There’s a joke my husband likes to tell: “What’s the difference between a hormone and an enzyme?” – “You can’t hear an enzyme!”
Whether you suffer from hormonal imbalances yourself or you are witness to it in your loved ones or co-workers, there is a cultural awareness of the effects of hormones on both our bodies and our brains. We’ll be focusing on balancing hormones naturally for females in this article, but fellas – you have sex hormones too! They just don’t ebb and flow as dramatically. We’ll also look at adrenal hormone issues that affect men and women pretty equally even though the focus of this article will be natural remedies for hormonal imbalance in females.
Signs of hormonal imbalance in women
I get a bit frustrated when I ask patients about symptoms of hormone imbalance and they answer that it’s “just the normal” PMS or menopause symptoms that all women have. Let’s clarify that right now.
Premenstrual symptoms such as bloating, food cravings (for sugar, salt, or salty sugar), water retention, breast tenderness, and the oh-so-fun weepiness and/or irritability may be COMMON but they are not NORMAL. That these symptoms are so widespread and accepted doesn’t make them physiologically accurate markers of a healthy endocrine system.
The same goes for hot flashes, night sweats, and mood changes associated with menopause. There are women who sail through their menstrual cycles each month and others who effortlessly stop their cycles later in life without a single blip (but they tend to stay quiet rather than speak up around their over-heated friends…)
Women’s Hormones 101: How Much They Affect Us
Hormones are the chemical messengers of our endocrine system. They carry signals throughout the body from glands to cells, tissues, and organs.
Sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone) support reproductive cycles and sexual function for the propagation of the species.
Thyroid hormones regulate metabolism in all cells and so influence everything from warmth to bowel function to heart rate to hair growth.
The pancreas secretes insulin, a hormone that helps to chaperone sugar molecules into cells to be stored or used for energy, and glucagon, which helps to release stored sugar when levels fall.
Hormones also regulate growth and development, appetite, breast-feeding, sleep cycles, red blood cell production, and even tanning!
Wonky Sex Hormones in Women
The goal for sex hormone cycles in women is a comfortable, non-draining release of unnecessary endometrial lining every month with no drama leading up to the flow or during it. It may sound farfetched for those who suffer terribly every month but it is a reality for many women. Indications that there is imbalance in sex hormones include irregular cycles in which the interval between periods varies excessively each month. I don’t mind if the cycle is 26 days or 34 days in length so long as it is fairly consistent from one month to the next. Pain before or during menses, mood swings, headaches, food cravings and/or water retention are all good signs that there is an underlying imbalance that needs to be corrected1.
Deeper issues such as endometriosis (endometrial tissue outside of the uterus, associated with extreme pain during cycles)2 and PCOS (PolyCystic Ovarian Syndrome which may be characterized by irregular periods, acne, excess weight, and hair growth along the chin from too much testosterone)3 are also reflective of hormone imbalance. PCOS can be confirmed by a blood test.
After menopause the key indications of hormone irregularities are changes in body temperature, including the classic hot flashes and night sweats experienced by many, as well as mood changes that range from anxiety and depression to insomnia, and the more concerning potential changes in bone density and cardiovascular health4.
Some symptoms are not quite as obvious though. Unexplained weight gain or stubborn weight, particularly belly fat, that doesn’t respond to changes in diet or activity is often a sign that hormones are off kilter5. Low libido or vaginal dryness could also be a clue to an underlying hormone imbalance6.
The Three-Legged Stool of the Endocrine System
Think of the gonads, the adrenals, and the thyroid making up three legs of a stool. For optimal vitality, energy, sex drive, metabolism, focus, good mood and stress response they need to be in a healthy equilibrium. Other hormones tie into this as well. You can’t rock life if your blood sugar is out of control and you’ve developed insulin resistance. You can’t be on top of the world if your sleep is terrible. You get it…
Balancing Hormones Naturally: What Can I Do?
Start with the basics. Eat well – unprocessed, nutrient-dense plants, clean fats from coconut, flax, fish, avocado, raw nuts, and well-balanced vegan protein (if vegetarian) and/or the best quality meat and seafood you can afford (if omnivorous). A scoop of Botanica’s Perfect Protein is a good place to start!
Enhance your estrogen and progesterone balance with Chaste Tree berries (Vitex agnus-castus). Some people may need to take it all month while others may benefit more from taking it only in the second half of their cycle. Speak to a qualified health care practitioner about what’s best for you if you are unsure.
Practice mindfulness or meditation daily. There are some great apps out there to help if it feels like too big a challenge to take on without help. Calm, Headspace, and Breethe are all quite popular.
Move that body. Some people thrive on high intensity, sweaty workouts while others do better with gentle walking and stretching. Do what feels right for you but make sure you do it!
Boost liver function. Hormones are detoxified and eliminated through various liver pathways. Milk thistle (Silybum marianum), Dandelion (Taraxacum off.), Turmeric (Curcuma longa) or the Botanica Liver Support Liquid Herb are all allies in your efforts to regulate hormone function12,13,14.
As your adrenals and thyroid get healthier your cycles or menopausal symptoms should improve. Cortisol, a key stress hormone from the adrenals, is made from progesterone so a lack of balance in day-to-day life directly translates to a lack of balance in hormonal health. The body prioritizes cortisol over progesterone – cortisol helps to help us stay alive while progesterone is there to help an embryo stay alive. So progesterone levels often drop with chronic stress.
Hormone balance is amazingly complex – a symphony of instruments playing simultaneously to create beautiful, harmonious results – and also incredibly simple – compounds relaying messages throughout the body to help us function, survive, and thrive. The more you can pay attention to the signals from within and respond to them, the happier you will be physically and mentally.
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