hormonal response in your body.  Broccoli, a low glycemic food, does not cause a spike in your blood sugar or trigger your body’s insulin response.  Thus, when consuming broccoli, blood sugar stays balanced, insulin levels stay low, ghrelin is kept in check, and hunger cravings are nonexistent as your sensitivity to leptin is increased.


·       Most breakfast cereals are highly processed and sugary and they have negative impacts on your blood sugar, insulin, and ghrelin.  Think about the last time you consumed a cup of cereal.  Did you continue to feel hungry?  For most people, eating a cup of cereal invokes a hunger response that leads to overconsuming that product.  When eating a high glycemic, highly processed, and sugary cereal, your blood sugar rises quickly.  The rapid rise in your blood sugar causes a significant release of insulin in your body and can increase ghrelin, resulting in elevated hunger cravings.  This same example can be replicated with many highly processed, highly palatable foods, such as chips, donuts, pastries, and ice cream.  These foods are extremely easy to overeat because your body doesn’t send the signal that you’re full to your brain due to the increase in blood sugar, insulin, and ghrelin.


Try to make sure the majority of your diet consists of whole foods, fruits, and vegetables that are low glycemic.  Regulating the glycemic index of the foods that you consume will lower your blood sugar response and the circulation of insulin in your body.  Balanced blood sugar and low insulin levels reduce food cravings and bodily inflammation and allow your body to burn stored body fat as a substrate for fuel.  Walking for 10 to 15 minutes after a meal can also keep your blood sugar levels balanced and have a positive impact on all aspects of your hormonal and metabolic health.


For law enforcement officers working a myriad of shifts under stressful conditions, meal breaks are sometimes on the go, inconsistent, and short in duration.  Planning ahead and stocking your patrol bag with high protein, low glycemic, healthy food options can ensure that you don’t resort to low quality food as a means of convenience.  Let’s look at healthy and balanced food choices as a way to be safe and be well!

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors. They do not reflect the views or opinions of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Image of Chief Steve Petrilli

Chief Steve Petrilli is chief of police for the Normal, Illinois, Police Department.  Previously, he served as assistant chief of operations.  Chief Petrilli is responsible for specialty units to include the Emergency Response Unit, Sniper Unit, Canine Unit, Crisis Negotiation Team, Problem Oriented Policing Unit, Traffic Enforcement Unit, and the Firearm Range Instructor Unit.  He is a former college athlete, a certified physical preparation specialist, a CF-L1 trainer, and has successfully completed L-1 Power Athlete Methodology Training, CrossFit Law Enforcement Application Specialty Training, and Lee Taft Speed School.  Chief Petrilli has extensive strength and conditioning coaching experience.  He has trained thousands of private sector clients, first responders, military, youth, and high school and collegiate level athletes.  He instructs on the topic of officer health, wellness, and fitness nationwide.  Chief Petrilli is a current adjunct faculty member for the National Command and Staff College.  He serves as a consultant for the metabolic health technology company ELEXR.  He is also the founder of First Responder Health and Wellness, LLC.  A recipient of numerous awards and accommodations, Chief Petrilli is a graduate of the Northwestern University School of Police Staff and Command Session #250, earned a bachelor’s degree from Illinois State University, and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy Session #264.