As a naturopathic doctor who has treated hormone imbalance for over a decade, I find that many women are not aware that some of their health complaints or symptoms are related to their hormones. Here is a list of signs that could indicate a hormone imbalance:
Female Hormone Imbalance Symptoms
- Acne, especially on the lower jawline or cystic acne
- Irregular period
- Absent periods
- Brittle or breaking nails
- Carrying extra weight around the central abdomen
- Thinning hair on the head
- Mood swings
- Excessive hair on the face (upper lip, under the chin) or extra body hair
- Cyclical headaches
- Hot flashes
- Vaginal dryness
- Puffiness and bloating
- Very heavy menstrual flow
- The presence of ovarian cysts
- Difficulty conceiving
- Extreme PMS mood swings
- Significant breast tenderness or swelling
- Diagnosed fibrocystic breasts
- Premenstrual spotting or bleeding
- Gallbladder problems
- Cervical dysplasia (abnormal PAP tests)
- Night sweats
- Early or late puberty
- Foggy thinking
- Decreased sex drive
What to Do if You think You Have a Hormone Imbalance
Step 1: Test for Hormone Imbalance
If you suspect that you may have a hormone imbalance, the first step is testing. I can’t emphasize this enough – accurate testing is an essential step so that you can begin treating appropriately. As a naturopathic doctor, I can assess hormone imbalance through bloodwork, saliva panels or even urinary hormone tests. Each form of testing has its own benefits. Bloodwork is always simplest, but may miss issues involving stress hormones. Saliva panels are the most accurate for stress hormone imbalance, especially cortisol rhythms, and urinary hormone testing is best for looking at how your body is detoxing and breaking down each hormone in great detail.
Step 2: Treat Hormone Imbalance
Starting points to treat hormone imbalance regardless of the type, will focus mainly on two things: 1) balancing blood sugar levels through nutrition; and 2) lowering stress. Issues with either of these will amplify and worsen all types of hormone imbalance. For example, a diet high in sugar and white carbohydrates increases estrogen dominance, and also testosterone expression. And prolonged high stress worsens irregular menstruation, lowers progesterone levels, and worsens hormonal acne, hot flashes, PMS and more.
Balancing blood sugar levels:
An optimal nutrition plan for hormone balance is one that is low in sugar and white / simple carbohydrates especially. These foods cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels, and insulin resistance over time. Insulin resistance is a major underlying imbalance behind polycystic ovarian syndrome, a condition where there are irregular periods, difficulty losing weight, and high testosterone levels causing acne and possibly extra facial and body hair.
The basics of blood sugar regulation are to: eat regular meals and snacks at least every 4 hours; minimize sugar and foods made with white flour; emphasize lots of vegetables; include protein with each meal (animal or vegetarian source); and limit alcohol to no more than 4 drinks per week. These tips will create big changes in your hormone balance, from period regularity to weight loss to better skin and even less PMS.
Stress can make a major impact on all types of hormone imbalance, causing lower progesterone levels, higher adrenal androgens (leading to more testosterone), more difficulty maintaining regular periods, earlier menopause symptoms and more. Taking steps to lower your daily stress can make big impact on your hormone balance. My first suggestion is to take regular breaks in your day and prioritize downtime in your week. Our bodies are not designed to go constantly! Next, find a relaxing activity that you enjoy and practice it daily – this could be a gentle yoga practice, meditation, prayer or a gratitude journal, for example.
4 Common Female Hormone Imbalances
Beyond testing, balancing blood sugar levels and lowering stress, we can dive into the specifics of your hormone imbalance. Some common imbalances are:
- Low progesterone
- Estrogen dominance
- High androgens
- Low estrogen
1. Low Progesterone
Low progesterone symptoms include: premenstrual spotting, very difficult PMS, painful breasts, anxiety and insomnia (especially during PMS), and difficulty conceiving. Low progesterone can be treated by first lowering stress levels, and also using herbal support such as Vitex (chastetree berry) and wild yam extract.
2. Estrogen Dominance and Low Estrogen
Estrogen dominance usually occurs from a combination of poor detoxification and elimination of estrogen, and also progesterone deficiency. Signs of estrogen dominance include heavy menstrual flow, breast cysts, ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids and endometriosis. Treatment for estrogen dominance begins with excellent nutrition, weight loss (if necessary) and herbal support such as indole-3-carbinol, DIM (diindolylmethane), turmeric and calcium D-glucarate.
3. High Androgens
High androgens are seen in women who have more testosterone expression, which can lead to acne, extra hair growth, and on the positive side more muscle tone, higher libido and more competitive personalities. Treatment for high androgens begins with a blood sugar regulating diet, and may also include supplements such as zinc, inositol, peony, saw palmetto and spearmint.
In conclusion, hormone imbalance can cause a wide array of symptoms. But there are some common guidelines which you can begin now to restore balance. Don’t underestimate the power of good nutrition (especially minimal sugar intake), stress management and regular exercise.