The term 'hormonal imbalance' gets thrown around a lot these days. If you've scrolled through social media or listened to any health related podcasts recently, you're sure to have come across this buzz word. But what are we actually referring to when we say hormonal imbalance?
Are they talking about sex hormones, metabolic hormones, or adrenal hormones? Is this a symptomatic imbalance or a clinical one? It's important to know what we're referencing when we talk about hormones since the term itself is an umbrella for numerous communication molecules that float through the body. Let's spend a moment and actually break down the most important hormonal systems in your body, and identify where imbalances may exist. Sex steroid hormones Your sex steroid hormones, often referenced as your reproductive hormones, kick in at puberty and control - you guessed it - our reproductive systems. Imbalances in these systems can lead to acne, hair loss, PMS symptoms, low lidibo, and in more significant cases, irregular or missed periods, infertility issues and extreme fatigue/mood issues. The most common issue facing young women in my practice is hyperandrogenism, or excessive production of testosterone, leading to acne, hair loss and darkened hair growth. It’s often caused by conditions like PCOS or excessive stress, but in some cases it can also be genetic. Correcting ovulation patterns and dealing with the mental and physical stressors placed on the body are the most common alternative to oral birth controls and androgen suppression medications in these situations. PMS is also a common symptom of hormonal imbalance, although its important to differentiate if the symptoms is being caused by hormones, or just made worse by a change in hormones. Its common for women to have lower progesterone levels compared to their estrogen, resulting in PMS symptoms presenting the last 7-10 days of their cycle. This again is correcting by supporting ovulation and managing aggravating factors like stress, lack of sleep and exercise. Metabolic Hormones There are numerous hormones that control your metabolism, but the most impactful ones are insulin and thyroid hormones. Insulin is a reactive hormone, meaning in only released in the presence of glucose in the blood stream, and the most those levels go up and down, the more the cells start to gradually ignore insulin signals. This means cells cannot update glucose as energy, resulting in weight gain and fatigue as the primary symptom. Weight gain and fatigue can also be as a result of low thyroid hormones. Your thyroid products hormones that control the rate in which your body burns fuel, amongst other things, so a lack of it slows things down. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, these would be important hormones to look into getting tested. Adrenal Hormones Cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine are a few of the corticosteroid hormones are made in the small organ that sites above your kidneys, known as your adrenals. Overstimulation of this organ from both physical and mental stressors can lead to an overproduction of these hormones, presenting as anxiety, panic, lack of appetite, insomnia, and so on. Simultaneously, a lack of these hormones can cause extreme fatigue and burnout. Your adrenal hormones have a large influence on the rest of your endocrine system, which is often why stress makes all hormonal issues much worse. Testing for hormonal issues You many have been told by your MD that blood work for your hormones will not provide answers, and in many cases, that's correct. Unfortunately, unless is there something pathologically wrong (like PCOS or an adrenal crisis), its hard to test for these issues via standard blood work, since most hormones are to limited in the blood stream to identify more functional imbalances. This is where more sensitive testing like saliva and urine may be of value, and I emphasize the may. Not all issues can be ruled in or out via hormone assessments, and that's why its important to talk an experienced Naturopathic Doctor about options for testing and if its right for you. How to regulate hormones naturally I always advise starting with these simple steps to address hormone imbalanced before you involve supplementation.
Protein helps you feel fuller for longer and is critical when trying to balance your metabolic hormones. Eat around 20 to 30 grams with every meal, or for certain people, your body weight in lbs.
Eat fresh vegetables (especially greens), and fermented foods to support the beneficial bacteria in your gut. This combats insulin resistance and boosts your immunity.
Cut out sugar as far as possible to protect your gut and stabilize your metabolic hormones
Improve the amount of fibre you eat to improve insulin sensitivity, manage your hunger, and feed your gut
Use your body as feedback for exercise. If you’re constantly injuring yourself or shorting yourself on sleep just to get a workout in, consider the impacts that has on adrenals. If you’re feeling tired a lethargic, considering adding in low intensity movement to pick up your energy.
Find ways to relax and combat stress to reduce cortisol levels. This may also help you lose weight as excess cortisol interferes with insulin production.
Get the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep at night to reduce hunger, improve insulin sensitivity, and regulate endocrine production.
Speak to Dr. Courtney Holmberg About More Natural Ways to Balance the Endocrine System Learning how to properly balance hormones can make significant changes to your life, but also be mindful to be objective when considering whether or not your hormones may play a role in your symptoms. To learn more about hormones and their role in your health, as well as discuss proper hormone testing if necessary, contact Toronto Naturopath, Dr. Courtney Holmberg at 647-351-7282 or schedule your appointment online today.