Hormonal Imbalance: How To Balance Hormones Naturally
By: Vanessa Phillips, BSc, MSc (Nutritional Science)
Edited by the JM Nutrition Team
In this post:
The link between hormonal imbalance and symptoms
Using a functional approach to hormonal imbalances
Common hormonal imbalances that respond well to nutritional intervention
How to balance hormones naturally
Hormone balancing success stories
How to balance hormones? A Big question, no doubt. Because hormonal imbalances are a complex matter, we will only provide an overview in the interest of keeping this post readable and relatively short.
Hormonal Imbalance Background
Hormones are little messenger molecules that the body makes in various glands that act on various body systems in order to exert a specific function.
Astonishingly, we make around fifty different types every day.
Changes or fluctuations in your hormones may manifest themselves as many different symptoms. Often we may think of these symptoms as those that form a part of getting older or something you simply have to learn to live with because that’s the way your body was made.
The truth, however, is that many of these symptoms may be as a direct result of changes in hormone levels. This is something you can no doubt change.
Hormonal imbalance symptoms
- weight gain
- premenstrual symptoms
- digestive distress
- low sex drive
- falling out hair
Therefore, it’s important to explore the potential causes of hormonal imbalance symptoms.
When you discover the exact underlying cause of these symptoms, there’s something you can do about it. That is, you can put interventions in place that help to manage these hormonal fluctuations, allowing your body to work as it should. Doing so, can significantly improve your sense of wellbeing and the overall quality of life.
There’s absolutely no reason to live with the devastating effects of some of the most common conditions caused by hormonal imbalances.
Let’s take a look at these.
Common hormonal imbalance conditions
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
- Hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
- Hyperthyroidism or Grave’s Disease
- Estrogen dominance
- Androgen dominance
- Insulin resistance or Type 2 diabetes
- Chronic stress, adrenal insufficiency or chronic fatigue syndrome
Blood tests aren’t enough
Often, blood tests for hormone irregularities don’t provide a very detailed picture of what’s actually going on.
How many of you have had blood tests done and been told that your hormones are “within normal levels”?
Why then do you continue to experience all of these unpleasant symptoms?
The main reason for this is that the labs place a “normal” value unless there is concern for disease. This value range is huge.
In Nutritional Therapy, on the other hand, a Functional Medicine Approach is used to assess hormone levels.
Related: Working with a Functional Nutritionist and Dietitian
In this approach we look more at the optimal levels the body needs of them to function. This is contrary to only addressing hormone imbalances when they are severe enough to cause disease.
Why is this method preferred?
Specifically, the optimal levels are far more narrow. Anything outside of these narrow boundaries indicates a hormonal imbalance.
Hormonal imbalance and nutritional interventions
So how to balance hormones then?
There are a number of important hormones to consider in the cause of the above-mentioned symptoms:
Produced by the adrenal glands atop your kidneys, cortisol helps the body to react to stress.
High cortisol levels
In acute states of stress, cortisol production is seen as a protective process. When stress becomes more chronic, and doesn’t turn off, cortisol production can cause a number of dysfunctional symptoms.
What’s more, Cortisol is a catabolic hormone. As such, higher than typical levels of it can cause breakdown of normal body processes.
Abnormal cortisol production can lead to chronic stress, adrenal insufficiency or chronic fatigue syndrome.
How to regulate cortisol
Interestingly, carb intake may regulate cortisol production.
Eating carbs at the right time of the day in the right amounts may help to balance high cortisol levels.
Furthermore, a nutrient-dense diet provides additional resources to the body to maintain an adequate energy supply and protect from the destruction of tissues and organs that a catabolic state may produce.
In addition, supplements such as herbal adaptogens, such as ashwagandha, holy basil and rhodiola rosea, can all help the body regulate cortisol.
Last, nutrients such as bovine colostrum and phosphatidylserine perform a similar function.
Where indicated, a cortisol test may be used to determine the irregularities in cortisol production as a means to best support the cortisol pathways.
Related: Cortisol Lowering Foods to Help Manage Stress
Sex hormones: Estrogen, Progesterone, Testosterone
A delicate balance of sex hormone production is important for both men and women.
Estrogen is one of the most common hormones we observe in women, but it also plays an important role in men.
On the other hand, testosterone is a hormone we often only relate to men. However, it’s an essential hormone in women, too.
Estrogen in women is produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands, and in both men and women, by fat cells. While more common in women, men may also experience symptoms related to estrogen dysregulation.
In men and women, estrogen dominance causes a wide array of symptoms:
- weight gain
- emotional disturbances
- brain fog
Estrogen is a growth hormone, while progesterone is a regulating hormone.
In cases of estrogen dominance, estrogen’s growing processes are not regulated by progesterone. As a result, a risk of fibrous breast tissue, uterine fibroids, endometriosis, and certain types of cancers are associated with this hormonal imbalance.
Low estrogen symptoms
Low estrogen levels in women are associated with:
- menopause (nutritionist and dietitian for menopause)
- ovarian irregularities
- dysfunction of the pituitary gland
- disordered eating
- chronic exercise
Estrogen dominance supplements
A range of nutrients and supplements are used to support estrogen dominance and insufficiency. Essentially, these nutrients and supplements support estrogen metabolism, detoxification and the liver pathways, as well as levels of inflammation and inflammatory processes.
As mentioned, progesterone is a balancing or regulatory hormone to estrogen.
We often come across progesterone insufficiency, which is highly associated with the following symptoms:
- cycle dysregulation
- spotting during pregnancy
- higher risk of infertility and miscarriage
- mood swings
Another hormone essential to the health of both women and men is testosterone, which may fluctuate for many reasons.
Stress is one of the number one reasons for lowered testosterone levels. And, in women with PCOS, testosterone levels are typically higher.
Balancing testosterone levels
You can regulate testosterone output by managing stress and reducing inflammatory processes in the body. This effectively reduces the symptoms associated with irregularities in its levels.
You can also perform a comprehensive hormone test such as the DUTCH Test. The DUTCH test provides an in depth look into the hormones and how the body is using them.
Not only does this give a comprehensive overview of how much the body is actually using, but this particular test provides information about the specific pathways the body is using to metabolize them.
Undoubtedly, the DUTCH Test is a great tool that can help us correct a hormone imbalance.
Everyone of reproductive age, men and women alike, should consider this test. Reason being, it provides valuable information that may help you to make even the slightest adjustments to your diet and lifestyle.
Doing so is helpful in balancing hormones no matter what stage of life you find yourself in.
The main hormone related to energy metabolism, insulin is produced by the pancreas.
Unfortunately, insulin resistance is a common disorder in our modern-day society, where many of the foods we typically eat on a standard North American Diet are filled with sugar and sugar derivatives.
Insulin and diet
The impact of these sugar-laden diets is enormous.
These high-sugar foods place an increase in demand on the pancreas to produce insulin. Such consistent or chronically high insulin levels then cause a disruption in the cell’s ability to respond to its messages. Consequently, insulin causes energy storage instead of utilization, which not only results in weight gain, but also reduced energy.
Related: How To Increase Energy Levels and Beat The Afternoon Slump
Fortunately, it’s quite easy to regulate insulin, retraining your body to listen to insulin’s messages once again.
Follow a healthy, nutritionally-balanced diet, adding complex carbs instead of simple ones. A qualified health practitioner such a nutritionist or dietitian can certainly help here. This is the first crucial step.
Many people also manage type 2 diabetes, which is a progression of insulin resistance into a disease, simply by making healthful changes to their diet.
For example, one of the most common conditions that is compounded by insulin irregularities is PCOS. Many women who have the condition, but who manage their blood sugar and inflammation, are able to regulate the symptoms of PCOS without the need for medication.
Related: PCOS support and management with a dietitian
TSH (along with T4 and T3)
TSH stands for Thyroid Stimulating Hormone. Thyroid hormones are essential for the regulation of metabolic processes, which is essentially all of the processes that take place in the body.
Thyroid hormone deficiency
One the one hand, too little thyroid hormone and you feel fatigued, moody, forgetful and stressed out. You also potentially struggle to lose weight, be prone to hair loss and experience greater sensitivities to temperature changes.
Thyroid hormone excess
Too much thyroid hormone, on the other hand, leaves you jittery and anxious. You may tremble, have heart palpitations and suffer from insomnia.
Thyroid hormone imbalance cause
In many cases, thyroid hormone imbalances are caused by an autoimmune reaction, where the body destroys its own tissues.
Whether autoimmune in nature or not, it’s possible to support thyroid imbalances through diet.
Eat a wide variety of foods that provide the critical nutrients the body needs to function. Doing so, supports the body processes that use thyroid hormones–a potentially effective method to correct this hormonal imbalance.
Related: Working with a Thyroid Dietitian and Nutritionist
How to correct hormonal imbalances & balance hormones naturally
Hormonal imbalances and diet
Clearly, diet plays a significant role in correcting hormonal imbalances.
For each body system involved in hormone production and regulation, a wide variety of nutrients that come from food are necessary for them to function at optimal levels.
Working with an expert in the field of nutrition and hormonal balance is essential, even if you are currently working with another healthcare provider.
Nutrition is key. If you show signs of hormonal imbalance in spite of taking medication for your condition, explore the nutrition component as the cause of hormone dysregulation.
Hormonal imbalance help
So how to balance hormones with nutritional assistance?
A nutritional therapy practitioner can help you to analyze your current diet and guide you in the steps to take to ensure you’re taking in a diverse range of nutrients that support these various body systems.
Where imbalances exist, supplemental help may be explored as a means to help to push the body into balance while you are making changes to your diet.
Hormonal balancing success stories
Today many clients experience the benefits of nutritional therapy for their hormonal imbalances. You can too.
Many of our clients share positive feedback of how adjustments to their eating habits have made a difference. A good number of them mention how they had tried everything in the past to manage their weight, fatigue, PMS and acne, but nothing ever worked.
That is, until they started targeting the right nutrients and supporting their hormonal pathways through diet, supplementation and lifestyle changes.
Hormonal balance and weight loss
One of our clients, living with an under active thyroid gland for many years has lost over 40 pounds in 7 months. This is something she was unable to do despite taking medication to improve her thyroid hormone levels.
Because she managed stress levels, supported thyroid hormones, and ate delicious, good quality food every day, she has continued to lose weight at a steady pace while maintaining healthy energy levels and experiencing a heightened mood.
Balanced hormones and improved skin health
Another client saw dramatic improvements in her skin health just a few days into starting a targeted food and supplement plan.
Over the years, she had tried virtually everything to treat her acne. Feeling overwhelmingly frustrated, she resorted to harsh cleaning routines and covering up.
Simply put, she was at a loss as the reasons for her acne outbreaks, until she was educated about the role food and inflammation play in hormones and acne formation.
By eating more nutritionally balanced meals throughout the day, and reducing her sugar intake, she was able to significantly reduce the amount of products she required for her skin.
Hormones and postnatal migraines
Yet another client could hardly enjoy the time she had with her new baby, struggling with postnatal migraines every day.
Sadly, the medication she had been prescribed made her severely ill, so she was forced to manage these painful episodes for months without resolution.
Supporting her hormonal pathways through diet and supplements gave her relief within a few days! Clearly, postnatal nutrition has an enormous role to play.
As a result, the quality of her life has dramatically improved, just by implementing a targeted nutritional approach. This includes personalized meal planning geared towards the specific goal.
These are just three of the many clients who have benefitted from nutritional counselling with respect to their hormonal imbalances. Certainly, you can do the same.
To that end, the key to success is to undertake a personalized approach to symptoms associated with hormonal imbalances. This involves providing evidence-based nutritional and supplemental interventions to manage them.
In addition, advice on functional testing is equally important. Doing so, may provide a deeper look into what may be going on, so as to target the specific pathways that may be out of balance.
What’s more, we cannot underestimate the critical role that pharmaceutical medication may have in your sense of wellbeing. For this reason support must be provided alongside these therapies, where needed.
Without a doubt, a multi-tiered approach is required to manage hormonal imbalances. It is only via thorough investigation of symptoms and medical history that you can experience relief from the complications that arise as a result of hormonal imbalances.
Related: Cortisol Lowering Foods and Supplements For Stress Management
Vanessa Phillips is a nutritional therapy practitioner who specializes in women’s health and nutrition, particularly hormonal imbalances, cortisol and insulin imbalances, PCOS, thyroid and supplementation. She has over 11 years of experience in the nutrition, health and wellness sector.
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JM Nutrition is a nutritional counselling service by registered dietitians and nutritionists operating out of downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada, with locations across Ontario and Nova Scotia.