Any of these hormones being too low or too high will cause a hormone imbalance, and they all affect each other. Fortunately eating well, exercising and using nutritional herbs and supplements can support all of your important hormones.
Hormone Imbalance – What does it mean?
If you're living in the modern world and you're at the age of transitioning through menopause, chances are pretty good that your whole life is out of balance. The years leading up to menopause are years when your female hormones are beginning to shift (FSH goes up, estrogen goes down), which causes many physiological shifts to begin. This is known as hormone imbalance.
Bringing your life towards more balance will help with bringing your body into balance. One reason for this is that stress can have enormous effects throughout your body, which will intensify the changes you are already experiencing.
How much time do you take for YOU?
If you have children growing up and soon to be leaving, have you given yourself some time to reflect and grieve, if you need to?
If you stayed home to raise your children and they are now leaving, have you given serious thought to what you want to do next?
Maybe you want to start a new career, or go back to one you had before, maybe you'd like to go back to school or take a class.
Maybe you'd like to set a challenging goal for yourself, like participating in a triathlon, or something fun, like learning to belly dance -- whatever it is for you.
Or take on a new volunteer effort. There are many organizations that need you, if you're so inclined.
And if you're like me, a single parent struggling to make ends meet with no extra time or money, it's even more important for you to do this. Are you satisfied with your job or career? If not, CHANGE IT! You CAN do this, I promise you. I know, because I am doing it, time, money, health challenges and all (and no, I'm NOT a superwoman, by any means).
You can also look at your life in the following areas to see which ones could use a little more time and energy: career, finances, health, social, spiritual, and/or any other categories that are important for you.
Once you've given some time and thought to that, you may want to focus on your physical needs. You may see that you've been neglecting or putting off certain activities or commitments that are impacting your health in a negative way. Exercise, meditation or any activity that allows you to relax and focus inward (could be working with a journal), and eating right can help with hormone imbalance.
Okay. Now let's talk about the physical aspects of imbalance, specifically hormone imbalance.
What is a hormone?
From Guyton's Textbook of Medical Physiology, Eighth Edition: “A hormone is a chemical substance that is secreted into body fluids by one cell or a group of cells and has a physiological control effect on other cells of the body.”
So, very generally speaking, hormones control what happens in your body. Some people refer to them as chemical messengers.
What Hormones Become Imbalanced?
There are many hormones in your body; here we are concerned with only a few: the ovarian hormones, estrogens and progestins; pituitary hormones, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and leutinizing hormone (LH); and adrenal hormones and thyroid hormones.
Many people, especially women at this age if not before, tend to have low thyroid, and the adrenal hormones are your stress hormones, which is why we are including those here.
If you have low thyroid, that's hormone imbalance, if you're under repeated or chronic stress, you'll have hormone imbalance, and pre-menopause will have your estrogens shifting, so working with the discomfort this can cause, and supporting your thyroid and adrenal glands will go a long way toward minimizing symptoms.
Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance
In the symptoms descriptions below, I have purposely left out more than I have stated. This is because there are so many symptoms that can have many different causes, it simply becomes more confusing.
Because of this I have tried to list the symptoms that are more descriptive of a particular condition than other conditions. For instance, hot flashes, listed under low estrogen, are only caused by low estrogen. I have not listed foggy thinking, because that could be a symptom of high OR low estrogen.
If you have low thyroid, the common symptoms are:
excess weight, fatigue that doesn't go away, sensitivity to cold with cold hands and feet, dry skin, depression, mental confusion, and many many more. For more about low thyroid, see thyroid and menopause.
A Note About Symptoms and How They Relate to You
The description of symptoms, unfortunately may or may not describe how one with low thyroid actually feels. For instance, I have used thyroid medication for 15 years, and it took me almost 10 years to figure out when my medication was working well and when it wasn't.
It can be very subtle, as changes may occur gradually. My number one test today for knowing if I'm getting low again, is how much I can accomplish in a day. Do I come home and sit on the couch after work? Or am I able to cook dinner, finish the dishes, etc? The tricky part of this is, that mental and physical symptoms go together, so I may think I have a perfectly good reason for not getting anything done. It's only after years of experience that I know the reason may be just another symptom.
If you have any thoughts that you may be low thyroid, get tested. But read first, because there is a lot to watch out for. A few good resources: Living Well With Hypothyroidism by Mary Shomon, Thyroid Power by Richard Shames, M.D. And Karilee Shames, R.N., Ph.D.
If you have stressed adrenal hormones, your cortisol runs high at first, then low as adrenal glands become exhausted. Common symptoms are:
Some of these symptoms are rather general and can be caused by many things. Just remember that any stress takes its toll on your adrenal glands. So if you have just one constant source of stress – a job you don't like, a relationship that isn't supportive, that will accumulate over time, making you more vulnerable to adrenal fatigue. A great explanation of this with diagnostic and treatment information is in the book Adrenal Fatigue, by James L. Wilson.
Hormone imbalance between estrogen and progesterone happens due to several factors:
- approaching menopause, if you don't ovulate one month, there will be no progesterone produced, leaving you with high estrogen relative to progesterone, also called estrogen dominance, or hormone imbalance
- at any given time, women take in xenoestrogens from all the toxins in the environment. This can come from your diet (hormone-laden meat and dairy products, produce grown with pesticides), water, plastic bottles and containers used for heating or microwaving food, herbicides, pesticides, and ingredients in your shampoo, lotions and toothpaste. This will cause an overload of estrogen in your body. Your liver is solely responsible for breaking down the estrogens so that you can excrete them when your body is finished with them. The liver breaks down xenoestrogens differently than your own body's estrogen. The xenoestrogens become carcinogenic after break down.
- weak liver function: Your liver breaks down estrogen after it's been used. It also breaks down some progesterone, but there are other sites in the body where progesterone is broken down. If your liver function is weak, there will be excess estrogen in your body because it isn't all being eliminated. More hormone imbalance.
The three factors above lead to estrogen dominance. High estrogen levels can cause uterine fibroids, endometriosis, and cancer of the breast, uterus, cervix. High estrogen can also interfere with normal thyroid function.
The use of bioidentical progesterone cream can alleviate hormone imbalance.
There are several symptoms of too much estrogen or estrogen dominance. Clink here to find out more.
Also see symptoms of low estrogen.
Hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness
In addition, after menstruation has stopped, estrogen and progesterone levels have dropped and will remain dropped. I believe there is some intelligent design behind this (some biological or other reason human women are designed this way).
However, when it happens rapidly (you menstruate regularly and then one day you stop – there is no time of irregular periods, or you have your ovaries removed and go through surgical menopause – very abrupt), or you are under so much stress that whatever your body is going through is intensified due to depleted reserves, you may experience quite a bit of discomfort, from hot flashes and headaches, to insomnia and anxiety and more. Intense hormone imbalance.
So, what can you do?
To support your thyroid, you need adequate protein, iodine, vitamins and trace minerals. Avoid substances that depress thyroid, such as soy and flouride.
To support your adrenal glands, eat well, get some exercise, and avoid stimulants. I know this will be hard to do. Substitute green tea for coffee, carob for chocolate. If you're craving chocolate you may be low in magnesium. Take a supplement of 400mg magnesium citrate per day. I also find L-glutamine and 5-HTP in combination a good way to reduce sugar cravings. For more adrenal support, see the ginsengs page.
Correcting Hormone Imbalance with herbs
Avoid endocrine disruptors – also known as hormone mimics, xenoestrogens. Eat organic food as much as possible, use nontoxic household cleaners, avoid pesticides, drink filtered water, and use glass instead of plastic for food storage as much as possible.