What Are Hormonal Imbalances?
Your body secretes about 50 hormones that control many critical functions including metabolism, homeostasis (balance), sexual activity, and contraction of the heart muscle.
Think of hormones as messenger molecules that one part of your body makes and then transports (via the bloodstream) elsewhere. Your pancreas, for instance, secretes insulin, a hormone that helps your body utilize glucose for energy.
Hormonal imbalances occur when too much or too little of a hormone exists in your bloodstream. Even small hormonal imbalances can create side effects that resonate throughout your body.
Consider insulin. Eating too many sugary, processed foods can elevate this hormone, overwhelming your cells so they don’t “hear” its call. Your pancreas continues to secrete insulin, but your cells can’t easily take up glucose from your blood.
In other words, your cells become resistant to insulin’s message, leaving your pancreas to over-secrete this hormone. Insulin resistance can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes with all its related symptoms including disease, disability, and early death.
Insulin resistance, like any hormonal imbalance, doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It can knock other hormones like cortisol out of balance. Elevated levels of this stress hormone contribute to obesity, lead to adrenal burnout, and trigger inflammatory diseases including chronic fatigue syndrome.
Some hormones are more powerful than others. “Insulin is a such a powerful hormone that five other hormones counterbalance its effects,” says Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., in Living Low Carb. Those five hormones, in case you’re wondering, are glucagon, cortisol, growth hormone, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.
Hormones also have a circadian rhythm. Cortisol, for instance, is highest in the morning and should gradually taper down throughout the day. Ghrelin, your hunger hormone, is usually highest in the evening —just in time for dinner. When levels of these hormones don’t stay in an optimal range, you suffer the consequences of that imbalance. If you have high cortisol levels in the evening, for instance, you might have a wired but tired feeling.
No hormone is good or bad. Instead, they should be in optimized or balanced levels, which differs for everyone since we are all unique.
Take estrogen — or more correctly, estrogens, a group of sex hormones perhaps most critical to a female’s reproductive function and cycle — that plays a role in numerous processes including blood sugar balance as well as immune, bone, and heart health. Low or high estrogen levels can contribute to infectious, autoimmune, metabolic, and degenerative diseases.
As you can see, hormones are interrelated but sometimes oversimplified, underestimating their complexity. Men also produce estrogen, typically classified as a female hormone. Women produce testosterone, a male hormone. In both cases, these hormones are produced in smaller doses.
Causes of Hormonal Imbalances
While everyone experiences hormonal imbalances or fluctuations at some point, they can also occur when endocrine glands are not functioning properly. Numerous culprits contribute to these hormonal imbalances, and sometimes they overlap. Among them include:
- Chronic stress
- Nutrient deficiencies
- An underactive or overactive gland (such as the thyroid gland)
- Overweight or obesity
- Poor diet and nutrition
- Toxins and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals including pesticides
Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance
Hormone imbalance symptoms vary and are very broad depending on the hormone, but include:
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Sleep issues
- Sensitivities to cold and heat
- Changes in blood pressure or heart rate
- Mood disorders including irritability, depression, and anxiety
- Appetite changes
- Changes in sex drive
Seven Ways to Balance Your Hormones Naturally
While hormonal imbalances sometimes require working with an endocrinologist or another specialist, you have tremendous power over balancing your hormones naturally Start with what you eat. A hormone-balancing diet includes the right foods to steady your blood sugar levels and optimize insulin levels.
When you support a healthy diet with the right nutrients and lifestyle factors, you can dramatically improve hormone levels. These seven strategies provide a solid starting point.
1. Reduce or eliminate sugar and other food sensitivities.
Sugar keeps insulin elevated, knocking other hormones out of balance and paving the way for insulin resistance. Food sensitivities including gluten can also increase inflammation and contribute to hormonal imbalances including cortisol. Research shows that a healthy gluten-free diet can reduce inflammation and insulin resistance. Consider working with a chiropractor or other healthcare professional with an elimination diet to see if your symptoms improve.
2. Balance stress levels.
Chronic stress is all-around bad news for hormonal balance, creating or exacerbating hormonal imbalances. Research shows a six-month meditation practice could improve insulin levels while improving stress levels, but what matters is what helps you de-stress. That could be yoga, deep breathing, or taking your dog for a walk.
3. Address toxicity.
We are bombarded daily with chemicals nearly everywhere —in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the products we put on our bodies. Many of these chemicals are considered endocrine or hormone disruptors because they interfere with hormonal production and create wide-ranging damage. Among them include bisphenol A (BPA), found in plastic water bottle and cans, which can disrupt multiple hormonal pathways. Xenoestrogens, chemical compounds that mimic estrogen, can impact testosterone and estrogen production. Consider working with a chiropractor or other healthcare professional on a professionally designed detoxification program.
4. Lower inflammation.
Hormonal imbalances can increase inflammation, which in turn can further disrupt hormone production. When your adrenals over-secrete cortisol, other hormones including insulin become disrupted and lead to chronic inflammation. An anti-inflammatory diet, rich in wild-caught fish and high-fiber plant foods, is your best foundation to lower inflammation. If you aren’t regularly eating fish, consider a quality fish oil to get those crucial anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
5. Get great sleep.
Your circadian system impacts many hormones including cortisol and ghrelin. Sleep disturbances can contribute to numerous problems including hormonal imbalances. Getting optimal sleep levels can be a challenge in today’s plugged-in society. Sleep hygiene can help — turn off electronics an hour or two before bed, unwind with an Epsom salt bath, and consider a supplement that naturally helps you fall and stay asleep.
6. Exercise regularly.
The right amount and kind of exercise can positively impact nearly every hormone, including potentially balancing insulin levels. Exercise can also boost growth hormone, your “fountain of youth” hormone that keeps you lean and energetic. While many studies have looked at the benefits of higher-intensity exercise for hormone balance, what matters ultimately is what you actually do. Follow our tips to start exercising more, no matter what your current physical condition.
7. Talk to your healthcare professional.
Doctors use blood tests to measure how much of a hormone your body makes and sometimes use bioidentical hormones to correct imbalances. They might use testosterone therapy, for instance, if you have low levels of this hormone. Always discuss potential side effects and other drawbacks before you begin treatment. You may able to treat hormonal imbalances naturally. Talk to your chiropractor, who can complement your doctor’s recommendations by designing a customized dietary and lifestyle hormone balance protocol. Research shows, for instance, that chiropractic care can help balance cortisol and other adrenal hormones to help manage your stress response.
Every hormonal imbalance requires a unique strategy to create balance. No one should have to live with the unpleasant symptoms of hormonal balances like fatigue, mood disorders, and low sex drive. At the same time, the right diet, nutrients, and lifestyle factors along with working with a chiropractor or other healthcare professional can go a long way towards balancing hormones.