Seven Ways To Balance Your Hormones Naturally
I am going to open up this blog by defining for you WHAT a hormone is. We hear about hormones a lot, but what are they, really?
The definition of a hormone is as follows: “A hormone is any member of a class of signaling molecules, produced by glands in multicellular organisms, that are transported by the circulatory system to target distant organs to regulate physiology and behavior.”
Let’s break that definition down.
1- Hormones are chemical substances
2- Hormones function like messengers.
3-After being made in one part of the body, they travel to other parts of the body where they help control how your cells and organs do their work.
4- EXAMPLE: insulin is a hormone that's made by the beta cells in the pancreas. After its made in the pancreas it is released into the blood. It helps regulate how the cells of your body use glucose for energy.
The human body secretes and circulates some 50 different hormones including estrogen, testosterone, leptin, grehlin, adrenaline and insulin.
These hormones are produced by various glands and organs, including your thyroid, adrenals, pituitary, ovaries, testicles and pancreas.
What do these hormones do?
Hormones regulate most major bodily processes, like metabolism and appetite, heart rate, sleep cycles, reproductive cycles and sexual function, general growth and development, mood, stress, libido, body temperature, and more.
Your hormones are part of what’s called the endocrine system which is comprised of the glands that make hormones. I won’t go in depth about the individual glands but the major players in the endocrine system are the hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, parathyroids, adrenals, pineal body, the ovaries, and the testes.
The pancreas is also part of the endocrine system but it is dully part of the digestive system. It not only secretes hormones into the bloodstream, it also makes and secretes enzymes into the digestive tract.
Your entire endocrine system works together to control the level of hormones circulating throughout your body. Think of it like the inner workings of a clock. In order to function properly each gear or piece needs to be in balance and in working order. If a hormonal imbalance occurs (too much of one hormone or not enough of another) it can throw off your entire endocrine system function, causing a cascade of negative health effects.
There are many conventional treatments for hormonal imbalances such as synthetic hormone replacement therapies, birth control pills, insulin injections, thyroid medications and more, but there are also lots of ways you can balance your hormones naturally.
What Causes Hormonal Imbalance?
Lots of things can impact the balance of your body’s hormones and causes will differ depending on which hormones or glands are affected. In general, hormonal imbalances are multi-factorial disorders, meaning they are usually the result of a combination of factors such as your diet, medical history, genetics, stress levels, 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 (increased intestinal permeability) or dysbiosis (bacteria imbalance), you’re more susceptible to hormonal problems. Inflammation that is rooted in the gut impacts nearly every aspect of your health.
Being overweight or obese
High levels of inflammation resulting from a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle
High amounts of stress, and an insufficient amount of sleep
Adrenal dysfunction is the largest cause of the hormonal imbalance with the sex hormones — especially because of something called the “cortisol steal.” This occurs when cholesterol, which usually helps to make the sex hormones, combines with too much stress and the enzyme 17/20 lyase blocks the conversion; the production of cortisol ensues.
Cortisol then causes imbalances of progesterone, estrogen and testosterone.
What Are The Signs and Symptoms Of Hormonal Imbalance?
Some of the most common signs and symptoms of hormone imbalances include:
Weight gain or weight loss (that’s unexplained and not due to intentional changes in your diet)
Depression and anxiety
Changes in appetite
Hair loss and hair thinning
Symptoms of hormonal imbalances can range dramatically depending on what type of disorder or illness they cause. For example, high estrogen can contribute to problems that include endometriosis and reproductive issues, while symptoms of diabetes often include weight gain, changes in appetite, nerve damage and problems with eyesight.
Some of the most common hormonal imbalances and their corresponding symptoms are:
Estrogen dominance: changes in sleep patterns, changes in weight and appetite, higher perceived stress, slowed metabolism
PCOS ( Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome): infertility, weight gain, higher risk for diabetes, acne, abnormal hair growth
Low estrogen: low sex drive, reproductive problems, menstrual irregularity, changes in mood
Hypothyroidism: slowed metabolism, weight gain, fatigue, anxiety, irritability, digestive issues, irregular periods
Low testosterone: erectile dysfunction, muscle loss, weight gain (particularly in the belly or low back), fatigue, mood-related problems, joint pain or muscle stiffness
Hyperthyroidism & Graves disease: anxiety, thinning hair, weight loss, IBS, trouble sleeping, irregular heartbeats
Diabetes: weight gain, nerve damage (neuropathy), higher risk for vision loss, fatigue, trouble breathing, dry mouth, skin problems
Adrenal fatigue: fatigue, muscle aches and pains, anxiety and depression, trouble sleeping, brain fog, reproductive problems
Seven Ways You Can Naturally Balance Your Hormones
Crowd out processed carbs with healthy fats
Your body needs various types of fats to create hormones so a variety of foods high in short, medium and long-chain fatty acids is key to keeping your hormones in check.
Not only are healthy fats the fundamental building blocks for hormone production, they also are anti inflammatory, can boost your metabolism and help 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.
What are healthy fats? Foods like avocado,, olive oil, coconut oil, and wild-caught salmon are some examples.
Salmon in particular is 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.
In general try to avoid oils high in omega-6 fats (safflower oil, 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 do want to mention that there is a type of omega-6 fat that you may 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.
Use Adaptogen Herbs
I love adaptogens. They are a unique class of healing plants and herbs 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 like ashwagandha, medicinal mushrooms, rhodiola and holy basil — can:
Improve thyroid function
Reduce anxiety and depression
Reduce brain cell degeneration
Stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels
Support adrenal gland functions
Improve energy and overall sense of wellbeing
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. It can also be used to support a sluggish or overactive thyroid, and it can also help to overcome adrenal fatigue.
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.
I do want to mention that just because adaptogens are available to anyone, over the counter, does not mean you shouldn't seek the help of a professional in using them. The opposite. Adaptogens are powerful, and it's always best to use them under professional supervision.
Address Emotional Imbalances
As a health coach I believe very firmly that what happens in one area of the body can impact another. In fact eastern medicinal practices such as Chinese and Ayurvedic hold that internal emotions have a direct impact on a person’s health and by addressing both emotional imbalances AND external factors and lifestyle choices you can help to prevent health conditions associated with hormonal imbalances.
For example traditional Chinese medicine 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.
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. Your emotions and hormones are connected, so by working to balance one, you are impacting the other.
Use Essential Oils
Before you write this one off- hear me out. Aromatherapy is a bit “new-agey “ but the practice does have some validity. It has been used for centuries. Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine that employs plant extracts to support health and well-being. When inhaled, the scent molecules in therapeutic grade essential oils travel from the olfactory nerves directly to the brain and especially impact the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain. Essential oils can also be absorbed by the skin.
For example, clary sage can help 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 can help problems with your gut health which cause autoimmune reactions, including thyroid disorders. Fennel can help 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 oil 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 oil 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 use strategic supplementation to help fill in any nutritional gaps that could contributing to a hormone imbalance. In general, some scientifically backed supplements that can help your hormones are:
Evening primrose oil: EPO contains omega-6 fatty acids, such as LA and GLA (which I mentioned earlier) 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 behaves in a similar way to a hormone inside the body and has important implications for keeping inflammation levels low. 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. This is why people who live in dark areas - or who do not get outside enough- often suffer from seasonal depression and other health problems unless they supplement with vitamin D. 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. Bone broth is rich in protein and contains collagen, glucosamine, hyaluronic acid and chondroitin. It has been well-studied for its anti-inflammatory properties, and 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.
Probiotics: Research shows probiotic supplements can do a lot more then just balance your microbiome. They can also help manage mood disorders like anxiety and depression, normalize inflammation, and help balance hormones. For example, the estrobolome is a collection of bacteria in the gut which is capable of metabolizing and modulating the body’s circulating estrogen, which in turn can impact weight, libido and mood. Anther example is how dysbiosis impacts your hormones. If there is (for example) an excess of bacteria that produce betaglucuronidase, this reverts estrogen back into its unconjugated active form and it is then absorbed back into the bloodstream resulting in estrogen dominance. Elevated betaglucuronidase levels are associated with conditions like PMS, obesity, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, estrogen related cancers and endometriosis. Probiotics can also improve your production and regulation of key hormones like insulin, ghrelin and leptin.
Medications and Birth Control
Many people take medication without being fully aware of all the potential side effects. Some medications like corticosteroids, stimulants, statins, dopamine agonists, rexinoids and glucocorticoids can disrupt your hormone balance, leading to things like fatigue, appetite changes, altered sleeping patterns, low libido, and even depression. It’s important to have all of the information about a medication up front, so you can make an informed decision. And whenever possible, research natural alternatives and consider them as options.
Birth control is another dangerous medications that alters hormone levels. “The pill” is a type of hormone therapy that raises estrogen to such dangerous levels that it can cause complications, one of which being hormonal imbalances. Studies show that the health risks of taking them, especially long-term, can include things like breakthrough bleeding between cycles, increased risk of uterine bleeding, blood clotting, heart attack and stroke, migraines, weight gain, back pain, mood changes, nausea, liver tumors, etc.
Get More Sleep
I’ll be blunt- 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.
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.
In fact the three biggest contributors to elevated cortisol levels are lack of sleep, long-term use of corticosteroids and chronic stress.
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, focus on getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night, ideally try to get to bed by 10 p.m, and stick with a regular sleep-wake-cycle as much as possible.
There are absolutely instances where medical intervention for a hormonal imbalance or hormone related disorder is necessary.
The natural treatments I mentioned above can still greatly help you feel better and 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 lifestyle adjustments, supplements and treatments.
Looking for one-on-one guidance with your metabolic and hormonal health? I'd love to hear from you!