Hormone imbalance is exactly what it sounds like—hormones that are out of whack. From PCOS, PMS, menopause hot flashes, amenorrhea (period loss), and birth control side effects, hormone imbalances have been said to affect at least 80% of all women.
- Approximately 3 in 4 women experience PMS throughout their lifetime (Casper, 2018), the same amount also experience hot flashes and mood swings during menopause (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2017)
- Upwards of 1 in 5 women have PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), characterized by high testosterone, enlarged ovaries with cysts, extra hair growth and acne and unwanted weight gain (NIH, 2017)
- A total of 1 in 4 women are on the birth control pill, and more than 50% of birth control pill users use the pill for “non-contraceptive” (hormone imbalance) purposes (Guttmacher Institute, 2018)
With the widespread prevalence of hormone imbalance amongst women kind, it’s easy to believe hormone imbalances are a “normal” part of being a woman…they don’t have to be—at least to the degree of being an ongoing “norm.”
Do you have hormone imbalance?
Hormone Imbalance: All You Need to Know
Here’s all you need to know about hormones and hormone imbalance imbalances, including:
- What Hormones Do for Your Body
- 13 Causes of Hormone Imbalance
- 8 Common (little known) Signs of Hormone Imbalance
- 4 Steps to Heal Hormone Imbalance Naturally
WHAT HORMONES DO FOR YOUR BODY
You have 50 total hormones and your hormones are your body’s chemical messengers that are responsible for stimulating the trillions of cells in your body and their metabolic processes into action.
For instance, your sex hormones—such as estrogen, progesterone, testosterone—influence your behavior, mood and fertility. Your cortisol (stress hormone) influences your body’s fight or flight response. And ghrelin and leptin, your hunger and fullness hormones, tell you when it’s time to eat and when it’s time to put your fork down.
WHAT HORMONES DO FOR YOUR BODY
- (Stress Hormone)
Helps respond to stress and in healthy, less-stressed people, cortisol helps you breakdown fat and fight inflammation. However, if elevated, cortisol: Inhibits glucose uptake in muscle (storing glucose as “fat” OR casting malabsorption). High cortisol can also increase fat tissue or cause muscle wasting.
- Estradiol (“Woman” Hormone)
The primary form of estrogen. Regulates period, mood and healthy maintenance of female “parts.” Protects against bone loss. Super high estrogen reduces gut motility, increases constipation, contributes to skin breakouts, mood swings, water retention, and increases cortisol and growth hormone. Super low estradiol leads to amenorrhea, increased cortisol, mood imbalances and gut problems.
- Insulin (Fat Storage” & “Muscle Building” Hormone)
Intakes & converts sugar (glucose) and fats (lipids) into energy for your cells
- Ghrelin (“Hunger Hormone”)
Wake up hungry? Need a 3 pm snack break? Midnight snack strike? Ghrelin is speaking. Are you listening?
- Gonadotropin Releasing Hormones (“Fertility Hormone”)
Stimulates reproductive function, puberty and sexual maturation. Impaired GRH is linked to infertility.
- Leptin (“Fullness Hormone”)
- Orexin (Energy, Mood & Appetite Hormone)
Promotes wakefulness, boosts mood, increases metabolism, and regulates your cravings and appetite. However, more (or less) is not necessarily better. More orexin makes you hungrier and may also make you more “addicted” to certain foods or substances (like alcohol). Less orexin makes you sleepier (narcolepsy, insomnia). Ideally you want it to be balanced.
- Oxytocin (The “Love” Hormone)
Not only does oxytocin release feelings of empathy, generosity, and butterflies (like when you snuggle with your significant other or your crush smiled at you in the 7th grade), but it also produces the feeling of orgasms and stimulates uterus contraction to induce labor during pregnancy.
- Parathyroid Hormone (Bone-Building Hormone)
Activates Vitamin D, stimulate bone building osteoclasts & help uptake Calcium.
- Progesterone (“Balancing” Sex Hormone)
Helps keep estrogen and testosterone in a yin-yang balance. Supports fertility and pregnancy. Fights inflammation. Assists in thyroid function (metabolism). Supports healthy skin and nerve firing.
- Secretin (Digestive Process Hormone)
Stops production of gastric juices. If it’s increased, gut motility and low stomach acid are more likely.
- Somastostatin (“Body Balancing” Hormone)
Particularly Digestive & Blood Sugar Balance. Responsible for just-right digestion and blood sugar regulations. High levels of this hormone can cause digestive problems like IBS or constipation, to impaired insulin sensitivity, triggering diabetes. Low levels are linked to low mood and psychological distress.
- Serotonin (“Feel Good” Hormone)
Upwards of 95% is produced in your gut. Helps balance your mood, keep you free from anxiety, depression and OCD.
- Testosterone (Growth & Sex-Drive Hormone)
Stimulates libido, growth of muscle mass and strength, and increased bone density. Super high testosterone and lower estrogen in women is connected to PCOS.
- TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone)
Stimulates Metabolism. Primary Thyroid Hormone that creates T4 and T3. High TSH above 2.5 suggests both sub-clinical and/or clinical hypo-thyroidism
In short: Your hormones are the gateway to helping your cells do their job and keep your body balanced.
However, if your hormones are thrown off or out of balance due to STRESS, then “hormone imbalance” is inevitable.
Enter: Malfunctioning of your body’s cellular processes.
WHAT CAUSES HORMONE IMBALANCE?
Stress is the #1 driver of all hormone imbalance.
Stress cannot be stressed enough. A surefire way to experiencing hormonal imbalance is to stress your body out.
Sort of like what happened when you pulled all-nighters studying in college, eating Taco Bell and running off Red Bull (eventually you hit a wall), the same thing happens with your hormones. If and when stress persists, hormones “hit a wall” are unable to signal to your cells how to do their job naturally.
Even though stress is a NORMAL part of life, when stress mounts and persists, it wreaks havoc on your hormone balance.
And contrary to popular belief, stress doesn’t just mean mental stress either. Physical stress is often times the “bigger” elephant in the room that most people are unaware of—simply because many physical stressors side under the radar as “normal” stressors in life.
Here are 13 common (stress) causes of hormone imbalance.
13 COMMON (LITTLE KNOWN) CAUSES OF HORMONE IMBALANCE
- Overtraining or Lack of “Mixed” Training
Pushing your body day in and day out, or failing to incorporate variety into the mix (i.e. running all the time, chronic cardio).
- Sedentary or Screen-Based Lifestyles
The average American sits upwards of 10-12 hours per day. We were made to move. Lack of movement disrupts balance.
- Circadian Rhythm Dysfunction
Speaking of screen-based lifestyles, screen and artificial light exposure —particularly at night disrupts your internal biological and hormonal clock—disrupting hormone production and balance. For the vast majority of our evolutionary history, we lived in peace with the natural circadian rhythms of day and night (without exposure to artificial light). We were physically active throughout the day and rested at night, we didn’t have access to stimulants like coffee and sugar, and we didn’t have iPhones, laptops, video games, and Netflix. While artificial light certainly has many benefits (such as extending the length of the productive day), this does not come without consequences. Other stressors of our natural circadian clock include: shift work, jet lag, early rising without enough sleep and eating at irregular times—all of which suppress melatonin production and inhibit or stimulate cortisol production.
- Poor Quality Foods & Hidden Food Intolerances
Some of the top allergenic foods include gluten and grains, dairy, peanuts, eggs, and nuts. Even “healthy” foods like protein bars, shakes, grilled chicken and broccoli cooked in canola oil, Diet Soda and artificial sweeteners can wreak havoc on gut health and digestion.
- Glycemic Dysregulation
Blood sugar balance and hormone balance (and imbalance) go hand in hand. When we train our body to “function” off of blood sugar “imbalance”—(like eating lots of sugar, high grain/carb diets, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, low fat diets, low protein diets, or low calorie diets)— in turn, our hormones get imbalanced. (One of the primary features of cortisol—our stress hormone— itself is to make more energy and run off “sugar” for a life-saving fight-or-flight response). Equally, NOT eating carbs can ALSO throw glycemic REGULATION and hormone balance off. Read more on this here.
- More Than 1 Cup Quality Coffee Per Day.
A little bit does a body good, a lot-a-bit stimulates cortisol (stress hormones)—even “decaf.”
- Less Than 7 Hours of Sleep
7-9 hours is the gold standard for MOST people.
- Saying YES to Everything
People pleasing and failing to take care of yourself first will catch up with you.
- Toxic Beauty & Hygiene Products
Our skin is an organ that absorbs what we put into it, and all products on our skin must pass through our detoxification and liver pathways. Talc, parabens, sulfates and beyond are endocrine “disruptors” that disrupt healthy hormone balance and production.
- Medication & Substance Use (Antibiotics, SSRI’s, Birth Control, NSAIDS)
One word: Impaired gut health. Given that 31 hormones are produced in your gut alone, long term use of substances can affect gut health, which in turn affects hormone health.
- Tap Water & Poor Quality Water
More than 70% of Americans drink water contaminated with toxic chemicals that affect total body balance—hormones included. (And if you don’t drink water, water is STILL the base of sodas, juices and other beverages as well)
Any source of inflammation is a chronic stressor that affects hormones. Gut issues (like SIBO, IBS or parasites), cardiovascular disease, diabetes, acne, chronic injuries, and even side effects from surgery or trauma that cause inflammation in the body can throw hormones off. As more energy from the body (and cortisol) is called upon to “address” the stressor, balance of other hormones in the body may be thwarted.
- Social Isolation
Loneliness by default raises stress hormones. (Hawkley et al, 2012) Chronically elevated or suppressed cortisol (stress hormones) impairs the production of other hormones.
The Bottom Line:
No, we cannot live in bubbles to hide from stress. Ideally, you want a Goldilocks approach to balancing stress—definitely some exercise…but not too much. Definitely some work time (often on screens)…but not too much. Get the picture?
DO YOU HAVE HORMONE IMBALANCE?
So do you have hormone imbalance?!…And how do you know if you have hormone imbalance—(beyond a diagnosis of PMS, PCOS, amenorrhea or menopause?!)
Here are 8 (Little Known) Signs of Hormone Imbalance
8 LITTLE KNOWN SIGNS OF HORMONE IMBALANCE
1. Difficulty Losing Weight & Body Fat or Low Muscle Mass & Difficulty Gaining Weight
Hormones are the master regulators of body fat, cell growth and metabolism. Hormones, like insulin, are also responsible for utilizing your body’s energy (food you eat) and fat stores efficiently. And cortisol (your stress hormone) is responsible for keeping your body fit and healthy (as imbalanced cortisol is associated with increased body fat—especially belly fat— and/or muscle loss or wasting). Enter: Unwanted body fat or weight gain OR difficulty putting on weight and building lean muscle. Both ends of the spectrum may mean there’s something going on “underneath the hood” (beyond the amount of calories you eat or how much you workout or not).
2. Adult Acne
“Hormone imbalance” has long been to blame for adult acne—something approximately 50% of all adults will experience at some time. Androgen hormones (like testosterone) are particular culprits in the acne conundrum, and are most often affected by cortisol balance (your stress hormone). If stress goes up or is unable to recover from multiple stressors (both physical and/or mental), then testosterone production and balance is effected. Hello zits you thought you said good-bye to in college!
3. Sugar & Caffeine Cravings
Your hormones are not only responsible for regulating your appetite and cravings, but ALSO responsible for balancing your blood sugar. So when hormones are off, blood sugar typically takes a hit. Hypo or hyperglycemia (low or high blood sugar) is common in hormone imbalances. As hormones drive blood sugar levels down or up in the stress response, sugar and caffeine cravings are inevitable for many people. Why? As stimulants sugar and caffeine “naturally” combat dips in blood sugar to get your blood sugar up to speed. Once up to speed, your body also can become addicted to feeling more energy in the hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) state and in turn, as energy wanes, it naturally signals “Feed me sugar or coffee…NOW!”
4. Hangry or Never Hunger
Hormone imbalances typically present in one of two extremes. In the case of hunger, difficulty with feeling satisfied (constantly hungry) or rarely having an appetite can be a sign of hormone imbalance—particularly Ghrelin (your “hunger” hormone) and Leptin (your “fullness” hormone). Orexin is also responsible for satiety, and studies have shown leaner rats are typically more sensitive to the signals of Orexin (Rodgers et al, 2002 S).
5. Feeling Wired & Tired at Night (and Slow-to-Start in the Morning)
Wound up once 9 or 10 pm strikes (despite needing sleep)? Or constantly hitting “snooze” on your alarm when 6 am rolls around? It may be your hormones—particularly melatonin, your sleep inducing hormone, and/or cortisol, both an energy arousal and energy suppression hormone if out of sync.
6. Easily Anxious, Depressed or “Flat”
Your hormones are the key ingredients for balancing mood. Serotonin—your hormone responsible for producing “feel good” brain chemicals—governs your mood and emotions. Even more: 90-95% of your serotonin levels are produced in your gut alone. So, if your gut health is “off,” then by default serotonin levels are often impacted as well.
7. Easily Hot or Cold
Your hypothalamus is the key processing center in your brain responsible for regulating body temperature. Your hypothalamus is ALSO responsible for producing many hormones—particularly hormones that control your pituitary gland (the “master gland” of ALL other hormones in your body, including the thyroid and adrenals). If either of these glands are suppressed, overworked, or unable to produce the “just right” amount of hormones, then body temperature is affected by default. Hello hot flashes or feeling cold (all the time).
8. Frequent Bloating and/or Constipation
Last but not least, digestive distress and hormone imbalances are bi-directional. Of your 50 some hormones produced in the body, 31 of those hormones are produced in your gut alone. So…if your gut health is off, chances are your hormones are “off” and vice versa. Hormones in particular that regulate digestion include your thyroid hormones, somatostatin and secretin.
So what to do about it?!
Glad you asked!
Here are 4 Steps to Reverse Hormone Imbalance Naturally.
4 STEPS TO REVERSE HORMONE IMBALANCE NATURALLY
1. ADDRESS STRESS
Easier said than done…But necessary. Take inventory of the current stressors present in your life—mental and physical. Some of these areas to consider may be:
Staying on your screens (at all hours of the night)
Lack of Social Connectedness
Getting by on 5-6 hours of sleep most nights
Pushing it too hard in your marathon training
Imbalanced Healthy Fat, Protein & Carb Intake
Drinking more than 1 cup of quality coffee most days
Toxic beauty and hygiene products (out EWG and Think Dirty)
Unaddressed inflammation (not getting to the root of your Diabetes, Acne, IBS, etc.)
Long-term birth control, NSAID, SSRI or other medication use
Burning a candle at both ends
Trying to be all things to all people
2. CUT OUT THE CULPRITS
Once you’ve determined some potential top stressors in your life, start small by making little changes—focusing on ONE stressor at a time. No, you don’t have to give up working on your computer, using eyeliner or staying out late with friends, BUT this could look like:
Downloading the f.lux orange-tinted blue-light blocker app on your computer and even using “blue blocking” glasses at night
Using natural skin care products (like Skin Foodie or Fat Co) and slowly replacing makeup products with more natural options (I love Josie Maran).
If you stay up later, giving yourself permission to sleep in (over working out first thing the next morning if you have to); or at the very least, keeping things “balanced” by aiming for more than 6 hours of sleep other nights.
3. LOVE YOUR GUT!
Considering 31 hormones are produced in your gut, “gut love” is an understatement. Addressing the “roots” of imbalance is critical to balance—gut health included. Check out this post for all you need to know.
4. TEST (DON’T GUESS) & SUPPLEMENT SMART
Last, but not least: Hormone testing and appropriate supplemental support is the shortest path to hormonal “success” when it comes to assessing the balance of many of your key hormones—including cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and melatonin. Common mistakes many people (including practitioners) make in addressing hormone imbalances include:
a.) Over-supplementing or prescribing “hormone balancing” medications or supplements that do the REVERSE (imbalance your hormones MORE), such as prescribing a patient take a licorice supplement for “adrenal fatigue” when their cortisol is actually already HIGH (this makes the problem worse
b.) Using serum blood testing as the primary testing measures for hormones (blood testing is a one-shot in time test, and the majority of hormones—particularly cortisol—are excreted in urine, and best assessed via urine testing)
c.) Prescribing hormones to address hormone “imbalances”—however if you are low in any one hormone (be it estrogen, testosterone, thyroid, etc.), if you JUST medicate the problem with hormone alone, it throws the natural production and processes of other hormones as well as cortisol levels OFF. In turn, you over-compensate with hormone without addressing the true underlying reasons (namely stress and gut issues) that were driving hormone “problems” in the first place. There can be a time and season for certain hormone therapies—namely in the case of chronic hypo/hyperthyroidism, but for other cases, a more natural approach is gentler on the body by addressing the true causes of hormone imbalance first, and gently supplementing if necessary to bring it up.
What supplements to take or what tests to do?!
Consult with a practitioner to customize an appropriate supplement, nutrition and lifestyle plan for you, as well as get the #1 test I recommend for assessing hormone imbalance.