A growing number of women are facing hormone imbalances which are impacting their daily lives. When many women think of hormone issues, they think of pregnancy or menopause. But there is a bigger issue that is contributing to hormonal imbalance that most women are unaware of. And they remain unaware that there are ways that they are contributing to their hormone imbalances that they can control and change.
What are hormones?
Hormones are chemicals that are produced by the endocrine glands. They act as messengers in the body. They are released into the blood stream and help the cells, organs and tissues of the body communicate with one another. Hormones travel through the body in the bloodstream, where they are delivered to different organs. Once at their destination, hormones help to control major functions throughout the body such as metabolism, energy production, sleep, hunger and thirst, growth, body temperature, sex drive and stress.
When hormones are in balance and the body is manufacturing them properly, you will thrive. But when they become out of balance, health will be compromised and symptoms will occur. Unfortunately, this has become a major player in chronic health issues, and continues to be a growing problem.
What contributes to hormone imbalance?
The number one contributor is stress! Of course, stress can come in many forms, but it is stress that ultimately throws hormones out of balance. The good news is that when you recognize some forms of stress, you can take an active part in managing it, and help to eliminate what is causing the imbalance in the first place.
Mental and Emotional Stress
Three type of stress that are major players in hormone imbalance are mental/emotional stress, physical stress and toxins. Mental and emotional stress is caused by any of the negative emotions you may experience or any negative thoughts that you may have. When we experience negative thoughts or emotions, they create a stress response in the body. The HPA Axis (hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands) is activated and stress hormones are released. But for some people, mental and emotional stress becomes chronic…and so does the stress. This constant creation of stress hormones is not normal, and is one of the biggest causes of hormonal imbalance. This type of stress can go on to not only affect the HPA axis, but also to impact other hormones, such as insulin, melatonin and the the major sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone.
Reducing mental and emotional stress plays an important part of keeping the hormones balanced. This is why I always recommend a regular stress management practice!
Do you eat a diet full of sugar and processed foods? Are you overweight? Do you sit on the couch and not exercise? Do you often get less than 7-9 hours of sleep a night?
All of these things place physical stress on the body! It is up to you to do what you can to reverse this type of stress. Include more whole foods in your diet and keep the processed foods to no more than 15% of your diet, get up and get moving! Find something that you enjoy doing that can help to keep you active. Shut off the television or computer and don’t let them keep you stuck being sedentary when you are at home. Make sleep a priority and try to get to bed at the same time each night. Make getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night your goal. Every person is different, so find the level of sleep that works best for you and that makes you wake up feeling refreshed!
Managing physical stress can help you keep your hormone production healthy…and keep you healthy too!
The third major type of stress that is affecting hormone balance is toxins. Many people are completely unaware of the types of ingredients are in their food, personal care products and household cleaners. Many of these chemicals have been found to be endocrine disruptors. Hormones are created in the endocrine system, and endocrine disruptors cause damage by mimicking certain hormones, such as estrogen. Although these chemicals imitate certain hormones, they cannot function in the same way, and as a result cause hormone imbalances. The best way to remove this type of stress is to avoid endocrine disrupting chemicals.
To do that, you must become an informed consumer. Know what is in the products you use! One valuable resource is the Environmental Working Group’s website. Their website has several databases of products with ratings based on what types of ingredients they contain. They have databases for personal care products and household cleaners…as well as a yearly list of the produce with the highest and lowest levels of pesticides. I personally don’t purchase products without checking their databases first!
What are the signs of a hormonal imbalance?
- Sleep problems– when stress is high, and the body is producing a lot of cortisol, insomnia and sleep disturbances are common. Sleep deprivation can actually increase the stress response, causing an endless cycle of stress related issues.
- Digestive problems– when the body is in an active stress response, one way it responds is to reduce the function of the digestive system. If you were facing a bear in the woods, there is a greater need for energy to either run or fight, than there is to digest food. So production of stomach acid is reduced and overall digestive function is decreased. Acid reflux, gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea are all common symptoms of digestive issues for many who deal with hormonal imbalance.
- Depression, anxiety and mood problems– fluctuations in hormones such as cortisol and estrogen are directly linked with mood issues such as depression, anxiety and irritability.
- Fatigue– do you find that you simply can’t make it though your day without grabbing something caffeinated? Or maybe you look for a sugary afternoon snack to help give you some energy? This can happen even when you do get plenty of sleep. Chronic stress or thyroid hormone imbalances are often the culprit.
- Weight gain and persistent belly fat– Do you have belly weight that just won’t go away no matter what you do? Or do you find yourself gaining weight even though you are eating right and exercising? A hormonal imbalance may be causing it! Changing estrogen levels call the body to store fat. High cortisol levels from chronic stress cause excess fat storage as well.
- Low libido– do you feel like your sex drive has left the building? When stress and cortisol are high, functioning of the reproductive system is reduced to have extra energy for running or fighting. This can cause a reduction in production of the sex hormones. When stress is chronic, loss of libido is likely to occur as a result.
- High blood sugar– when the stress response is triggered in the body, glucose is release to give the body fuel so that it has the energy it needs to fight or run. This raises blood sugar levels. If stress is chronically high, it will also cause chronically high blood sugar levels, which can ultimately lead to insulin resistance and diabetes.
- Sweating– when hormones are out of balance it is not uncommon to sweat more often. Hormones control body temperature. Although we know about hot flashes and night sweats associated with the changing hormones of menopause, it can also occur when other hormone imbalances are present.
- Memory loss– if you find that you are getting a little more forgetful than you used to be, it may be because of fluctuating hormones. Low estrogen levels can high cortisol levels can both contribute to memory issues.
- Lower immunity– chronic stress lowers immune system function and can leave you more prone to catching colds, flu and other viruses more frequently.
If you are facing any of these symptoms, you CAN help to reverse them naturally. Learning how to manage stress and supporting the body’s natural healing abilities can help. If you are interested in learning more about how to balance your hormones naturally, contact me!