We recently learned about the basics of hormones in Hormones 101, the first in a series of posts on hormones, brought to you by Krista Goncalves, BSc, CHN, RNC. Unfortunately, hormonal imbalances in women are very common, and today, we’ll discuss how to address the problem. -Jaclyn
Are you frustrated from feeling tired all the time, drained of energy, suffering from achy joints, mood swings, virtually no libido, irregular periods, and weight that just doesn’t seem to budge, especially around the middle?
Sounds like your hormones are out of whack!
Let’s dive deeper into the signs of hormonal imbalances in women and what you can do to naturally re-balance them.
What are hormones?
As we talked about in our recent Hormones 101 article [link], hormones are the chemical messengers of our body. They’re made in endocrine glands, like the pituitary, and govern really important functions like growth, reproduction, immunity, and as any menopausal woman can attest – metabolism!
To think of hormones in the simplest terms, let’s break it down like this:
Sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone & testosterone, while very important to the body, are actually not essential for our individual survival. (source)
They’re needed in more of a “beauty” capacity and are responsible for fertility and sexual functioning, as well as keeping our skin, hair & nails looking youthful and vibrant.
Stress hormones like cortisol & epinephrine (Adrenaline), on the other hand, are absolutely critical to our survival as they are what regulate heart beat & blood pressure, keep our delicate balance of electrolytes in check, synthesize proteins, and shuttle glucose into our cells, essentially feeding our brain. (source)
In fact, in times of chronic stress, as so many of us face today, our main “hormone of stress,” cortisol will be made at the expense of other sex hormones like progesterone. This is known as the “Pregnenolone Steal.”
Pregnenolone, made from cholesterol, is considered a “mother hormone,” as it is the precursor to all other sex hormones.
Obviously, this is a very simplified explanation and all hormones play an important, often critical role in our bodies.
What happens when hormones don’t play nice?
Hormones dictate nearly every cellular action from the time we’re conceived. So what happens when they aren’t functioning as they should?
It may surprise you to know that we often get a domino effect happening when there’s even a slight change in hormone function. What’s even more frustrating is that one hormonal imbalance can easily lead to an additional imbalance or other health issues because the branches of your endocrine system are so intertwined. (source)
As an example, let’s look at what happens when thyroid function becomes low.
Here’s what can happen
Thyroid hormones regulate organ function, body temperature and metabolism, and directly affect body weight, energy, muscle contraction & relaxation, heart rate, bowel function, fertility, menstrual regularity, memory, mood, skin & hair texture and many other bodily functions.
When not enough active thyroid hormone (T3) is being made from inactive T4, and thyroid function becomes low, even just slightly less-than-optimal, many of our body’s systems start to slow down and also perform less-than-optimally. Anyone with thyroid issues, such as myself, knows firsthand how it affects metabolism!
Did you know 1 in 3 American adults has a thyroid disease? Think you may be one of them? Take a quick quiz here to find out.
Other signs that your hormones may be out of whack
Here are some more common signs that you probably have a hormonal imbalance:
- poor sleep- either not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep
- fatigue that’s not alleviated by sleep
- night sweats &/or hot flashes
- low libido & sexual dysfunction
- acne, or other skin issues
- foggy thinking & difficulty concentrating
- mental health issues- depression & anxiety, in particular
- irritability, anger, & erratic moods
- weight loss resistance, especially around the belly
Hormonal imbalances in women & their causes
The reality is that hormonal imbalances are so common now, that it likely feels “normal” to most of us. But it’s not!
According to Dr. Natasha Turner, ND & Author of The Hormone Boost, the 4 most common hormone disruptions she sees clinically in women are:
- Estrogen dominance – when estrogen is too high relative to progesterone, i.e. the ratio of the two sex hormones is imbalanced. We’ll be talking more about this one in a future article!
- Low thyroid
- High cortisol and dysregulated adrenals – think belly fat!
- High insulin and insulin resistance
Even though there are many different types of endocrine issues, most women have multiple imbalances simultaneously, and the causes are often overlapping too.
The main causes of hormonal imbalances in women are lifestyle choices and environment
Besides age and stage of life, things like medications (like the birth control pill), chronic stress, poor nutrition, disrupted circadian rhythm, chronic inflammation (e.g. leaky gut & digestive system inflammation), blood sugar problems, and toxins & endocrine disruptors like xenoestrogens may cause hormonal imbalances.
We’ll talk about xenoestrogens in more detail in the next article in our hormone series.
Dr. Sara Gottfried, MD & Author of The Hormone Reset Diet offers some specific dietary reasons as to why your hormones may imbalanced:
Balance & support your hormones naturally
While it may be especially frustrating when hormones aren’t playing nice, and it can feel like a runaway freight train, it is possible to reel them in and get them back on track. It sometimes just takes a little work and some extra TLC.
Here are ways to start supporting and re-balancing your hormones right now:
Eat whole foods
Processed, packaged foods offering little to no nutritive value will also offer little to no hormonal “fuel.” Be sure to feed your body only the freshest, whole foods available, including plenty of vegetables, fruits, and quality sources of free range and grassfed meats and eggs. If tolerated, nuts, seeds, and legumes may be added in moderation, while grains and dairy may contain problematic proteins for some.
Eat more good fats
Good fats are essential for hormonal health because guess what…? Sex hormones are “built” on fat, and your body can only use the building blocks you give it.
Also, fat does not make you fat, but sugar sure does! So again, be sure to avoid refined foods that are usually full of sugar and fake fats.
Instead, opt for whole food sources of good fats such as avocados, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, grassfed butter or ghee, wild-caught salmon, free range eggs, and raw nuts & seeds.
The benefits of regular exercise are well known to us, but did you know that you should also exercise for your hormones?
Working out on a daily basis, engaging in resistance or strength training, and incorporating a specific type of exercise called high intensity interval training or HIIT is especially beneficial for keeping our bodies and our hormones in shape! (source)
Getting deeper, more restorative sleep can be the key to re-balancing your hormones, above all other measures.
Stress management & self-care
As we talked about, stress can be devastating for hormonal health! Learn better coping mechanisms for daily stress (like breathing techniques), practice mindfulness and be sure to implement daily self-care.
Women especially need to manage the stress and “business” of everyday life with activities that bring balance and a sense of peace & well-being to their bodies and their minds.
Another way to show your hormones some love: supplement smart
In addition to the above adjustments to your daily nutrition and lifestyle, another thing to consider is adding quality supplements your diet.
All of these are powerful superfoods, not only for optimizing your health, but to give your hormones a much-needed boost by giving your body those key building blocks.