Women’s lives are often a balancing act. We strive to maintain balance between work and family, activity and rest, self-care and care for others. We know we can’t do it perfectly, because priorities are always shifting. But we also know that if things get too far out of balance, we won’t feel quite right.
Women’s health is also a balancing act. You can thank our fluctuating hormones for that. Our hormones regulate many different processes in the body that affect our physical and emotional well-being – from our metabolism, weight, and energy to our moods, sleep, and sex lives. Our hormones have complex relationships with each other and exist in a delicate balance. But since women’s hormones are constantly shifting, maintaining that balance is a moving target.
Women’s reproductive hormones fluctuate cyclically during the monthly menstrual cycle, and they shift dramatically during major life transitions, such as pregnancy/postpartum and menopause. It’s very common for women to experience symptoms of hormonal imbalance during these times.
Our hormones are also sensitive to lifestyle factors, such as stress, diet, physical activity, nutrient deficiencies, and environmental toxins. Poor gut health or liver health can also affect the body’s ability to regulate hormones. If any one hormone gets out of balance, it can have cascading effects on other hormones and throw our health out of whack.
Common signs of a hormonal imbalance in women include:
- Mood swings, anxiety or depression
- Low libido or sexual discomfort
- Sleep problems
- Heavy or irregular periods
- Unexplained weight gain or loss
- Hot flashes or night sweats
- Skin problems or hair loss
- Brain fog
If you’re feeling out of balance, what can you do to help nudge your hormones back on track? You may want to start with taking a look at your lifestyle. When we try to do it all, it’s easy to let self-care slip, and this can affect our sensitive hormones. Keep an eye on these thing to support your hormonal balance:
1. Manage Your Stress
Stress is a common trigger for hormonal disruption. Prolonged stress can leave us with an excess of stress hormones, such as cortisol. High cortisol levels can disrupt other hormones involved in sleep (melatonin), metabolism (thyroid), appetite (ghrelin and leptin), and blood sugar balance (insulin), creating ripple effects on our health. It can also suppress important reproductive hormones such as progesterone, testosterone, and estrogen, throwing off their delicate balance and affecting your fertility, menstruation, sex drive, mood, weight, and more.
This is especially an issue for women during the menopause transition. As the ovaries begin producing less estrogen and progesterone, the adrenals serve as backup for this job and gradually take it over. But if the adrenals are busy producing stress hormones, they will prioritize this over producing reproductive hormones. This can contribute to the decline or imbalance of reproductive hormones which is responsible for so many classic menopause symptoms, such as hot flashes, mood swings, sleep disturbances, fatigue, and weight gain.
Stress comes in many forms and can be triggered by stressful life circumstances or by physical stresses, such as intense exercise, extreme dieting or fasting, or sleep deprivation. If your stress levels are high, it’s a sign that you need to prioritize self-care. Make time for proper rest, moderate physical activity, nourishing food, and doing things that help you relax. Clinical studies have shown that ashwagandha root extract can be very helpful for balancing cortisol levels and reducing stress, as well as easing perimenopause symptoms. Ashwagandha is a featured ingredient in our Menopause Support supplement.
2. Manage Your Blood Sugar
Insulin is a hormone that your body produces to regulate your blood sugar. The more sugar and starch you eat, the more insulin your body produces. Over time, your cells can become less sensitive to insulin through overexposure, a condition known as “insulin resistance”. When this happens, your body requires higher levels of insulin in order to manage blood sugar, which can lead to chronically elevated insulin levels. And when this hormone is out of balance, it can affect your other hormones.
For instance, high insulin levels can decrease a protein called sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), which is responsible for binding excess estrogen and testosterone in the blood, leading to an increase of estrogen and testosterone. High insulin also increases cortisol production, which in turn can deplete progesterone levels. Finally, high insulin increases fat storage, and excess body fat also increases estrogen. All of this can upset the balance of reproductive hormones and result in “estrogen dominance”, with symptoms similar to PMS: heavy periods, cramping, mood swings, fluid retention, tender breasts, fatigue, brain fog, and weight gain.
Keeping your blood sugar steady starts with a balanced diet. Cut back on sugar, alcohol, and simple starches like white bread, white rice, and white potatoes, which tend to make blood sugar levels spike. Instead, eat more fiber-rich complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, legumes, fruits and veggies, which are metabolized and converted to sugar more slowly. Make sure your carbs are also balanced with enough protein and healthy fats to help slow carb absorption and stabilize blood sugar. Exercise is also very important for blood sugar regulation, as it encourages muscles to use up sugar stores and improves insulin sensitivity.
3. Support Your Liver and Gut Health
Your liver acts as your body’s purifying filter. One of its jobs is to help regulate hormone levels by detoxing used or excess hormones from the body. The liver breaks down hormones through a complex process and sends them to the gut to be eliminated as waste. But if the liver is stressed, overburdened, or lacks the nutrients it needs to do its job, it may not function as well as it should. And if digestion and elimination processes aren’t working smoothly, waste can get backed up. Hormones that aren’t successfully broken down and eliminated can be reabsorbed into the body, creating an imbalance. For women, this can often lead to estrogen imbalance.
New emerging research is also shedding light on how the gut microbiome helps regulate hormones, particularly estrogen. A subset of gut microbes known as the “estrobolome” appears to play a role in estrogen metabolism and overall estrogen balance. These microbes produce an enzyme called ß-glucuronidase which can reactivate estrogen that’s been broken down by the liver and send it back into circulation. In a healthy gut microbiome, they produce just enough ß-glucuronidase to keep things balanced. But an unhealthy or unbalanced gut microbiome may alter this activity, leading to a spike or a drop in circulating estrogen levels.
To support your liver health, make sure you are getting enough B vitamins and magnesium to support healthy methylation. Eating more cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower also supports liver pathways that help metabolize and excrete hormones. One compound found in these veggies when they are digested is diindolylmethane (DIM), which is thought to help balance estrogen levels by supporting healthy estrogen metabolism in the liver. DIM is also available as a supplement and is included in our Menopause Support formula.
You can also support your liver and gut health by cutting back on alcohol and processed foods. Drinking more water and eating plenty of fiber will support healthy bowel function, which helps to eliminate toxins and maintain healthy hormone levels. Flaxseed is an excellent source of fiber that also acts as a phytoestrogen, a plant-based estrogen that’s thought to help regulate estrogen in the body by acting on estrogen receptors. Fiber also supports gut health by helping to feed your friendly gut bacteria. Taking probiotics can also help boost friendly bacteria and support a healthy gut microbiome.
The Balancing Act
Our bodies have many ways of regulating hormones to maintain that delicate balance. But when our bodies are stressed, unhealthy, or nutrient-deprived, it’s easy for these processes to be disrupted. You can support your body’s hormonal health by managing your stress, eating well, managing your blood sugar, and supporting your liver and gut health so they can function properly. You can also talk to your healthcare provider for guidance on supplements as well as support for female hormone balance.
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