Have you been told that you have hormonal imbalance? Women often hear this, but what does it really mean? How do hormones fall out of balance? Why isn’t the body able to maintain hormonal balance as it is supposed to do naturally?
Substances that affect hormones are everywhere we turn. A shocking 40% of the pesticides used in commercial agriculture are suspected hormone disrupters. Pollutants, hormone-injected animal foods, plastics, pesticides, and hormone replacement drugs all affect natural hormone balance.
Further, hormones are impacted by body fat, diet, stress, sleep, sugar balance, age and how much or little you exercise. Hormone imbalance is even linked to exposure to hormone-mimicking chemicals in the womb. Hormonal balance problems are a true epidemic today.
Hormone Balance’s Impact on Fertility
Hormone balance is intricately involved with fertility. For women, libido, the menstrual cycle, egg development, ovulation, and pregnancy are absolutely reliant on delicately tuned hormones, as well as diet and lifestyle. Hormone imbalance is implicated in most reproductive disorders and fertility health issues.
Signs your hormones are out of balance
Hormone imbalance signs vary greatly from woman to woman, but here are some of the most common signs we see today.
Early puberty: Half of African-American girls and 15% of Caucasian girls now begin to develop sexually by age 8. The common culprits: usually related to excess estrogen, being overweight, ovarian cysts, exposure to hormones in foods and conventional lifestyle products (skincare and haircare products, fingernail polish, perfumes, etc.) or disorders within the brain (improper pituitary gland development or pituitary tumor for example).
Severe PMS or Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD): Some hormonal changes related to the menstrual cycle are normal like mild cramping, slight moodiness or temporary bloating. Yet, if you have severe PMS that affects your daily activities, your hormones could be out of balance. The common culprits: high estrogen levels, low progesterone; dietary deficiencies, high stress.
Resource: PMS: 5 Natural Ways to Feel Better Now
Unexplained Fatigue: Long-lasting fatigue unrelated to pregnancy can be a sign your hormones are out of balance. The common culprits: elevated progesterone (especially fatigue around ovulation), an imbalance in thyroid hormones, adrenal exhaustion. Progesterone has a mild sedative effective and can cause dips in blood pressure or blood sugar. Low testosterone (low T) is another cause of fatigue for women. Fatigue can also be caused by hormone-containing contraceptives or autoimmune issues.
Premenstrual or Menopausal Migraines: Hormone fluctuations definitely trigger and worsen migraines for many women. The common culprits: sensitivity to decreases in estrogen and progesterone during the menstrual cycle; hormone changes caused by perimenopause. Birth control pills and HRT drugs also routinely cause migraines, as can coming off the pill.
Resource: Natural Guide for Menstrual Health
Breast tenderness and swelling, Fibrocystic breasts: If you have breast swelling (not related to puberty or pregnancy) that increases your bra size by a cup or more, your hormones could be out of balance. The common culprits: excessive estrogen or progesterone levels. Estrogen encourages swelling in fat cells in the breasts. Progesterone increases the size of the milk glands.
Weight gain: Unexplained weight gain, around the middle, buttocks, hips and thighs, that is difficult to get rid of can be a sign your hormones are out of balance. The common culprit: weight gain around the hips, thighs and buttocks is usually caused by excess estrogen. Weight gain around the waist and stomach may be related to high cortisol levels.
Cystic Acne, Acne Rosacea, Dry Skin: We see the acne-hormone connection clearly for adolescents during puberty. Unfortunately, acne persists for some people well past their teenage years. Rosacea (acne bumps and redness around the cheeks and nose) is a related problem that is tied in part to hormone issues. The common culprits: excess testosterone, dietary deficiencies or excessive sugar in the diet. In women, acne around the chin may be hormone driven, related to PCOS or hormone-containing drugs. Extremely dry skin is often related to low thyroid.
Vaginal dryness/Low libido: Vaginal dryness and low libido are tied to hormone changes during perimenopause. Vaginal dryness and low libido also regularly occur after childbirth or during breastfeeding. The common culprits: low estrogen or progesterone levels, low cervical mucous, menopausal changes, premature ovarian failure, hysterectomy, chemo or radiation treatments. Low libido in women is also caused by low testosterone (low T).
Head hair loss/Facial hair growth: Head hair loss and facial hair growth are troubling problems for women. Sometimes tied to genetics, but stress, nutrient deficiencies and hormone imbalance play a role. The common culprits: excess testosterone, dietary deficiencies, PCOS, hormone changes after childbirth (falling hair), adrenal problems, hormone containing drugs.
Amenorrhea: When your period has been absent for 3 to 6 months during your reproductive years, it’s defined as amenorrhea. The common culprits: too much or too little estrogen. Being underweight or having a BMI over 30, premature ovarian failure, stress, thyroid or pituitary issues, PCOS, perimenopause or menopause play a role, too.
Resources: How To Get Your Period Back
Dysmenorrhea & Endometriosis: Long, painful periods are a big problem for women in their reproductive years. Dysmenorrhea (long, heavy periods with clotting) can be related to an overly thick uterine lining or endometriosis. Heavy blood loss from dysmenorrhea can cause anemia. In other cases, abnormal tissue growth from endometriosis blocks fertility. The common culprits: excess estrogen, which thickens the uterine lining or causes spider web like growths of endometrial tissues outside of the uterus (endometriosis); HRT drugs, possibly linked to estrogen exposure in the womb.
Anovulatory cycles: Anovulatory cycles are menstrual cycles that occur without normal ovulation. Having an occasional anovulatory cycle is ok, but if it occurs regularly, it’s a sign of a deeper hormone imbalance, and a cause of fertility problems. The common culprits: hormone changes related to breastfeeding, rapid weight gain or loss, high stress, oral contraceptives, PCOS, pituitary or thyroid problems.
Resource: Getting Ovulation Back on Track
Uterine Fibroids: Uterine fibroids are benign tumors of the uterus. While experts aren’t entirely sure why they develop, fibroids are very common during a woman’s reproductive years. Most fibroids do not interfere with fertility, but very large fibroids can present a problem. The common culprit: high estrogen or progesterone levels. Caffeine, soy foods, and hormone injected meats and dairy products aggravate fibroids by further disrupting hormone balance.
Ovarian cysts: Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled growths in the ovaries. Small ovarian cysts generally go away on their own. However, large cysts can cause pain, damage to the ovaries, create scar tissue, or possibly displace other reproductive organs. The common culprits: excess progesterone or estrogen, abnormal egg follicle development during ovulation, endometriosis (blood filled cysts called chocolate cysts), PCOS.
PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome): The most complex reproductive issue of the modern era, classic PCOS is characterized by obesity, polycystic ovaries, irregular menstruation, elevated levels of androgens, fertility problems and insulin resistance. There are, however, many presentations of PCOS that differ from that I just explained. The common culprits: elevated testosterone, androstenedione and estrone; androgen exposure in the womb; obesity; insulin resistance; chronic inflammation.
Recurrent Miscarriage: While a large number of miscarriages result from chromosomal abnormalities, recurrent pregnancy loss is sometimes tied to hormonal imbalance. The common culprits: Low progesterone, luteal phase failure, elevated prolactin causing problems with uterine lining development, thyroid or adrenal issues, diabetes.
Are you at risk for hormone balance problems?
Hormonal balance problems can affect anyone. However, you’re more at risk if you live in a high agricultural area or eat a high-fat diet with conventionally produced animal products. Exposure to hormone-mimics in personal care products (containing parabens or placenta) can affect hormone levels, too. Be especially cautious before taking hormone containing drugs as they can cause serious disruptions in hormones, increase risk for reproductive cancer or affect fertility.
What can you do to support healthy hormone balance?
- Keep a healthy BMI since excess hormones accumulate in body fat.
- Avoid extreme weight loss since it causes dips in hormone production and could impact fertility.
- Choose organic foods when possible, especially when it comes to animal foods.
- Eat organic whenever possible to significantly decrease your exposure to estrogen-mimicking chemicals.
- Include more foods that help manage estrogen like cruciferous vegetables, legumes and high fiber foods.
- Consider a Fertility Cleanse to re-establish healthy hormone balance and encourage natural fertility.
If the reasons for your hormonal imbalance are many, or overwhelm you, we can help! Our Fertility Consultations allow you to receive one-on-one support from a Fertility Herbalist who will design a three to six month program specifically for your fertility health needs. Click here to learn more about our Fertility Consultation program…