Now that you know why I am not a proponent of the bandaid approach (if you don’t know what the bandaid approach is and have no idea what I’m talking about, check out my post here!), let’s talk about some of the reasons why you might be experiencing imbalanced hormones.
Getting to the root cause of your health issues is always going to be what delivers the most sustainable, most healing, most long-term results. The bandaid approach treats the symptom; identifying and tending to the root cause changes the environment so that healing can actually occur. It's not symptom management. It's actual healing!
There are a buttload of different hormonal issues out there, each with a slightly different etiology.
Common Hormonal Imbalances
PMS (yes, PMS is a hormonal imbalance, and no it is not “normal” and simply part of the “curse” of being born a woman)
Large clots with your periods
All of these imbalances are a result of hormonal breakdown that happens somewhere along the hormone’s journey from point A to point B.
Hormones are chemical messengers. They communicate certain things with your cells, glands, tissues, organs, the microbes in you and on you, and with your entire body as a whole in order to generate a reaction, downregulate this, upregulate that, and basically ensure that your body does what it's supposed to do all day every day.
The hormone ghrelin’s job is to signal to you that you are hungry and that it’s time to eat.
The hormone leptin’s job is to signal to you that you are full and that it’s time to stop eating.
When the message gets lost in translation for whatever reason (Inflammation? Micronutrient deficiency? Perceived stress? Hypothalamic dysfunction? Toxin/chemical exposure?), hormonal breakdown happens.
And it looks different for everyone, depending on various things including: your baseline health, your genetic predispositions, your diet, your lifestyle, your past medical history, your immune system, your environment, certain epigenetic factors etc.
For one woman, chronically undereating might result in hypothyroidism and subsequent infertility, while in another woman it may present as hypothalamic amenorrhea.
I teach my students in The Hormone Healing Secrets 6-Week Course a variety of tools to address the root cause of their imbalances. The guidance in the course works on so many levels and on so many different hormonal imbalances because we address the FUNDAMENTAL BASELINES of where health breakdown happens – basics like blood sugar balance and dealing with unrelenting stress.
If you’ve got PCOS, getting your blood sugar under control is going to help restore ovulation because the ovaries are particularly sensitive to insulin dysregulation.
If you’ve got endometriosis, getting your blood sugar under control is going to help you with getting out of sympathetic dominance and back into the parasympathetic state where you can heal and where your immune system isn’t going to be firing on all fronts.
If you’ve got zero energy and zero libido, balancing your blood sugar is going to help restore this because when we’re not riding the blood sugar rollercoaster all day, our body actually HAS the energy and the reserves for things like a sharp brain and quick thinking and enough energy and desire for sex at the end of the day.
So do you see how everything is connected?
Starting with the basics and the fundamentals, you can get very far with getting your symptoms under control!
Possible Root Causes of Hormonal Imbalances
MISMANAGED BLOOD SUGAR
When we are constantly chasing our blood sugar all day, the body perceives this as a stressor, so it diverts its energy and resources away from things like a healthy period, juicy libido, and baby-making capabilities to ensuring you don’t die. The body is very good at getting blood sugar where it needs to be. And blood sugar stabilization is something that the body and the endocrine system are very good at. However, BEFORE you have a healthy, pain-free/symptom-free period, BEFORE you have a juicy libido, BEFORE you have the ability to create and carry a baby, your body will ensure that there is enough glucose for your brain, your heart and your muscle tissue FIRST. This is the number one job of the endocrine system. That is because your heart beating and your brain thinking and your muscles working are absolutely imperative to your survival; a healthy period, a strong sex drive and regular ovulation sadly are not. Mismanaged blood sugar is a nightmare for your hormonal health.
When we constantly under eat, this is a message to the body that it’s in “famine mode”, and therefore it has to divert its energy and resources to the absolute most vital functions of your body. The body has to prioritize and pick and choose which activities to do instead of doing ALL the activities it was designed to do. Undereating leads to undernourishment, which leads to vitamin and mineral deficiencies throughout the body, which leads to a state of metabolic stress. Undereating also leads to dysfunction of the hypothalamus (your master hormone gland), and if your hypothalamus isn't functioning properly, the conversation from your brain to all of the organs/glands involved in hormone balance gets muddled and often times shuts down completely (as in the case of hypothalamic amenorrhea). Think of your body like a car. A car will not run without fuel. Your body will not run if you do not fuel it properly with food.
Unabated, unrelenting stress results in the body living in a constant state of fight or flight (sympathetic nervous system, or SNS). When we are spending all of our time in fight or flight, we have little opportunity to rest and digest (parasympathetic nervous system, or PNS). We HEAL in the PNS. But when we are constantly in the sympathetic state, our body perceives that we are in danger because we have a near constant stream of stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine circulating in our blood stream. If the body thinks its in danger, its going to prioritize your survival over a healthy period, a juicy libido, optimal fertility, and a breezy/happy/balanced luteal phase.
Our gut is home to about 100 trillion microbes, including bacteria, viruses, parasites, yeast and fungi. You are literally more microbes than you are human cells. You are approximately 10% human; the rest of you is microbes. Isn’t that a wild thing to ponder? You have good bugs, bad bugs, and commensal bugs (not good and not bad). We want a higher number of good guys in relation to bad guys because the good guys keep the bad guys in check. This is called competitive inhibition. Approximately 70-80% of our immune system lies in our gut and is widely influenced by these bacteria. If you have an imbalance in your gut microbiome, otherwise known as “gut dysbiosis”, your immune system may be compromised. You may experience digestive disturbances and have issues absorbing the nutrition from your food. If the body isn’t able to extract the nutrition it needs from the food you eat, it can’t use those vitamins, minerals, and amino acids to rebuild a healthy body. Gut dysbiosis drives inflammation, increases risk for autoimmunity, and has negative impacts on your mood, your brain, your skin, your metabolism, and (yep! You guessed it!) your hormones. Subpar gut health is a driver for body-wide inflammation, which is always at the root of hormonal imbalances.
LACK OF NATURE/TOO MUCH BLUE LIGHT EXPOSURE
Humans are so radically disconnected from nature today. We spend so much of our lives inside the house, staring at the computer screen, and not getting exposed to natural light from the sunshine. This is devastating for the health and functioning of our circadian rhythm because it is our body’s natural internal body clock that resets itself daily so that we have appropriate surges of cortisol and melatonin, two hormones essential for optimal energy and restorative sleep. Without appropriate concentrations of both, say goodbye to great energy, appropriate blood sugar handling, a state of peace throughout the day, and deep, healing sleep at night. Nature grounds us, centers us, lowers our blood pressure, clears our mind, supports healthy sleep/wake cycles, heals our mitochondria, replenishes us with fresh oxygen, and helps mitigate the negative effects of toxins. Without daily sunlight, without daily fresh air, without the daily reset of our circadian rhythm, it’s a cascading effect that has major implications for health as a whole.
TOXINS/HEAVY METALS/CHEMICAL EXPOSURE
It’s no surprise that toxins, chemicals, and heavy metals are harmful for our health. Toxins, by definition are that – toxic! They literally poison our body. And sadly, in 2022, there are more toxins in our environment than ever before. Its unprecedented, and our bodies simply have not evolved quick enough to adapt to this constant barrage of chemicals, heavy metals, and poisons that lurk in the environment. Many chemicals are endocrine disruptors, meaning they “disrupt” the normal functioning of your endocrine system. Symptoms show up when we get to our own personal limit of accumulated toxins and we aren’t able to clear them quickly or efficiently enough. Heavy metals are known to displace minerals in the body, which makes us mineral deficient. Check out my post here on the importance of detoxification.
TOO MUCH EXERCISE
Too much strenuous, high intensity exercise is not good for our female bodies, because it puts undo stress on our systems and has a high propensity for negatively impacting our adrenal glands. Working out too hard for too long overstimulates the adrenal glands which ultimately leads to burnout and subsequent adrenal fatigue. And, I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that you've probably already got a fair amount of stress on your plate as it is ... so when you’re going hard at the gym, this actually leaves you even more depleted and further taxes your already taxed adrenals. The severe cases of adrenal fatigue are where you have no energy to get up out of bed in the morning, despite plenty of sleep. You can’t get through your day without caffeine. You have inappropriate cortisol surges and experience the various slumps throughout your work day and then go on to experience the tired but wired feeling at night when you should be drifting off into sweet dreams.
NOT ENOUGH EXERCISE
Just as too much exercise can contribute to imbalanced hormones, so can not exercising enough. When we live sedentary lifestyles, our metabolism slows down, our blood sugar handling dysregulates, our mitochondrial health suffers, and we are more likely to carry extra weight around our midsection. This fat is metabolically active fat, and is the type that is associated with symptoms of metabolic syndrome: hypertension, diabetes, circulation problems, abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels etc. Having this type of metabolically active fat is also a driver for estrogen dominance, so this is a major reason why symptoms associated with estrogen excess (heavy periods, prolonged bleeding, endometriosis, fibroids, painful/sore breasts, PMS, moodiness, irritability, labile moods) are present in women who are overweight/obese.
Thyroid health is a major factor in your menstrual health. The thyroid is your body’s furnace. It is essential for all metabolic activity including digestion, detoxification, and fertility. Thyroid issues can implicate your menstrual health in a myriad of ways, including: stimulating prolactin (too much prolactin suppresses ovulation), worsening insulin resistance, increases your risk of PCOS, impairs healthy metabolism of estrogen, steals energy reserves from your ovaries, causing anovulation and progesterone deficiency, and impacting your body’s natural coagulation abilities, leading to heavy periods.
LACK OF NUTRIENTS
No surprise here – lack of vital micronutrients will impact your body on a grand scale and has far reaching implications for your health as a whole, not solely your menstrual health. Without adequate vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, and micronutrients, our body simply cannot carry out all of the metabolic processes it needs to every day to keep you alive and thriving. This is where we see the body have to pick and choose activities necessary for your survival (keeping your heart beating, your mind thinking, and your muscles working so that you can run away from an axe murderer) INSTEAD OF ALSO doing all the OTHER things that your body wants to get done so that you can THRIVE AND FEEL GOOD! The human experience is not simply one where we wake up, survive, slave away at the office, feel like shit, medicate with booze and caffeine and garbage food, then go to bed just to do it all over again tomorrow. No my dear. We are meant to THRIVE. And feel AMAZING. And have HEALTHY PERIODS. And AMAZING ENERGY LEVELS. And have JUICY LIBIDOS and GET PREGNANT when and if we want to.
Progesterone is a rockstar. We LOVE progesterone. It has a multitude of benefits for our body that reach far beyond getting knocked up and maintaining a healthy pregnancy. Check out this post here about how powerful progesterone is. When we have weak ovulation, or when we don’t ovulate in general, we don’t have adequate progesterone circulating during the latter half of our cycle. Inadequate levels of progesterone are not only a huge problem for fertility, but it also contributes to PMS and all the fun that comes with PMS. It has negative implications for our brain, bone and heart health, and low levels of progesterone are associated with overall decreased longevity and vitality in women. Read my post here about signs you may have a progesterone deficiency.
Oxidative stress is stress that results from too any oxidants, or too many reactive oxidative species in the body. These come from poor food choices, unrelenting stress, harmful chemicals/toxic substances, and even daily metabolic processes in the body can generate oxidation. This is why antioxidants from berries and colorful fruits and veggies are so amazing for us, because their job is to mitigate the effects of these harmful oxidants that would otherwise run amok around our bodies, create inflammation and displace minerals. When this happens day after day, our bodies are forced to do the bare minimum rather than do all the things we need to have done in order for us to truly thrive.
The adrenal glands produce many hormones including cortisol, norepinephrine and adrenaline, as well as some of our sex hormones. They have a key role in the all-important HPA axis – hypothalamic/pituitary/adrenal axis. The HPA axis is an important feedback loop in the body, and it is the mechanism by which your body regulates your cortisol output. Your brain and your adrenals communicate through this axis, and it is absolutely affected by a multitude of things like inflammation, mismanaged blood sugar, circadian rhythm dysregulation, unabating stress, undereating, under-nourishing, among a multitude of other things. When your adrenals are dysfunctional, this conversation between the brain and the adrenals doesn’t happen well, and we have an inappropriate misfiring of too much cortisol and eventual burnout of our adrenal glands. This isn’t something that is widely acknowledged by the allopathic medical world, but functional nutrition and functional medicine do understand this concept and are well versed in healing and restoring adrenal function. Bottom line, if your adrenals aren’t functioning optimally, if you are experiencing adrenal dysfunction and or have progressed to full on adrenal fatigue, your hormonal health will suffer.
These are just some of the big kahuna root cause reasons for why your hormones are imbalanced. This is certainly not an exhaustive list by any means, just many of the things I see with clients.
There will always be exceptions to the rule that require deeper digging or are more complicated than the average bear (example: history of trauma/abuse, pathologies like Lyme, mold exposure, stealth pathogens, someone who has had a thyroidectomy, adrenalectomy, pituitary tumors, surgical history, etc).
HORMONE BALANCE IS NOT BLACK AND WHITE.
Healing in general is not black and white. It's very nuanced with about 47369 shades of gray, and every thing is on a gradient.
That's what makes being a gal in 2022 on a healing journey so wildly amazing and so irritatingly frustrating; there is no one right answer or magic bullet or superstar supplement that's going to do the trick. It's figuring out what's true for YOU, diving deep into the wisdom of your body, your symptoms, your specific set of circumstances, and integrating a healing protocol that works for you.
But. No matter what.
At the end of the day.
If you do not address the root cause of your issue and you simply spot treat symptoms, sustainable long-term results are MUCH harder. In fact, I don't believe that when we simply treat symptoms we get anywhere significant. It's like having a dying plant in dead/barren/sad sap soil and wondering why the plant is suffering.
Heal the soil, heal the terrain, nourish, replenish, and tend to the garden if you want the plants & seedlings to flourish.
Which of these root causes of hormonal imbalance surprised you? Tell me below!
Yours In Abundant Health!