Hormones are vital messengers that orchestrate various functions within our bodies, ensuring optimal health and well-being. However, when there is an imbalance in hormone levels, it can lead to a wide range of hormone-related conditions. In this blog post, we will delve into the causes of hormonal imbalances, explore conventional and natural treatment options, and explore how a functional medicine approach can address the root causes of hormonal imbalances and promote hormone optimization. Plus, we'll provide insights on balancing hormones naturally through diet, lifestyle adjustments, and exercise. Let's embark on a journey to restore hormonal harmony and regain control of your health. Ready?
What is a hormone imbalance?
Hormones play a crucial role in your body, acting as chemical messengers that coordinate various functions. They travel through your bloodstream to reach organs, skin, muscles, and other tissues, providing instructions on what actions to take and when to take them. Without hormones, life and health would be impossible.
When there is an imbalance in hormone levels, either an excess or deficiency of one or more hormones, it is referred to as a hormonal imbalance. This term encompasses a wide range of hormone-related conditions.
Hormonal balancing improves just about every aspect of your life. Balancing your hormones can help you have more energy, less stress/anxiety, an elevated mood, a sharper mind, and a deep, restful, rejuvenating sleep every night. Even a slight deviation from the optimal levels of certain hormones can bring about significant changes and contribute to specific conditions that require medical intervention. For example, too few thyroid hormones or decreasing levels of estrogen can result in weight gain.
Hormonal imbalances can vary in duration from temporary to chronic.. Some imbalances necessitate treatment to maintain physical well-being, while others may not directly impact health but can adversely affect overall quality of life.
What are some causes of hormone imbalance?
Throughout your life, including within a single day, the levels of hormones in your body naturally go through fluctuations.
Certain life stages trigger more significant hormonal changes and variations, such as puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. However, there are other instances when unexpected irregularities in hormone levels can occur. Some common factors leading to fluctuating or imbalanced hormone levels are:
- Certain medications
- Steroid use
These hormonal imbalances are typically temporary and can often be resolved by adjusting medication or effectively managing stress.
Chronic hormone-related conditions can have diverse underlying causes. Generally, medically significant hormone imbalances are attributed to the following conditions or situations:
- Tumors, adenomas, or other growths
- Damage or injury to an endocrine gland
- Autoimmune conditions
What can I do if I have a hormonal imbalance?
It is important to take a comprehensive approach to identify and address the root causes of hormonal imbalances and work toward hormone optimization.
Conventional approaches to treating hormonal imbalances typically involve the use of synthetic hormone replacements, birth control pills, insulin injections, thyroid medications, and similar interventions. Regrettably, relying on these synthetic treatments often leads to three significant outcomes for the majority of individuals grappling with hormonal disorders:
- Dependency on lifelong prescription drug use to manage symptoms.
- Merely masking the patient's symptoms without addressing the root cause, thereby allowing abnormalities to develop in other areas of the body as the disorder progresses.
- An increased risk of severe side effects, including stroke, osteoporosis, anxiety, reproductive problems, cancer, and more.
Is it possible to balance hormones naturally? The good news is, yes, in many cases, it is. Here’s some quick tips to help balance hormones naturally:
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet
- consume omega-3s, adaptogen herbal supplements, mushrooms, probiotics, and other supplements like vitamin D
- get good sleep
- control stress
How does a functional medicine doctor treat hormonal imbalances?
Many patients often inquire about the distinctions between functional medicine and conventional medicine, questioning why they should choose a functional medicine doctor over a traditional medical doctor. Conventional medicine providers typically use methods, like pharmaceuticals, synthetic hormones (birth control), and surgery to treat hormonal conditions. Functional medicine providers focus on identifying the root cause of disease and imbalance and help kick-start the healing process by addressing factors like lifestyle, exercise, and diet. They often prescribe natural supplements and, depending on the type of doctor and your state’s local laws, they can prescribe pharmaceuticals and bioidentical hormones.
Bioidentical Hormone Therapy
Bioidentical hormones are processed hormones designed to mimic the hormones made by your body’s glands. Bioidentical hormone therapy (BHRT) uses processed hormones that come from plants. Taking bioidentical hormones can help people who experience symptoms of low or unbalanced hormones
So, one of the first procedures a functional medicine doctor might do is perform a functional medical lab to look for deficiencies in certain micronutrients. Some of the panels performed include
- Sex Hormone panel to measure estrogen and other sex hormones
- Liver function test to look at levels of B vitamins, Vitamin D, and Magnesium
- Comprehensive stool test to test for a healthy level of bacteria in the gut
Improved Nutrition Intake
There is a link between the health of your gut microbiome and hormones. When gut health isn’t optimal, hormones become imbalanced. For example, there is new research showing that the microbiome plays a big role in estrogen regulation. These studies indicate that poor gut health increases the risk of estrogen-related diseases such as PCOS, endometriosis, and even breast cancer.
Scientists know that 95% of Serotonin is produced and stored in the gut. This is why people with unhealthy microbiomes also often experience feelings of depression and anxiety.
An imbalanced gut microbiome is also one of the causes of a low-performing thyroid, also known as Hypothyroidism. Symptoms of this include chronic fatigue, weight gain, and hair loss.
Insulin is in part regulated by Lactobacillus reuteri which is stored in the gut. With inflammation being a key symptom of an imbalanced microbiome, a deficiency of this beneficial flora makes it even worse.
Vitamin D3, which is a precursor hormone, is not absorbed well by the body if gut health is not optimal. This vitamin is crucial to health on many levels, and chronic deficiencies lead to a host of other problems.
Gut health also influences healthy cholesterol levels. These are precursors to maintaining a balance of Progesterone and Estrogen.
Therefore a functional medicine doctor might suggest the following:
- Consume a more hormone-balanced diet. Eating a more high-fiber whole foods diet creates greater bacterial diversity in the gut and a balanced astrobleme, a collection of bacteria in the gut that is capable of metabolizing and modulating the body's circulating estrogen. Including fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchee, and kvass rebalances and increases bacterial diversity.
- Adequate quality protein is also essential for optimal liver detoxification.
- Reducing alcohol and caffeine also balances hormones since these can burden the liver and disrupt estrogen metabolism.
Since manufactured xenoestrogens mimic natural estrogens and alter the microbiome, reducing exposure helps restore balanced hormones. Your functional medicine doctor might recommend:
- Minimize plastic use, especially when heated
- Opt for non-chemical plant-based laundry and household cleaning products without synthetic fragrances
- Avoid phthalates, stearalkonium chloride, and parabens in personal care products
- Opt for organic food whenever possible
For improved vitality that comes with hormonal balance, your functional medicine doctor might recommend an exercise program that combines strength training and cardio workouts. The more intense a workout, the more these hormones are released. Some of the hormones affected by exercise are the following:
- Dopamine. Studies have proven exercise increases dopamine levels in the brain, which decreases stress and even depression. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4061837/)
This chemical causes the famous “runners-high” because it enhances those “feel-good” transmitters. Increased dopamine also helps remove that “edgy” feeling stress creates.
- Serotonin. Millions of Americans suffer from insomnia and sleep apnea and turn to sleep aids for help. But physical activity releases serotonin, which promotes a good night’s rest. Boosting serotonin levels can also positively impact mood, social behavior, appetite, digestion, memory, and sexual function.
- Testosterone. A man’s muscle mass, strength, sex drive, and sperm count are directly linked to his testosterone levels. As a man ages, testosterone naturally decreases. Engaging in regular physical activity can help boost testosterone, which can slow the natural effects of aging.
- Estrogen. The symptoms of menopause are, in part, driven by the imbalance and decline of estrogen. One way to combat this is to exercise. Getting your heart rate up for at least a half hour every day helps boost estrogen levels, which can help take the edge off menopause symptoms.
Hormonal imbalances can have a significant impact on our overall health and well-being. However, there are both conventional and natural treatment options available to address these imbalances. Embracing a functional medicine approach can help identify and treat the root causes of hormonal imbalances, promoting hormone optimization and restoring harmony within the body. By making dietary adjustments, adopting a healthy lifestyle, and incorporating exercise into our daily routine, we can naturally balance our hormones.
It's time to take control of our health and embark on a journey towards hormonal harmony, experiencing improved vitality and a greater sense of well-being. Remember, restoring balance is within reach, and you have the power to regain control of your hormonal health.