As a nutritionist, I often see women struggling with hormonal imbalances and not understanding why. Hormonal imbalances are becoming increasingly common due to our hectic, modern lifestyles and poor dietary habits, so it can be hard to figure out what’s going on.
However, it’s important to understand that hormones play an essential role in the health and wellbeing of men and women. Being aware of the signs and symptoms of hormonal imbalance can help you identify if something is off so you can take action.
In this article, we’ll look at how to tell if your hormones are off, what could be confused as a hormonal imbalance, and, of course, what you can do about it to start feeling better ASAP.
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What are hormones and what do they do in the body?
Hormones are chemical messengers secreted by endocrine glands such as the pituitary, thyroid, and adrenal glands that regulate many functions in the body including metabolism, growth and development, reproductive processes, mood, and even stress levels.
They help maintain balance in our bodies, so when hormones are out of whack, it can cause a variety of issues.
There are many types of hormones, but some of the more well-known ones include:
- DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone)
Hormones also play a role in regulating our body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate as well as keeping our immune system healthy by stimulating the production of antibodies. Additionally, hormones influence our appetite, libido, mental clarity, energy levels and even our skin condition.
What can cause hormonal imbalances?
Hormonal imbalances can be caused by a variety of factors. This can include phytoestrogens found in everyday items like cosmetics and household products, stress, poor diet (especially one missing healthy fats which is the building block of hormones), lack of exercise, and deficiencies in vitamins or minerals.
Additionally, hormonal imbalances can be caused by over-taxing the body through excessive exercise or fasting for long periods of time, as well as by an over- or under-active thyroid or adrenal glands.
How can you tell if your hormones are off?
Testing your hormone levels to find imbalances
As a female, testing your hormones can be a great way to discover how to tell if your hormones are off and start to uncover any imbalances. It’s also a really great idea to test your hormone levels before trying to get pregnant as hormonal imbalances before and during pregnancy can cause health risks for both mother and child.
Even if you don’t plan on having children anytime soon, it’s still important to stay on top of your hormones by looking for signs and symptoms of imbalance.
Hormones are insightful in many ways and act as monthly signals telling us whether or not we’re healthy.
If you suspect that your hormones may be out of balance, there are a few different tests you can do to determine if this is truly the case.
Serum, saliva, and dry urine tests can all be used to measure hormone levels in the body. If you decide testing your hormones is the best route for you, I recommend finding a qualified functional medicine practitioner near home or online and work together on acquiring and reading these labs.
If taking these tests are a bit out of budget right now or you don’t currently have insurance, there are a number of signs that you can watch out for and use as a tool to see if your hormones are in balance.
Note that these signs and symptoms will vary from person to person and it’s important to note that there are also conditions that can mimic the symptoms of a hormone imbalance.
However, there are some common clues that indicate something may be off with your hormones.
Signs and symptoms of hormonal imbalances
- Mood swings or depression around your period
- PMS symptoms that disrupt your everyday life
- Low libido
- Insomnia and poor quality sleep, especially leading up to your period
- Unexplained weight gain or stubborn weight, especially around the belly
- Skin problems – acne or dry skin, particularly systemic acne around the chin and jawline
- Hair problems – excess facial hair, hair loss, or constant shedding
- Fertility problems
- Weak bones
- Vaginal dryness
- Period is too long or too short – 3-7 days is normal
- Period is extra heavy (possibly with clotting) or extra light (spotting)
- Menstruation cycles are too long or too short – the average length of a healthy cycle is 28 days, but anywhere from around 21-35 days can be healthy
- Irregular or missed periods
- Brain fog and poor focus
- Fatigued that you need caffeine to get by
- Night sweats
- Hot flashes, especially leading up to your period
- Poor digestion – constipation and/or diarrhea
- Poor muscle strength and recovery
- Intense low back pain before and during your period and/or low back pain during ovulation
- Spotting for more than a couple of days before or after your period
- Excessive breast tenderness around your period to the point where it hurts to walk or run
The role of birth control in hormonal imbalance
If you’re on birth control right now, your symptoms may be mitigated, but that does not mean you don’t have an imbalance. Think about it as if you went off your birth control — would any of these symptoms exist then?
Many women get on birth control because of some of these symptoms, but unfortunately, birth control only covers up the symptoms and does not address the reason for those symptoms which in many cases is a hormonal imbalance.
What can be confused as hormonal imbalance?
It’s important to note that there are conditions and lifestyle factors that can mimic the symptoms of a hormone imbalance.
While many of these things can cause symptoms similar to a hormone imbalance, they are not the same and treating them differently can make all the difference in getting your hormones back on track.
Be sure to look into the conditions below or get tested before putting all your eggs in one basket and assuming you have a hormonal issue.
These can show similar symptoms of hormonal imbalance in the body and should be considered:
- Excess stress
- Too much caffeine or caffeine consumed too late in the day (before 2pm is best)
- Food sensitivities
- Autoimmune conditions – Hashimoto’s, Celiac disease, etc.
- Thyroid issues – hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism
- Nutrient deficiencies – vitamin D, iron, magnesium, etc.
- Liver congestion
- Gut imbalance and bacterial or fungal overgrowth
- Blood sugar imbalance and the spike and dips that come with that
Other possible clues of hormonal imbalance
Of course there are other possible signs and symptoms of a hormonal imbalance. If one has adrenal or thyroid issues, they’re likely to have a hormonal imbalance since the adrenals and thyroid are part of the endocrine system and are partially in charge of producing hormones for the body.
Also, if you are going through a bad menopause, this too is a sign that your hormones are off. Neither your periods nor menopause should be super painful!
Some pain is okay and completely normal, but it should never be so bad that it prevents you from going about your daily life.
Common hormonal imbalance diagnoses
If you’ve thought about how to tell if your hormones are off and you’re considering getting tested and are curious what some of the more common diagnosis are, here are a few of the most common ones seen in practice:
- Outside of having a general hormonal imbalance, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common hormonal imbalances among women. It occurs when a woman’s hormones become unbalanced, leading to a variety of complications and symptoms. Generally, PCOS is characterized by an excess of androgens, irregular or absent menstrual cycles, and an increase in ovarian cysts.
- Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid gland does not make enough hormones. On the other hand, hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid gland makes too many hormones.
- Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) or adrenal insufficiency is a condition in which your adrenal glands produce insufficient amounts of cortisol and other hormones after having produced too many hormones for a prolonged period of time, typically due to stress.
- Estrogen dominance is a condition in which there is an abundance of estrogen and not enough progesterone or a ratio between the two hormones that can be problematic.
- Testosterone imbalance is when the levels of testosterone in the body are either too high or too low which can lead to a variety of symptoms.
- Hormone receptor resistance is when the body’s cells do not properly respond to the hormones that are being produced. This often leads to an imbalance in other hormones as well.
What can you do about it?
If you suspect that your hormones are off balance, some lifestyle, nutritional, and dietary support and modifications is a great place to start.
Try some of these natural options to balance your hormones:
- Practice mindfulness such as meditation, deep breathing, body scanning, gentle yoga, or Tai Chi.
- Reduce stress with self-care practices such as baths and massage.
- Make sure you get good sleep. Remove blue light before bed, drink some sleepy time tea, stretch, create a ritual, and get a minimum of 7 hours of quality sleep each night.
- Exercise regularly, but be sure not to over-exercise (too much intense cardio is a common issue).
- Drink plenty of water.
- Lower caffeine intake.
- Lower sugar and processed foods intake.
- Eat healthy, nutrient-dense food. Add an organ meat complex and omega-3s to round out your diet and get more easily absorbable nutrients.
- Eat healthy fats like olive oil, avocado, and coconut oil.
- Eat healthy meals that include protein to help balance your blood sugar throughout the day.
- Remove common foods people are sensitive to such as gluten, vegetable oils, and dairy.
- If you’re currently dieting, slowly increase calories.
- Get your gut on track as healing your gut will naturally bring your hormones back to balance.
- Take digestive enzymes and/or a probiotic to improve gut health.
- Include some liver-loving detoxification herbs like dandelion and milk thistle teas or supplements.
- Include hormone-balancing adaptogenic herbs such as Vitex (also known as chasteberry), maca root, rhodiola, or ashwagandha.
- Get rid of phytoestrogens around the home. Switch out your beauty care and household cleaning products for natural versions such as Primally Pure, Annemarie Skin Care, Thrive Market’s Rosey or Puracy cleaning products, etc.
- Remove toxins from the home to remove burden from the liver.
Note that it can take a minimum of 3 months for your body and hormones to balance.
If after spending a few months on lifestyle and dietary changes you still aren’t seeing the relief you’re looking for in your symptoms, the next step would be to get tested by an endocrinologist or integrative doctor who specializes in treating hormonal imbalances.
Finally, hormone replacement therapy may be also prescribed if the symptoms are severe enough. If this is the case, be sure to find a healthcare provider who specializes in bio-identical hormones so that your body can best process them.
Hormones and travel
When trying to keep your hormones in check while traveling, stick to your normal routines as much as possible. Get enough sleep and eat nutrient-dense foods when you’re able to do so.
Also, be sure to stay well-hydrated and consider taking probiotics, digestive enzymes, and magnesium throughout your travels in order to help support digestion and stay regular as well as avoid dehydration and added stress on the body.
If you’re curious to learn more about how to know if your hormones are off and want additional resources to explore as well as how to get them rebalanced naturally, check out a few of my favorite resources from three amazing women.
- The Period Repair Manual: Natural Treatment for Better Hormones and Better Periods by Laura Briden which dives into the science of hormones and how to rebalance them. It’s a wonderful resource for women who want to understand what a healthy period should look like, what to do when things go wrong, how to talk to your doctor, and how to balance your hormones naturally.
- Hormone Repair Manual: Every Woman’s Guide to Healthy Hormones After 40 also by Laura Briden is a comprehensive guide to understanding hormones, particularly in women older than 40. It details how to prevent and reverse symptoms of hormonal imbalance such as fatigue, mood swings, and weight gain.
- Is This Normal?: Judgment-free Straight Talk About Your Body by Jolene Brighten which dives into understanding what is normal in regards to all things sex, hormones, anatomy, periods, and everything in between. It also provides a solid 28-Day program based on your symptoms and particular issues surrounding your period to help get your body back in balance and get you feeling your very best.
- The Hormone Cure by Sara Gottfried is another resource for all things hormone related. It’s a great book for those looking to learn more about hormones and the impact they have on our bodies and how to balance them naturally with dietary, lifestyle, environmental changes, and specific supplements.
- The Essential Oils Hormone Solution: Reclaim Your Energy and Focus and Lose Weight Naturally by Mariza Snyder which teaches how to balance your hormones, reduce your overall toxic load, limit cravings, reclaim your energy, and much more by utilizing the power of high quality essential oils.
All four of these books are wonderful resources for anyone who wants to understand more about their hormones and how to take control of them.
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Key takeaway: how to know if your hormones are off
When it comes to how to tell if your hormones are off, you must pay attention to the signs and signals your body is sharing with you.
These can include anything from severe menstrual pain or irregular periods, to difficulty sleeping, weight gain, and mood swings. Additionally, look out for other possible imbalances like nutrient deficiencies, food sensitivities, autoimmune conditions, and/or stress as they can portray similar symptoms.
When our bodies are working as they should, our hormones will work as they should. There should be an easy, non-painful transition to our periods as well as to menopause.
If you suspect a hormonal imbalance, try some natural support, get tested by an endocrinologist or integrative doctor, and create a treatment plan that works for you.
With the right care and support, you can help restore balance to your hormones and feel better in no time!
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