Female Hormone Health
Feel like your hormones are ruling your life? Worry that you’ll never experience hormone harmony again? Maybe you’re beginning to think you’re going mad and that this is how your life will be from now on.
I’m here to say, I understand your concern and while the realm of hormones is complicated, hormonal imbalance can be remedied.
Important hormones for you to know
First, hormones are chemical messengers that are produced by glands in your endocrine system. Hormones travel through the bloodstream to the tissues and organs, delivering messages that tell your body what to do and when to do it.
Understanding how these key hormones affect your body can help you maintain not just hormonal balance but also vibrant health.
Adrenal hormones produced by the brain
Stress (or inflammation) causes the brain to release ACTH (Adrenocorticotropic hormone) which stimulates the adrenal glands to make hormones.
Adrenaline - the overall effect of adrenaline is to prepare the body for the ‘fight or flight’ response in times of stress, i.e. for vigorous and/or sudden action. The primary actions of adrenaline include increasing blood flow, heart rate, pupil dilation, gut motility and blood sugar levels for more energy.
Noradrenaline - a closely related hormone to adrenaline, that is released mainly from the nerve endings of the sympathetic nervous system. There is a continuous low level of activity of the sympathetic nervous system resulting in release of noradrenaline into the circulation, whereas adrenaline release is only increased at times of acute stress.
Cortisol - a primary stress hormone produced by the adrenals that can suppress immune function and raise blood sugar. It’s also a potent anti-inflammatory hormone, preventing the release of substances in the body that cause inflammation. When cortisol is too high or too low, it can affect a woman’s menstrual cycle and cause increased levels of anxiety and depression.
DHEA - a powerful anti-aging hormone that works to balance the effects of cortisol. It’s also a precursor to testosterone and estrogen and like with every major control system in the body, cortisol and DHEA work together through their alternating, dualistic balance. DHEA levels naturally start to decline after the age of 30, which is precisely when many people start to experience weight gain, sluggishness, lowered libido and other symptoms caused by higher levels of inflammation.
Aldosterone - affects your body's ability to regulate blood pressure. It also works to balance salt and water in the body and indirectly aldosterone helps to maintain the blood's pH and electrolyte levels.
Female Sex hormones produced by the ovaries
The brain produces the hormones - luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormones (FSH), which trigger hormone production from the ovaries. When any of the hormones from the brain or the ovaries are imbalanced, symptoms may occur.
Progesterone - the hormone that's associated with many good things, keeping you relaxed and quality sleep to name a couple. After the age of 40, progesterone can plummet in comparison to estrogen's decline, very often leaving estrogen higher than usual, which is known as estrogen dominant.
Estrogen - the estrogen hormones (estrone, estradiol and estriol) contribute to sex drive and play a role in memory, mood and motivation. While estrogen levels must remain consistent to regulate menstruation, as mentioned above, high levels of estrogen in comparison to progesterone results in estrogen dominance.
Synthetic estrogens (aka xenoestrogens) that are found in our environment, including most household and skincare products will imitate estrogen and therefore contribute to estrogen dominance.
Common issues associated with elevated estrogen include irregular periods, a fall in fertility, increased difficulty handling stress, insomnia, weight gain, mood issues, and structural concerns like endometriosis, ovarian cysts, and uterine polyps.
Testosterone - although not in the same abundance as men, women also produce the hormone testosterone in their ovaries and a little in their adrenal glands. Women need a certain amount of it as part of the mix of hormones that keep mood, energy levels, sex drive, and bodily functions running smoothly.
Other key hormones
Insulin (produced in the pancreas) - helps to regulate blood sugar. Its role is to lower glucose levels in the bloodstream and promote the storage of glucose in fat, muscle, liver and other body tissues. When blood sugar is too high or too low, a range of health issues can arise. Diabetes is a common cause of hormonal imbalances and can affect, not just the insulin hormone, but also other blood sugar-related hormones, sex hormones, and DHEA - your natural steroid hormone.
Melatonin (produced in the pineal gland, in the brain) - has two primary functions. The first function is to control your internal body clock and therefore it’s directly related to sleep patterns. And the second function is to regulate certain reproductive hormones, which is why melatonin can be a factor in hormone imbalance. Melatonin can affect a woman's menstrual cycle, including the onset of menstruation, the regularity of menstrual cycles and the start of menopause.
Female hormone imbalance symptoms
Female hormone imbalances occur when you have too little or too much of a hormone.
Communication between the endocrine glands secreting the hormones can be disrupted by many things, including a less-than-optimal lifestyle, and factors such as poor diet, nutritional deficiencies, health status, difficult relationships, emotions, and sleep can escalate over a period of time, leading to hormone imbalance.
Even the smallest imbalance can result in big changes, positive and negative, in the body, which can leave you feeling at the mercy of your hormones. Because our hormones interact with so many different parts of the human body, the symptoms of an imbalance can range drastically and be difficult to pinpoint.
Your mood, digestion, and brain can all struggle when you have hormone imbalances.
As a functional medicine practitioner, female hormone imbalance issues are some of the most common things that I see. Symptoms can manifest in many ways and include:
- Acne or oily skin
- Bone loss
- Decreased fertility
- Excess facial and body hair
- Food cravings
- Hair loss (scalp)
- Hot flushes
- Irregular periods (missing, frequent)
- Loss of muscle mass
- Loss of scalp hair
- Low libido
- Memory lapses
- Mood swings
- Night sweats
- Painful periods
- Panic attacks
- Poor concentration
- Sleep disturbances or insomnia
- Tender or fibrocystic breasts
- Urinary incontinence
- Vaginal dryness
- Weight gain or weight loss
When hormones are out of balance, they will also affect the activity of other organs that are involved in making and metabolising hormones. For example, elevated estrogen increases thyroid-binding globulin (TBG), which binds up active thyroid hormone.
Factor in inherited conditions or genetic mutations that affect estrogen and the metabolism of other hormones, and it quickly becomes an even more complicated picture.
Female hormone imbalance - the solution
It can be hard to work out exactly what's happening in your body and what you should do about hormone imbalance. Just like you'd overcome any health concern, your goal should always be to identify the root cause and tackle the underlying triggers of the hormone imbalance rather than simply focusing on symptoms.
I work with clients to assess their overall health by seeking to identify interactions between different bodily systems through detailed health and lifestyle case history, presenting signs and symptoms and on occasion functional lab testing.
If you're experiencing hormonal imbalance symptoms and would like some help, visit The Functional Medicine Clinic for more information on how we can work together. Or contact me if you would like to make an appointment.