Hormones are your body’s chemical messengers and govern nearly every cellular action in our body by travelling around your bloodstream telling tissues and organs what to do. They help control many of your body’s major processes, including metabolism and reproduction.
When you have a hormonal imbalance, you have too much or too little of a certain hormone. Even tiny changes can have serious effects throughout your whole body.
Think of hormones like a cake recipe. Too much or too little of any one ingredient affects the final product. While some hormone levels fluctuate throughout your lifetime and may just be the result of natural aging, other changes occur when your endocrine glands get the recipe wrong.
When we think of hormones, our sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone and testosterone come to mind. While important, they are not essential for our survival. They’re responsible for sexual functioning and fertility, as well as in more of a “beauty” capacity – keeping our skin, hair & nails vital and youthful looking.
On the other hand, stress hormones (like cortisol & epinephrine, also known as adrenaline) are critical to our survival because they synthesize proteins, maintain cellular electrolyte balance, regulate heartbeat and blood pressure, and transport glucose into our cells – essentially feeding our brain and giving us energy. These hormones are so crucial, that in times of chronic stress, cortisol (the “hormone of stress”) will be made at the expense of sex hormones. No wonder we can start feeling whacked out at certain stages of life!
So what happens when hormones stop playing well together?
Because your hormones play such an integral role in your overall health, there’s a large range of symptoms that could signal a hormonal imbalance. Your symptoms will depend on which hormones or corresponding glands aren’t working properly. We can often experience a ripple effect causing multiple symptoms and overlapping health issues, even when there’s only a slight hiccup in hormone function.
The most common signs in women of a hormonal imbalance:
- Poor sleep – not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep
- Fatigue that’s not alleviated by sleep
- Night sweats and hot flashes
- Resistant excess weight and body fat, especially around the belly
- Low libido or sexual dysfunction (vaginal dryness or atrophy, pain during sex)
- Acne on face, chest, upper back or other skin issues
- PMS symptoms
- Foggy thinking (brain fog!) and difficulty concentrating
- Mental health issues – depression and anxiety in particular
- Mood changes like irritability and anger
- Heavy or irregular periods, including missed periods, stopped period, or frequent period
- Excessive hair on the face, chin, or other parts of the body
- Thinning hair or hair loss
- Darkening of skin, especially along neck creases, in the groin, and underneath breasts
- Skin tags
In women, the most common hormonal imbalance is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) along with premature menopause, and by hormone drugs like birth control pills. But your normal hormonal cycle also changes naturally during puberty, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause.
The main causes of hormonal imbalances:
While there are many causes, here are the most common ones that have been identified:
- Age and stage of life
- Exercise (too much or too little)
- Chronic stress
- Unhealthy lifestyle choices including smoking, high alcohol consumption, or using drugs
- Medications (e.g. the Pill, fertility drugs, )
- Toxins and endocrine disruptors like xenoestrogens
- Poor nutrition and lack of adequate key nutrients
- Blood sugar regulation problems
- Disrupted circadian rhythm
- Chronic inflammation (e.g. leaky gut & digestive system inflammation)
Hormone imbalances are associated with many chronic, or long-term, health conditions. Without proper treatment, you could be at risk of several serious medical conditions, including: diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, neuropathy, obesity, sleep apnea, osteoporosis, or bone loss, loss of muscle mass, or cancer.
Simple ways to support and rebalance your hormones naturally:
Eat whole foods: processed, packaged foods offering little to no nutritive value will also offer little to no fuel for your hormones.
Be sure to eat fresh, organic over packaged foods, including plenty of vegetables, fruits, and quality sources of free range and grass fed meats and eggs. Also, if tolerated – nuts, seeds, and legumes in moderation.
Reduce inflammatory foods like grains, wheat (gluten), soy, hydrogenated oils and trans fats, and dairy which may cause or exacerbate hormonal problems for some people. Replace with probiotic enhancing fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, kombucha and lots of fiber in the way of veggies, psyllium husk, lentils, and avocado.
Eat more good fats: Good fats are essential for hormonal health. No matter what you hear about fats, you need to obtain a variety of fats in order to create hormones. These fats, including some saturated fats and cholesterol, are often thought of as unhealthy or fattening. But they actually have certain benefits when consumed in moderation and part of an unprocessed diet.
Fats help to fuel the brain, support reproductive health, keep inflammation levels low, boost your metabolism, satisfy hunger, and even promote weight loss.
Opt for sources of good fats from whole foods, such as avocados, raw nuts & seeds, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, real butter or ghee (grass fed preferable), wild-caught salmon, sardines, and free range eggs – yes, you can eat the yolks!
Exercise daily: Working out on a regular basis, engaging in resistance (or strength) training, and incorporating a specific workout called HIIT (high intensity interval training) has been proven to be especially beneficial for keeping our bodies AND our hormones fit.
It is important not to over train or exercise too much because it will negatively affect your stress hormone, cortisol.
Better sleep: To maximize hormone function, try to get seven to nine hours of sleep per night consistently. It also helps to stick with a regular sleep-wake cycle as much as possible, which will help your body assume a routine.
Practicing proper sleep habits, such as turning off lights 30 minutes before bed and avoiding alcohol or caffeine at least two hours before sleeping, may help.
Getting deeper, more restorative sleep can be the key to supporting your hormones.
Stress management & self-care: Chronic stress actually impacts the body in ways similar to a poor diet, lack of sleep, or a sedentary lifestyle. Stress can be devastating for hormonal health.
We need to equip ourselves to manage the stress and “business” of everyday life through the actions that bring back balance and wellbeing to our bodies AND our minds – like good nutrition, exercise and sleep!
Learn better coping mechanisms like breathing techniques or meditation, practice mindfulness, journalling, spending time in nature and engaging in daily self-care with essential oils, being social, and resting when it’s needed.
Hormones are responsible for many of your body’s major processes. When hormones get out of balance, the symptoms can be extremely varied. Hormonal imbalance can cause a variety of serious complications, so it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible.
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!