This is the second in my two-part blog series on balancing female hormones.
In the first post – ‘Keeping your hormones in harmony, naturally’, I explored natural health, nutrition and lifestyle choices that can address hormone changes to help bring them back to a healthy equilibrium.
In this post, I focus on the most common hormonal imbalances for women, their physical symptoms and my recommendations for supporting healthy hormone chemistry.
There are commonalities between these hormone symptoms with the majority of women having some kind of combination.
Most importantly: I encourage you to have your blood work done, as a first port of call, working with an expert to define any hormone issues. From there, you can work on your hormone health plan.
One of the two main female hormones in a woman’s body, alongside progesterone, and primarily associated with female development during puberty and the reproductive cycle. It also affects everything from bone health to emotional well-being. Getting the balance just right is crucial.
As you age your oestrogen levels increase and you are more sensitised to insulin, so you really have to watch your lifestyle, food, cleaning products (ie any that contain endocrine disruptors), and focus on getting good quality sleep.
One of the most common hormonal imbalances women experience, also known as oestrogen dominance.
Symptoms include: Bloating, PMS, weight gain (particularly in hips, midsection, thighs), fibrocystic breasts, fibroids, endometriosis, abnormal menstruation, fatigue, reduced sex drive, depression, anxiety, breast tenderness, mood swings, brain fog and insomnia.
As women age and approach menopause, it is normal for oestrogen levels to drop and often spark symptoms of menopause.
Symptoms include: Irregular periods, infertility, weak bones, vaginal dryness, hot flushes (particularly during menopause), depression and risk of urinary tract infections.
WHAT TO DO
- Avoid factory-farmed animal products: concentrated animal feeding operations (or CAFO’s) put oestrogens in feed, and some give their livestock oestrogen compounds that improve “feed efficiency” by making them pack on pounds with 30 percent fewer calories. Go for good quality animal protein: organic grass-fed beef, poultry, egg and dairy products that come from animals that are pasture-raised, roam freely and receive no growth hormones or antibiotics.
- Pay attention to your personal care products that could contain xenoestrogens, which disrupt your hormone balance.
- Speak to your doctor about non-hormonal birth control options.
- Triple filter your water. Oestrogen is found in bottled and municipal water so source a triple-stage filter that includes a sediment, ceramic and activated charcoal filter.
- Keep the digestion working. Slow digestion prevents excess oestrogen from being eliminated from the body and is reabsorbed into the bloodstream. Inefficiencies could be a result of low stomach acid or a gut bacteria imbalance.
- Reduce the toxic load with supplements that support the liver and get rid of excess oestrogen – Milk Thistle assists with detoxification, and Sulforaphane aids in optimising detoxification pathways.
- Lose weight.
- Reduce stress.
- Take Vitamin D. Women should aim for 125mcg, or 5,000 IU, a day. Take it with vitamin K2 for maximum benefit.
- Get quality sleep.
Progesterone is the other of the two main female hormones, along with oestrogen. It helps regulate the reproductive cycle. It is produced mainly in the ovaries following ovulation each month and is a crucial part of the menstrual cycle and maintenance of pregnancy. Deficiency in progesterone is most common.
Symptoms include: Regular fluctuation of mood and weight can be a symptom accompanied by breast tenderness, slight dizziness, water retention and drowsiness.
Symptoms include: Infertility, night sweats, sleeplessness, irregular menstrual cycles with heavy bleeding, weight gain and decreased sex drive.
WHAT TO DO
- Manage your stress as stress depletes progesterone.
- Decrease inflammation by choosing a nutrient-rich, anti-inflammatory diet containing omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin B and C, avoid refined sugars, gluten and dairy. This will help reduce oestrogen to balance progesterone.
Considered mostly as a ‘male’ hormone, it is produced in small amounts in female ovaries and combined with oestrogen plays a role in female reproduction, growth and health maintenance.
Symptoms include: Frontal balding, acne, deepening voice, increased muscle mass, infertility, rogue hairs, irregular or absent menstrual periods and commonly seen in polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Symptoms include: Muscle weakness, fatigue, sleep disruptions, reduced sex drive, weight gain, fertility issues and sluggishness.
WHAT TO DO
For years, women have been encouraged to follow a low-fat diet, but this thinking is outmoded. Good quality sources of fats – including saturated fats – are necessary to stabilise hunger, mood and hormones (and help prevent wrinkles) and proven to boost testosterone levels which women need to keep their sex drive alive and their weight under control.
Go for grass-fed red meat, butter, ghee, pastured egg yolks, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, high quality >85% cacao dark chocolate, krill oil, wild salmon, sardines, avocados and avocado oil.
The ‘fight or flight’ steroid hormone of which too much or too little of it can throw your whole body out of balance. Cortisol controls digestion, hunger cravings, digestion, sleep/wake patterns, blood pressure, physical activity, and your capacity to cope with stress.
Cortisol is a huge contributor towards many of issues that women face – I find generally that my clients will have elevated cortisol.
Symptoms include: Exhausted but ‘revved up’, extra weight, mostly around the midsection and upper back, acne, thinning skin, easy bruising, flushed face, slowed healing and muscle weakness are symptoms, craving sugar.
Symptoms include: Feeling exhausted and drained, weight loss and decreased appetite, hyperpigmentation, low blood pressure and blood sugar, even fainting, salt craving and maybe abdominal pain are symptoms.
WHAT TO DO
This is a hormone that fluctuates normally throughout the day, depending on things that happen in the day, the foods you eat and the exercise you do. Knowing this will help you control what triggers stress and how to keep it in check. Vitamin B, vitamin C, and omega 3 fish oil also offer dietary support.
If it’s elevated, a combination of lifestyle changes can help, such as eating whole-foods, doing adaptive exercise and managing stress through practices such as meditation and yoga can help keep cortisol levels in check. Don’t over-exercise – we tend to have this idea that we need to exercise hard in order to burn off calories, when in fact this is increasing cortisol levels. You should only over-exercise if your adrenals are in tip-top condition. Vitamin B5, vitamin C, and omega 3 fish oil also offer dietary support
As we age, our thyroid function naturally declines. Our thyroid affects adrenals, metabolism, everything in our lives – even how we feel. TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) is measured to test for any disorders, high or low TSH, or hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. Cortisol can also affect your thyroid.
TOO HIGH (When the thyroid produces low levels of hormones)
Symptoms include: Fatigue, weight gain, swelling of face and neck, sensitivity to cold, dry skin, thinning hair, slow heart date, irregular or heavy menstruation, fertility issues, depression and constipation.
TOO LOW (When the thyroid produces high levels of hormones)
Symptoms include: Irregular or rapid heartbeat, muscle weakness, nervousness or irritability, difficulty sleeping, frequent bowel movements or diarrhea, weight loss and changes in mood.
WHAT TO DO
Hypothyroidism, or low thyroid, is a common female imbalance. Dr Sara Gottfried recommends vitamin D, iodine, copper, zinc, selenium as a starting point to boost thyroid function. Eat a well balanced diet with a wide range of antioxidant vitamin C fruits and vegetables including green tea, as well as foods containing B-vitamins and iron. Limit foods with saturated fat, explore foods high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, avoid alcohol and tobacco, and exercise regularly.
Considered the “master hormone” or “mother hormone”, it is essential in treating overall hormone imbalance as it’s the top hormone that has an impact on other hormones including progesterone and oestrogen. After 30, pregnenolone declines.
Often an inherited condition that causes a dysfunction in the enzymes required to convert pregnenolone into steroid hormones. Oily skin is often a symptom.
Declining mental awareness and memory (forgetting words and names), fatigue, dry skin, joint and muscle pain.
WHAT TO DO
Get good quality sleep – go to bed before 10pm, no screens 2 hours before bed and no food 3 hours before bed.
It is important to eat more healthy fats such as avocados, coconut oil, olive oil, walnuts, fish, chia seeds, and flax seeds. When the body metabolises these fats pregnenolone is formed. Some studies show that increasing your antioxidant intake and omega-3 fatty acids may support healthy memory.
General advice for balancing hormones
My post called Keeping your hormones in harmony, naturally explains my overall go-to natural health and lifestyle suggestions to support harmonious hormone chemistry in the female body.
It’s so much simpler to realign your hormones than to endure the difficulties of life with hormones that are out of whack.
Invest in yourself by doing the groundwork and working with an expert