by Dr. Marita Schauch, ND
How many women have you spoken to lately who feel fabulous – balanced, rested and ready to conquer the world?
I’d guess the answer is somewhere between none and few. In my clinical practice I treat hundreds of women each year and I hear the same series of concerns every day: “I have no energy; I can’t sleep; I’m so stressed; my hormones are raging!”
Believe it or not, hormone balance plays an integral part in all these health concerns as well as countless others! Out-of-control hormones can have a serious impact on your quality of life.
For most women the most pronounced hormonal changes come in their 40s and 50s, but the impact can be seen as early as their mid-30s. In fact, more and more women are noticing hormonal imbalances earlier, some even in their teens.
This unfortunately has a lot to do with our lifestyle and diet, but also the environment we live in: Xenoestrogens are synthetic chemicals that mimic our natural estrogens in the body, and can also be found in all kinds of household products, beauty products and plastics (among many other sources).
Beyond our age and environment, changes in hormones also occur during a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle, as well as before, during and after pregnancy.
It’s unfortunate that when the word “hormones” is mentioned, visions of raging menopausal or PMS-laden women come to mind for most! There is actually quite a lot more to hormonal imbalances, and the effects are more serious than “just” a bad mood.
Some of the most common symptoms of hormonal imbalance are listed below. If any of them sound familiar, I strongly encourage you to visit your ND or MD to investigate further. There’s a lot we can do to counteract out-of-whack hormones and significantly increase your quality of life!
Persistent Weight Gain
Yes, you have to make healthy dietary choices and exercise to maintain a healthy weight, but often when the weight game seems out of our control, there’s something going on beneath the surface.
Some women may have underlying hormonal imbalances that make it much harder to maintain a healthy weight. Assessing for low thyroid, insulin resistance and adrenal function are some great first steps in the right direction.
The adrenal glands are two small glands that sit on top of your kidneys and are the body’s main stress responders. When we are under constant stress for too long, the hormone cortisol is overproduced and causes the body to store fat for future use.
This storage typically happens in the belly region and is usually a clue that the adrenals need some help.
My favorite adrenal supportives include B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and adaptogenic herbs such as rhodiola, ashwagandha and Siberian ginseng.
Dragging yourself out of bed every morning? Can’t function without coffee? Experiencing that mid-afternoon crash daily?
Fatigue is probably one of the most common concerns I hear every day in clinical practice. Testing for low thyroid, low iron, low B12, adrenal fatigue, and food intolerances can help isolate the right treatment for fatigue. As well, managing healthy blood sugars can stabilize energy levels keeping you vibrant and clear.
Anxiety, Depression and Irritability
The quality of your moods is typically an indication of how balanced your hormones are. The health of the adrenal glands is an important foundation, as long-term stress and the overproduction of cortisol can have a profound effect on serotonin levels and therefore affect overall mood.
Eliminating stimulants such as coffee, black tea, chocolate, and colas can lower anxiety. Keeping blood sugars balanced with adequate lean and healthy proteins throughout the day can also help to maintain healthy moods.
A very common symptom of hormone imbalance is low libido. This is typically due to levels of the hormone testosterone, which change as we age due to menopause and andropause.
Stress can also affect testosterone levels, so make sure your adrenal glands are well supported.
Insomnia can develop into a vicious cycle that usually starts with an underlying hormone imbalance involving the hallmark hormone of stress – you guessed it, cortisol. Using relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing and Epsom salt baths can be nourishing to your nervous system.
It’s also important to “unplug” at least 1-2 hours before your head hits your pillow. Shut those computers, ipads and phones off!
If you still have difficulty turning your brain off late at night, try some GABA or L-theanine. Both of these supplements can be very useful for anxiety as well.
Melatonin also works well for some to help re-set the sleep cycle, or until your cortisol levels normalize.
Common causes of cravings are adrenal fatigue, insulin resistance, low serotonin or even an imbalance in gut flora! Identifying the cause will help target treatment, though minimizing refined sugars and excess alcohol and eliminating the processed foods will not only help control cravings regardless of the cause, but your digestive system will thank you as well!
You also can’t go wrong with starting on a good probiotic: maintaining an abundance of good gut flora can also enhance your immune system, skin health, reduce food intolerances, and improve brain health.
Some common causes of thinning or loss of hair are: stress, low thyroid, autoimmune disease, low collagen production, B deficiencies, high testosterone, poor digestion or absorption, or low iron.
So there you have it: all the ways hormone imbalance can show up in your body and your lifestyle. Please note that many of the above symptoms can be linked to other physical problems as well, so if you’ve noticed a few are showing up in your life, it’s a good idea to work with your health care provider. They can help you get to the root of what’s going on, and get you back to your more energetic, vibrant self!