Hormonal health is often thought of as something you don’t need to worry much about until you reach a “certain age.” And while most women accept symptoms such as hot flashes during menopause or breast tenderness before a period as natural and normal, the truth is that these are signs of hormone imbalance – an imbalance that can most often be managed or eliminated without the use of synthetic hormones.
Experts now understand that hormone health isn’t just associated with menstruation and menopause, but is a critical factor in overall health throughout the female life cycle. Imbalances can begin to occur very early on, perhaps as early as before birth.
Here’s what you need to know about your hormones, what can happen when they are out of balance, and what you can do to improve your hormonal and overall health naturally.
What are hormones?
Hormones are compounds made in the body that act as messengers, carried from our blood into organs and tissues, where they help to regulate different functions and processes. These include our development and growth, metabolism, sexual and reproductive health, mood and cognition, to name a few.
They are secreted from eight different endocrine glands of our body, which include, in women, the ovaries, as well as the adrenals, thyroid and parathyroid, the pineal gland and the hypothalamus. Hormones make up and contribute to a complex and interrelated system that serves the wellbeing of the entire body; only very small excesses or deficiencies in one or more of our hormones can challenge our health and lead to disease.
What kinds of imbalances can occur in women and what causes them?
One of the primary root causes of hormone imbalance in women is stress. Daily, chronic stressors, if not minimized and well managed, can trigger many of our body’s hormones to under or overwork. For example:
When our adrenals are overworked, we may produce too much cortisol, known as the stress hormone. Cortisol plays an important role in metabolism and helping us maintain our blood sugar balance, as well as regulating our blood pressure and inflammatory response.
The thyroid is also impacted by chronic stress. Hypothyroidism (low functioning thyroid) can cause sluggishness, early morning fatigue, menstrual problems, weight gain, concentration and memory problems.
As women age, estrogen and progesterone levels decline while androgen levels (testosterone and DHEA) can increase. Often, progesterone levels decline more sharply than estrogen, leading to what is called estrogen dominance. Particularly common during peri-menopause (the years leading up to menopause), it can contribute to the following conditions, among others:
- Breast pain and tenderness, lumps, fibrocystic breasts and breast cancer
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Unwanted hair growth
- Weight gain
- Thinning skin
- Mood changes and depression
- Bone loss
Hormonal imbalances disrupt not only physical health but psychological health as well, producing more stress thus potentiating a vicious cycle.
How can I find out for sure?
In addition to having a thyroid hormone assessment, the best way to evaluate your hormone function is through a hormone panel (saliva test or urine test) which assesses levels of:
- Cortisol (tested 4 times throughout a 24-hour period)
It is also important to periodically test your Vitamin D levels, which can be done through a simple blood test.
How can I balance my hormones?
Once the specific nature of your hormone imbalance is understood, a skilled health practitioner can work with you to make nutritional and lifestyle changes that will improve stress levels, sleep, and digestive health which are most likely contributing to the imbalance. As well, if needed, she or he may suggest supplementation, including certain vitamins and minerals, as well as natural transdermal hormone creams. NEX Wellness and IV Clinic offers naturopathy care and hormonal assessments, serving Burlington, Hamilton, Binbrook and surrounding areas.Leave a reply →