There are many different types of hormones in the body, which all have different functions, but they are all influenced by each other. This article is about the sex hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, signs to look for and what causes hormone imbalance in women. When you are addressing the sex hormones you must remember that there are other hormones in your body, and they all influence each other.
You have hormones made by the adrenals that control the stress response, inflammation, blood sugar, and blood pressure …. when these hormones are out of balance they can have a negative influence on many other hormones.
You have the thyroid hormones that control your metabolism and influence every aspect of your body from energy production, mood and weight management. There are hormones like insulin, ghrelin, and leptin that control blood sugar, hunger, and metabolism but today we are going to talk about the sex hormones.
From puberty to menopause your hormones are constantly fluctuating and this is a part of the natural life cycle, this gets the body ready for ovulation, and possible pregnancy, if this does not occur then the menstrual cycle begins and the process starts over again.
Once a woman gets past 40 years of age hormone levels start to decline, this will eventually lead to menopause at around 50-52 years of age. While hormones are naturally fluctuating, problems start to occur when the fluctuations go out of balance …. this can cause a lot of symptoms in both your body and your mind.
The most common imbalance is an excess of estrogen compared to progesterone which is known as estrogen dominance, this can obviously be caused by the body making too much estrogen or you may have normal estrogen but not enough progesterone. This may cause similar symptoms but the treatment to correct the problem will be different
There are many different signs and symptoms of estrogen dominance and it is important to remember that some of these symptoms can be caused by imbalances with other hormones. This is why testing the sex hormones, adrenal hormones and the thyroid hormones are so important, this helps to identify the problem and treat the underlying cause.
Sometimes women have one or two of these symptoms or you could have them all, and while they are common they are not “normal” and are a sign of imbalance. Some months symptoms are really bad, while other times things are “ok”. Let’s look at why your hormones change.
Stress is one of the biggest causes of hormonal imbalance. Stress can be emotional stress like relationships and work stress, or physical stress like pain, injury or lack of sleep which is a major cause of stress, and finally, it can be caused by dietary stress from a processed food diet or eating foods which are causing an inflammatory reaction in your body like gluten.
Stress leads to an increased production of cortisol which will lead to a depletion of progesterone, it can also create an inflammatory response that will block the progesterone receptors, so even if you have enough progesterone the high cortisol will stop it from working. High cortisol will affect the messages coming from your hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain which are the master controllers of the hormones. Stress is the number one thing to address and getting a DUTCH hormone test will help guide the best way to address your stress levels.
Digestion function problems like constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating and reflux are all signs of inflammation and dysbiosis (imbalance of your good and bad bacteria) in the gut. This inflammation suppresses the hypothalamus and pituitary which tell the body to produce the sex hormones, adrenal hormones, and thyroid hormones, this is why a poor gut function can have a negative impact on many aspects of your health.
The liver is where estrogen and progesterone get metabolized if you are having issues with phase one or phase 2 detoxification this can lead to excess estrogen also. Poor liver metabolism of estrogen can also lead to the unhealthy forms of estrogen being produced like 4 and 16 hydroxy estrone which are associated with breast cancer.
The liver has to deal with the increasing xenoestrogens which are in the environment, these are found in food containers, cosmetics, personal care products, and even our food due to herbicides and pesticides that are being used.
Thyroid function can also depress the production of progesterone, so it is really important to assess thyroid function when assessing a sex hormone balance. However when you go to the doctor you will find that they usually only test for TSH which is a thyroid-stimulating hormone, and this is a very poor test for thyroid function, so many times I see a normal TSH but due to some underlying inflammation or nutrient deficiencies the body is not producing enough of the active T3 hormone, and commonly producing too much reverse T3, which is why an extensive thyroid test is essential.
Testosterone is often associated with men but it is very important for women too, in the right amount. Too little can lead to low libido and low energy while too much will deplete progesterone, lead to increased weight, acne or facial hair, this is often associated with the polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). This is another reason why testing your hormones is beneficial because it is important to know exactly what is causing the problem before you can effectively start treating it.
Testing your hormones can be done with a blood test through your GP, but often they are reluctant to do hormone tests and just put hormonal imbalances down to being part of life, or they only do limited tests. I test the sex hormones and adrenal hormones through a new test called the DUTCH hormone test, this is a new test and the most detailed way to test all aspects of the adrenal and sex hormones.
Extensive thyroid testing is also available which measures all aspects of thyroid health, including TSH, T3, T4, reverse T3, thyroid antibodies and thyroid receptor antibodies. All tests are available throughout Australia, North America and the U.K/ Europe, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more information, all the tests include a consultation to go through the results and work out a treatment plan.
If you know you have high estrogen levels the top 3 supplements I recommend to lower estrogen are
Natures Way Dim Plus to improve estrogen detoxification through the liver
Calcium D Glucarate to improve clearance of estrogen through the bowel
Zinc Picolinate to reduce estrogen by decreasing the aromatase enzyme
If you know you have low progesterone the top 3 supplements I recommend are
Natures Way Vitex Fruit as the vitex helps you to make estrogen
Jarrow’s Adrenal optimizer supporting adrenal function is essential when trying to improve progesterone.
Seeking Health Magnesium Plus contains a highly absorbable form of magnesium and activated B6 to help reduce PMS symptoms and improve progesterone.
To reduce high testosterone in PCOS
Peony and licorice formula is a classic Chinese formula that is very effective for PCOS
Berberine 500mg for insulin resistance associated with PCOS
To Increase low testosterone levels
Tribulus terrestris is a herbal formula to increase testosterone and improve libido
If you have tried to improve your diet, and have found that supplements/medications are not helping I would first recommend a DUTCH hormone test to find out exactly what is happening with your hormones. Testing and not guessing helps to give you a specific treatment plan.
If you would like individual help to help optimize your hormones and health you can schedule an appointment on the consultation page.
Michael is head consultant at Planet Naturopath - Functional Medicine and Nutrition Solutions. As Seen