Hormones serve as the body's messengers, regulating various functions. They are secreted by glands throughout the body that comprise the endocrine system, or the hormonal system. Normally, the body's hormones operate in a delicate balance; when levels of a given hormone get too high or too low, bothersome symptoms may emerge. However, it's not usually necessary to resort to medical intervention to rebalance hormone levels.
The main reproductive hormones produced by the female body are estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Although often referred to as reproductive hormones for their essential roles in directing the menstrual cycle and other reproductive functions, these hormones actually have many functions in the body, such as regulating mood and bone mass. Because of this, hormonal imbalances may generate symptoms not associated with hormone levels.
Typical periods of hormonal imbalance
Typical periods of hormonal imbalance begin with puberty, in which hormone levels surge, causing symptoms such as painful periods and acne during adolescence. When a woman reaches her twenties and thirties, there begins the steadier onset of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), during which the drop in hormone levels near the end of the menstrual cycle triggers the shedding of the uterine lining. Symptoms experienced due to PMS will vary among women.
As the body naturally ceases to menstruate in a woman's forties and fifties during perimenopause, hormone production gradually declines, bringing about hot flashes, mood swings, loss of libido, irregular periods, or other symptoms. After the menopause transition is completed, women enter postmenopause, characterized by consistently low hormone levels. Women are at a greater risk of serious health conditions, namely osteoporosis and heart disease, at this time due to low hormone levels.
Hormonal imbalance disorders
Rather than being tied into natural stages and processes in the body, some instances of hormonal imbalance are related to health conditions. These include:
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
- Uterine fibroids
Tips for Balancing Hormone Levels
When looking to counter hormonal imbalance, many women first turn to healthy lifestyle adjustments to promote overall health and benefit the general functioning of the body, including the endocrine system.
Consuming a healthy diet
One of the main ways to assist with hormonal imbalance is to consume a diet rich in phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are plant-derived compounds that complement estrogen and help with hormonal imbalances. Therefore, they're used in the holistic treatment of low-estrogen symptoms, such as the ones experienced during PMS, perimenopause, and postmenopause. Foods rich in phytoestrogens include soy products, flax, lentils, and sesame seeds.
Women should also pay close attention to their calcium and vitamin D intake in particular, as these nutrients help prevent osteoporosis, a condition to which women are more susceptible than men due to natural hormonal changes.
Other recommended diet considerations that help with specific hormonal symptoms and general health are to eat well-rounded, balanced meals that include all the major food groups in healthy proportions. Choose fresh products with less added sugars over refined products whenever possible.
Having a healthy weight can ward off chronic and cardiovascular diseases; improve mood and self-image; and increase energy levels to reduce sleepiness. In addition, regular exercise can help relieve many of the symptoms that hormonal imbalance can produce by getting endorphins, or “the happiness hormone,” moving.
Some exercises that can help with hormonal imbalance, by reducing stress, include yoga and Pilates. For aerobic and resistance exercises, consider jogging or Zumba; performing these exercises outside will also increase vitamin D exposure from the sun. Vitamin D helps absorb calcium in the body for strong bones to prevent the onset of conditions such as osteoporosis with age.
Additionally, exercises that require weight-bearing - such as walking and weightlifting - could also help build up muscle mass and prevent osteoporosis. It is generally recommended to exercise for 30 minutes five days a week.
Exhibiting good habits
Making healthy lifestyle adjustments also signifies exhibiting good habits in all aspects of life. For example, sleep deprivation has wide-reaching effects on the body, which often makes symptoms of hormonal imbalance worse. A good night's sleep not only keeps stress hormones balanced, but it also gives the body time to properly recover and build up energy.
Moreover, it is important to limit alcohol intake. Chronic heavy drinking can contribute to a multitude of reproductive disorders, such as early menopause and irregular menstrual cycles. This is because alcohol interferes with the hormonal regulation of the reproductive system. Alcohol can also disturb vitamin D metabolism, resulting in impaired calcium absorption and subsequent deficiencies.
Likewise, stress seems to be a given in modern life. High stress levels can actually suppress hormone production and contribute to symptoms like irregular periods and hot flashes. Each woman has her own way of relaxing, but nonetheless, it's important to set aside time each day to destress. Yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, and a warm bath are some recommended strategies. Also, for many women, destressing may mean taking fewer responsibilities and not trying to do everything. Implementing good habits can no doubt be a challenge, but the benefits are worth it for overall health and wellness.
Natural Treatments for Balancing Hormone Levels
While lifestyle adjustments generally provide some benefit, they do not directly address hormonal imbalance. However, certain herbal supplements can have a positive effect on hormone levels.
- Phytoestrogenic supplements. These products are made from herbs like black cohosh, soy, red clover, and dong quai, which contain phytoestrogens, or plant-based compounds that act like estrogen in the body. While they can naturally raise estrogen levels when they are low, too many phytoestrogens can actually have the opposite effect. In addition, these supplements do not address the levels of other hormones that may be out of balance.
- Hormone-regulating supplements. These products, such as Macafem, contain ample micronutrients and beneficial alkaloids that stimulate the hormonal glands. Rather than introducing hormones from outside sources, they help the body produce its own hormones naturally with the nourishment they provide. This results in a balance of not just estrogen, but also other hormones like progesterone and testosterone, whether levels are initially too high or too low.
Hormonal imbalance has many forms at different life stages and can produce a range of effects on the body. For that reason, there is no single treatment that works equally well for all women. Typically, a combination of approaches involving healthy lifestyle adjustments and natural treatments suited to a woman's needs and preferences is the first step on the path to wellness.
- Bacciottini, L. et al. (2007). Phytoestrogens: food or drug? Clinical Cases in Mineral and Bone Metabolism, 4(2), 123-130. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2781234/
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