Hormonal imbalance develops when the normal functioning of the endocrine system is disrupted. Yup, that may sound basic, but we are talking about the “production and control system” of our hormones! 😰
The common “endocrine-disruptors” that cause our hormone levels to change in menopause are poor nutrition, inadequate sleep, gut problems, stress, sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise (besides all the toxins we’re exposed to every day)!
Experts say that our body’s endocrine system normally involves very small changes in hormone levels. However, even these “small” changes have a significant impact on the overall balance. Our body feels the changes and it lets you know through symptoms! Listen, so you can start working with your body and overcome the discomforts. 😘
Let’s get to the core and discover the common causes of hormone fluctuations as you enter menopause:
- Poor Nutrition
Food has a direct effect on our hormones. Try to think of it this way: Your food choices will either promote healthy hormonal production or lead to hormonal imbalance. That’s how important a good diet is!
❎ To help you sort this out, the following are among the top triggers of hormonal imbalance. Avoid them as much as possible:
- Processed foods
- Factory-farmed animals (that usually contain toxic hormones)
✅ Go for these healthy foods to optimize hormonal balance:
Let these foods help you achieve hormonal balance! You’ll never go wrong with good nutrition and healthy eating habits. They will not only “harmonize” your hormone levels, but will also improve your overall well-being! 🍴
2. Inadequate Sleep
First things first, let me give you a crash course about sleep stages!
- Stage 1: This is a stage of light sleep. You are in between being awake and falling asleep, where the world seems to fade (but you might still hear your hubby snoring)!
- Stage 2: This is the onset of sleep. You become disengaged from your surroundings and your body temperature drops. Your hubby’s snoring might still wake you up though!
- Stage 3: This is the deepest sleep stage. During this stage, tissue growth and repair take place. It is also the stage where energy is restored and several hormones are released! Oh, and hubby’s snore — not a bother anymore!
Now, imagine if you can’t get to the third and most important stage. How can you allow your body to regenerate cells, heal your tissues, reenergize and release hormones? A good night’s rest can do wonders for your mind and body. But due to several factors, we tend to sleep less as we age. Many women in menopause feel tired and drained from energy because of sleep deprivation! So, if you’re having sleep problems, find out what’s causing it! Read my article to get tips on getting uninterrupted, quality sleep! 💤
3. Gut Problems
An imbalanced gut microbiome can directly lead to many hormonal problems. For one, research shows that our gut plays a big role in estrogen regulation. Now, what does that mean exactly? One study indicates that poor gut health increases the risk of estrogen-related diseases — such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, endometriosis and even breast cancer! Let me give you a couple more facts about how our gut affects our hormones:
95% of serotonin (a neurotransmitter known to regulate our mood) is produced and stored in the gut. This is why people with unhealthy microbiomes often experience symptoms of depression and anxiety! It makes more sense now to trust that “gut feeling”, yeah?
One of the negative effects of poor gut health is a low-performing thyroid — also known as hypothyroidism. Some symptoms of hypothyroidism include chronic fatigue, weight gain, brain fog and hair loss.
Insulin is partly regulated by the good bacteria stored in our gut. So, lacking the beneficial bacteria needed by our body can worsen conditions like insulin resistance and inflammation!
Vitamin D3, a precursor hormone, cannot be absorbed well by the body if gut health is not optimal. Like other essential vitamins, vitamin D3 is vital for our overall health! Nutritional deficiencies often become a host of other health problems.
Therefore, if your gut is not in tip-top condition, it causes a domino effect! Read my article and learn more tips to keep your gut healthy naturally! 👇
“I just don’t feel like myself anymore.” If you already said this once (or many times), I feel you! 😘
Our body’s stress response system has limits. Normally, our hormone levels would stabilize again once a perceived threat has passed (or after you give out that huge sigh of relief)! As adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones) levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels too. Everything normalizes — making other body systems resume their regular activities!
However, stress becomes a different story when stressors are present all the time. When you constantly feel under attack, it keeps your body’s fight-or-flight reaction turned on! This long-term activation of the stress response system and the overexposure to cortisol can disrupt almost all your bodily processes! Chronic stress also increases your risk of many health problems.
You see, if stress takes center stage in our lives and becomes chronic, cortisol floods and our total hormone production lags. Prolonged stress can also rob us of energy! It can affect you physically, mentally and emotionally. None of us wants this triple threat!
I have an article specially written to share different ways to manage stress in menopause. Take the heavy weight of stress off your shoulders! 💕
5. Sedentary Lifestyle and Lack of Exercise
I’m sure some of you already know that exercise and physical activity boost our feel-good hormones. I also get a “natural high” after doing my daily exercise routine! But more than just feeling good, the amount of movement we do also make a huge impact on the hormonal responses of our body.
Dr. Amy Lee, an Obesity Medicine Specialist, said that when we contract our muscle fibers, the movement and fiber activation communicate with our fat cells through hormonal signaling. Our heart rate increases and the activation of our nervous system also causes our brain to release signals — which control how our organs respond!
It’s pretty amazing how every part of our body works together to carry out a mission, isn’t it? Ultimately, exercise has a powerful effect on balancing, suppressing and increasing our hormones! So, keep moving — it doesn’t have to be a strenuous workout. Every movement counts! I got a good archive of exercises for midlife women here. Go check it out, sweetie! 😍
Discover more about how our hormones actually work! Watch this video from Dr. Eric Berg as he talks about the signaling processes of hormones. Dr. Berg also discussed when and why they start to be out of balance! It’s mind-blowing!
How Do I Know My Hormones are Off? Here are 10 Warning Signs and Symptoms!
1.Mood Swings: Fluctuations in estrogen levels can cause premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and depressed mood during perimenopause and menopause. No wonder why a lot of people associate hormonal imbalance with emotional unpredictability!
2. Hot Flashes: Estrogen and progesterone have big roles in temperature regulation. These two hormones help dilate your blood vessels — allowing better blood flow! As your hormone levels go through drastic changes during menopause, estrogen plunges. When this happens, your brain thinks your body is overheating. Amid this “internal confusion”, your body will try to cool off and that’s how you experience a hot flash!
3. Heavy or Painful Periods: Estrogen and progesterone are partners in driving a normal menstrual cycle. Estrogen is the dominant hormone during the follicular phase (the first 2 weeks of the menstrual cycle leading up to ovulation). It aids in building up the uterine wall in preparation for a possible pregnancy. On the other hand, progesterone becomes the major hormone during the latter two weeks of the cycle. It keeps the inner lining of the uterus ready to receive and nourish a fertilized egg! If the egg is not fertilized, progesterone levels drop dramatically – causing the uterus to shed its lining (and menstrual flow begins).
Now, when we enter perimenopause, it is believed that progesterone is the first hormone to decline. Along with low progesterone, estrogen production becomes erratic and unreliable in perimenopause. When the normal signaling between these two hormones becomes disrupted, estrogen becomes relatively higher than progesterone levels — a condition known as “estrogen dominance”. With too little progesterone to counter estrogen’s effects, the uterine lining becomes thicker — leading to heavier or more painful periods!
According to Dr Northrup, fibroid tumors are the most common physical reason for excessive bleeding. Read more about fibroids in our fact box below.
4. Low Libido: Low libido is common for women going through perimenopause or menopause due to the decreasing levels of estrogen and testosterone. Other menopausal symptoms such as night sweats, fatigue, low mood and anxiety can also have an impact on your sex drive!
5. Sleep Deprivation: As you age, the ovaries become sluggish in producing estrogen and progesterone. Falling estrogen levels may contribute to night sweats, insomnia and lack of energy! And remember, if you don’t reach the deepest sleep stage, you are depriving your body of its time for tissue growth and repair. It is also during deep sleep where several hormones are released!
6. Unexplained Weight Gain: Several hormone-related conditions can cause weight gain — like hypothyroidism and insulin resistance. It’s not only about poor diet or lack of exercise (even though they have major effects on our weight). There are other factors as well that we need to be aware of! So, if you want to let go of the excess weight, go deep down to the root cause!
7. Skin Problems: Dry, itchy skin and acne breakouts can be a sign of low levels of estrogen and progesterone. They can also be due to high levels of androgen hormones!
8. Headaches: Generally, many women suffer from headaches due to hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy or menopause. Estrogen controls chemicals in the brain that affect the sensation of pain. Therefore, a drop in estrogen levels can trigger a headache! High glucose levels can cause headaches too. If your blood glucose level is too high, it can trigger hormones that constrict or dilate the brain’s blood vessels — leading to a headache. Experts also believe that low serotonin levels make women susceptible to migraine and tension headaches.
9. Weak Bones: Decreasing estrogen levels during perimenopause and menopause can cause bone loss. Our diet is a crucial factor! Magnesium and calcium will be excreted by our body through urine — if we eat a lot of sugar and carbs. Our body will take these minerals from our bones to get to the right pH levels. This “extraction” of minerals can then result in weaker bones!
10. Vaginal Dryness: Vaginal dryness is most often caused by decreasing estrogen levels, especially during postmenopause. The decrease in estrogen deprives your vagina of nourishment! As a result, the vaginal walls get thinner, elasticity decreases and your tissues lose the ability to produce lubrication. Low estrogen levels can also mess up your vaginal pH — making it too acidic!
Before we head on to the next section, watch this thought-provoking podcast by Dr. Mark Hyman!
Dr. Elizabeth Boham joins him to discuss the functional medicine approach in managing hormonal imbalances:
What Natural Remedies Can I Do to Improve Hormonal Balance?
To manage hormonal imbalance naturally, you can embrace healthy habits such as:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
- Getting adequate sleep
- Taking care of your gut health
- Properly managing stress levels
Hormone fluctuations are often part of the typical functioning of our body, but that doesn’t mean we are helpless! Our hormones are deeply rooted in the food we eat, the exercise we get, the toxins we absorb, the weight we carry and the stress levels we put up with. How these factors impact the overall hormone picture is crucial!
Moreover, Dr. Josh Axe emphasizes that the number one mistake people make when it comes to hormone balancing is they consume too much sugar and not enough healthy fat! Healthy fats serve as precursors in supporting natural hormonal balance.
Omega-3 fatty acids, omega-9 fatty acids and fats from coconut oil are among the healthiest types of fat we must add to our diet! Watch Dr. Axe’s interview to find out the best food sources for these healthy fats! 👇
When Should I Seek Medical Attention for Hormone Fluctuations?
If you’ve done everything to trace the root cause of hormone imbalance and still, it negatively affects your daily life, it’s time for you to see a healthcare provider (if you haven’t already)!
Your treatment will depend on which hormone levels are too high or too low and what the levels are. It also depends on what symptoms you are experiencing!
The most common treatments for hormonal imbalance are Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT). Both are different forms of Menopausal Hormone Treatment (MHT).
HRT uses synthetic hormones in standard doses. In contrast, BHRT uses plant-based hormones, given in individualized doses depending on your needs. According to the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), 1.4 million menopausal women prefer BHRT over HRT. OB-GYN Dr. Christiane Northrup and several studies also show that bioidentical hormones are “theoretically” safer than the synthetic hormones used in HRT. Learn more about HRT and BHRT in my article! 👇
What Tests Can I Take in Menopause?
There are tests you can take in menopause that can help trace the possible root cause of your symptoms! Glucose Meter, Inflammation Test, Insulin Blood Test, Thyroid Test, Stress Test and Vitamin & Mineral Blood Test are among the test kits available on the market.
Here’s the thing: Most of us pay attention to our symptoms rather than looking at the root cause. Andrea Nakayama, a Functional Nutrition Educator, believes that our overall health can be simplified into three things: Genes, gut health and inflammation — the primary root causes of our symptoms.
According to Andrea, “Labs can be great, sure. But for the most part, they don’t give us answers. Instead, they provide more CLUES. And your ability to recognize those clues depends on your understanding of the full-body systems — more than it does on your ability to read lab results.”
Therefore, do not try to fix one symptom after the other. We don’t water every leaf of our plant, do we? We go for the roots! Treat and nurture your body the same way. See the whole picture and consider everything — from your origins to your current lifestyle!
Andrea also added, “It’s hard for the body to heal when it’s in a sympathetic (fight or flight) response vs. a parasympathetic (rest and digest) state. It’s difficult to create a terrain for sustainable health, when there are imbalances in the major functions of the immune system.”
So, before adding “new things” to your machine, let it recover! Give your body what it actually needs. Everything else, including tests, should only serve as “partners” that will support you while looking for the actual cause of your symptoms!
Without a doubt, tests are helpful. I have taken several tests myself and discovered things I wouldn’t have found out! One of my best investments is getting a glucose meter. It helps me monitor my blood sugar levels and I find this device truly valuable in preventing insulin resistance!
Also, note that traditional medicine and functional medicine have different reference values in some cases. Meaning, you could fall under “normal” ranges in the clinic, but not with a functional medicine expert. The clinical range is used to DIAGNOSE when the test results are only out of range. On the other hand, the functional range can ASSESS THE RISK of disease and PREVENT it before it’s too late!
Going back to test kits… Many tests can now be purchased online or at the pharmacy. They are also cost-friendly and easy to use! With the help of tests, free hormone balance quizzes and DIY tests, you can take charge of your symptoms — including hormonal imbalance! Head over to my article and see some of my top picks!
In menopause, we go through a roller coaster ride. Our hormone levels change and we experience physical, emotional and even mental discomforts. And none of us wants to be a prisoner of our hormones and symptoms!
Therefore, being fully aware of what’s happening in our body is the best initial step to manage hormonal imbalance. The key to understanding your symptoms in menopause is to know how your body and hormones work together! Once you get the right information, you can start making healthy choices that will help you treat your body right. 💜
• What Exactly are Hormones and How Do They Work?
Hormones are “messengers” that work for the endocrine system to control and coordinate your body’s internal metabolism (or homeostasis). Each hormone has a specific function — such as regulating your energy level, promoting reproduction, optimizing growth and development and responding to injury, stress and environmental factors.
Watch this video from the Merck Manual to have a visual understanding of how our hormones work inside our body! 👇
• What Causes Fibroids and Heavy Bleeding?
According to the National Institutes of Health, high estrogen levels can cause fibroid tumors to grow, especially if you have low progesterone levels. They are non-cancerous growths that develop in or around the womb. Fibroids happen when heavy periods are accompanied by other symptoms like abdominal pain, a frequent need to urinate, lower back pain, constipation or painful intercourse. Therefore, healthy progesterone levels are vital in preventing fibroids. Not only does it counter the effects of estrogen on fibroid growth, but it can also shrink the size!
• What are Xenoestrogens?
Xenoestrogens or “fake estrogens” are synthetic hormones found in processed and commercial food items. They are also in beauty and personal care products we use every day. Xenoestrogens are known to disrupt the functions of your hormone-producing glands! As a result, you experience hormonal imbalances and deficiencies. It makes the system erratic because they pretend to be estrogen even if they are not!
• What are the Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance?
The common symptoms of ED are sleep disturbances, weight gain, difficulty concentrating, dry skin, shorter menstrual periods, abnormal bleeding, fatigue, edema in some parts of the body, low libido, mood changes and severe PMS.
Estrogen dominance is an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone ratios. According to Dr. John R. Lee, who named the condition, you can have ED if you have deficient, normal or excessive estrogen — but have minimal (to no) amounts of progesterone counteracting estrogen’s effects.
• When Does Progesterone Deficiency Happen?
Progesterone deficiency or low progesterone levels happen when ovulation stops and menopause sets in. Progesterone levels naturally decline with age — which coincides with a decline in fertility and the onset of menopause. The condition may also be triggered by adrenal fatigue, increased stress levels and health problems like hyperthyroidism and low cholesterol levels.
The symptoms of progesterone deficiency are irregular periods, short menstrual cycles (but sometimes symptoms like premenstrual spotting may appear), mood changes, bloating, sleep disturbances, anxiety and depression.
• What Underlying Health Conditions Can Trigger Hormonal Imbalance?
Many women suffer from underlying health conditions that take a toll on their hormone levels. The common health problems that can negatively affect a woman’s hormonal balance are high insulin levels, thyroid problems, gut conditions, liver problems and adrenal gland issues. In addition, our endocrine system can also become damaged due to trauma or genetics.
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