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Do You Have A Hormonal Imbalance? Hidden Causes, Symptoms + What To Do About It

Healthy Lifestyle

21 June 2018

When I began my nutrition + healthy lifestyle coaching practice back in 2016, it quickly became apparent that for many of my clients there was something BIGGER preventing them from reaching their health + weight-loss goals.

For the most part they were well-educated and already eating lots of nutritious foods, exercising, taking supplements and focusing on their health. But nothing seemed to be working and they were getting frustrated and fed up. So what was really going on?

 

TWO BIG BARRIERS TO REACHING HEALTH + WELLNESS GOALS —

  1. Focusing on making external changes (i.e. losing weight) but not exploring the internal behaviors, thoughts & patterns keeping you stuck in the first place (i.e. self-sabotage, negative self-talk, where you’re sourcing your self-worth from, etc).
  2. Underlying hormonal imbalances throwing your body and brain out of balance, keeping you from reaching your health, wellness + weight-loss goals

 

While I had already completed my CHHC (certified holistic health coaching) training from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, I wanted to better understand all the underlying hormonal imbalances that were keeping my clients from feeling and looking their best. This past March, I’m proud to say I completed my Physician-Approved Advanced Hormonal Health Certification through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.

While I’m still totally focused on helping my clients achieve their health + wellness goals (whatever they may be) I find that many of these revolve around balancing their hormones on some level. And if you suspect there’s something deeper keeping you from feeling optimal, I want to empower you to do the same.

*This post is focusing specifically on female-related hormone imbalances, but if you are a dude and would love more info on those found in men, leave a comment below or message me at hello@sofreshnsogreen.com and I’d be happy to help a brother out!

 

THE 5 MOST COMMON HORMONAL BALANCES IN WOMEN + WHAT TO DO ABOUT EACH  —

 

1. LOW PROGESTERONE — 

This hormonal imbalance is most commonly due to high levels of stress, which equates to high levels of the hormone cortisol.

When the body produces a lot of cortisol, if often results in a “pregnenolone steal”. Pregnenolone is necessary to produce the hormone progesterone, but the body will always prioritize stress (aka perceived threats/survival) over anything else (especially fertility). So instead of having enough pregnenolone to facilitate progesterone, your body “steals” it to keep up with high cortisol demands.

Another cause of low progesterone is synthetic estrogens or xenoestrogens, which are manmade chemicals commonly found in cleaning supplies, plastics, pesticides and body care products like soap, lotions, and makeup. These chemicals mimic estrogen in the body causing estrogen dominance and lower than normal levels of progesterone.

Lastly, the use of hormonal birth control prevents ovulation from occurring each month, lowering progesterone levels.

Common Symptoms Include —

+ Difficulty getting or staying pregnant

+ Breakthrough bleeding during the second half of the menstrual cycle

+ PMS or PMDD

+ Menstrual Migraines

+ Heavy menstrual flow 

+ Irregular or more frequent menstrual cycles

+ Bloating in the abdomen

+ Swollen and/or painful breasts

What To Do About It —

+ First and foremost, schedule a consult with a naturopathic physician or functional medicine practitioner who specializes in hormone health to get a more accurate picture of what’s going on.

+ Start incorporating more stress-management into your daily routine to help lower cortisol levels — this could include deep breathing exercises, getting out in nature, meditation, yoga, working out, connecting with friends, sex, reading a book, listening to music, etc.

+ Start slowly swapping your cleaning + beauty products (doing this all at once can be expensive and overwhelming) to cleaner versions that don’t contain harmful xenoestrogens. This post has some simple beauty swap ideas, or click here for some non-toxic house cleaning products/options.

+ Consider switching to a non-hormonal form of contraception. If you’ve been using hormonal birth control for quite some time you may experience some uncomfortable symptoms, so I encourage you to work with a coach or someone specialized in hormonal health to support you during this transition.

 

2. ESTROGEN DOMINANCE — 

The flip side of low progesterone is excessive estrogen, aka estrogen dominance.

It’s typically caused by the following:

+ Low levels of progesterone (read above for more information on why this happens)

+ Exposure to xenoestrogens like BPA and phthalates (found in plastic, cleaning + beauty products, etc.) which mimics estrogen in the body

+ Excess body fat, which contributes to circulating levels of estrogen in the body, making obesity a cause for estrogen dominance as well

+ Excessive consumption of alcohol, which can also result in irregular periods, dysfunction in the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, and early menopause. Alcohol also impairs liver function, and your liver is responsible for processing and excreting any extra estrogen from the body

Common Symptoms Include —

+ Heavy bleeding

+ Breast tenderness or cysts

+ PMS

+ Fibroids

+ Endometriosis

+ Menstrual migraines

+ Moodiness and frequent meltdowns

+ Depression or weepiness

+ Mid-cycle or ovulatory pain

+ Brain fog

What To Do About It —

+ First and foremost, schedule a consult with a naturopathic physician or functional medicine practitioner who specializes in hormone health to get a more accurate picture of what’s going on.

+ Start swapping home + beauty products for cleaner options (see above for more specific tips).

+ Try replacing your evening cocktail or glass of wine with a non-alcoholic (but still delicious/ relaxing ritual) like peppermint tea (iced or hot), sparkling water with freshly sliced citrus, a turmeric latte or reading, taking a bath, going for a walk, etc.

+ Consume plenty of foods that support your liver in detoxification, such as cruciferous veggies (kale, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, etc.) beets and herbs that bind to toxins like cilantro and parsley

 

3. LOW ESTROGEN —

Opposite of estrogen dominance, low estrogen can be caused by:

+ High stress – resulting in high cortisol levels

+ Disordered eating – which puts physiological as well as mental and emotional stress on the body

+ Nutrient deficiencies – due to poor dietary practices or poor absorption of nutrients (i.e. gut imbalances, leaky gut, autoimmune disorders, etc. )

+ Over-exercising – especially in conjunction with calorie restriction

+ Hormonal Birth Control – most notably the birth control pill, which not only lowers progesterone, but estrogen too. The low dose hormonal contraceptives are especially to blame because they leave many women in a state of estrogen deficiency

Common Symptoms Include —

+ Oligomenorrhea – aka unpredictable or sporadic periods

+ Amenorrhea – absence of menstruation for three or more months

+ Low sex drive

+ Vaginal dryness

+ Painful sex

+ Hot flashes or night sweats

+ Joint pain

+ Dry skin and eyes

+ Depression

+ Melasma – which is sun damage that presents as brown or grey-brown patches on the face, forearms, or neck

+ Poor cognitive function – most notably, poor memory

What To Do About It —

+ First and foremost, schedule a consult with a naturopathic physician or functional medicine practitioner who specializes in hormone health to get a more accurate picture of what’s going on.

+ Consider switching to a non-hormonal form of birth control and working with a coach who specializes in hormone health to help you during the transition.

+ Look into working with a nutrition coach or therapist that specializes in nutrition/disordered eating to help you build a nutrition plan that supports optimal health, weight and hormonal balance.

 

4. EXCESS ANDROGENS —

Androgens are male hormones that women produce, including testosterone and DHEA. Even though these hormones are most commonly associated with men’s health they can have profound effects on how women feel and how well their bodies perform.

Excess androgens in women are commonly caused by:

+ High insulin levels – which cause the ovaries to produce more testosterone

+ Hormonal Birth Control containing synthetic progestin — These can produce androgen-like effects that promote symptoms (such as hair loss) in women

+ High cortisol caused by high stress (are you sensing a trend here? LOL). Your adrenal glands make about 50% of your total androgens, so when one adrenal hormone is off, the others are affected as well. This creates a domino effect

+ Excess body fat —  which can cause excess estrogen. This can affect the production and use of androgens in women

+ Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) — Androgen excess is a key characteristic in 20% of women suffering from PCOS

+ Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia — a surprisingly common genetic condition that can be diagnosed with a simple blood test

Common Symptoms Include —

+ Unstable blood sugar, also known as hypo- or hyperglycemia

+ Infrequent ovulation

+ Menstrual cycles that are longer than 35 days

+ Ovarian cysts

+ Mid-cycle pain

+ Acne or oily skin

+ Hair growth on the face

+ Hair loss on the head

+ Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

What To Do About It —

+ First and foremost, schedule a consult with a naturopathic physician or functional medicine practitioner who specializes in hormone health to get a more accurate picture of what’s going on.

+ Balance out insulin levels by swapping simple carbs (white rice, pasta, bread, cereal, sweets) for more low-glycemic/high-fiber options (such as veggies, fruit, quinoa, amaranth, millet, buckwheat, almond or coconut flour) and pairing them with quality protein + fat during consumption.

+ Curb Snacking In Between Meals by focusing on nutrient-dense meals first (filled with tons of fiber-rich veggies, protein + fat) and drinking plenty of water in between. This will help to balance out blood sugar levels and lessen the secretion of insulin.

+ Consider Intermittent Fasting — There are many different techniques, but I recommend giving yourself a 12 hour break between when you eat dinner and when you eat breakfast (i.e. dinner at 7 pm, breakfast at 7 pm). I do not recommend experimenting with other forms of IF unless working with a hormonal health specialist/coach first, as it can lead to other hormonal health imbalances and disordered eating, especially in women, if done too long or improperly.

 

5. LOW ANDROGENS —

In the ever-important balance of the endocrine system, it’s also necessary to ensure that androgens aren’t too low, even for women.

Having an optimal balance of androgens is associated a higher sex drive, shiny hair, supple skin and confidence. Women with lower androgen levels often exhibit decreased confidence and a decline in their propensity to take risks in their lives – whether it be in the workplace, relationships, or otherwise.

Low androgens can be caused by —

+ The birth control pill or other types of hormonal birth control

+ Dysfunction in the adrenal glands or the ovaries (i.e. removal, low ovarian function or failure). Nearly all of women’s androgenic hormones are produced in the adrenals and the ovaries, so it’s critical to keep these glands healthy and working optimally

Common Symptoms Include —

+ Low sex drive

+ Painful sex

+ Less powerful orgasm

+ Low self-confidence

+ Vaginal dryness

+ Decreased muscle mass

+ Lack of motivation

What To Do About It —

+ First and foremost, schedule a consult with a naturopathic physician or functional medicine practitioner who specializes in hormone health to get a more accurate picture of what’s going on.

+ Consider transitioning to a non-hormonal form of birth control (see above for more specific recommendations).

+ Work to support fatigued adrenals by developing a nightly sleep routine, adding in supplements like 5-HTP, a B-Complex, Licorice Root and adaptogens like Rhodiola (* I highly recommend consulting with your practitioner on these first) and incorporating more cruciferous veggies (kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts) into your diet.

 

MOST COMMON COMBINATIONS OF HORMONAL IMBALANCES — 

As you can probably tell after reading this, your hormones tend to have a domino effect in your body (i.e. when one is thrown out of balance it will most likely lead to other imbalances).

The most common combinations of hormone imbalances in women are —

+ High estrogen + low progesterone

+ High cortisol + low progesterone – or low sex hormones in general

+ Low estrogen + low testosterone

 

MOST COMMON CONDITIONS ASSOCIATED WITH HORMONAL IMBALANCES — 

If untreated over time, many of these hormonal imbalances can lead to other conditions such as —

+ HPA Axis Dysfunction (commonly known as adrenal fatigue)

+ Thyroid Disorders such as Hypothyroidism (underactive) or Hyperthyroidism (overactive)

+ Infertility

+ PCOS

+ PMS

+ PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) a more severe, often debilitating form of PMS

+ Endometriosis

+ Dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation)

+ Oligomenorrhea (lighter than normal or less frequent periods)

+ Amenorrhea (absent periods)

+ Perimenopause/Menopause

If you already have these conditions, it’s important to treat them holistically and take into account the root cause of the condition (often stemming from a hormonal imbalance). On the flip side, working to balance out your hormones now can prevent you from some less than ideal conditions down the road.

 

BOTTOM LINE —

As you can see there’s a lot of common themes, causes and correlations with hormonal imbalances, mostly attributed to high levels of stress, weight gain, exposure to toxins (alcohol, processed foods, cleaning + beauty supplies, plastics), hormonal birth control and disordered eating or over-exercising. 

If after reading this post you identified with some of the symptoms or could relate to the common causes of certain hormonal imbalances, feel free to reach out to me — hello@sofreshnsogreen.com for more support or a complimentary consult. I am also lucky to work with several ND’s who can facilitate testing to help you get to the root-cause of your imbalances in order to help you come up with an effective strategy (or you can work with me to build one for you :)).

Overall, the best advice I can give you is to trust and listen to your body. If you feel like something is off, imbalanced, or like you’re doing “everything right” and not seeing results, chances are you’re right. Don’t ignore your intuition, you are the expert of your own body.

xx //

Lauren

 

 

 

 

 

Lauren Chambers

Lauren Chambers is the Nutrition + Hormone Health Coach and Feel Good Food Blogger of sofreshnsogreen.com. She's on a mission to help you balance your hormones, boost your energy and improve your mood through food, so you can look and feel your best.