There is a delicate balance between all the hormones of the body, and once out of balance can lead to a whole host of symptoms for women. (Men can also suffer from hormone imbalances and we’ll discuss that in another post.) Common signs that your hormones may be out of balance include:
Self-doubt and brain fog
Waking at 4am, sometimes in a hot or cold sweat
Friends, family and co-workers suspect you’ve lost your mind
While some physicians think menopause is caused solely by a lack of estrogen, it’s often much more complicated and may involve many systems in the body that have been under siege.
Estrogen is important and women begin to produce less and less estrogen as they approach menopause. But to get the whole picture we must include all sources of estrogen, both those from within, and those from without. As we’ll see soon, it’s not the absolute estrogen level, but the balance with other hormones.
Synthetic hormones and hormone disruptors including Xenoestrogens from the environment trick the normal receptors and cause abnormal signaling. Xenoextrogens are derived from pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, and estrogens given to some of the animals we eat. They contribute to the symphony, but not in a good way. It’s like giving a 7 year old a trombone and telling him to just play along with the symphony.
Ever see the difference between organic and non-organic chicken breasts? The organic are about the size of your hand, the non-organic are twice that size. This is due to estrogen and other hormones that are pumped into these birds, and eventually into you. That’s my plug for eating organic, free-range chicken!
Now, while estrogen levels can drop approximately 40% as a woman approaches menopause, progesterone levels can drop up to 90%. This relative difference between estrogen and progesterone – Estrogen Dominance – is a prime cause of many of the symptoms women experience during the later years of their menstrual cycles.
Estrogen dominance also increases the risk of breast and uterine cancer, affects brain function and emotional balance, energy levels, libido and sleep, and contributes to bone loss.
Treating estrogen dominance may involve detoxification, progesterone replacement, and sometimes estrogen and progesterone replacement. It’s all about the ratios of the different hormones.
Testosterone is another important player in the symphony. While a woman will produce just a fraction of the testosterone that a man produces, it still plays a critical role. In addition to declining estrogen and progesterone, low testosterone is a main cause of low libido in women. Ideally, a woman will feel best with testosterone in the upper 1/3 of the lab reference range.
Other benefits for testosterone for women include increased muscle and bone strength, increased self-assertiveness, and reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimers disease.
Thyroid hormone is like the dimmer switch for your metabolism. It regulates the metabolism in nearly every cell in the body. Symptoms of low thyroid often include fatigue, cold intolerance, loss of lateral 1/3 of your eyebrows (true), low libido, dry skin and hair, hair loss, memory loss, irritability, depression and constipation.
See how some of these symptoms overlap? It takes a full orchestra to make a symphony.
Internists often miss thyroid problems because they rely on outdated laboratory reference ranges, limited testing (TSH only), and/or do not take into account other factors that will affect thyroid function. Things like iodine status, reverse T3 (a hormone that blocks thyroid hormone from working properly), and adrenal gland function. Low body temperature is a sign of either thyroid hormone and/or adrenal gland dysfunction.
The adrenal glands, the “stress glands”, sit atop of the kidneys. They secrete a number of hormones (cortisol, dhea, aldosterone, epinephrine and norepinephrine) and are responsible for helping to maintain blood sugar balance, providing precursors for the sex hormones, helping control inflammation, modulating the thyroid, maintaining fluid balance and energy levels, and a great many other functions. So when you hear the term ADRENAL FATIGUE, just know that nearly all of one’s bodily functions can be affected.
So how does this symphony get out of balance?
-Internal or physiological stress (nutrient deficiencies, dietary imbalances, pain, chronic infections or inflammation
-External stress (toxic exposure, light cycle disruption, trauma, overwork)
-Mental/Emotional Stress (anger, fear, worry, guilt, anxiety, depression)
Persistent and unrelenting stress from any or a combination of these can lead to adrenal exhaustion and hormone imbalances.
How many people live with excessive stress in their lives? Unfortunately most of us are under more stress than we know. Our bodies will attempt to adapt, but after a certain amount of time the system crashes, the hormones suffer and the music of our lives begins to sound and feel chaotic.
To restore harmony we must look not only to the immediate fix (restoring proper hormone levels), but also to treating, eliminating and/or minimizing the underlying stressors. I often see multiple nutrient deficiencies, food intolerances and digestive disturbances in pre-menopausal and menopausal women. These must be treated along with the hormone imbalances.
Before you let your doctor prescribe an anti-depressant for your symptoms, please have your health and hormone levels assessed by a licensed naturopathic physician, functional medicine practitioner or integrative medical doctor.
When your hormone levels are restored, you’ll feel serene and content again. Your sex life will be enhanced. Your body weight will normalize, appropriate to your genetics, bone structure and body type. You’ll sleep well again, and have renewed vitality, vigor and curiosity.
Don’t suffer needlessly through the changes that age and stress bring. Get tested, get treated and get better.