By Natalie Pickering, Naturopath
Hormone imbalance is something I talk to my patients about every week. That ‘out of balance’ feeling is becoming so common, many women are starting to think it’s ‘normal’ and part of being a woman, suffering cyclical headaches, fatigue, mood swings, out of control appetite, loss of sex drive, unexplained weight gain, heavy, painful periods.. the list goes on.
Your adrenal, thyroid, ovarian, pancreatic hormones are the key players, they have a complex interaction, if one is out of range others quickly follow, often causing widespread health problems. When these hormones are all in optimal ranges you will feel young, strong, lean, motivated, energetic, sexy, focussed and calm. Sounds good doesn’t it?
This article will focus primarily on sex hormones, hopefully giving you some understanding of what may be going on in your body and methods to start getting the harmony back!
Signs and Symptoms of hormonal imbalances
Irregular or heavy periods
Changes in appetite
Hair loss and hair thinning
Weight loss or gain (unexplained and not by intentional diet change)
Depression and anxiety
Tender, engorged breasts
Difficulty coping with ordinary demands
Specific symptoms of common hormonal imbalances
Oestrogen dominance- Weight gain, particularly on the belly and lower bottom, slow metabolism, decreased sex drive, irritability and depression, breast swelling and tenderness, premenstrual headaches, clotty flow and insomnia
Progesterone deficiency– Recurrent early miscarriage, spotting before your period, infertility, teariness, night sweats, crampy periods, facial hair growth, brain fog, PMS, sleep disturbances, depression and heart palpitations.
Testosterone deficiency- Low energy, loss of muscle mass, low libido and vaginal dryness, lack of concentration, feeling cold despite normal thyroid health, loss of head or body hair.
Excess testosterone- Acne, PCOS, increased facial and body hair growth, patchy head hair loss, irregular or absent periods, deepening voice.
How did my hormones get out of balance?
A hormone imbalance is usually a result of several different factors.
Genetic susceptibility plays a role,
Poor gut and liver health can fuel imbalances,
Being overweight or obese (Visceral fat becomes an oestrogen secreting gland),
Poor diet and lack of exercise,
Toxicity; particularly exposure to pesticides, plasticizers (BPA and phthalates), cleaning chemicals, parabens, excess alcohol, coffee, cigarettes, industrial chemicals and heavy metals all contribute to hormonal problems.
Chronic, high stress levels and a lack of sleep can also contribute to hormone imbalance.
10 Natural ways to balance hormones
Eat Healthy Fats– Eating a variety of foods containing short, medium and long chain fatty acids is essential for healthy hormone production. They also help regulate inflammation and metabolism and promote fat loss. My favourite sources of healthy fats are coconut oil, avocadoes, wild caught salmon, grass fed butter, walnuts and chia seeds.
Avoid Harmful Chemicals– Household cleaners, pesticides, plastics, non stick coatings on cookware. Personal hygiene and beauty products can contain hormone disrupting chemicals. Switch to natural cleaning products (homemade or commercial), replace pans and plastics with stainless steel or glass. Check this list https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty_dozen_list.php to choose which foods and buy organic produce. There are some excellent natural beauty products available, www.shopnaturally.com.au and www.biome.com.auare good sights to buy online. Some of my favourites are Antipodes, Sanctum, Jurlique, Mukti, A’kin, Tinderbox, Aesop and Sukin
Get good sleep– Prioritizing your sleep is essential to regain hormone balance, even one night of poor sleep can have a negative impact on your hormonal health. While you sleep you are detoxifying, regenerating cells, recharging your brain and creating hormones. There are plenty of tips, tricks and remedies you can use to improve sleep quality, talk to your naturopath to learn more.
Exercise right – To improve hormone balance the key with exercise is not to overdo it. HIIT (high intensity interval training) for 20 minutes 3 times weekly is one way , if that’s is too far out of your comfort zone focus on relaxing exercise like walking or swimming. Avoid extended, intense periods of exercise while you are working on rebalancing hormones.
Reduce your caffeine – Caffeine can wreak havoc on the endocrine system, particularly while you are pregnant, peri-menopausal, chronically stressed or in the presence of a high toxic load. The ritual of the morning or afternoon cuppa can be replaced with a great tasting, energising herbal tea, you still get a quick break and your avoiding the downsides of choosing caffeine. Cut down your coffee to 1 cup/day or less and you will find your hormones balancing much faster.
Watch alcohol intake– That glass of red 2 times a week can quickly become 2 glasses 4 times a week, take stock of your intake once a week every week and you’ll avoid the common phenomenon of accidental high alcohol intake. High levels of alcohol (above 2-3 drinks daily) can contribute to oestrogen dominance, lower testosterone, increase risks of liver disease and cancer. Choose your alcohol free days and stick to them, your liver will be more effective in its role in hormone balance.
Support Digestive Health – In order to regain a truly balanced hormone picture you’ll need your liver and bowel to be in great health. Maintaining a healthy gut microbiome with a healthy diet including 1-2 serves of fermented foods daily and a carefully chosen probiotic is essential to hormone balance and reducing inflammation. You liver is key in metabolizing and excreting hormones and is particularly important in managing oestrogen dominance.
Green Smoothie for hormone balance–
3 cups spinach and/ kale
1 cup frozen blueberries , raspberries, blackberries or mango, papaya
1 tspn extra virgin coconut oil
1 tablespoon maca powder (optional ) 1 tspn chia seeds, 2 Tbspn cashews
1 tablespoon spirulina AND/OR 1 scoop Super Greens
1 cup almond milk or coconut water
a few drops of stevia to taste (for desired sweetness, although you may not need it with the berries)
Supplement wisely– A good quality multivitamin is an important back up to your healthy diet, ensuring a boost to your B complex, Zinc, Magnesium and Iodine. Your Vitamin D levels are also important and easy to test, you may need to supplement to get to the optimal level of 90-120. It can be hard to access enough Omega 3 in your diet, so a good fish oil supplement can help. Some of the better herbs to consider are Maca, Chaste Tree, Siberian Ginseng, Schisandra, Tribulus and Shatavari, (you will need professional advice to choose the correct prescription).
Stress Less! Today’s lifestyle is stressful, so many of women are doing too much, running on adrenaline all day just trying to tick all the boxes on our to-do lists. The impact of stress on hormonal health is measurable, while we are under stress our bodies produce high levels of cortisol, directly impacting on oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone levels. How often have you heard about a missed period with acute stress, horribly painful periods during high work load, flare up of acne pre-deadline? Thats the interplay of cortisol and sex hormones on display.
What should you do if you suspect hormone imbalance?
If you suspect you have a hormone imbalance, get started on the 10 tips above and arrange a saliva analysis. A naturopath experienced in interpreting your result will be able to guide you through the steps to regain a healthy balance and carefully prescribe proven remedies to help you get your harmony and health back.