Female hormones are as complicated as . . . well . . . female hormones. That’s why you might find some health professionals heading for the hills as soon as the H word is mentioned. Because, if you have hormonal symptoms, fixing them is not as simple as giving you more hormones or sending you home to live with it. Your body needs to be functioning correctly and when it does, hormones have a magical way of properly regulating themselves.
In this article we help you to understand why hormones might go out of whack and what happens when they do. We then finish off with natural solutions to get your body back in balance and stop those hormones partying so hard!
Hormones are chemical substances that help to regulate processes in the body. They are secreted by glands and travel to their target organs in the bloodstream. Several hormones are involved in the female menstrual cycle. Hormones can be used to control human fertility and have advantages and disadvantages.
Our reproductive hormones, most specifically oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone have more than a sexual function. They;
· are involved in growth and repair as well as reproduction
· send messages to tell our body where to lay down fat and whether to burn fat or muscle
· effect emotional and behavioural patterns related to the reproductive cycle
· play a big part interaction with our stress hormones such as cortisol
Ø thyroid function
Ø bone health
Ø body shape and size
Ø mental clarity and mood
Ø reproductive conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis and fibrocystic breasts
Ø regular and irregular menstruation cycles
The six types of hormonal imbalance
There are many ways to categorise the signs and symptoms of hormonal imbalance depending whether you have too much or too little of types of hormones;
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS
|1: Progesterone Deficiency
|This is the most common hormone imbalance among women of all ages. Signs and symptoms include PMS/PMDD, irregular cycles, painful periods, infertility, premenstrual food cravings, early miscarriage, anxiety, unexplained weight gain, insomnia, cyclical headaches, lumpy or painful breasts|
|This hormone imbalance is most common in menopausal women. Signs and symptoms in include hot flushes, night sweats, insomnia, anxiety, depression, low libido.|
|Signs and symptoms include heavy bleeding, painful periods, menstrual clotting, fibroids, endometriosis, abnormal weight gain, puffiness, insomnia, mood swings, migraine headaches. This is most often solved by getting off conventional synthetic hormones most often prescribed by doctors for menopausal women.|
|This is caused when you don’t have enough progesterone to balance the effects of oestrogen. You can have low oestrogen but if you have even lower progesterone. Many women between the ages of 40 and 50 suffer from oestrogen dominance and may get any of the symptoms in group 1 and 3.|
|5:Excess androgens (male hormones)
|Often caused by too much sugar and simple carbohydrates in the diet and is often found in women who have polycystic ovary syndrome. Signs and symptoms include adult acne, facial hair growth, fat layer around your tummy, none or irregular periods, infertility.|
|Caused by tired adrenals, which is usually caused by chronic stress. If you are trying to juggle a job and family or have other stresses in your life, then chances are you have tired adrenals which causes hormonal imbalances. Sign and symptoms include fatigue, foggy thinking, blood sugar imbalance, exercise intolerance, frequent infections. Thin or dry skin, brown spots on face, low blood pressure.|
Which Type might you be? Take the test to get an indication of what may be happening with your hormones. For a thorough assessment and natural treatment plan do contact us and we can arrange a face to face, skype or phone consult.
Why and I am so tired all the time!
Do you find it hard to get out of bed in the morning? Run out of energy in the afternoon? Need an extra cup of coffee to keep going? Well, one of the most common symptoms of hormonal imbalance, is fatigue.
Disrupted sleep is a common cause of daytime fatigue. Worry, anxiety and depression keep women of all ages on high alert, tossing and turning throughout the night. Hot flushes and night sweats — caused by hormonal imbalance and resulting in disrupted sleep — inevitably lead to fatigue. Adrenal balance due to stress, poor diet choices, or the effects of perimenopause on thyroid function and melatonin synthesis also lead directly to fatigue. And believe it or not, just sitting around — yes, lack of physical activity — can sap your body of its vigour. You have to use energy to have energy!
Four Reasons that hormones create havoc.
Later in this article I highlight some proven and evidence-based ways to get hormones back in balance. Many women will ask my thoughts on hormone replacement whether bio identical or synthetic and I will always talk about getting the following in balance first…
1. Blood sugar imbalances
Blood sugar must be balanced. In women, blood sugar imbalances cause increases in testosterone, which will wreak havoc on the hormonal system.
The adrenal glands must be healthy. Adrenal dysfunction can suppress pituitary function and rob the sex hormones of the necessary precursors for hormone production. Dysfunctional adrenal glands are paramount in hormonal balance.
3. Gut function
Gastrointestinal function must be working properly. This is an often missed component of hormone balance. Gastrointestinal dysfunction can raise cortisol, cause hormone detoxification issues in the liver, and produce damaging hormone metabolites. If your guts aren’t working properly, neither will your hormones.
4. Poor diet and nutrition are often behind hormonal imbalance and the resulting lack of energy. This is especially true of women who are yo-yo dieters or follow low-fat, high-carb eating plans. These women often suffer from insulin resistance, which disrupts their bodies’ glucose/energy metabolism.
Natural ways to get back in balance
The great news is that hormonal imbalance can be treated successfully without pharmaceutical drugs
As a trained Dietitian and Naturopaths I believe in treating the underlying cause as well as the symptoms. With hormonal imbalances we first of all need to bring the body back in to homeostasis. This means we use herbs, supplements, diet and lifestyle changes to nudge your body (and mind) back in to balance.
Yes pharmaceutical drugs may keep on top of the symptoms but they are not treating the cause and can be very harsh on the body – not to mention harmful side-effects in some cases.
Phytotherapy, the use of medicinal plants to heal and restore balance — is an age-old tradition Plants hold truly amazing healing properties and some of the most exciting research is being done around how plants can act to naturally balance hormones. As we learn more about the underlying mechanisms of herbal and plant medicine, science has been able to increase its effectiveness, while maintaining the gentle side effect profile herbal remedies are known for.
The Adaptogenic Effect of Plants
By using herbal therapies, your body only gets what it needs. Instead of slamming the system with large doses of medication. We call this an adaptogenic effect, meaning our bodies can respond to and use plant molecules in various ways, depending on how much and in what proportions we have of our own hormones on board and how smoothly we’re regulating and metabolising them.
Some well-known herbs we use in hormone modulation include;
|Herb||What is does do?|
|Aphrodisiac and mood-stabilizing properties. Recent studies suggest this Ayurvedic herb can act in an adaptogenic fashion when androgen (such as testosterone) levels are low, activating the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis to increase the production of androgens.|
|Has an effect similar to the female hormone estrogen, which governs the menstrual cycle and declines after menopause. Mostly known for its relief widely of menopausal symptoms, and the leading herbal therapy for hot flushes in Europe, black cohosh is wonderful herb for PMS, especially when it comes to treating irritability and sleep disturbances The herb was long used by Native Americans as a remedy for painful menstrual periods. It also has an anti-inflammatory, sedative effect (act as a functional mimetic, primarily by binding to opioid receptors in the brain to affect tissues in the body. It has been recommended as an alternative to standard hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which can produce unwanted side effects in many women.|
|In several clinical studies Chasteberry reduced some symptoms, especially breast pain or tenderness, edema, constipation, irritability, depressed mood, anger, and headache. Chaste may affect our neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine, which acts in the brain and other parts of the body and also has hormone modulator properties|
|One of the most popular plants in Chinese medicine, and nicknamed female ginseng because of its benefits for women and its use for gynecological disorders such as relieving PMS, minimizing menopausal symptoms including hot flushes, and menstrual cramps and the pain of endometriosis.|
|Mostly known for its effects on memory. Ginkgo has also been shown to be helpful for PMS symptoms, particularly when it comes to fluid retention and breast tenderness.|
|A traditional Ayurvedic herb which is used as an anti-diabetic, hypoglycaemic (lowers blood sugar levels) and lipid (fats) lowering herb, helping to support weight reduction. It helps to modulate insulin levels and this is crucial in PCOS.|
|Has been used for centuries for its calming
effects and helps with PMS-related anxiety and insomnia.
|Rich in phytoestrogens including lignans, coumestans, and isoflavones (which can weakly bind to estrogen receptors in the body. This makes red clover a helpful herb for menopausal symptoms.|
|An adaptogen which have shown to increase thyroid function, help the body adapt to stress, reduce fatigue, boost strength, improve brain function, and lift mood. (Totally my favourite herb for women)|
| Saw palmetto
|Can help with hirsutism and/or hair loss seen with PCOS|
|St. John’s wort
|Used successfully to treat mild depression and PMS mood swings.|
|Traditionally used for intestinal problems as well as labor pains and menstrual issues. There is still debate about whether wild yam can affect our sex hormones, but we’ve found it extremely helpful for our patients who have high estrogen levels, and see consistent helpful results.|
|Used for women’s conditions by both Chinese and Western herbalists, and shown to positively influence low progesterone (the happy, healthy female hormone), reduce high testosterone and modulate oestrogen. White Peony and Licorice have been used in combination for centuries and help to reduce androgens.|
Top Hormone regulating supplements
Supplements that may be useful depend on the hormonal imbalance but may include;
Vitamin C – HUGE for raising Progesterone levels
Progesterone is the natural anti-anxiety, anti-depressant hormone. It also affects your emotions and sleep. Low progesterone is the 2nd most common imbalance experienced by women over 35! Vitamin C is the no 1 nutraceutical to help your body produce more progesterone. Food sources: citrus fruits, bell peppers, kiwi, strawberries, tomatoes.
Vitamin D – Important for all hormones, especially Thyroid
Thyroid affects your metabolism, body temperature and energy levels. Vitamin D can help. The body can synthesise vitamin D on its own from sun exposure, but a good majority of the population in North America is deficient as we’re inside most of the time. Plus it can be very hard to get enough through diet alone, so we need to either spend some time in the sun or supplement. Food sources: low mercury fatty fish like herring, sardines, cod, egg yolks and mushrooms.
Vitamin E – Awesome for Menopause
Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant and is super important for women with low oestrogen, aka menopause. Food sources: vegetable oils, nuts, beans, and whole grains. 50-400 IU per day effectively decreases hot flashes and other low-estrogen problems, like vaginal dryness, and mood swings (give it at least 4 weeks to get the effects).
Calcium/Magnesium – Prevent PMS, Constipation + sleep better
Calcium is the most common mineral in the body! Magnesium helps regulate calcium levels, so there is a special balance between calcium and magnesium.
The right proportion helps prevent constipation and promotes healthy sleep, plus so many more vital processes. Both are important for balancing progesterone levels, which is one factor leading to PMS. Magnesium is particularly effective for combating chocolate cravings!
Food sources: for calcium, dark green vegetables, seaweeds, sardines, almonds, dairy. Food sources for magnesium, green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains.
Fish Oil – Helps will all hormones, especially Cortisol and Insulin
Fish oil contains essential fatty acids (omega-3’s). Essential means your body can’t produce them but are necessary for cellular function. Fish oil helps regular cortisol levels, your stress hormone that “bullies” the thyroid and progesterone hormones. It’s common to have a combination of disregulated cortisol and either thyroid or progesterone. Fix cortisol and you could fix the others. Fish oil is the good fat that improves your insulin sensitivity and prevents diabetes.
Chromium – stabilise blood sugars
Chromium is a mineral that has been studied often and shown to help stabilize insulin and blood sugar. This stabilization helps curtail cravings and supports appetite regulation.
B6 (pyridoxine) – mood support
B6 helps with oestrogen metabolism, by helping to reduce tissue hypersensitivity to oestrogen. This is important for woman when the excess hormones need to be conjugated back out of the body, due to hormones in meats, birth control or supplemental estrogen.
Herbs, vitamins, and minerals, combined with good nutrition from a healthy diet, stress management and regular exercise are the best methods for relieving the symptoms of most hormonal imbalances.
Sheena Hendon Health Hormonal balance programme is a great place to start
The hormonal balance programme promotes natural hormonal balance. You start with a one hour in house or telephone consultation with a nutritionist and naturopath followed by the appropriate nutritional supplements, herbal endocrine support formula, dietary and lifestyle guidance, and optional follow-up consultations.
We look forward to seeing in the clinic soon
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Trickey, Ruth. (1998). Women, hormones and the menstrual cycle : herbal and medical solutions from adolescence to menopause. St Leonards, N.S.W : Allen & Unwin.