Hormonal fluctuations are part and parcel of being female. It's natural to feel more emotional on some days, or experience small weight fluctuations depending on the time of month. Lifestyle factors, however, such as a stressful job and dietary choices can throw things off balance. And when things aren't functioning right, hormones have the capacity to affect your life on a much deeper level. So what are the tell tale signs of a hormone imbalance?
1. Stress, anxiety and mood swings
This is a chicken and egg scenario. Most women have experienced mood swings and PMS caused by hormones. However, it also works the other way around. Ongoing stress can cause a hormonal imbalance, as it prompts your adrenal glands to release a wave of hormones such as cortisol (aka the 'stress hormone') and adrenaline.
There are a number of factors that can impact your ability to fall pregnant. From a hormonal perspective, these factors can include early menopause, polycystic ovary syndrome or endometriosis, a condition that affects a woman's reproductive organs.
3. Unexplained weight gain/or weight loss
If you're eating well and physically active but you continually gain weight it could be caused by to hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is a condition caused by insufficient levels of the thyroid hormone, which can slow down your metabolism and cause your pancreas to store fat. Hyperthyroidism, on the other hand, refers to an overactive thyroid gland which can result in weight loss and muscle weakness.
Hypothyroidism can also result in fatigue and constant exhaustion. The thyroid gland controls your body's metabolism and when the hormone levels are low everything slows down, including your heart rate, digestion and mental functioning. Constant tiredness and exhaustion can also be a result of adrenal fatigue, which occurs when the adrenal glands are functioning below the necessary level.
Having trouble sleeping may be caused by a drop in progesterone, a hormone that has relaxing properties. It often drops before your period or after childbirth and can result in restlessness and insomnia. Insomnia can lead to further imbalances, such as excess levels of ghrelin (hunger hormone) and insufficient leptin (the hormone telling you you're full).
6. Low libido
Low levels of oestrogen can cause some women to experience a low sex drive or libido. Stress, insomnia and diet can all have an impact on oestrogen levels.
7. Belly fat
Carrying excess weight around the abdomen may be a sign of excess cortisol, and your body may be struggling to process insulin, causing fat storage around the belly. Other contributors to insulin resistance, or fat storage around the abdomen include excess testosterone in females, or excess oestrogen in both sexes.
8. Hot flushes
Excessive sweating, hot flushes and night sweats can be caused by a range of hormonal imbalances that may come from the adrenals, ovaries, thyroid or gastrointestinal tract.
9. Persistent acne
We all get the odd spot now and again, however, persistent or severe breakouts may be the result of too much testosterone. Excess testosterone can increase the production of oil on your skin, which can clog pores and result in pimples or acne.
So what should you do?
If you are showing any of these symptoms and suspect it may be the result of a hormonal imbalance, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional. A functional pathology test can determine exactly what imbalances are occurring, so that a treatment plan can be tailored to your specific needs.
A personalised treatment plan may entail stress management techniques, dietary changes, exercise and therapeutic supplements. Some supplements assist with oestrogen detoxification, increasing progesterone, decreasing or increasing testosterone and assisting thyroid hormone production, often reducing the need for medication, and allowing the body to perform optimally.
Healthy swaps to make in the meantime…
- Where possible, consume organic grass fed meat and dairy. Non-organic meat and dairy often contains artificial hormones to help the animal grow faster and produce more. Consuming artificial hormones can affect your own delicate hormone balance.
- Opt for organic fruit and vegetables, if they are available and within your budget. Pesticide residue from fruit and vegetables, especially edocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC) can have a negative effect on your hormone balance and health.
- Processed foods often contain pesticides so reducing the amount in your diet is also beneficial.
- Avoid plastic water bottles, including those which are BPA free. As much as possible, stick to glass bottles, and use glass food storage containers too.
This article first appeared on Juice Daily.
Pip Reed is a nutritionist, personal trainer and co-founder of The Health Clinic. She has more than ten years experience in the health and fitness industry and she specialises in women's health, weight loss, hormone imbalances and healthy aging.