Hormone imbalance is a very common issue that many women and men face today. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to balance hormones naturally. Let’s dive in!
First, let’s get a 30k ft. view of what hormones do in the body…
The hormonal system is known as the endocrine system. This system is made up of a series of glands which produce chemical substances called hormones.
The endocrine glands release these chemical hormones into the body. Receptors in organs and tissues then respond to these hormones. There have been over 50 different hormones identified within the human body.
In essence, hormones act as chemical messengers to initiate and fulfill countless biological processes in the body concerning everything from mood to blood sugar, reproduction to blood pressure…and so much more!
Next, let’s talk about hormonal imbalance…
When healthy, the body tightly regulates the window at which particular hormones are secreted into the body. When hormone secretion gets too high or too low, it often manifests in some sort of bodily dysregulation and unhealthy symptoms.
For example, estrogen dominance is when we have too much estrogen in the body, leading to things like abnormal menstruation, headaches, painful periods, and even endometriosis and fibroids.
On the other hand, estrogen deficiency can lead to insomnia, fatigue, amenorrhea or bone loss. As you can see, it’s important for our health that our hormones remain in their proper range – not above or below.
What are some of the more common hormones we’re talking about, and what happens when they aren’t in the proper range?
Sex Hormones: Estrogens, Progesterone, Androgens
Estrogens are a group of hormones that play an important role in the normal sexual and reproductive development of women (men also make small amounts of estrogen). There are three kinds of estrogens: estradiol, estrone, and estriol.
When estrogen has “done its job” in the body, the liver converts estradiol and estrone into the less potent form, estriol. If the liver is sluggish and congested, these excess estrogens will not be cleared.
This leads to excess estrogen and an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone, which we call estrogen dominance. For more information on estrogen dominance and how to address it, read my article HERE.
Progesterone is another hormone that plays an important role in sexual regulation in the human body, particularly for women and pregnancy.
Progesterone, like all other steroid hormones, is synthesized from pregnenolone, a derivative of cholesterol.
Progesterone is important for things such as fertility, menstrual regulation and embryo development.
Low progesterone, sometimes caused by estrogen dominance or adrenal imbalance, can lead to irregular menstrual cycles, mood disorders and inability to maintain pregnancy.
Androgens are the third group of sex hormones. They initiate puberty and are important for reproductive health and bodily development. While both males and females make androgens, males make more of them. Testosterone is the most common androgen. DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) is another type of androgen.
DHEA is produced in the adrenal gland. It is a precursor to other sex hormones, including testosterone and estrogen.
Hyperandrogenism (or too high of androgens) is a more common problem for women. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a widely-known condition associated with hyperandrogenism.
Men are more likely to experience androgen levels that are problematically too low. This can cause symptoms such as low muscle tone, gynecomastia (enlargement of a male’s breast glandular tissue), infertility, and poor sex drive.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced in the adrenal glands. While you may know it as the “stress hormone,” it is responsible for so much more.
Cortisol helps to regulate blood pressure, blood sugar and metabolism. It plays an important role in the sleep-wake cycle, and it helps suppress inflammation.
Chronic levels of high cortisol can lead to weight gain, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and excessive hair growth (hirsutism) for women as well as osteoporosis.
Chronic low cortisol can be caused by adrenal insufficiency. It manifests in symptoms such as fatigue, unintentional weight loss, poor appetite and low blood pressure.
Thyroid Hormones – The thyroid makes many different hormones, two of the main being T3 and T4.
It’s important to understand that the hypothalamus must first release thyroid-releasing hormone (TRH) to communicate with the pituitary, which releases thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). The pituitary’s release of TSH communicates to the thyroid to produce and release T4 and T3.
You can easily see how thyroid hormones are part of a delicate domino cascade with other hormones, and each relies on the other for synthesis and balance.
Hormonal imbalances involving TSH and thyroid hormones can include hyperthyroidism as well as hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism is most often diagnosed when TSH is elevated and free T4 levels are low and/or free T3 levels are low. Hypothyroidism can present with symptoms including: fatigue, muscle weakness, hair loss, weight gain, high cholesterol, infertility, anemia, mood disorders and more.
Hyperthyroidism is when TSH levels are low and free T4 and free T3 levels are high. Essentially, the thyroid is overproducing thyroid hormones. It can present with symptoms including: irritability, tremors, anxiety, poor sleep, thinning hair, muscle weakness, lack of energy and irregular menstrual cycle.
Insulin and Glucagon are two hormones produced by the pancreas whose job is to maintain proper blood sugar regulation.
Glucagon keeps blood glucose from dropping too low, and insulin keeps blood glucose from rising too high. The two hormones counterbalance each other to stabilize blood sugar levels.
Metabolic disorders such as diabetes can occur when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body does not use insulin properly (e.g. insulin resistance).
What are some common symptoms of hormonal imbalances in general?
Oftentimes we don’t just see a single hormonal imbalance, but many. Because the relationship between different hormones is so intricate and often dependent on one another, an imbalance in one hormone (or hormone group) can lead to an imbalance in others.
Here are some common symptoms we see when hormones are not in their right range or ratio:
- Poor sleep/insomnia
- Heavy, painful periods
- Irregular periods
- Lack of periods
- Depression, anxiety and mood disorders
- Low libido
- Poor blood sugar regulation
- Difficulty losing weight
- Poor temperature regulation
- Hair loss or thinning
- Blood pressure regulation problems
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Digestive problems
- Acne, Eczema, Hives and other skin problems
- Food sensitivities and other allergies
What are the most common root cause of hormonal imbalance from a functional perspective?
1. An imbalance in the HPA-axis (aka hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis) can create hormonal issues in the body and is one of the most common reasons for hormonal imbalance.The hypothalamus is a master gland in the brain that controls and coordinates much of the hormonal cascade that happens in the body.
The hypothalamus communicates directly with the pituitary gland, directly below it, to control various kinds of hormone creation and secretion.The adrenal glands, which sit just above the kidneys, are in communication with the pituitary gland and also the liver in order to fulfill their role of producing hormones that regulate metabolism, immunity, blood pressure, response to stress, blood glucose levels and more.
2. Poor blood sugar regulation is also a common root cause of hormonal imbalance because it wreaks havoc on one of the body’s most powerful hormones: insulin. And insulin is closely connected to all of the other hormones in the body, including estrogen and testosterone.
Insulin spikes can lead to lower levels of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), which binds excess estrogen and testosterone in the blood in order to excrete them. These effects can throw off the ratio of estrogen to progesterone and can lead to estrogen dominance as well as high levels of testosterone.
Adrenal support and blood sugar regulation, along with gentle liver detoxification, is the first place to start when attempting to re-balance hormones. Trying to take other first steps outside of these three will often lead to less effective and less sustainable results and keep you running in circles.
Here are some of my top tips to balance hormones naturally:
1. Eat a low sugar, nutrient-dense, whole-foods diet. Read this article, What Is a Nutrient Dense Diet?, if you’re wondering where to begin with this type of eating.
2. Get at least 8-9 hours of quality sleep each night. If you struggle with insomnia, click here for helpful tips.
3. Don’t intermittent fast…simply focus on “fasting” 12 hours overnight from dinner to breakfast. And be sure to eat breakfast within 1 hour of waking. This helps prime your metabolism for the day and sync your Circadian rhythm. It also keeps your cortisol from increasing too much which can create elevated blood glucose and then contribute to hormone imbalance downstream.
4. Eat regular meals throughout the day and include some protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fat in each meal. This one step can help keep blood sugar more balanced and keep the stress response lower in the body because the body is getting in regular nutrients throughout the day.
5. Eat plenty of healthy saturated fats (which contain healthy cholesterol) in order to encourage hormonal balance. Cholesterol is a precursor to all steroid hormones (including cortisol, estrogen, testosterone, DHEA, aldosterone and more). It’s imperative we’re providing our body with the “building blocks” to make these hormones!
Here’s more info about saturated fats and which ones to use for cooking and baking.
6. Get outside in fresh air as much as possible. It’s especially important to get natural sunlight during the sunrise and sunset hours to reset your body’s circadian rhythm. For a more in-depth look at sleep, natural light, timing and circadian syncing, watch this video HERE.
7. Move your body daily – but don’t overdo it! While movement and exercise are necessary to be healthy, when the adrenals are out of balance, it’s easy to overstress the body with too much exercise. Yoga, walking, pilates and some resistance training can all be good options.
This recent study showed that taking just a 2-3 minute walk after meals can help balance blood sugar levels. And, keeping those blood sugar levels in check can help balance your hormones!.
8. Drink half your body weight in ounces of filtered water daily, and add a pinch of Celtic sea salt to each glass. Celtic sea salt acts as a natural electrolyte, and it is especially nourishing to the adrenals. Remember, supporting the adrenals helps keep the HPA-axis more balanced which can then help keep hormones balanced!
9. Take epsom salt baths. Epsom salt baths are fantastic ways to gently detoxify the body and encourage relaxation.
All you need to do is fill your tub with warm water, add a cup or two of epsom salts and soak!
10. Actively work on reducing stressors in order to help move the body into a parasympathetic state. I cannot overstress this point. It is impossible to completely heal and re-balance hormones when the body is in fight-or-flight mode. Utilize prayer, meditation, deep breathing, reading, journaling, counseling or more in order to actively manage stress.
11. Drink beet kvass daily. It is a fantastic tonic, encouraging gentle liver detoxification. Excess estrogen is processed and excreted via the liver, so if the liver is congested or sluggish, we are more prone to estrogen overload and dominance.
Here are more tips on how to gently support the liver to help keep hormones like estrogen in balance.
12. Cut caffeine consumption. I know, this one can seem hard, but I have a fantastic resource for you in this article on how to quit caffeine without going crazy! The truth is, caffeine is like liquid stress for the body and it can make it incredibly difficult for the adrenals to heal, which can lead to continued hormone imbalance.
To sum it up, the endocrine system is a complex system of glands that secrete hormones, or chemical messengers, all throughout the body.
These chemical messengers are interdependent, often relying on one another to provide the building blocks to create new hormones or the balance to keep hormone levels in their proper range. There are countless ways the delicate hormonal balance within our bodies can be thrown off.
When addressing hormonal imbalance, we first work on balancing the adrenals and blood sugar along with addressing liver congestion.
I know it might seem like a lot, but small and consistent steps such as the ones outlined above can have a monumental impact on hormonal health – and thus, overall health! – given enough time.
I’d encourage you to pick a few steps today that you can begin to implement. As you get consistent with those steps, begin to add more. It is absolutely possible to restore your body’s balance, energy and well-being!