Hormonal Imbalance Symptoms and Signs
Are you feeling unwell or out of sorts? Have you been tired, depressed, irritable, experiencing PMS, menstrual or menopause disorders, mood swings, low libido, headaches, or trouble sleeping? Have you had sugar or carbohydrate cravings or gained extra weight lately? These are just a few of the common signs of hormonal imbalance, affecting millions of women (and even some men). Chronic or prolonged hormone imbalance can lead to more serious problems in women such as endometriosis, PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), chronic infections (e.g. candida), uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, infertility and breast or uterine cancer.
Hormonal balance is critical to good physical, mental and emotional health. Hormones are chemical communicators (e.g. estrogen or progesterone) secreted by endocrine glands (e.g. ovaries), carrying messages via the blood to and from body organs and glands, connecting functions to balance the body (e.g. healthy menstruation). They operate under a delicate feedback loop in which one hormone compensates for another when out of balance. As an example, if the ovaries are under active due to over consumption of caffeine, the liver and/or adrenals will produce estrogens as a means of compensation. These estrogens are inferior quality, and all three organs will be compromised, weakening the system. Symptoms such as fatigue, menstrual cramps or headaches may ensue.
Thyroid Imbalance: Commonly Overlooked in Tests
The thyroid regulates metabolism, converting oxygen and sugars for availability to cells, thus determining how fast cells can produce energy to perform bodily functions. A healthy thyroid enables a normal appetite, good energy levels and mental function, complete digestion, healthy hormone cycles and tolerance to temperature fluctuations. I have seen in my practice that a mild to moderate thyroid imbalance may not register on a lab (blood) test when women experience most or all of the common hypothyroid symptoms: fatigue, depression, unexplained weight gain, cold hands or feet, constipation, dry skin, thinning hair. Common nutritional support such as amino acids, minerals, glandular extracts or protomorphogens (nucleic acids from cells of healthy animals), can often rapidly re-balance the delicate interaction between endocrine glands. However, since each person responds differently when hormones are deficient or excessive, individualized treatment is preferred, as nutrition and supplements which work for one person will often not help someone else.
Ovaries: Synthetic vs. Natural Hormones
Finally the truth has come out: horse estrogens (Premarin) are not meant for humans! Many oral estrogen (cenestin, Estratab) and progesterone (provera, Prempro) pills prescribed by doctors are synthetic. These can disrupt steroid hormone pathways, leading to suppression of the body’s own natural hormones, and create a host of side effects including depression, anxiety, fatigue, fluid retention, migraines, or menstrual irregularities. The birth control pill is composed of synthetic estrogens or synthetic progesterone (progestins). These suppress the pituitary production of leutinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). The liver becomes compromised and overloaded, making it harder for it to convert estrogens to be excreted from the body. Prolonged use of the birth control pill can cause excess cell proliferation, possibly leading to uterine fibroids or malignancies. There is good news: with correct supplementation, these organs can be cleansed and rebalanced even after many years of suppression. For an informative book on women’s hormonal dysfunction, read It’s My Ovaries, Stupid by Elizabeth Lee Vliet, M.D.
Adrenals: The Stress Connection
A poor diet and busy lifestyle has lead to an epidemic of adrenal related disorders. Many of us are in various stages of adrenal stress syndrome as a response to chemical, emotional or physical stress. In adrenal stress syndrome, cortisol and DHEA, two important adrenal cortex hormones, go through spikes and falls in a complex series of mechanisms to regulate blood sugar metabolism. Common signs of adrenal stress are hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), fatigue or exhaustion, difficulty waking in the morning, sugar or caffeine cravings, mood swings, and sleep difficulties. Adrenal stress can lead to insulin resistance, which may cause problems such as diabetes and weight gain. In menopausal women, the adrenals have a more important function in producing sex hormones. If the adrenals are exhausted, women will experience more intense menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, insomnia, poor memory, mood swings, etc.
Nutrition: the Foundation for Hormonal Balance
A healthy diet will set the stage for good hormone interactions. Eat whole, unrefined, unprocessed foods: vegetables, fruits, lean meats, eggs, and some whole grains such as rice, millet or quinoa. Minimize glutenous grains such as wheat, oats, rye; also allergenic foods like soy, nuts, and cow dairy which are difficult to digest and can cause protein toxin deposits. Avoid refined sugars completely, as they spike blood sugar and compromise the adrenals. Low glycemic substitutes such as agave nectar, stevia or xylitol are preferable. Cut back on caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, and eat healthy fats such as flax and fish oils. Eat organic foods whenever possible, as pesticides can be hormone disruptors leading to an imbalance known as estrogen dominance.
It is crucial to balance the endocrine system with correct nutritional support. While diet is very important, often people need individualized supplements to nourish the original compensating hormone, thereby balancing the entire system. You may want to consult a knowledgeable holistic practitioner for guidance specific to your symptoms.