Women’s Hormones: Why are so many women struggling with hormone imbalances?
Hormones are the bodies chemical messengers produced by endocrine glands that travel through the blood telling specific tissues and organs what to do. While we may think that we are in control, in actuality, our hormones really do run the show. Hormones are important for regulating the majority of the processes that occur within the body, so a hormonal imbalance can affect a wide range of bodily functions.
The major glands of the endocrine system include the pineal gland, pituitary gland, pancreas, ovaries, testes (in men), thyroid gland, parathyroid gland, hypothalamus and adrenal glands.
Hormones are involved in regulating:
Metabolism and appetite
Reproduction and sexual function
Growth and development
A hormonal imbalance is when there is either too much or too little of a certain hormone. Even tiny changes can have very serious impacts on us. Throughout our lives, there are periods or hormonal changes that occur naturally. These transitions happen in puberty, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause. However, in today’s modern world, there are some serious hormonal imbalances occurring for many women.
Symptoms of hormonal imbalance in women include:
heavy, irregular, or painful periods
hot flashes or night sweats
acne during or just before menstruation
acne on the face, chest, or upper back
increased hair growth on the face, chest, neck, or back (hirsutism)
weight gain and the inability to lose weight
thinning hair or hair loss
skin tags or abnormal growths
reduced sex drive
For the purpose of this post, I am now going to focus on estrogen, and more specifically estrogen dominance because of the prevalence of conditions and symptoms listed above that are associated with this imbalance.
Estrogen dominance is essentially an excess of estrogen. However, there is no set number that determines ED because it is actually the ratio of estrogen in relation to the other sex hormones, primarily progesterone, that is important.
When there is an excess of estrogen it wreaks havoc on the entire body. It can cause symptoms ranging from fatigue and anxiety to fibroids, PCOS, endometriosis, abnormal menstruation, and breast or ovarian cancer. Conventionally ED is treated with hormonal birth control to alleviate the symptoms, but this approach comes with the potential of numerous side effects and has the potential to make the problem worse in the long run. Fortunately, there are lots of lifestyle changes that can be done to not only alleviate the symptoms but to get rid of the issue at the root.
So why are so many women suffering from this condition, and what causes it? ED can be caused by these lifestyle factors:
Eating non-organic and factory farmed food: these foods contain high levels of pesticides and fertilizers, as well as growth hormones and antibiotics that are fed to animals. These compounds contribute to hormone imbalances in a multitude of ways.
Excess exposure to xenoestrogens: there are numerous chemicals that have a strong estrogen effect in the body. Some of these chemicals include phthalates, parabens, BPA, SLS, and benzophenones amongst many others. These chemicals are found in many chemical cleaning products, detergents, beauty products and plastics.
Interested in learning more about the importance of reducing chemical exposure in your home and in your beauty care routine? Check out our blog post on ‘the chemical shit storm in the average women’s beauty routine and what it is doing to their health’.
Use of synthetic estrogens: such as from birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy (HRP).
Digestive issues: poor and slow digestion leads to the inhibition of the estrogen detoxification process. Much of our metabolized estrogen is excreted through our bowel movements. When this process is moving too slowly, some of this excess estrogen will end up being reabsorbed by the body.
Chronic stress: leads to an overproduction of cortisol in the adrenal glands which then blocks progesterone receptors. Progesterone is essential for balancing estrogen levels.
Poor diet: nutrient deficiencies, in general, are going to affect the bodies ability to regulate and balance hormones.
Poor liver function: the liver regulates the balance of sex hormones, cortisol, and thyroid hormones. It transforms or removes any excess from the body. If the liver cannot do this properly, your hormones will become imbalanced.
Drugs (prescription or recreational), smoking, or alcohol: these all are taxing to the liver and can reduce liver function.
Estrogen in drinking water: the Environmental Working Group identified 45 hormone-disrupting chemicals in public drinking water.
Being overweight: estrogen is produced by your adrenal glands, ovaries, and brain. It is also produced by adipose (fat) tissue. The more estrogen you make, the more fat you store, and the more fat you store the more estrogen you make. It is a perpetuating cycle.
As it is clearly demonstrated above, there are lots of factors working against us when it comes to excess estrogen. Listed below are some tips for reducing estrogen exposure and getting our hormones back in a healthy balance:
Get off birth control pills and work with a health professional such as a naturopath or functional medicine doctor to discuss some better options.
Replace personal care products with non-toxic substitutes. https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ is a great resource for making this transition.
Choose organic whenever possible, or stick to the dirty dozen and clean 15 produce lists.
Eat better quality meat and less of it. Better quality meat includes free-range, pasture-raised and grass-fed.
Filter your water. A high quality water filtration system may seem expensive up-front, but it will more than pay for itself if you are currently purchasing bottled water (full of BPA) and in health expenses down the road.
Avoid plastic. Avoid bottled water, and use your own glass bottle instead. Replace plastic tupperware with glass and NEVER heat food in plastic.
Make sure you have adequate stomach acid. If you commonly suffer from heartburn or acid reflux you likely have a deficiency in stomach acid. This is generally not how this condition is treated with conventional medicine, which usually put you on medications that perpetuate the problem by further reducing stomach acid. Adequate stomach acid is essential for many aspects of health, but absolutely for proper hormone metabolism. Take the HCl challenge here.
Reduce toxic load and support liver detoxification. Ensure you are getting plenty of antioxidants from vegetables and fruit to assist your livers detoxification process. Some herbs and supplements that also support this process include milk thistle, dandelion root tea, dandelion greens, glutathione, and calcium d-glucarate.
Lose weight. Work with a nutritionist and personal trainer to come up with a healthy and sustainable weight loss program that fits your lifestyle.
Meditation, yoga, gratitude, time in nature. Whatever it is that helps to reduce stress, do more of it!