Hormones are messengers. They are secreted by glands, they travel to receptors on various organs and tell the cells in the organs what to do. Hormonal health is about these messages that our body receives. (1)
More importantly, hormones control how we experience our reality. They tell us to eat or stop eating, to sleep or stay awake, to gain weight, or not, and where to gain it. They control if we feel tired or energetic. They affect our moods, so they affect whether we are calm or anxious, depressed or happy. (2)
This is the first of a three-part series on hormonal health for women. In this first blog, we’ll discuss the signs and symptoms of female hormone imbalance, which hormones are involved, and treatment strategies to restore balance. This information is excerpted from the author’s online video course, “Live Younger Longer, Improve Your Vitality at Every Age.”
What does hormonal imbalance feel like?
I like to think about women’s hormones as a beautifully orchestrated dance, usually flowing smoothly from one step to the next, and supporting each other. But sometimes they get out of step, and step on one another, or forget to come to the party altogether! Take this mini hormone quiz: For each question, just tally the number of questions for which your answer is ‘yes’:
Do you, or your patient experience:
- Agitation, PMS, migraines?
- Heavy, painful periods?
- Tender breasts?
- Have you experienced a miscarriage or trouble getting pregnant?
- Sugar cravings?
- Increased belly fat?
- Burnout, loss of stamina, and fatigue?
- Feeling overwhelmed, everything is harder than it used to be? (5)
- Trouble losing weight-your metabolism feels slower than it used to?
- Sensitive to the cold? (You’re always wearing layers.)
- Thinning of hair, including the outer eyebrows?
- Difficulty concentrating or poor memory? (You draw a blank mid-sentence or forget why you walked into a room?)
- Feeling tired, but hard to fall asleep and stay asleep?
- Waking up with night sweats?
- Depression, perhaps with anxiety or lethargy?
- Diminished libido, or difficulty to orgasm? (6)
Every ‘yes’ is a sign of hormonal imbalance! But we’re here to help: there are dramatic improvements in hormone health with lifestyle, herbs, nutrients, and acupuncture. (7)
Which hormones are we talking about?
This is the feminizing hormone, that is secreted by the ovaries, and some by the adrenals after menopause. (8) Estrogen can be too high, sometimes called estrogen dominance, or too low, estrogen deficiency. Either can cause discomfort and disease. Estrogen dominance is mostly associated with symptoms like PMS, sore or fibrocystic breasts, migraines, and irritability. (9) In Chinese medicine, it is treated as Liver Qi stagnation, and treatment to sedate the liver brings dramatic results. Estrogen deficiency is associated with night sweats, dryness, heat, and insomnia. In Chinese medicine, this is known as a Yin deficiency pattern.
This hormone is also from the ovaries and is secreted mostly after ovulation. Progesterone means pro-gestational and helps a fertilized embryo to implant. (10) Progesterone can be very soothing & sedating and helps to balance estrogen levels.
Yes, testosterone is important for both men and women. It is secreted by the testes in men and the ovaries and adrenals in women. Testosterone levels are important for maintaining a sense of wellbeing, maintaining muscle mass, and for libido in both sexes. (11)
The thyroid gland secretes T3 and T4. T4 has to convert into T3 to be active in the body. Thyroid hormones control how we burn calories. It is believed by some specialists that a majority of postmenopausal women have undiagnosed and subclinical hypothyroidism. (12) Sometimes hypothyroidism is an autoimmune condition, called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Hyperthyroidism is called Graves disease. Symptoms of fatigue, low body temperature (cold all the time), infertility, depression, unexplained weight gain/loss, heart palpitations, and hoarse voice indicate testing the thyroid hormones. (13)
This hormone is secreted from the adrenal glands that sit above the kidneys. In times of acute stress, the adrenals secrete too much cortisol. (14) Over periods of extended stress, the adrenal glands get exhausted and produce too little cortisol. All the hormones are interrelated, and in the next blog of this series, we will look at how stress — and the stress hormone cortisol — interfere with women’s hormonal health. Since most women (and men too ) live with frequent or ongoing stress, we must address adrenal health when a woman has hormonal symptoms.
This hormone is also from the adrenals; it helps to balance cortisol, and also converts into testosterone if T levels are low.
Insulin is secreted by the pancreas in response to eating sugar. Insulin has two functions:
- It is the taxi driver that carries sugar out of the blood and into the cells so it can be used for energy,
- It tells the brain to stop eating. We are never full if insulin doesn’t work properly.
When there is chronic sugar intake, insulin stops working. It stops reacting to the sugar in the blood and becomes “resistant” to the sugar. Chronically high insulin, also known as insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome, results in pre-diabetes, or diabetes, and causes the body to store fat, mostly in the belly. (15)
This is the bonding hormone! Oxytocin is secreted after birth, after orgasm, or a good talk with a friend. And of course, by a hug. (16)
Do lifestyle choices impact hormonal health?
There are many lifestyle adjustments a woman can make to balance her hormones, even without herbs, nutrients or hormones.
- Number one on my list is to reduce or eliminate sugar and avoid white foods that turn quickly into sugar. Sugar is public health enemy number one, in all its 56 names! Reducing sugar will help balance weight, reduce cravings, lessen inflammation, and prevent diabetes.
- I recommend a clean green and lean diet, with up to 30 grams of fiber/day, with minimal, if any, red meat.
- Hormone balancing fiber comes from flaxseeds, chia seeds, cooked leafy greens, hemp, figs, and raspberries.
- Reduce caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine contains methylxanthine that makes estrogen dominance worse.
- On the other hand, oxytocin promoting activities balance estrogen and make women feel calm and secure. Taking a walk in nature with a friend, or calling your friends regularly, are some ways that help promote oxytocin. (17)
- Get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep each night. Sleep balances cortisol and helps prevent diabetes.
- Aerobic exercise balances cortisol and increases serotonin for better moods and better sleep. (18)
The role of herbs, and nutrients in hormone health
There are so many effective natural treatments to balance a woman’s hormones. In the third blog in this series, we will cover the best treatments specifically for each stage of a woman’s life cycle.
These are herbs and nutrients that are clinically proven to be effective: If a woman has symptoms of estrogen deficiency, I recommend:
- Flaxseed, Maca, Pueraria Mirifica, or Soy (if they are not hypothyroid)
- Chinese herbal Yin tonics
- Some women respond well to black cohosh or red clover
- Estriol drops or suppositories, especially if the symptoms are not responding to herbs alone.
Did you know? If there is a deficiency of progesterone, which is often the case with estrogen dominance, a wonderful plant is chasteberry, also known as Vitex agnus-castus. It is very powerful in helping with fertility, miscarriages, and PMS.
- Natural progesterone cream is also very effective to balance Estrogen dominance.
- DIM, (diindole methane) or IC-3, helps estrogen metabolism and is useful with estrogen dominant situations. It is also helpful for women on HRT, or who are breast cancer survivors.
- Liver detox formulas, both Western and Chinese are very important, as well as liver herbs like milk thistle (Silybum marianum), and dandelion.
- There are many thyroid support formulas available as well.
- Other nutrients really affect moods and sleep. 5HTP increases serotonin. Serotonin helps restore a sense of wellness and promotes sleep.
- L-theanine and GABA reduce anxiety.
As natural medicine practitioners, we are so fortunate to have so many potent treatments available to us and our female patients. You can be confident in reassuring your female patients who come to you in distress that with lifestyle, herbs, and supplements, they will feel better.
In fact, each one of us can balance our hormones, say bye to belly fat, brain fog, bloating and the blues.