A well-functioning hormone network is a wonderful thing. The reproductive hormones – oestrogen, testosterone and progesterone develop our bodies for future reproduction in puberty, catalyse the process of the formation of new life and nurture it through pregnancy and lactation; and then wind down reproductive energies as we move into the later stages of life.
Reproductive hormones also allow us to respond physiologically to our environment from day to day, creating adaptive responses to external challenges such as stress, exertion, or even falling in love.
However, dysfunctional hormones can create significant distress, especially in women…
“I am a hopeless little ball of pain and suffering all day.”
“I feel like a nutcase.”
“I feel like I’m out of control, on a downward spiral.”
These quotes demonstrate the all-powerful effects that female hormonal conditions can have, leaving a woman feeling totally out of control in her own body and mind.
For hormone-related conditions, conventional medicine offers few solutions: synthetic hormones and antidepressants are the most commonly used strategies, neither of which address the underlying drivers, and can be associated with risks of their own.
Simplifying the treatment of hormones
Whether treating hormones with natural or conventional medicine, a significant barrier to care is being able to identify the hormone imbalance.
When we look at the typical abnormalities which can occur in female hormones, there are four characteristic patterns, which may occur in isolation or combination.
- Excessive oestrogen activity or poor oestrogen metabolism, manifesting as inflammation and growth. This occurs in the proliferation of uterine tissue in disorders such as fibroids and endometriosis.
- Deficient progesterone activity, typically creating mood disturbances, pain and infertility. Women with progesterone deficiency often present with premenstrual symptoms such as breast pain and fluid retention, and mood symptoms such as anxiety, irritability and depression. Progesterone also plays an important role in fertility and pregnancy.
- Deficient oestrogen activity, typically occurring in mid-life, resulting in mood disturbances and symptoms of heat and dryness. This presents in the common menopausal symptoms of hot flushes, sweating, vaginal dryness, skin thinning and wrinkling.
- Excessive testosterone activity, accompanied by an irregular cycle, very light period or lack of period and insulin resistance. Female patients with excessive testosterone may suffer from male-pattern hair growth, acne and anovulation – classically presenting as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
The good news is that Naturopathic medicine and Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) may provide some relief of the hormonal imbalances. Your practitioner may use a combination of dietary advice, exercise, supplements herbs and acupuncture to whip those hormones back into shape!
Why do our hormones go haywire?
Our liver and gut are responsible for the clearance of hormones (such as the naughty xenoestrogens that lead to all those terrible symptoms, mood disorders, pain and inflammation) and oestrogen metabolism. Our diets and environmental factors such as pollution, lots of plastics and chemicals can affect how we metabolise and clear our oestrogens. It is therefore really important to support the two organs responsible for hormone clearance; the liver and gut. Adapting a healthy clean healthy diet and lifestyle is one of the most important things you can be doing to make your hormones happy!
Stress and sugar not so great for happy hormones
When we are stressed our body produces cortisol. Too much cortisol puts stress on our adrenal glands and plays havoc with our blood sugars and metabolism.
Our adrenal glands are involved in hormonal production of progesterone and an oestrogen-like substance produced by adrenals when women go through menopause (this helps reduce those nasty hot flushes and symptoms of menopause).
Adequate progesterone during the menstrual years also works with oestrogen and is important in a healthy, balanced cycle, fertility and results in reduction of pre-menstrual tension, fluid retention and pain.
Lots of sugar and excessive refined carbohydrates and lack of exercise can also lead to more likely insulin resistance which can worsen PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome).