When hormones go haywire, you’re not imagining it: the symptoms are overwhelming. Overpowering. Miserable. Life-changing. But feeling happier, healthier, and better? It’s possible. Here’s what you need to know.
The low-down on hormones
Hormones, or “little chemical messengers,” have a big job. They regulate, communicate, and help maintain a balanced environment—from blood pressure to the amount of water you retain, appetite, energy levels, mood, weight, sex drive, and more.
As we age, the endocrine system (which produces our hormones) becomes less responsive. The receptors that hormones attach to don’t work as well. However, levels can also decline for a number of other reasons, and all of them can cause problems throughout the body.
Signs you have a hormonal imbalance
When even one or two hormones shift into under- or overdrive, a domino effect occurs. Symptoms can feel varied and vague and easily be mistaken or misunderstood for other issues:
- Skipped or irregular periods (closer together or further apart than what’s usual for your body)
- Water retention
- Less mental sharpness and clarity
- Weight gain or loss (while maintaining approximately the same food intake and exercise)
- Body composition changes or difficulty building muscle
- Headaches or migraines
- Issues with blood sugar
- Low or high blood pressure
- Hair loss
- Basal body temperature changes
- Changes in libido or discomfort during sex
- Sore or tender breasts
- Disposition or mood changes and swings
- Depression or blue outlook
- Dry skin
- Problems with digestion
Causes of hormone imbalance
Underlying medical conditions can contribute to or cause hormonal changes, but lifestyle demands trigger unwanted fluctuations, too. Even though we tend to associate lowered hormone production solely with menopause, imbalances can start years earlier.
Natural ways to address hormone imbalances
If you’re dealing with the symptoms of hormonal imbalance, there are steps you can take to feel better. To help restore and maintain healthy levels, check out these lifestyle changes.
1. Be active at least three times a week
Here’s a reason to lace up your tennis shoes. Exercise has a huge number of benefits. One plus you may not have heard of? It promotes hormone balance—helping regulate our moods, sleep, and even aging.
2. Limit sugar
Trade out refined carbohydrates, or food made from sugar and white flour. Eating too many signals the body to produce more insulin, and that leads to increased estrogen. While we all need estrogen, too much can cause uncomfortable and unhealthy issues.
3. Try to eat a whole-food diet most of the time
Include adequate protein and healthy fats, like olive oil and avocados.
4. Cut back on alcohol
Estrogen is processed and eliminated through the liver. So, it makes sense that drinking interferes with estrogen metabolization and maintaining healthy levels. Another downside of alcohol? Studies show that it promotes conversion of testosterone into more estrogen.
5. Get some extra shut-eye
If you struggle with wakefulness, make an effort to practice quality sleep hygiene. Avoid screens and create a calm and quiet routine to help your body understand when it’s bedtime.
6. Manage stress levels
Even five to ten minutes a day of self-care can go a long way. Carve out time to read a book, drop in on a yoga class, meditate, or diffuse calming essential oils, like peppermint and lavender.
7. Take a quality multivitamin
Ask your physician about extra supplementation with vitamin D. It’s really more than a vitamin—it’s a pro-hormone. That means it’s vital to producing other hormones.
When it’s time to talk to your doctor
Quality of life is important. We all deserve to live well, and the things that you’re feeling and dealing with matter. Your physician can order lab work to check your hormone levels for clues as to what’s going on in your body. Experiencing depression? Don’t wait. Reach out to your provider right away.
Making the most of your appointment
Starting with a general practitioner is a great first step. Expect to discuss your symptoms and how they’re affecting your everyday life. Don’t forget to bring notes of what you’ve been experiencing, so your doctor can get a clear picture. Also, if you’re still menstruating, track a few cycles on a calendar or in an app like Clue or Period Diary.
Your doctor should talk about whether or not to order preliminary lab work. Looking at hormone levels in the blood can provide insight into how to alleviate your discomfort and help you feel like yourself again. Depending on the results, your provider might recommend treatment or send you to a specialist.
If you need advanced hormone help
Many primary-care physicians are equipped to help with straightforward hormone imbalances. You might get referred to a specialist for more complex care, like an endocrinologist.
Endocrinologists focus on glands that produce hormones. They offer a more in-depth approach to hormone management. Your insurance will probably cover a portion of your visits.
If you’re a self-pay patient, you may have more care options. Dedicated hormone clinics can provide you with highly custom treatment. Even though the doctors are not always endocrinologists, they have studied hormones extensively.
There’s reason to be hopeful
Hormonal imbalance isn’t optional, but you don’t have to suffer. There are plenty of ways to help your hormones find balance and harmony.