“It’s not me, it’s my hormones!” Our hormones cop the blame for SO many of our ups and downs in life. Instinctively, we know that they have a powerful influence over the functioning of our bodies, but often we downplay the impact they have on our capacity to feel calm, cope, be happy – even how “at home” we feel in our bodies.
Make no mistake. Our hormones run the show. The endocrine system (the system of glands that excrete hormones) influences every cell, organ and function of our bodies.
Hormones travel to EVERY organ and tissue to give orders to your cells to do particular things. They regulate everything from mood to metabolism and guide your growth and development, even before birth. Hormones are the reason you age (oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone), sleep and wake up (melatonin) and feel hungry (thyroid), stressed (cortisol) or fearful (adrenalin).
So you can see how hormonal imbalance can have a drastic effect on the body, ranging from serious disorders such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism and polycystic ovary syndrome to haphazard signs and symptoms that something may be out of whack, like:
It’s quite the list, eh?
Keeping your body’s hormones balanced can be tricky given how many physiological functions the endocrine system has a hand in – and then there’s these bad boys…
Hormonal imbalances are multi-factorial disorders, meaning they are caused by a combination of factors such as your diet, medical history, genetics, stress levels and exposure to toxins from your environment. Some of the major contributors to hormonal imbalances include:
Food allergies and gut issues: An expanding field of new research shows that your gut health plays a significant role in hormone regulation. If you have leaky gut syndrome or a lack of beneficial probiotic bacteria lining your intestinal wall, you’re more susceptible to hormonal problems, including diabetes and obesity. That’s because inflammation usually stems from your gut and then impacts nearly every aspect of your health.
Endocrine disruptors mimic hormones to alter how the endocrine system would naturally do things. They can send false signals, block the actions of natural hormones and even alter the amount of hormone made and how the body responds. Simply put, they wreck havoc on your hormones!
Stress and toxic chemicals (exposure to pesticides, toxins, viruses, cigarettes, excessive alcohol and harmful chemicals) are the main culprits. There’s no escaping these entirely but making conscious lifestyle choices and reducing your exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals is a great start.
Conventional treatments for hormonal imbalances usually include synthetic hormone replacement therapies, birth control pills, insulin injections, thyroid medications and more. Unfortunately, for the majority of people suffering from hormonal disorders, relying on these types of synthetic treatments often does three things:
The good news is there are ways to balance your hormones naturally. Below you’ll learn what type of hormonal imbalance your specific symptoms might be pointing to, what the root causes of your hormonal problem are, and how you can help treat the problem without experiencing the negative side effects associated with synthetic treatments.
1. Swap Carbs for Healthy Fats
Eating a variety of foods high in short, medium and long-chain fatty acids is key to keeping your hormones in check. Your body needs various types of fats to create hormones, including saturated fat and cholesterol. Not only are these essential fats fundamental building blocks for hormone production, but they keep inflammation levels low, boost your metabolism and promote weight loss. Healthy fats have the opposite effect of refined carbohydrates, which lead to inflammation and can mess with the balance of your hormones.
My four favorite sources of anti-inflammatory, healthy fats include: coconut oil, avocados, grass-fed butter and wild-caught salmon. Coconut oil uses are plentiful — for example, coconut oil (or cream/milk) has natural anti-bacterial and fat-burning effects. Avocado benefits include improving heart health, lowering inflammation, controlling your appetite and contributing to your daily intake of fiber and nutrients such as potassium.
Salmon nutrition is also impressive: it’s one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to lower inflammation and help with cognitive functions. Omega-3 fatty acids are a large component of brain-cell membranes and are important for cell-to-cell communication in the brain. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids help protect against hippocampal neuronal loss and reduce pro-inflammatory responses.
Here’s a rule of thumb: Steer clear from oils high in omega-6 fats (safflower, sunflower, corn, cottonseed, canola, soybean and peanut), and load up on rich sources of natural omega-3s instead (wild fish, flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts and grass-fed animal products). I also want to mention that there is a type of omega-6 fat that you want to get in your diet called GLA. GLA (gamma-linoleic acid) can be taken in supplement form by using evening primrose oil or borage oil, and it’s also found in hemp seeds. Studies show supplementing with GLA can support healthy progesterone levels.
2. Use Adaptogen Herbs
Adaptogens are anything that helps to stabilise and balance the body’s reactions to stress or challenging situations. Adaptogenic herbs are a kind of ‘thinking’ herb.
Most herbs have stimulating or relaxing properties but adaptogenic herbs can adapt their function to do whatever is required by the body to bring it back into balance. Smart!
Adaptogen herbs protect the body from a wide variety of diseases, including those caused by excess stress. In addition to boosting immune function and combating stress, research shows that various adapotogens — such as ashwagandha, medicinal mushrooms, rhodiola and holy basil — can:
Ashwagandha, in particular, can be extremely effective at balancing hormones. It benefits thyroid function because it promotes the scavenging of free radicals that cause cellular damage. Ashwagandha can be used to support a sluggish or overactive thyroid, and it can also help to overcome adrenal fatigue. Your adrenals can become overtaxed when you experience too much emotional, physical or mental stress, leading to the disruption of hormones like adrenaline, cortisol and progesterone.
Holy basil, which is also known as tulsi, helps to regulate cortisol levels, thereby working as a natural remedy for anxiety and emotional stress. Studies show that holy basil can also protect your organs and tissues against chemical stress from pollutants and heavy metals, which are other factors that can lead to hormone imbalance.
3. Address Emotional Imbalances
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, internal emotions have a direct impact on a person’s health and addressing emotional imbalances, external factors and lifestyle choices can help to prevent health conditions associated with hormonal imbalances.
TCM practitioners believe that the emotions of fear cause disease in your reproductive organs, kidneys and adrenals, affecting cortisol levels. This can lead to serious conditions like PCOS and infertility. The emotions of frustration, impatience and un-forgiveness cause disease in your liver, which can lead to an estrogen imbalance. And emotions of worry and anxiety can cause issues with your insulin levels, which can then affect several hormones.
A major component of balancing your hormones naturally is addressing any emotional imbalances that you are dealing with. You can do this by reducing stress levels, engaging in personal reflection and taking time for yourself. Practicing meditation or healing prayer can be extremely beneficial, and so can deep breathing exercises, spending time outdoors and exercising every day. Massage can also help to improve hormonal balance, combat stress and improve blood flow.
Your emotions and hormones are connected, so by working to balance one, you are impacting the other. If you are ever feeling stressed, angry, agitated or even fearful, understand that this is affecting your hormone balance and can lead to even bigger health issues. Keep working on your emotional balance by making it part of your daily routine.
4. Use Essential Oils
To balance your hormones naturally, it’s important that you eliminate toxins in your body by avoiding conventional body care products that are made with potentially-harmful chemicals including DEA, parabens, propylene glycol and sodium lauryl sulfate. A better alternative is to use natural products made with ingredients like essential oils, coconut oil, shea butter and castor oil.
To replace toxic body care and cleaning products, use these hormone balancing essential oils:
5. Supplement to Fill Nutritional Voids
It’s sometimes necessary to supplement in order to fill nutritional voids that can be leading to a hormone imbalance. Here are the top supplements that I recommend for your hormones:
6. Beware of Medications and Birth Control
Are you aware of your medication’s side effects? Some can disrupt your hormone balance, leading to side effects like fatigue, appetite changes, altered sleeping patterns, low libido, sadness and even depression. Some medications that can mess with your hormone balance include corticosteroids, stimulants, statins, dopamine agonists, rexinoids and glucocorticoids. Beware of your medications, talk to your doctor about the side effects and research natural alternatives whenever possible.
Birth control is another dangerous medications that alters hormone levels. “The pill” is a type of hormone therapy that raises estrogen levels to such dangerous levels that it can cause many complications. I cannot urge you strongly enough to stop using the pill immediately, especially considering that there are many other (safer) ways to prevent pregnancy. My thoughts on taking the pill can be summed up this way: Just say no to birth control pills! Studies show that the risks of taking them, especially long-term, can include:
7. Get More Sleep
Unless you get 7–8 hours of sleep every night, you’re doing your body no favors. A lack of sleep or disturbing your natural circadian rhythm can be one of the worst habits contributing to a hormone imbalance. How so? Because your hormones work on a schedule! Case in point: Cortisol, the primary “stress hormone,” is regulated at midnight. Therefore, people who go to bed late never truly get a break from their sympathetic flight/fight stress response.
A lack of sleep, long-term use of corticosteroids and chronic stress are three of the biggest contributors to high cortisol levels. A report published in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism stated that “Stress can lead to changes in the serum level of many hormones including glucocorticoids, catecholamines, growth hormone and prolactin.”
Sleep helps keep stress hormones balanced, builds energy and allows the body to recover properly. Excessive stress and poor sleep are linked with higher levels of morning cortisol, decreased immunity, trouble with work performance, and a higher susceptibility to anxiety, weight gain and depression. To maximize hormone function, ideally try to get to bed by 10 p.m. and stick with a regular sleep-wake-cycle as much as possible.
In some cases, synthetic hormonal treatments (such as insulin or thyroid medication) will be necessary to treat a hormonal imbalance. However, the majority of people can feel a lot better by making the lifestyle changes described above.
For people with diagnosed hormonal disorders — including type 1 or type 2 diabetes, Adrenal Insufficiency, Addison’s disease, Graves’s disease and Cushing’s syndrome for example — it’s always important to speak with your doctor before discontinuing medication use. The natural treatments above can still help you overcome your illness and greatly reduce symptoms, but these recommendations shouldn’t take the place of medical supervision. Because hormone imbalances vary so widely in terms of severity of symptoms, always keep track of how you’re feeling, do your research and evaluate how you respond to different treatments.