Your endocrine system (also called The Master Control System) is highly intricate, affecting nearly every organ in your body. Hormone balance becomes crucial to your overall well-being. Conventional medicine prefers to help you manage your symptoms rather than get to the root of the concern. By doing this, they make lots of money while often leaving women feeling awful. The good news is that there are non-toxic answers. Let’s address how you can go from hormone havoc to happiness with these eight suggestions. But first, some background.
When I began to counsel women exhibiting hormone imbalance over twenty years ago, the following is a typical scenario that I heard repeatedly. It went something like this:
Emily, a 47-year-old married woman with three children and a stressful job, came to my office complaining of feeling tired almost every day, not sleeping well, weight gain around her mid-section, crying easily, a feeling of consistent stress, hot flashes, and becoming more and more uninterested in intimacy. Her last sentence was: “The bottom line is that I’m just not happy.” Seemingly family members were beginning to avoid her because her moods were all over the place. One older child even mentioned the words “crazy woman.”
Emily had previously visited her family doctor, who ordered serum testing of her adrenal, thyroid, and sex hormones. He told her that the results came back normal and offered her a prescription for an antidepressant that would “help her feel better.” Emily said to me, “Basically, he made me feel like all my symptoms were in my head and that my family was right – I’m a depressed, crazy woman! I told him that what I was experiencing was not normal for me. Is he right? Is all of this just in my mind?” By this time, tears were falling, and I could tell that Emily desperately needed some answers — and some relief. She was definitely ready to go from hormone havoc to happiness.
As we went through a hormone imbalance symptom list, the following symptoms stood out: PMS, fatigue, insomnia, mood swings, hot flashes, stress, digestive tract issues (bloating and constipation), foggy thinking, memory issues, weight gain despite daily exercise, anxiety, and difficulty in concentrating.
Indeed, all of these symptoms pointed toward textbook hormone imbalance. Unfortunately, conventional medicine’s answers to hormone havoc often miss the mark since they prefer to treat symptoms, not the root cause. Lifestyle changes, including a healthy diet, exercise, herbs, and even bioidentical hormone therapy, can make a huge difference for women experiencing what I call the middle age roller coaster of hormone havoc.
Hormone Havoc to Happiness – 8 Suggestions
Saliva test your sex and adrenal hormones.
It’s always best to test your hormone levels. The reasons are that saliva testing gives you a baseline to compare to future testing and allows you to address specific concerns efficiently. Why saliva testing? Normal blood serum and blood plasma tests show total hormone levels but do not accurately reflect ‘free hormone’ levels. In other words, serum tests cannot accurately show biologically active (useable) hormone levels. Research shows that the circulating hormones made by the adrenal glands and ovaries are bound to proteins, held in little ‘protein envelopes’ by SHBG (sex-hormone-binding-globulin) or CBG (cortisol-binding-globulin). Because these hormones are protein-bound, they are not biologically active. Saliva tests reveal the levels of unbound proteins in the body. Only about ten percent of circulating hormones are free (unbound) and available to the cells at any given time.
…”hormone levels have traditionally been assessed indirectly by using an FSH/LH test or directly using a serum test…the interaction between the sex steroids and FSH/LH levels is complex and cannot indicate hormone levels accurately…studies demonstrate the accuracy of saliva for the measurement of free-hormone levels. Clinical trials have validated the specificity of the method by detecting increases and decreases in hormone levels following therapy.”
Marla Ahlgrimm, founder of Women’s Health America Group. Author of The HRT Solution
Consume a healthy plant-based diet.
As women arrive in the pre-menopausal years (usually around 35-45), many begin to experience underlying hormonal imbalances that make it very difficult for the body to maintain a healthy weight. When the endocrine system is under stress, an underproduction or overproduction of certain sex hormones and the adrenal hormone cortisol can signal your body to store fat for future use, causing an increase in belly fat. Incorporating a plant-based diet focused on cruciferous veggies and eliminating processed foods, refined sugar, and gluten are all excellent ideas that can positively affect your hormones and the health of your entire body. Did you know that broccoli, cauliflower, and kale all bind excess hormones in your digestive tract and then take them out? Sort of like performing a natural detox every time you eat them!
Get restful sleep.
It’s a given that if you are not sleeping well, you will also be tired all the time. Insomnia often starts the cycle of physical stress and increases cortisol levels, which can directly cause many hormonal imbalances. There isn’t one area of your life that insomnia doesn’t touch. The good news is that you can do many things to help with insomnia. Check out Are Your Hormones Causing Sleep Issues? and How to Make Your Bedroom More Sleep Friendly.
Try adaptogenic herbs.
Adaptogens are a unique class of healing plants that can help balance, restore and protect the body. According to naturopath Edward Wallace, an adaptogen doesn’t have a specific action; it enables you to respond to any influence or stressor, normalizing your physiological functions. Adaptogenic herbs such as ashwagandha, Rhodiola, astragalus, and maca root can help with some of the symptoms of hormone imbalance. These adaptogenic herbs can be powerful, so working with a knowledgeable practitioner is always good.
Control hot flashes naturally.
For many women, night sweats and hot flashes are the first distressing indication that something is not right. Hot flashes are the #1 complaint from women who seek natural hormone balancing. While no one ever died of a hot flash or night sweat, they can certainly affect one’s quality of life and emotional well-being. Check out 30 Natural Health Remedies for Hot Flashes.
Pay attention to your gut and liver health.
Your gut’s microbiome resembles another endocrine system with all the new research on its production and modulation of hormones. And your gut bacteria modulate estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. A healthy gut bacteria can also suppress thyroid autoimmune antibodies such as those in Hashimoto’s. Gut and microbiome health is the shortcut to healthy hormones since the gut modulates and excretes (and now we think it also makes) hormones. Walking barefoot, avoiding all antibiotics and antibacterial products, and taking high-quality probiotics can help keep your gut’s microbiome in good condition.
Gas, bloating, and slow digestion are common hormonal concerns that aren’t usually associated with hormonal imbalances but may be associated with eating toxic foods, not chewing your food enough, and overeating. It’s essential to keep your intestinal system and liver clean and supported by performing a liver/gallbladder/digestive tract cleanse at least two times yearly – Spring and Fall — more if your body is toxic. You will notice that gas, bloating, and slow digestion concerns will disappear. Another benefit of liver and gallbladder cleansing is that your emotional health will soar, not to mention your overall sense of well-being. Since your liver provides direct support for metabolizing hormones, continue to support your liver with an organic, wild-crafted herbal product such as Liver Health Herbal Liver Support Formula.
Reduce stress levels.
To the dismay of family and friends, outbursts of anger and mood swings are some of the first signals that you might be at the beginning of menopause. Many women comment that they become moody for no reason, and minor things begin to irritate them.
Reducing stress levels can also help with irritability and mood swings. It can be as simple as time management skills, getting more sleep (in bed by 10:30 PM every night), or talking over your worries and concerns with a close friend, pastor, healthcare practitioner, or family member.
However, sometimes stress relief means you must learn to “say no and mean it” to excess activities. Realize that it is not healthy or even feasible for you to attend or assist with every event, project, and activity that comes your way. If you are already on stress overload, try to reduce your activity schedule as much as possible or even take a break as you are able. Learning to politely and firmly say “no” can also be beneficial in keeping stress under control.
Did you know that walking or sitting in nature, especially in the mornings, can do wonders for your cortisol levels?
Use bioidentical hormones.
Even women with the most pristine of diet and healthy lifestyle can develop unbalanced hormones, and, for many, the use of herbs or supplements does not result in hormone balance. Women convey this to me all the time – they tried herbs and a few supplements, and all they felt was small amounts of symptom relief that eventually wore off. This has more to do with the higher levels of xenoestrogen bombardment that we now experience from environmental toxins – which are everywhere and seemingly in everything. Stress comes in a close second as a creator of hormone imbalance; however, even if both (xenoestrogens and stress) could be eradicated, the damage has already been done. BHRT (Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy – especially bioidentical progesterone) can help a woman get back what I call her “smile and vitality” while also providing clinical hormone balance.
With all the hormone counseling I have done over the years, I have found that most of the suggestions above help greatly in releasing hormone havoc. Getting one’s hormones balanced takes time and patience. If you are persistent, you will begin to see results.
BONUS #9 – Hormone Disrupting Chemicals
By definition, endocrine-disrupting chemicals may interfere with the body’s endocrine system (the system that keeps our bodies in balance, maintains homeostasis, and guides proper growth and development) and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife. According to The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a wide range of substances, both natural and man-made, are thought to cause endocrine disruption, including pharmaceuticals, dioxin, and dioxin-like compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls, DDT and other pesticides, and plasticizers such as bisphenol A. Endocrine disruptors may be found in many everyday products– including plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides. Research shows that endocrine disruptors may pose the greatest risk during prenatal and early postnatal development when organ and neural systems form. It is interesting to note that even ten years ago, there was no body of evidence that we have today concerning the body’s endocrine actions and the disease consequences of endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals are linked to many health concerns such as depression, anxiety, infertility, weight gain, heart defects, early puberty, diabetes, hormone imbalance, complications during IVF treatments, and breast and prostate cancers, to name a few.
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals can:
- Mimic or partly mimic naturally occurring hormones in the body like estrogens (the female sex hormone), androgens (the male sex hormone), and thyroid hormones, potentially producing overstimulation.
Pose the greatest risk during prenatal and early postnatal development when organ and neural systems are developing. In animals, adverse consequences, such as subfertility, premature reproductive senescence, and cancer are linked to early exposure, but they may not be apparent until much later in life.
- Bind to a receptor within a cell and block the endogenous hormone from binding. The normal signal then fails to occur, and the body fails to respond properly. Examples of chemicals that block or antagonize hormones are anti-estrogens and anti-androgens.
- Interfere or block the way natural hormones or their receptors are made or controlled, for example, by altering their metabolism in the liver.
- Cause obesity. Hormone (endocrine) disrupting chemicals called obesogens can literally slow or inhibit thermogenesis (burning fat to produce heat). They encourage the body to store fat and reprogram stem cells to become fat cells; they prompt the liver to become insulin resistant, which makes the pancreas pump out more insulin to control blood sugar, leading to increased fat storage all over the body; they prevent leptin, which is the satiety hormone, from working properly in the body. The most important exposure sources of obesogens that lead to weight gain are diet, household dust, cleaning chemicals, kitchenware, and cosmetics.
Read more: Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals – What You Need to Know.
BHRT vs. SHRT
I frequently get the question: Isn’t bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) the same as synthetic hormone replacement therapy (SHRT)? The answer is no — bioidentical hormone replacement therapy is not synthetic in the same way as synthetic hormone replacement therapy. Bioidentical hormones are derived from the root of the Mexican Wild Yam (not extract) or Soy and synthesized in a laboratory. Being derived in a laboratory does not make something synthetic, but does make it synthesized. There is a difference. If BHRT were the same as synthetic HRT, then BHRT would produce the same worrisome side effects that synthetic hormones are notorious for – which it does not. There is excellent research and documentation about the difference in side effects between synthetic and bioidentical hormones, even though doctors and pharmaceutical companies would love for women to believe SHRT and BHRT are precisely the same and provide the same results.
The FDA has actually approved 14 different bioidentical progesterone products manufactured by pharmaceutical companies – without using those “gold standard” clinical trials – they know BHRT works effectively and safely. The agenda of the pharmaceutical companies is to corner the hormone replacement market. In fact, they have asked the FDA several times over the last 20 years to make bioidentical hormones prescription-only. This would mean a much higher-priced product and requiring a visit to your doctor to obtain a prescription – all of which would be cost-prohibitive for many women. They would also like women to believe that the pharmaceutical companies are the only ones that can make safe products, implying that over-the-counter creams and compounded creams are unsafe. While some might be unsafe — there are always bad players in every industry — most are not. Thankfully, thousands of women have literally screamed about giving the pharmaceutical companies control over human identical hormones, and, so far, the FDA has listened.
When discussing how to achieve clinical (measurable lab testing) hormone balance, I have seen far better results with the consistent use of bioidentical hormone replacement therapy than in those using only herbs, diet, etc. Having said that, I believe herbs, diet, restful sleep, cleansing your liver, etc., play an essential part in helping relieve some of the many symptoms of hormone imbalance. However, it is vital to understand that symptom relief does not always equal balance or indicate that a health issue has healed.
Back to Emily. Emily decided to embrace my recommendations almost to the point of militancy. After four months, her saliva testing indicated balanced hormones. She began exercising and 25 pounds literally fell off. For the first time in several years, she experienced clarity of mind, almost no hot flashes, very low anxiety levels, and, in her words: “I feel like a human being again, my love of life is back, and I’m happy!”
I’ve seen many “Emily’s” through the years, most of which have very similar stories and results. As I said in the first paragraph of this article, your endocrine system affects just about every organ in your body. If you are experiencing hormone havoc, your whole body can suffer. There are non-toxic answers, like the ones I used with Emily, that can work for you.
In closing, please note that many of these symptoms of hormone imbalance link to other health concerns. It’s wise to check with a trusted and knowledgeable healthcare practitioner who knows your health history and is knowledgeable in the use of bioidentical hormone therapy. Take the time to educate yourself, saliva test your hormones, and begin your journey from hormone havoc to happiness!
Resources and References
Report. Bioidentical Hormones: Why Are They Still Controversial? Life Extension Magazine October 2009.
Lee, John R. MD. 1994, Slowing the Aging Process with Natural Progesterone, BLL Publishing, California, USA, p. 12.
Lee, John R. MD. “What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause” Warner Books, May, 1996.
Braverman, Eric. 1991. Natural estrogen and progesterone research indicates health benefits of natural vs. Synthetic hormones. Total Health 13, no. 5 (October): 55.
Effects of estradiol and progesterone on body composition, protein synthesis, and lipoprotein lipase in rats. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2001 Mar;280(3):E496-501.
Importance of estrogen receptors in adipose tissue function. Mol Metab. 2013 Jul 6;2(3):130-2. doi: 10.1016/j.molmet.2013.07.001. eCollection 2013.
Stevenson, J.C., K.F. Ganger, et al. 1990. Effects of transdermal versus oral hormone replacement therapy on bone density in spine and proximal femur in postmenopausal women. Lancet 336:265-26.
Diamanti-Kandarakis E, Bourguignon JP, Giudice LC, et al. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals: an Endocrine Society scientific statement. Endocr Rev. 2009;30(4):293–342. doi:10.1210/er.2009-0002.
Prior, JC. Progesterone as a bone-trophic hormone. Endocrine Reviews 1990; 11:386-398.
Peat, Ray. Aging, Estrogen and Progesterone. www.raypeat.com
Stephenson K, Price C, Kurdowska A, Neuenschwander P, Stephenson J, Pinson B,Stephenson D, Alfred D, Krupa A, Mahoney D, Zava D, Bevan M. Topical progesterone cream does not increase thrombotic and inflammatory factors in postmenopausal women. Presented at the 46th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Hematology, San Diego, December 4-7, 2004.Blood 2004; 104(11): Abstract 5318.
Thyroid hormone stimulates progesterone release from human luteal cells by generating a proteinaceous factor. J Endocrinol. 1998 Sep;158(3):319-25.