What are Hormones?
Hormones are special chemical messengers in the body that are created in the endocrine glands. These messengers control most major bodily functions, from simple basic needs like hunger to complex systems like reproduction, and even the emotions and mood. Understanding the major hormones and what they do will help patients take control of their health.
The Endocrine System
The best way to answer the question “what are hormones?” is to take a look at some of the major hormonal systems in the body. Hormones are created by glands, which are part of the endocrine system. The main hormone-producing glands are:
Hypothalamus: The hypothalamus is responsible for body temperature, hunger, moods and the release of hormones from other glands; and also controls thirst, sleep and sex drive.
Parathyroid: This gland controls the amount of calcium in the body.
Thymus: This gland plays a role in the function of the adaptive immune system and the maturity of the thymus and produces T-cells.
Pancreas: This gland produces the insulin that helps control blood sugar levels.
Thyroid: The thyroid produces hormones associated with calorie burning and heart rate.
Adrenal: Adrenal glands produce the hormones that control sex drive and cortisol, the stress hormone.
Pituitary: Considered the “master control gland,” the pituitary gland controls other glands and makes the hormones that trigger growth.
Pineal: Also called the thalamus, this gland produces serotonin derivatives of melatonin, which affects sleep.
Ovaries: Only in women, the ovaries secrete estrogen, testosterone and progesterone, the female sex hormones.
Testes: Only in men, the testes produce the male sex hormone, testosterone, and produce sperm.
*These glands work together to create and manage the body’s major hormones.
Major Types of Hormones
What do hormones do, exactly? The body has many different hormones, but certain types have a bigger role to play in the body’s health and well-being. Understanding these roles is important for those looking to protect and manage their health.
For women, estrogen (or estradiol) is the main sex hormone. It causes puberty, prepares the body and uterus for pregnancy, and regulates the menstrual cycle. During menopause, estrogen level changes cause many of the uncomfortable symptoms women experience.
Progesterone is similar to estrogen but is not considered the main sex hormone. Like estrogen, it assists with the menstrual cycle and plays a role in pregnancy.
Cortisol has been called the “stress hormone” because of the way it assists the body in responding to stress. This is just one of several functions of this important hormone.
Melatonin levels change throughout the day, increasing after dark to trigger the responses that cause sleep.
Testosterone is the main sex hormone in men. It causes puberty, increases bone density, triggers facial hair growth, and causes muscle mass growth and strength.
*When they are in proper balance, hormones help the body thrive, but small problems with hormones can cause serious and life-altering symptoms.
What Causes Hormonal Imbalances?
There are three basic cause of hormone imbalances in everyone – chemical exposure, lifestyle choices, and illness or disease.
Chemical exposure comes from endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are substances in the environment (air, soil or water supply), food sources, personal care products, and manufactured products that may interfere with the normal function of your body’s endocrine system.
What are EDCs?
EDCs, a broad category of compounds used in consumer products, electronics and agriculture, have been associated with a diverse array of health issues. These non-natural chemicals or mixtures of chemicals can mimic, block, or interfere with the way the body’s hormones work.
They have been linked to human health issues related to sperm quality, fertility, abnormalities in sex organs, endometriosis, early puberty, nervous system function, immune function, cancers, breathing problems, metabolic issues, obesity, heart health, growth, neurological and learning disabilities, and more. Common EDCs used in:
Pesticides- Example EDCs: DDT, Chlorpyrifos, Atrazine, 2,4-D, Glyphosate
Children’s Products – Example EDCs: Lead, Phthalates, Cadmium
Industrial Solvents or Lubricants and Their Byproducts – Example EDCs: PCBs and Dioxins
Plastics and Food Storage Materials – Example EDCs: BPA, Phthalates, Phenol
Electronics and Building Materials – Example EDCs: Brominated Flame Retardants, PCBs
Personal Care Products, Medical Tubing – Example EDCs: Phthalates, Parabens, UV Filters
Anti-Bacterials -Example EDCs: Triclosan
Textiles, Clothing – Example EDCs: Perfluorochemicals
Where are EDCs?
Industrial chemicals can leach into soil and groundwater and then make their way into the food chain and build up in fish, animals, and people.
Consumer products such as plastics, household chemicals, fabrics treated with flame retardants, cosmetics, lotions, products with fragrance, and anti-bacterial soaps.
Pesticides, fungicides, or industrial chemicals in the workplace the best way to avoid exposure is to check labels and avoid products with known EDCs.
Lifestyle Choices That Cause Hormone Imbalances
Under-eating & Over-exercising: A diet that ignores your hormones is not a diet. Too much, too little or doing the wrong exercise, as well as yoyo-, crash- and fad-dieting, are one-way tickets to hormonal imbalances. Your diet and exercise routine should work with your hormones, not against them. The right nutrition and lifestyle habits can actually restore balance in your hormone system! Unfortunately, 99% of the diet and exercise routines out there does exactly the opposite throwing your body off-balance, making you gain weight and lose muscle mass.
Wrong Foods: Foods have a major impact on your hormone balance. Unfortunately, many hormone-unbalancing food trends have slipped into our diets over the years, that drive our hormones crazy:
- Too little fatty acids
- Too little fibre
- Too much carbohydrates
- Too much soy
- Too much beer
- Too much unhealthy fats
- Too much processed foods
- Too much sugar
Stress: Physical and mental stress also disrupt your hormones. Chronic stress is so powerful that it can even be the only source of hormonal imbalance. How does that work? Once your body gets into a state of chronic stress, your body starts using up your progesterone and transforms it into cortisol, the stress hormone. Your stress-system is literally “stealing” from your sex hormone system, throwing off your healthy oestrogen-progesterone ratio.
Toxins: Alcohol, chemicals, heavy metals and other toxins enter our bodies not only through what we eat and drink but also through environmental pollution and medication. Toxins burden your liver, and too much of it results in a liver overload. The liver is the most important organ to break down excess oestrogen and get it out of your system. A liver that’s too polluted and burdened dealing with toxicity, therefore, results in high levels of oestrogen, again disrupting your hormonal balance.
Too High Body Fat Percentage: The enzyme aromatase found in fat tissue converts testosterone into oestrogen. That means that too much body fat results in a low testosterone-high oestrogen ratio. Sadly, you need testosterone to gain muscle and burn fat, making it increasingly difficult to keep your body in shape. Excess fat results in oestrogen dominance. But the vicious circle doesn’t stop there! Oestrogen dominance also increases the amount of body fat. How does that work? Oestrogen and insulin interact. Insulin is needed to get the glucose from your blood into your cells. Oestrogen causes fluctuations in your blood sugar level and upsets your insulin-factory (the pancreas). An out-of-control insulin production makes your cells less insulin-sensitive. When this happens, the sugar in your blood can’t enter your cells and use it as fuel anymore; forcing your body to store sugar as fat instead.
Ageing: Ageing also impacts your hormone levels. While we do add beauty and wisdom with our years, our hormones don’t always play along nicely.
- Men – When men age their testosterone levels decline. The problem is that oestrogen in men decreases at a slower pace, causing an uneven ratio: too much oestrogen compared to little testosterone. Strength training is your best friend when trying to boost testosterone! Magnesium is also a true testosterone booster. So make sure to eat plenty of dark leafy greens (spinach, swiss chard, kale, watercress and collard greens), pumpkin seeds, fish (mackerel, pollock, turbot and tuna are excellent!), avocado, unroasted nuts (Brasil, almonds, cashews, pecans and walnuts), bananas, and dark chocolate.
- Women – When women age, both oestrogen and progesterone will decline. Unfortunately, progesterone levels often drop at a faster rate than oestrogen and can even get to zero. Oestrogen doesn’t decrease as quickly as progesterone and this difference cause hormone imbalances, resulting in an oestrogen dominance (menopause) once again. Add the other modern lifestyle factors such as chronic stress, toxins and a wrong diet and you’ve got the perfect formula for hormones-gone-wild and hormonal imbalances. It also explains why more and more women experience menopausal complaints already at a relatively young age.
Other Influences: Our environment almost overdoses us with non-bodily hormones that mimic the natural ones in our bodies while forcing our bodies to treat them the same. These strangers behave ‘biodentically’ and have a hormonal effect on us even though they differ chemically from the hormones that our bodies produce internally. A few examples:
- Phytoestrogens are substances similar to estrogens found in many edible plants. Usually, they don’t pose a threat to our hormonal balance. Soy products and beer are an exception because they contain such a high level of phytoestrogens that they throw off your oestrogen balance.
- Synthetic xenoestrogens imitate oestrogen and are widely used industrial chemical compounds such as pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, plastics, and preservatives in cosmetics (e.g. parabens). They also creep into our lives in the form of processed foods, anti-conception and even through plastic water bottles!
- Synthetic testosterone/progesterone/oestrogen is often used for hormonal replacement therapy and anti-conception. This often leads to even bigger imbalances and can throw off your natural cycle badly.
Physical Illness/Disease That Cause Hormone Imbalance
There are many possible causes for a hormonal imbalance. Causes differ depending on which hormones or glands are affected. Common causes of hormonal imbalance include:
- hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid
- hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid
- Cushing syndrome
- hyperfunctioning thyroid nodules
- hormone therapy
- tumors (benign or cancerous)
- congenital adrenal hyperplasia
- eating disorders
- adrenal insufficiency
- pituitary tumor
- injury or trauma
- cancer treatments
Causes unique to women: Many causes of hormonal imbalance in women are related to reproductive hormones. Common causes include:
- premature menopause
- hormone drugs like birth control pills
- primary ovarian insufficiency
Allergies and Hormone Imbalance
An allergy is simply an over-reaction of the immune system to a substance in the environment that for most people does not trigger symptoms. Hay fever and many food allergies generate a type 1 hypersensitivity response involving increased IgE antibodies (proteins intended to identify and neutralize a foreign target) and the release of histamine. This process stimulates inflammation and is the source of symptoms such as itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, hives, itchy rash, swelling, scratchy throat, wheezing and coughing.
Allergies can develop at any point during your life, but it’s also possible to be born with them, especially if your mother is allergic to foods and passes an excessive number of undigested protein particles to you through breast milk. Type 1 hypersensitivities are usually lifelong, even if we can manage to control the symptoms.
The term “allergy” is now used more loosely to refer to any kind of hypersensitivity that triggers an immune response and inflammation. A better term for the reactions that aren’t mediated by IgE antibodies and histamine is “sensitivity.” While these reactions typically involve IgG or IgA antibodies, and histamine release might be part of the picture, these type III hypersensitivity reactions also involve the formation of immune complexes between the antibody and the substance that the antibody is targeting, known as the ‘antigen.’ Many of these reactions are to foods, or additives in foods.
Estrogen causes an increase in histamine production, while progesterone promotes something called myelination, which is one of the ways the body breaks down histamine. Therefore, in cases of unopposed estrogen the body will actually produce more histamine than normal and cause more severe allergic reactions. There have been several studies showing the effects of estrogen on histamine production. One such study observed an increase in the reaction of skin prick tests during times of elevated plasma estrogen levels. Another study observed that when anaphylaxis was induced in rats, that the female rats experienced more severe reactions. They found that the estrogen levels in the female rats were the cause of this increased allergic response.
What is the difference between food intolerance and food allergy?
The key difference is in the symptoms. When someone is allergic to certain food, skin rashes, hives, itchiness or swelling happen in the matter of minutes. Allergies are caused by the immune system not being able to ingest the food.
Food intolerance on the other hand gives less drastic immediate effects. Instead, it manifests itself anywhere from 30min to 3 days (some even longer than that). Symptoms can be bloating, indigestion, skin problems (acne, eczema), frequent colds and sinus issues, candida and yeast infections, stubborn weight that just won’t go away, thyroid malfunction, etc.
Allergies and Toxic Load
Every substance on earth that can be eaten, inhaled, or touched is a potential allergen, depending on your individual genetic profile and how well your system is running. Your emotional inheritance, lifestyle, diet, and physical environment are also important because they define the burden your system must detoxify and process on a daily basis.
How well you process this “body burden” is crucial to you feel each day. The older we get, the greater this toxic burden becomes and the less able our bodies are to deal with it. As pollution has increased, so have allergies. Air pollution is a factor too, because particles have been shown to increase IgE activity in nasal passages and may carry pollen and other compounds into our bodies.
Every day, particles from synthetic chemicals — like the fresh scent in fabric softener — go right up your nose and into your lungs. Heavy metals, chlorine in our water, phthalates and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are all dangerous substances that surround us all day every day. (For more information, see our article on endocrine disruptors.)
Over the course of many years, this chemical exposure has a cumulative effect. When you add in other factors prevalent in many women’s lives — e.g., hormonal imbalance, poor diet, and emotional stress, it puts us at the tipping point! Roughly 10% of adults in the U.S. have a diagnosed food allergy, but countless more have food sensitivities. A few of the most common categories of allergens:
- What you eat: dairy, wheat (and other gluten-containing grains), corn, soy, shellfish, eggs, nuts, chocolate, caffeine, yeast, medications, sulfites, salicylates, MSG and other glutamates, xanthan and other gums, artificial food coloring and preservatives (e.g., BHA and BHT), sorbic and benzoic acid, pesticides
- What you inhale: Mold, pollen, dust and dust mites, pet dander, down, feathers, VOCs, scented candles and cleaning products, perfumes
- What you touch: Latex, plastics, cleaning solvents, insect bites, chemicals in the air, water, cosmetics, sunscreens, shampoos, and other personal care products
Everything you eat can be supportive or burdensome, depending on your unique profile. Help equip your body to process its toxic load by giving it the right nutrients and minimize your toxic load by eliminating environmental toxins and dietary allergens. Then when a particular substance is introduced to your system, your body won’t react with symptoms. Some women may also be intolerant of — but not allergic to — foods and other substances that are not mediated by the immune system. Examples include:
- Intestinal symptoms from lactose intolerance
- Joint pain from a compound called “solanine” in the ‘nightshade’ family of foods (e.g., potatoes, tomatoes, peppers)
- Migraines from blood vessel-dilating compounds in red wine or cheeses. While qualifying as “intolerances,” they are not allergies.
What About Gluten Sensitivity?
Gluten — the family of proteins found in the seeds or grains of wheat, rye, barley, spelt, kamut, and triticale — is usually associated with celiac disease, an inherited condition in which the immune system reacts to gluten while producing antibodies against the lining of the small intestine. That makes celiac disease an autoimmune disease, not an allergy. Over time, autoimmune responses to gluten can also affect other systems besides digestion.
Gluten ingestion can also cause a temporary increase in intestinal permeability, or leaky gut, and allergic reactions in individuals without genetic susceptibility to celiac disease. This occurs most often in people who are allergic to wheat, one of the “big eight” food allergens that together account for around 90% of allergic reactions.
If you are descended from cultures dependent on corn, potatoes, rice or other grains, you may not possess the genetic snippet required to process grains in the wheat tribe. If you are gluten-sensitive and continue to eat a lot of it, your body may be simmering on a low burn. This can eventually wear down the immune system and disrupt your metabolism, setting the stage for systemic inflammation and other problems.
What are the Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance? (HealthCoachfx.com)
There’s more than one way your hormonal system can be unbalanced, and each imbalance comes with its own signs and symptoms. Oestrogen dominance and low testosterone levels are the most common.
In women hormone imbalance is commonly caused by natural changes or cycles that occur throughout life. Hormone fluctuations occur naturally, such as in puberty, menopause and perimenopause. Hormone imbalance may also be caused by toxins or an unbalanced lifestyle. Understanding the causes of hormone imbalance empowers us to prevent them, and at the same time, feel better, think better, and better prevent breast cancer.
In men these cycles are less pronounced yet changes throughout life do have an effect on male hormone balance. Male hormone imbalance can be brought on by stress, an acute injury or illness, poor nutrition, inadequate exercise and a host of other factors. As men age hormones decline and can cause significant, progressive symptoms in men. The decline in male androgens is termed “andropause.” Because testosterone levels decline gradually, signals of a hormone imbalance and symptoms of low testosterone often go unnoticed or are dismissed as normal part of aging.
The Signs & Symptoms Of Oestrogen Dominance
External Bodily Symptoms:
- Weight gain
- Increased body hair
- Increased facial hair
- Thinning skin
- Thinning hair
- Brittle hair/nails
- Belly Fat
- Puffy Eyes
Internal Bodily Symptoms:
- Night sweats
- Water retention
- Tingling hands/feet
- Decreased energy
- Hot flashes
- Sugar/carb cravings
- Vaginal dryness
- Hot flashes
- Heavy menstruation
- Tense breasts
- Cysts in ovaries/breasts
- Low libido
- Inflamed joints
- Panic attacks
- Concentration problems
- Depressed mood
- Mood Swings
- Excessive worrying
- Less energized
Do you recognise 2-3 symptoms from each list? Then chances are high you’re dealing with an oestrogen dominance.
Extra risk factors, if you’ve got a history of:
- Taking hormonal anti-conception
- Polycystic ovaries/breasts
- Breast cancer
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Weight loss problems
The Signs & Symptoms Of Low Testosterone Levels
- Pale Face
- Muscle Mass Loss
- Infirm Skin
- Dry Eyes
- Fat Gain in Abdomen
- Fat Gain on Chest
- Inability To Built Muscle
- Hair Loss
- Difficulties Achieving Orgasm
- Decreased Strength
- Decrease In Bone Mass
- Men: Female-Like Features
- Men: Erective Problems
- Low Libido
- Depressive Feelings
- Fatigue/Lack of Energy
- Irritability/Mood Changes
- Sleeping Problems
- Feeling Stressed
Common hormonal conditions affecting both men and women could cause any of the following symptoms:
- weight gain
- increased sensitivity to cold or heat
- constipation or more frequent bowel movements
- dry skin
- puffy face
- unexplained weight loss (sometimes sudden)
- increased or decreased heart rate
- muscle weakness
- frequent urination
- increased thirst
- muscle aches, tenderness, and stiffness
- pain, stiffness, or swelling in your joints
- thinning hair or fine, brittle hair
- increased hunger
- decreased sex drive
- nervousness, anxiety, or irritability
- blurred vision
- a fatty hump between the shoulders
- rounded face
- purple or pink stretch marks
Symptoms in women: In women, the most common hormonal imbalance is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Your normal hormonal cycle also changes naturally during:
Symptoms of a hormonal imbalance specific to women include:
- heavy or irregular periods, including missed periods, stopped period, or frequent period
- hirsutism, or excessive hair on the face, chin, or other parts of the body
- acne on the face, chest, or upper back
- thinning hair or hair loss
- weight gain or trouble losing weight
- darkening of skin, especially along neck creases, in the groin, and underneath breasts
- skin tags
- vaginal dryness
- vaginal atrophy
- pain during sex
- night sweats
Symptoms in men – Testosterone plays an important role in male development. If you aren’t producing enough testosterone, it can cause a variety of symptoms. In the adult male, symptoms include:
- development of breast tissue
- breast tenderness
- erectile dysfunction
- loss of muscle mass
- decreased sex drive
- decrease in beard and body hair growth
- osteoporosis, the loss of bone mass
- difficulty concentrating
- hot flashes
Symptoms in children: Puberty is the time when boys and girls start producing sex hormones. Many children with delayed puberty will go on to experience normal puberty, but some have a condition called hypogonadism. Symptoms of hypogonadism include:
- muscle mass doesn’t develop
- voice doesn’t deepen
- body hair grows sparsely
- penis and testicular growth is impaired
- excessive growth of the arms and legs in relation to the trunk of the body
- gynecomastia, the development of breast tissue
- period doesn’t begin
- breast tissue doesn’t develop
- growth rate doesn’t increase
Hormonal Imbalance and Acne
The primary cause of acne is excess oil production, which leads to clogged pores. Acne is most common in areas with many oil glands, including the face, chest, upper back, and shoulders. Acne is often associated with pubescent hormonal changes, but there’s actually a lifelong relationship between acne and hormones.
Acne and menstruation: The menstrual cycle is one of the most common acne triggers. For many women, acne develops the week before you get your period and then clears up. Dermatologists advise hormonal testing for women who have acne in combination with other symptoms, like irregular periods and excess facial or body hair.
Acne and androgens: Androgens are male hormones present in both men and women. They contribute to acne by overstimulating the oil glands. Both girls and boys have high levels of androgens during puberty, which is why acne is so common at that time. Androgen levels typically settle down in the early 20s.
Hormonal Imbalance and Weight Gain
Hormones play an integral role in metabolism and your body’s ability to use energy. Hormone disorders like hypothyroidism and Cushing syndrome can cause you to become overweight or obese. People with hypothyroidism have low levels of thyroid hormones. This means that their metabolism doesn’t work as well as it should. Even when dieting, people with hypothyroidism can still gain weight. People with Cushing syndrome have high levels of cortisol in their blood. This leads to an increase in appetite and an increased fat storage. During menopause, many women gain weight because the metabolism slows down. You may find that even though you’re eating and exercising like normal, you still gain weight. The only way to treat weight gain from a hormone disorder is to treat the underlying condition.
Hormone Imbalance and Hair Loss
Hormonal changes and imbalances can sometimes cause temporary hair loss. In women, this is often related to pregnancy, childbirth, or the onset of menopause. An over- or underproduction of thyroid hormones can also cause hair loss. Most hair loss, like male pattern baldness, is hereditary and unrelated to hormonal changes.
Complications of Untreated Hormone Imbalance
Hormone imbalances are associated with many chronic, or long-term, health conditions. Without proper treatment, you could be at risk of several serious medical conditions, including:
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- heart disease
- sleep apnea
- kidney damage
- depression and anxiety
- endometrial cancer
- osteoporosis, or bone loss
- loss of muscle mass
- breast cancer
- urinary incontinence
- sexual dysfunction
Common Medical Treatments for Hormone Imbalance
Treatment for a hormonal imbalance will depend on what’s causing it. Common treatment options include:
Estrogen therapy: If you’re experiencing uncomfortable symptoms of menopause like hot flashes, your doctor may recommend a low dose of estrogen. Be sure to discuss the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy with your doctor.
Vaginal estrogen: If you’re experiencing vaginal dryness or pain during sex, you may want to try applying an estrogen cream, tablet, or ring. This local therapy treatment avoids many of the risks associated with systemic estrogen, or estrogen that travels throughout the bloodstream to the appropriate organ.
Hormonal birth control: If you’re trying to get pregnant, hormonal birth control can help regulate menstrual cycles. Types of hormonal birth control include:
- birth control pill
- birth control patch
- birth control shot
- vaginal ring
- intrauterine device (IUD)
It may also help improve acne and reduce extra hair on the face and body.
Anti-androgen medications: Androgens are male sex hormones that are present in both women and men. Women with high androgen levels may choose to take medication that blocks the effect of androgens, such as:
- hair loss
- facial hair growth
Metformin: a type 2 diabetes medication that may help some women with PCOS symptoms. It isn’t approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat PCOS, but it might help lower androgen levels and encourage ovulation.
Testosterone therapy: Testosterone supplements can reduce the symptoms of low testosterone in men. In adolescents with delayed puberty, it stimulates the start of puberty. It comes as an injectable, patch, and gel.
Thyroid hormone therapy: In people with hypothyroidism, the synthetic thyroid hormone levothyroxine (Levothroid, Levoxyl, Synthroid, Unithroid) can bring hormone levels back into balance.
Flibanserin (Addyi): This is the only FDA-approved medication for the treatment of low sexual desire in premenopausal women. It has some serious side effects. Talk to your doctor to see if this medication could be right for you.
Eflornithine (Vaniqa): This is a prescription cream designed specifically for excessive facial hair in women. Applied topically to the skin, it helps slow new hair growth, but doesn’t get rid of existing hair.
Risks Associated with Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
The Women s Health Initiative (WHI) study was canceled because of a high risk of breast cancer, heart disease and stroke associated with using HRT (hormone replacement therapy). The study analyzed the health of 16,000 women aged 50 to 79 years. After five years, those using HRT (Premarin and Provera or PremPro) had a 29 percent higher risk of breast cancer, a 26 percent higher risk of heart disease, and a 41 percent higher risk of stroke.
To personalize these numbers a bit more, of the 6 million women who are using PremPro, this translates to approximately 4,200 women who got breast cancer, 4,800 women who got heart disease, and 10,800 women who had a stroke in a five-year period because they were taking this form of HRT. If we extend these numbers out over a decade, nearly 40,000 women were harmed by taking these drugs. That’s an epidemic and doesn’t include all the women who suffered from weight gain, fatigue, depression, irritability, headaches, insomnia, bloating, low thyroid, low libido, and gallbladder disease and blood clots.
Side effects of oestrogen – The main side effects associated with taking oestrogen include:
- breast tenderness or swelling
- swelling in other parts of the body
- leg cramps
- vaginal bleeding
These side effects will often pass in a few weeks, but the following measures may help relieve some of them in the meantime:
- taking your oestrogen dose with food may help to reduce nausea and indigestion
- eating a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet may reduce breast tenderness
- regular exercise and stretching may help reduce leg cramps
If side effects persist, your GP may recommend switching to a different way of taking oestrogen (for example, changing from a tablet to a patch), changing the specific medication you’re taking, or lowering your dose.
Side effects of progestogen – The main side effects associated with taking progestogen include:
- breast tenderness
- headaches or migraines
- mood swings
- tummy (abdominal) pain
- back pain
- vaginal bleeding
As with side effects of oestrogen, these will usually pass in a few weeks. If they persist, your GP may recommend switching to a different way of taking progestogen, changing the specific medication you’re taking, or lowering your dose.
Weight gain and HRT – Many women believe that taking HRT will make them put on weight, but there’s no evidence to support this claim. You may gain some weight during the menopause, but this often happens regardless of whether you take HRT. Exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet should help you to lose any unwanted weight.
More serious risks – HRT has also been associated with some more serious risks, such as an increased risk of blood clots and certain types of cancer.
- taking combined HRT (oestrogen and progestogen) is associated with a small increased risk of breast cancer – some studies have suggested that for every 1,000 women taking combined HRT, there will be around five extra cases of breast cancer (from a normal risk of 22 cases of breast cancer per 1,000 menopausal women to 27)
- the risk of breast cancer decreases when you stop taking HRT – estimates suggest the level of risk returns to normal after about five years
- oestrogen-only HRT is associated with little or no change in the risk of breast cancer
Ovarian cancer: Studies looking at whether HRT can increase your risk of ovarian cancer have so far had conflicting results. It’s thought that if there is any increase in cases of ovarian cancer in women taking HRT, the risk is very small. A recent study found that for every 1,000 women taking HRT for five years, there will be one extra case of ovarian cancer. Any risk of ovarian cancer is thought to decrease once you stop taking HRT.
Womb cancer: Oestrogen-only HRT can increase the risk of womb cancer (also called endometrial cancer), which is why it’s only used in women who don’t have a womb (for example, because they’ve had a hysterectomy). Taking combined HRT, particularly a course of continuous HRT (where you take both medications without a regular break), largely eliminates this risk. If you still have a womb and you’re taking HRT, it’s important to take both medications as advised by your doctor to avoid increasing your risk of womb cancer.
Blood clots: can be serious if they become lodged in a blood vessel and block the flow of blood.
- taking HRT tablets can increase your risk of blood clots
- there’s no increased risk of blood clots from HRT patches or gels
It’s thought the risk of developing a blood clot is about two to four times higher than normal for women taking HRT tablets. But as the risk of menopausal women developing blood clots is normally very low, the overall risk from HRT tablets is still small. It’s estimated that for every 1,000 women taking HRT tablets for 7.5 years, less than two will develop a blood clot.
Heart disease and strokes:
- HRT doesn’t significantly increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (including heart disease and strokes) when started before 60 years of age
- oestrogen-only HRT is associated with no, or reduced, risk of heart disease
- combined HRT is associated with little or no increase in the risk of heart disease
- taking oestrogen tablets is associated with a small increase in the risk of stroke, although the normal risk of women under 60 having a stroke is very low, so the overall risk is small
Balancing Hormones Through Lifestyle Change
Some people find that yoga helps treat symptoms of hormonal imbalance. Yoga is excellent for your strength, flexibility, and balance. It may also help you lose weight, which can help regulate your hormones. You can also make the following lifestyle changes:
Lose weight. A 10 percent reduction in body weight in women can make your periods more regular and increase your chances of getting pregnant. In men, weight loss may help improve erectile function.
Eat well. A balanced diet is an important part of overall health.
Remove unwanted hair. If you have excess facial or body hair, you can use hair removal creams, laser hair removal, or electrolysis.
Decrease vaginal discomfort. Use lubes or moisturizers free of parabens, glycerin, and petroleum.
Avoid hot flashes. Try to identify things that commonly trigger hot flashes, like warm temperatures, spicy foods, or hot beverages.
How to Balance Hormones Naturally (WellnessMama.com)
Eat Enough Healthy Fats: the body is simply not meant to consume the man-made fats found in vegetable oils. The fat content of the human body is largely saturated fat, with only about 3% of the body’s fat coming from other types.
- The 3% of the body made up of polyunsaturated fats contains both Omega-3 fats and Omega-6 fats in about a 50:50 balance. This ratio is extremely important for health, and it is often ignored. Seed based vegetable oils (like canola oil, soybean oil, etc.) are very high in Omega-6 fats and low in Omega-3 fats. Since the 1950s, these seed based oils have replaced many sources of saturated fats and Omega-3s in the diet. This is one of the reasons that most people are not getting enough vital Omega-3 fatty acids from their diet.
- Not only are we consuming way too many omega-6 fatty acids from polyunsaturated vegetable oils, but we are not consuming enough beneficial Omega-3s and saturated fats. These types of fats are vital for proper cell function and especially for hormone function, as these are literally the building blocks for hormone production. When we don’t give the body adequate amounts of these fats, it must use what is available, relying on lower quality polyunsaturated fats.
- The trouble is that polyunsaturated fats are less stable and oxidize easily in the body, which can lead to inflammation and mutations within the body. Emerging evidence suggests that that this inflammation can occur in arterial cells (potentially increasing the chance of clogged arteries), skin cells (leading to skin mutations) and reproductive cells (which may be connected to PCOS and other hormone problems).
- Other types of fats, especially saturated fats, are vital for hormone health and balance as the body uses fats as building blocks for hormones.
For this reason, Coconut Oil is amazing for hormone health. It provides the necessary building blocks for hormone production, can assist weight loss, reduce inflammation, and even has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. Other quality sources of fats include avocados, animal fats, olive oil, grass fed meats, pastured eggs, and raw dairy (for those who tolerate it). Quality seafood is also very important, as it is nature’s best source of naturally occurring Omega-3s.
Limit the Caffeine: much caffeine can wreak havoc on the endocrine system, especially if there are other hormone stressors involved, like pregnancy, presence of toxins, beneficial fat imbalance or stress. Cut down the coffee if you can, or replace with beneficial herbal teas. If you can’t or won’t cut the coffee, use it as a way to sneak in your beneficial fats by adding 1 tablespoon coconut oil to each cup and blending in the blender to emulsify. It is like a latte but with healthy fats!
Avoid Harmful Chemicals: Harmful chemicals found in pesticides, plastics, household cleaners, and even mattresses can contain hormone disrupting chemicals that mimic hormones in the body and keep the body from producing real hormones. Things like hormonal birth control can (obviously) do the same thing.
- For those with a hormone imbalance or who are struggling to get pregnant, avoiding these unnecessary chemicals is very important! Cook in glass or non-coated metal pans (no non-stick or teflon) and avoid heating or storing foods in plastic. Find organic produce and meat whenever possible and don’t use chemical pesticides or cleaners. Here is a recipe for a natural cleaner.
- Beauty products are another source of chemical exposure for many people. There are tens of thousands of chemicals in the personal care products we encounter daily, and most of these chemicals have not been tested for long-term safety. Avoiding these products can make a tremendous difference in achieving hormone balance.
Prioritize Sleep: Without adequate sleep, hormones will not be in balance. Period. While you’re sleeping, your body is extremely active removing toxins, recharging the mind, and creating hormones. Skimping on sleep, even for one night, can have a tremendous impact on hormones and even one night of missed or shortened sleep can create the hormone levels of a pre-diabetic. Try some of these tips to help improve sleep:
- Improve your sleep environment by removing artificial light, optimizing temperature and sound, and other stimuli.
- If possible, remove chemicals from your mattress and choose a non-toxic mattress that supports sleep naturally.
- Create a daily routine to help support your natural circadian rhythms. Wake up and go to bed at the same time, even on weekends to keep your hormone cycle regular.
- Eat a high protein/high fat snack a few hours before bed (7pm or earlier) or consume a lot at dinner. If you have trouble falling asleep, try these four tricks.
- Get a lot of natural light during the day and spend at least 30 minutes outside each day if possible. The wide-spectrum of natural lighting helps boost serotonin levels which balance melatonin levels at night. In fact, my doctor routinely recommends that his patients get 30 minutes of sunlight or bright light within an hour of waking when they are working to balance hormones.
- Avoid artificial light as much as possible after the sun goes down. Install F.lux (it is free) on all computers and devices to reduce blue light and help you sleep better (it is also easier on the eyes).
- Drink enough water during the day and stop drinking about 2 hours before bed so you don’t have to wake up to use the bathroom.
- Take a soothing salt bath about an hour before bed with some relaxing music or a great book.
- Pray, meditate or find a way to reduce stress.
- Give yourself (or have someone else give you) a massage before bed to release stress and help relax (Personally, I love this for home-massage). Stretch before bed to relax muscles.
Supplement Wisely: Unfortunately, we live in a world where the food supply is often depleted of nutrients due to over-farming, the water is often contaminated with chemicals, and even the air can contain compounds that cause havoc in the body. Ideally, we could get all of our nutrients from food, properly hydrate from water, and get enough Vitamin D from the sun on a daily basis. We’d get magnesium from the ocean and not get deficient in the first place since we’d be consuming adequate minerals from eating fresh seafood.
- Maca– A hormone boosting tuber in the radish family with a long history of use in Peru. Women who use this often see improvements in fertility, reduction in PMS and better skin/hair. It can help men with sperm production, testosterone levels and muscle composition. Maca is a good source of minerals and essential fatty acids, which is one of the ways it supports hormone balance. It is available in powder form (least expensive option) or in capsules. Maca should be discontinued during pregnancy.
- Magnesium– vital for hundreds of functions within the human body and many of us are deficient in this master mineral (here’s how to tell if you are). There are several different ways to get Magnesium: In powder form with a product like Natural Calm so that you can vary your dose and work up slowly, ionic liquid form can be added to food and drinks and dose can be worked up slowly,or transdermal form by using Magnesium oil applied to the skin (this is my favorite method). Topical application is often the most effective option for those with a damaged digestive tract or severe deficiency.
- Vitamin D & Omega-3s– A pre-hormone is supportive of hormone function. Best obtained from the sun if possible, or from a D3 supplement or Cod Liver Oil (a good source of Omega-3 and Vitamin D and what I do in the winter). Make sure not to get too much, and optimally, get Serum Vitamin D levels checked to monitor levels.
- Gelatin or Collagen- a great source of minerals and necessary amino acids. Gelatin and collagen powders support hormone production and digestive health in various ways. Gelatin powder can actually “gel” and is useful in recipes like homemade jello and probiotic marshmallows, while collagen protein does not gel but is easily added to soups, smoothies, coffee, tea or any other food. (I get both gelatin powder and collagen peptides from here)
- Natural Progesterone Cream– PMS and menstrual troubles are often linked to specific hormone imbalances. Especially for those with short cycles or short second phase of their cycle (ovulation through start of menses), progesterone can be the issue. I’ve seen people add only natural progesterone cream and see symptoms greatly reduce. If you do use progesterone cream, do you own research, make sure you have a good brand that is soy-free and only use for the second half of your cycle (ovulation through menses). Check with a doctor or professional before using any hormone supplement.
Exercise The Right Way: For those with hormone imbalance, intense extended exercise can actually make the problem worse in the short term. Sleep is much more important, at least during the balancing phase, so focusing on relaxing exercises like walking or swimming and avoiding the extended running, cardio, and exercise videos, can help the body in the short term. While extended cardio can be bad, short bursts of heavy lifting (kettlebells, deadlifts, squats, lunges) can be beneficial since they trigger a cascade of beneficial hormone reactions. Aim for a few sets (5-7) at a weight that really challenges you, but make sure to get help with form and training if you haven’t done these before as bad form can be harmful.
Consider Adding Herbs: Certain herbs and plants can also help the body bring hormones into balance. Of course, it is important to talk to a doctor before taking these, especially if a person is on hormonal contraceptives or other medications. Some herbs that I’ve personally used are:
- Vitex/Chaste Tree Berry– Nourishes the pituitary gland and helps lengthen the luteal phase. It lowers prolactin and raises progesterone. For some women, this alone will improve symptoms.
- Red Raspberry Leaf– A well know fertility herb that is also helpful in reducing PMS and cramping. It has a high nutrient profile and is especially high in calcium and is a uterine tonic. It is available in capsule form but makes an excellent hot or cold tea.
- Adaptogens- Herbs that help the body handle stress and support the adrenals. They are a great and natural way to work toward hormone balance for many people.
Support Digestive Health: The digestive system has much more of an impact on hormones than many of us realize. Not only is the digestive tract the source of many vital neurotransmitters in the body, but an imbalance in the gut can translate to an imbalance in neurotransmitter and hormones. Serotonin, a necessary neurotransmitter for sleep/stress balance is more concentrated in the gut than even in the brain! 70% of the immune system is found in the gut and it is quite literally the motherboard of many functions in the body. Even thyroid health has been linked to gut health. What Hippocrates knew thousands of years ago seems just as true today… that “all disease begins in the gut.” Those who struggle with gut problems may have trouble ever achieving hormone balance without first addressing gut health. (This is the most comprehensive program I’ve ever seen for addressing gut health issues.)
Fix Your Leptin: a master hormone, and if it is out of balance or if you are resistant to it, no other hormones will balance well. Fixing leptin will also help boost fertility, make weight loss easier, improve sleep, and lower inflammation. Dr. Jack Kruse, a neurosurgeon, has a whole system for getting leptin into balance.
Green Tea: In addition to metabolism-boosting caffeine, it contains an antioxidant known as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which has been credited with several health benefits. Research suggests that consuming green tea may increase insulin sensitivity and lower insulin levels in both healthy people and those with insulin-resistant conditions like obesity and diabetes.
7 Ways to Balance Hormones Naturally (DrAxe.com)
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.
Use Adaptogen herbs: a unique class of healing plants that promote hormone balance and 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:
- Improve thyroid function
- Lower cholesterol naturally
- Reduce anxiety and depression
- Reduce brain cell degeneration
- Stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels
- Support adrenal gland functions
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.
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.
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:
- Clary sage: helps to balance estrogen levels because it contains natural phytoestrogens. It can be used to regulate your menstrual cycle, relieve PMS symptoms, treat infertility and PCOS, and even reduce the chances of uterine and ovarian cancer. It also serves as a natural remedy for emotional imbalances, like depression and anxiety. Diffuse 3-5 drops of clary sage to help balance hormone levels and relieve stress. To ease cramps and pain, massage 5 drops of clary sage with 5 drops of coconut oil into your stomach and any other area of concern.
- Fennel: Problems with your gut health have been found to cause autoimmune reactions, including thyroid disorders. Use fennel essential oil to relax your body, improve your digestion and gut health, boost your metabolism and reduce inflammation. You can rub 2 drops of fennel into your stomach or add 1-2 drops to a class of warm water or tea to take it internally.
- Lavender: promotes emotional balance, as it can help to treat anxiety, depression, moodiness and stress. It can also be used to promote restful sleep, which will help to balance your hormone levels as well. Diffuse 5 drops of lavender oil at home, add 5 drops to a warm water bath or apply 3 drops topically to your temples, back or neck or wrists.
- Sandalwood: can be used to increase your libido, reduce stress, promote relaxation, boost mental clarity and even help you to relax. The powerful fragrance triggers peaceful feelings and results in the overall reduction of stress that can lead to hormone imbalances. Inhale sandalwood directly from the bottle, diffuse it at home or apply 2-3 drops to your wrists and bottoms of the feet.
- Thyme: improves progesterone production, which helps to treat or relieve health issues like infertility, PCOS, menopause, depression, fibroids, hair loss and insomnia. To help balance your hormones naturally, add 2 drops of thyme oil to a warm water bath or rub 2-3 drops with equal parts coconut oil into your abdomen.
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:
- Evening primrose oil: Evening primrose oil contains omega-6 fatty acids, such as LA and GLA, that support overall hormonal function. Supplementing with evening primrose oil can help to relieve premenstrual and PCOS symptoms. It also helps to create a healthy environment for conception.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D almost acts like a hormone inside the body and has important implications for keeping inflammation levels low. This is why people who live in dark areas often suffer from seasonal depression and other health problems unless they supplement with vitamin D. Sunshine is really the best way to optimize vitamin D levels because your bare skin actually makes vitamin D on its own when exposed to even small amounts of direct sunlight. Most people should supplement with around 2,000–5,000 IU daily of vitamin D3 if they live in dark areas, during the winter, and on days when they’re not in the sun.
- Bone broth: Bone broth soothes the digestive system and supplies the body with nutrients that can be easily absorbed. Consuming bone broth or protein powder made from bone broth is especially beneficial to your health because it contains healing compounds like collagen, proline, glycine and glutamine, which have the powder to boost your overall health.
- Probiotics: Probiotics can aid in repairing your gut lining, which in turn can balance your hormones. When undigested food particles, like gluten for example, leak through your gut into your bloodstream, it causes disease-causing inflammation that impacts the entire body — especially glands like the thyroid that is very susceptible to heightened inflammation. Most people with leaky gut have a deficiency of probiotics in their guts. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that can actually improve your production and regulation of key hormones like insulin, ghrelin and leptin.
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.
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.”
48 Foods To Balance Your Hormones & Give You Glowing Skin (Megan Kelly on MindBodyGreen.com)
Basing meals off clean protein, hormone-balancing healthy fats, antioxidant-rich vegetables, and healing herbs will help your body thrive. Choose one food from each category for an easy, hormone balancing, skin healing, meal.
- Soaked or sprouted nuts
- Organic pasture-raised/grass-fed chicken, turkey, beef, bison, elk, pasture-raised eggs
- Wild caught fish
Hormone-balancing healthy fats:
- Coconut oil (and all coconut products for that matter). It contains lauric acid, which is incredibly healing to the skin and extremely beneficial for hormonal production. It also kills bad bacteria and viruses in the body, provides a quick source of energy, is easy to digest, and speeds up metabolism.
- They’re rich in healthy fat that helps our body absorb and use nutrients They are also full of fiber, potassium, magnesium vitamin E, B-vitamins, and Folic acid – all essential for maintaining hormonal balance in the body.
- Raw butter/ghee. They provide a rich source of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K2. These nutrients are key building blocks for hormonal production. Butter provides great amounts of short- and medium-chain fatty acids, which support immune function, boost metabolism and have anti-microbial properties; meaning, they fight against bad bacteria and viruses in the body.
- Egg yolks. They’re rich in countless vitamins and minerals including: A, D, E, B2, B6, B9, iron, calcium, phosphorous, potassium and choline which all contribute to a healthy reproductive system, hormonal balance, and healthy skin. The choline and iodine in egg yolks are also crucial for making healthy thyroid hormones.
- Nuts and seeds. Soaked nuts and seeds, olives and olive oil, fermented cod liver oil, hemp seed oil, flax-seed oil, and raw cultured dairy products.
- Look for anything dark green: asparagus, broccoli, spinach, collard greens, cabbage, cucumbers, kale, cilantro, etc.
- Opt for brightly colored veggies: green, red, yellow, and orange bell peppers, red cabbage, red/white onions, tomatoes, and carrots.
- Don’t overlook starchy vegetables: sweet potatoes, spaghetti squash, yucca, beets, artichokes, butternut squash, and turnips.
Healing spices & herbs:
If your body has the nutrients it needs to be in hormonal balance, it will be. You’ll experience glowing skin, stable moods, fertility, and consistent energy. Our bodies have an incredible ability to heal and be in balance, when given the nutrients they need to flourish.