As women, when we hear the word ‘hormones’, we tend to think about one set – the sex hormones. These hormones, including estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, are important for regulating sexual function and fertility but aren’t critical to our survival. More a nuisance than anything, sex hormone imbalances aren’t going to impact your health the same as other hormones.
Hormones are chemical messengers that interact to keep your body healthy and functioning. Hormones are released in response to food and hunger, stress, levels of other certain hormones, and natural cyclical patterns or rhythms. They actually govern nearly every cellular action in your body!
Very Common Health Complaints Related to Hormone Imbalances
Many women live with a confusing array of health symptoms that their doctors can’t seem to pin down. They’re told that these symptoms are ‘normal’ for women, especially as you age, and that there isn’t much you can do for them.
As you can probably imagine, and maybe even relate to, this is super frustrating!!!
Some very common (but certainly NOT normal) health symptoms related to hormone imbalances include:
- Chronic fatigue not helped by sleep
- Sleep disturbances like trouble falling or staying asleep
- Night sweats or hot flashes (even well before perimenopause hits)
- Acne and other skin issues
- Stubborn fat, especially around the belly
- Brain fog and poor concentration
- Anxiety and depression
- PMS and menopausal symptoms
- Sugar and/or salt cravings
The reason there is such a wide array of symptoms related to hormonal imbalances is that they have a waterfall effect. When one gets out of whack, many others follow. Your endocrine system, which manages your hormones, is so intricately connected with your entire body that a single hormonal imbalance will lead to more health issues.
Important Hormones to Keep Balanced
While every single one of your hormones should be healthy and balanced, there are a few key hormones that impact your health the most. Let’s dig into some of these to help you understand why they need to be the focus for optimal health.
Cortisol is one of your stress hormones, along with epinephrine (aka adrenaline). Stress hormones are critical to survival since they synthesize proteins, mobilize stored glucose for energy in times of danger, maintain cellular electrolyte balance and help regulate heartbeat and blood pressure.
One reason why cortisol needs to be examined first is because when excessive stress affects you, cortisol is made at the expense of your sex hormones. This means that excessive stress can actually be the reason you have hot flashes, night sweats, PMS symptoms and even infertility!
High levels of cortisol also lead to stubborn belly fat and weight gain. A cortisol imbalance is one of the most common hormonal issues in women, too. Sugar cravings and sleep issues are two main symptoms associated with cortisol dysfunction.
Cortisol influences estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and thyroid hormone levels too.
#2: Thyroid Hormones
When someone feels tired and sluggish, or they notice unexplained weight gain, one of the first places a doctor checks is the thyroid. This common blood test actually neglects to test the full potential range of thyroid hormone issues, and cortisol is never tested alongside it.
There is a negative feedback loop between the adrenals (which make cortisol), the pituitary and the thyroid, so if one of these glands isn’t functioning optimally, overall hormonal imbalances happen. Plus, sometimes excess estrogen can block thyroid function, too, so it’s always best to ask for a full thyroid hormone panel along with cortisol and female sex hormone tests.
Two potential problems can happen with estrogen.
First, your estrogen levels may be too low. This makes you hungrier, which can lead to weight gain.
Second, high estrogen levels, also called ‘estrogen dominance’, can lead to a bunch of unpleasant symptoms. High estrogen causes weight gain as well as hot flashes, breast fibroids, and potentially breast cancer. High levels of estrogen can imbalance your sex hormones and cause infertility and miscarriage, too, especially after being on some form of hormone replacement birth control. And, something called xenoestrogens, found in personal care products, BPA-lined canned goods, furniture, environmental toxins and plastics, mimic estrogen and boost your body’s overall estrogen levels.
A good indication that your progesterone is too low is if you experience mid-cycle spotting. Low progesterone is mainly caused by excessive stress and adrenal dysfunction because the very same resources needed to make progesterone are also used to make cortisol. And cortisol comes first in the chain of events.
Low progesterone from chronic stress also leads to estrogen dominance. Other symptoms include thyroid dysfunction, low libido, headaches and anxiety. Gallbladder issues may also arise.
#5: Insulin Resistance
Finally, another very important hormone to pay attention to is insulin.
Insulin’s job is to remove glucose from the blood. If you eat a lot of carbs and sugar, and you eat it often throughout the day, your cells eventually may become resistant to insulin. This causes high blood sugar and fat storage.
Insulin resistance also causes excessive hunger, fatigue and sugar cravings. It also affects fit and healthy people, too.
Balance Hormones Naturally
4 Easy Steps
#1: Improve Digestion
Good health starts with healthy digestion. If you suffer from post-meal bloating or gas, allergies, chronic fatigue or any of the symptoms of hormone imbalance I stated above, start giving your belly a little love.
Gut health depends on a few things. One, you need a healthy balance of ‘good’ to ‘bad’ gut bacteria. Improve your overall gut flora by taking a probiotic daily, eating lots of fiber and fermented foods, and taking time to chew your food and eat slowly and mindfully.
Second, inflammation can cause something called ‘leaky gut’. Toxins, bacteria and other bad stuff ingested with food can then seep into your blood and circulate, causing chronic low-grade inflammation, which directly impacts how well your hormones work. Ditch pro-inflammatory foods like dairy, gluten and sugar, and follow the guidelines for gut health listed above.
Third, to keep things moving throughout your digestive tract, drink lots and lots of water every single day.
Your liver is responsible for filtering out all the toxins that you’re exposed to every day. However, there are a LOT of toxins out there now, way more than ever before. The average adult is exposed to over 800 different toxins each day.
Your liver can only handle so much, and when you consume foods and use personal care products containing toxins, you add to its load.
It becomes overburdened, sluggish and can’t detoxify as well as it should. The liver helps detoxify excess hormones, like estrogen and cortisol. If the liver can’t detoxify one or both of these, you get hormonal imbalances that are hard to shake.
And, the liver helps make cholesterol, which is the backbone of your steroid and sex hormones. A compromised liver won’t be able to make enough of this resource to keep up with the demands of a high stress lifestyle (which, let’s face it, most of us have).
Ditch refined sugar, alcohol, caffeine and non-organic foods as much as possible. Drink tons of water every day, and fill up on fresh vegetables for every meal, especially leafy greens! Foods that specifically help detoxify the liver include celery, avocado, beets, ginger, garlic and onions.
If you’re really struggling with hormone imbalances, it may be best to do a 3- to 4-week detox program.
#3: Stress Management
This should go without saying, but managing your stress levels and learning how to minimize unnecessary stress will go a long way to balance cortisol and other hormones.
Practice daily self-care, worry less, and take 5 deep breaths when that co-worker irritates you next time! (Because we all have those co-workers, right???)
#4: Exercise Regularly
Too much steady-state cardio can increase your stress hormone production, so aim for a good balance between cardio, interval training and strength building exercises. HIIT can be very beneficial for keeping your hormones balanced IF you’re not dealing with chronic exhaustion or adrenal fatigue. In that case, stick with low impact, restorative exercises like yoga, resistance training and stretching.
A single imbalanced hormone can impact your entire body and lead to an array of confusing health symptoms. Keep your hormones balanced by eliminating refined sugar, gluten, dairy and other inflammatory and/or highly toxic foods. Focus on eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and don’t forget your healthy fats! Foods like raw nuts and seeds, avocados, and coconut oil help boost the resources needed to nourish the endocrine system and keep cortisol production normalized.
Recipe: Hormone-friendly Cho-Coco Fat Bombs
- ½ cup almond or other nut butter, no sugar-added (if nut-sensitive, use sesame tahini or sunflower seed butter)
- ½ cup virgin coconut oil
- 3 Tbs raw, unprocessed cacao powder
- stevia, xylitol or monk fruit to sweeten to taste
- silicone candy mould or mini-muffin pan
- splash of real vanilla extract or vanilla powder
- cinnamon or ginger
- pinch of Himalayan pink salt or Celtic grey salt
How to prepare:
- In a large skillet melt coconut oil and nut butter over low heat.
- Stir in cacao powder and desired sweetener.
- Remove from heat and add vanilla (+ other add-ins), if using.
- You may want to pour mixture into a “spouted” cup to make pouring easier.
- Pour mixture into silicone candy molds or mini-muffin pan (about 1 Tb of mixture)
- Put in freezer or fridge until set.
- Remove from molds and store in the fridge in an airtight container.
Be mindful that each fat bomb is considered a full serving of fat – great for curbing the appetite, satisfying a sweet tooth and supporting your hormones with the building blocks they need!
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