Have you been feeling low lately? Maybe you’re lacking energy, or experiencing more mood swings than usual. You might even be struggling with getting a good night’s sleep or regulating your stress levels. It’s easy to let these symptoms slide, but these are all actually common signs that you may be experiencing hormonal imbalance.
Firstly, here’s the most important thing that I have to stress. You do not need to live with or put up with the often debilitating symptoms of hormonal imbalance. I know exactly how hard that is and trust me, I can think of a million ways I would rather spend my life! But I find comfort in knowing that there are many options for support, both natural and medical, that can assist us to overcome, and in many cases resolve these issues. As a Naturopath, I help people to learn more about how to balance hormones naturally, every day.
It is my core belief that you need to begin by identifying the underlying drivers for any condition, so you can heal from the root cause. That means in times of pressure, think flu season or even school holidays, it’s not going to come creeping back. As the endocrine system (the system that looks after your hormones) looks after so much in the body, the triggers may be widespread but here are six of the most common:
1. Stress & Lack Of Balance & Self-Care
Stress is upending our health as we know it. We are primal biology living in a tech-focused, fast-paced world. The release of stress hormones into the body is often responsible for not only hormonal imbalance, but also a catastrophic cascade of events, from poor digestive health to low levels of natural immunity. Up until recently, the World Health Organization called stress the health epidemic of the 21st Century, which is proof of just how much it can impact our health and wellbeing.
2. Thyroid Imbalance
You may know the thyroid as the gland in our neck that’s associated with conditions such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease; but for the state of our collective health, we don’t give the thyroid gland enough credit. This delicate gland is responsible for producing two key thyroid hormones (T4 & T3) which govern many crucial functions in the body such as our metabolism (enter energy, mojo and weight control!). A thyroid imbalance has many chain reactions in the body, with a negative effect on hormones and ovarian function being just one. Another point is that many people with slight thyroid dysfunction go undiagnosed as the screening test (TSH) that is usually ordered, does not dig deep enough to pick up sub-optimal thyroid states.
3. Gut & Liver Imbalance
I like to say that one imbalance can trigger another. We don’t live in a body of separate systems, in reality each system interacts with and supports the others. The gut and liver are two areas of the body that work symbiotically and that are collectively sensitive to stress and prone to imbalance. A common example of gut imbalance is a state called dysbiosis, which is a reduction in microbial diversity in combination with loss of beneficial bacteria and the overgrowth of unhealthy organisms. This ultimately affects hormone metabolism and elimination. This issue becomes even more problematic when the liver’s function is also diminished. Poor liver detoxification further affects the metabolism and elimination of hormones, which greatly contributes to imbalance and the manifestation of negative hormonal symptoms. These two interlinked factors also contribute to poor digestion, which plays a role in nutrient depletion and therefore, reproductive function (one that we will explore in further detail soon).
4. Poor Sleep Patterns
Our sleep cycles govern all areas of our lives - especially our hormones. While eight hours a night is a great rule of thumb, we all need to ensure we’re meeting our own unique sleep requirements for ultimate health and wellbeing, as while we’re sleeping our bodies have a chance to restore, detoxify and rebalance. Our sleep cycles can be disturbed by late night blue light; that is, the use of phones or computers, or even watching TV as our body begins to unwind for the day. This kind of light interrupts the natural circadian rhythm of the body, which in turn disrupts the body’s natural balance of hormones. It is important to avoid screens for 2-3 hours (even one hour if that is all you can manage!) before bedtime. Additionally, avoid stimulating input (like crime tv shows or social media) and create a bed-time routine that involves relaxing activities such as reading with a warm light, baths, essential oils, herbal teas, yin yoga, guided meditations and relaxing or classical music.
5. Nutritionally-Poor Diet
Just as foods can support health, they can also diminish it too. A nutritionally-poor diet can lead to nutrient depletion and deficiency, or contribute to chronic inflammation and intolerances, especially with the addition of high sugar intake, processed foods, artificial additives and vegetable oils. Typically this begins to impact gut function, which as we have seen, tends to wreak havoc on the natural balance of hormones. Try to avoid foods with high sugar content (that goes for artificial sweeteners too), along with unnecessary additives, stabilizers, flavours and preservatives. Think about the philosophy of farm-to-table and eating as close to nature as possible. If you can recognise where the food came from (e.g. an egg, butter, a walnut, an apple, fish, broccoli, oats) you are good to go, but if can’t recognise where it originated (e.g. barbecue flavoured rice crackers, nutri-grain or pepsi max), try to minimise or avoid these foods.
This is that uncomfortable time in our lives that can start as early as the age of 40, where hormone levels begin to fluctuate even more than usual, as we make our (usually) slow transition into menopause. Flushes, insomnia, mood changes, low libido, irregular cycles and heavy bleeding are common symptoms, and these are driven by the changes occurring with our reproductive hormones. This is usually due to wild fluctuations in oestrogen, coupled with lowered progesterone levels, which contribute to an overall imbalance and the draining symptoms that go alongside it. There are wonderful ways that we can ease the signs and symptoms of this time of life (which at 44 years old I am personally experiencing!), but it definitely requires a bit more support that includes the addition of natural medicines such as herbs and nutrients for optimal outcomes.
While the solutions may be the opposite of the problem - that is, catching up on sleep or eating healthy foods, there are also many other ways that I recommend to help balance hormones. And I know how hard it can be to make space in our busy lives and commit, but trust me, it’s so worth it.
Article written by Vanessa Lamaro for Food Matters