Updated: Aug 13, 2019
Your hormones control a lot more than just how much chocolate you crave when PMSing or how many red spots pop up on your chin.
Your brain is constantly communicating with the rest of your body via your hormones, which are chemical messengers produced by the glands and organs of your adrenal system (thyroid, adrenals, pituitary glands, ovaries, testicles and pancreas). Although each hormone has an individual influence on the body, every hormone works together to create a delicate balance throughout your body. When in alignment they work together like a perfect mechanical work of art - picture your dream car. When working together the machine runs like a dream, but when just one part is off it can cause a complete breakdown.
So many people are suffering from hormone imbalances and simply have no idea. And what can be even worse is that those who do know are likely treating them conventionally, which involves the use of synthetic hormone therapies which simply mask the symptoms instead of treating the cause of the problem. This was me.
When I was a teenager my hormones were massively out of whack. Instead looking into why this was happening, my doctor decided to prescribe me heavy dose steroids. This absolutely messed things up 10 x worse causing a total health cascade into the worst health I have ever experienced, both physically and mentally. I gained 15kgs, was anxious, depressed, constantly bloated and the brain fog was out of this world. Yuck! The damage caused to my endocrine and adrenals during this time has made my poor little hormones super sensitive to this day. If I am not taking care of myself they will be the first to suffer. My stress (cortisol) will skyrocket and my period will stop.
But it's not all bad news, now that you are aware of the vital role they play you can actually use them to heal yourself. Recognise your symptoms as a clue to what is going on within your body then manipulate them through your diet and lifestyle to not only heal & reverse damages but to propel you into the healthiest possible version of yourself.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY HORMONES ARE OUT OF BALANCE?
We are all extremely different so everyone will experience hormonal imbalances differently. From my own personal experience, as well as from 5 years of working with clients in this space, a common symptom which you will not find on the medical symptoms list (below) is a general feeling of "I just don't feel like myself". As if there is something influencing your thoughts, feelings and physical body that is outside of your control.
The most common symptoms of a hormone imbalance:
Depression and Anxiety
Unexplained weight gain or loss
Irregular periods and infertility
Fatigue and Insomnia
Changes in appetite
Hair loss or thinning
Acne and skin conditions
Mood swings and irritability
Your specific combinations of symptoms can give you clues into which hormones are too high and which are too low. Below shows some common presentation of unbalanced hormones. Again, it is so important to remember that we are all different and what may be the presentation of high cortisol for one person will be different than the other. If you feel like your hormones are unbalanced I highly recommend working with a holistic healthcare practitioner to properly assess your current hormone balance.
High cortisol = Unintentional weight gain, increase in appetite, digestive issues such as bloating, acid reflux, constipation or diarrhoea.
Low testosterone = Low libido and sexual dysfunction such as impotence or erectile dysfunction in men and vaginal dryness in women.
High estrogen (or low progesterone) = Bad PMS symptoms, very heavy periods, unintentional weight gain, changes in appetite, and unexplained mood changes, depression
Low estrogen = vaginal dryness, irregular periods, and mood changes or depression
Thyroid hormone imbalances = unintentional weight gain/loss, hair loss/thinning
Low melatonin = difficulty sleeping, restlessness, daytime fatigue, brain fog
WHY ARE MY HORMONES OUT OF BALANCE?
Hormonal imbalances need to be viewed through a holistic lens. Your current hormonal balance is effected by your diet, medical history, genetics, stress and lifestyle. For optimal hormones all of these areas need to be assessed.
The most common cause today of hormone imbalance is adrenal dysfunction. I have seriously suffered from this before and if you follow me on Instagram you would have heard me talk about the key to adrenal dysfunction: cortisol. The overproduction of your stress hormone, cortisol, is the patient zero to a cascade of hormone imbalances.
Other common causes of hormone imbalance:
Unaddressed food allergies
Poor gut health
Vitamin D deficiency
Too much or too little exercise
Lack of sleep
Toxic exposure (virus, smoking, excessive alcohol, pesticides, harmful chemicals)
HEALING HORMONES NATURALLY
Your hormones can either make you feel like total crap or an absolute rockstar. The key is making them work for you instead of against you. Here are the top 8 ways to adjust your diet and lifestyle to support happy, healthy hormones.
HEAL YOUR GUT
First and foremost it is so important to address your gut and inflammation as these are the root of all diseases, including hormone imbalances. A healthy gut is the foundation for healthy hormones. 90% of serotonin, your happiness hormone, is produced in your gut. You cant have a happy mind without a happy gut!
Reduce inflammatory foods: refined grains, vegetable oils, processed foods
Eat a balance of macronutrients (carbs, fats, protein) and do not completely cut out any one group
Eat probiotic and prebiotic foods. These are the beneficial bacteria which will live inside your gut (probiotics) and their favourite source of fuel (prebiotics)
Increase your fibre intake: psyllium, avocado, berries
Eat healthy fats: fatty fish, olive oil, coconut, avocado, nuts and seeds
Increase your water intake
Limit caffeine and alcohol
If you would like more information on how to heal your gut head to my Good Gut Guide.
SWAP PROCESSED CARBS FOR HEALTHY FATS
Your body needs healthy fats to create hormones. They are not only the building blocks for hormone production but they also keep inflammation low, boost metabolism and promote weight loss. They have the exact opposite effect of processed carbohydrates, which most people are eating way too much of. My favourite anti-inflammatory healthy fats are avocados, wild caught salmon and coconut cream or oil. But never cook with coconut oil on high heat as its smoke point is low and will turn the oil toxic.
USE HORMONE SUPERFOODS
There are so many hormone superfoods out there, each with specific benefits that will manipulate specific hormone imbalances. You will have to choose your own hormone superfoods depending on which hormones you want to balance. But here are my top 3 favourites right now that I use almost every day.
CACAO: Yes, chocolate! No, not dairy milk candy, but raw cacao. In its purest form like this is a hormone-balancing superfood which boosts serotonin and lowers cortisol. It is extremely rich in antioxidants and is one of the few foods out there that contains Anandamide, “the bliss molecule”. Lowering cortisol was the aim of my hormone balancing game so every single day I add raw cacao to my morning Elixir.
ADAPTOGENS: Adaptogenic herbs are types of superfood healing plants that promote hormone balance and help your body to adapt (hence the name) to stress. Each type of adaptogen has specific benefits such as Increased immunity Nootropic (increased mental function)Gut healing Boosted immunity Reduce anxiety and depressionStabilize blood sugarSupport adrenals Increase energy and much more. Right now I’m loving Lion’s Mane for increased mental function, immunity and gut healing and Reishi for stress, immunity and longevity. Every morning I add half a tsp into my morning coffee or cacao Elixir. I use Evolution Botanicals.
MY SUPERFOOD ELIXIR
Almost every morning I start with this superfood elixir. The ingredients will change depending on what I have around and what my body is needing that day. Sometimes I add a shot of espresso when Im craving a little coffee, but most the time it's without.
1 - 2 tbsp of raw cacao (I like to have it super thick on days I want a little serotonin kick or if I feel like my cortisol is a little bit high)
Warm coconut milk (or almond, oat, whatever your milk preference is)
Pinch pink sea salt (for minerals and to bring out the flavours)
1/2 - 1 tsp Adaptogenic mushrooms (Using whichever type of mushrooms give the effects you are looking for. I alternate between Reishi and Lion's Mane.)
1 serving of collagen (I use IMBIBE)
1 tsp nut butter (If I am not going to have a proper breakfast I double the nut butter)
SPIRULINA: This blue-green algae is one of my all time favourite superfoods, a seaweed that does it all! Spirulina is packed with protein, iron, B12, magnesium and potassium. It heals your gut, helps boost liver detoxification, improves energy and even helps you get your beauty sleep by boosting melatonin. You can buy spirulina on its own or there are many greens powders out there which include Spirulina. I use Vital All in One.
Firstly, I want to stress once more how different we all are. For some, an afternoon coffee is complete fine, for others any caffeine after 1pm can leave you lying awake in bed all night long over thinking and contemplating the meaning of life. I am the latter. But it doesn't matter which of these you are, anyone can build up a tolerance to caffeine that will negatively affect your health. Caffeine is a stimulant and therefore boosts cortisol levels. Now don’t freak out, I’m not telling you to quit coffee forever. Just try every now and then to decrease or even cut it out completely. See how your body responds. If you get headaches, irritable, brain fog or sleepy these are signs your body is dependant on caffeine to modulate your hormones. Cutting caffeine for short spurts of time will keep your body on its toes and insure it is naturally controlling its own hormone levels and not relying on the caffeine to stimulate production.
Chronic stress will impact the body even more so than a poor diet, lack of sleep or sedentary lifestyle. When we are stressed, every single bodily function will suffer. You will not properly absorb your food or get the benefits of a good night's sleep. Your mental health will suffer and your hormones won't stand a chance. There are endless ways to work on decreasing stress, its all about finding what works best for you.
But here are some general suggestions to try out:
Keep active, find a form of exercise that is fun for you
Spend time in nature
Pet all the dogs!
Be social with your loved ones
Keep a journal
Develop nighttime and morning routines
Experiment with essential oils
Vitamin D is what’s known as a ‘precursor hormone’, meaning that we need vitamin D for the production of hormones, such as testosterone, progesterone and estrogen. Aim for 15-20 minutes of direct sun exposure every day for optimal Vitamin D intake. Did you know that 1 in 4 Australians are deficient in vitamin D?
PRIORITISE YOUR BEAUTY SLEEP
Getting enough sleep is absolutely essential for a healthy endocrine functioning. If we don’t get enough sleep our hormones will suffer, when our hormones suffer our sleep will suffer and when our sleep suffers we suffer. Thus the cycle will continue. Prioritise your beauty sleep and your hormones will thank you later.
GO LOW TOX
Don’t smoke. Smoking is gross. It causes high levels of reproductive hormones, increases your risk of irregular periods and infertility. Smoking causes an abnormal release of hormones from the pituitary gland and is a general endocrine (hormone) disruptor. Avoid medication and be wary of birth control. More on this in a blog post to come..
Clear out your environment. I recently went full Marie Kondo on my house and threw out all the shit. Our houses are absolutely overflowing with endocrine disrupting chemicals. They are in your shampoo, body wash, dish soap, makeup, tupperware, cleaning products and so much more. All of these harmful chemicals are then directly absorbed into your body’s largest organ; the skin. Toss the crap and switch to natural alternatives. You don't need to do it all at once and break the bank, but each time a product runs out, next time buy a less toxic alternative.
Reach for ‘pesticide free’ food, home products and medications. Always look out for these toxic chemicals when purchasing your products: butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), diethanolamine (DEA), phthalate, formaldehyde, PEGs, parabens, sodium laureth, sulfate and sodium lauryl sulphate, siloxane, triclosan
Some of my favourite non toxic brands and products:
Dr Bronner's soap, dish soap, hair care, toothpaste
Happi Earth laundry liquid
Cocokind skincare and makeup
YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
Any tips for hormone imbalances that cause hair loss?
Female hair loss is most commonly due to excessive stress, unbalanced hormones, thyroid conditions or toxic environmental exposure. Good news, hormone related hair loss is temporary and once you have balanced your hormones your normal hair will return.
The hormones to consider when it comes to hair loss in women are androgens: testosterone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and androstenedione. These may be commonly called "male hormones" but both men and women produce androgens. This group of hormones have over 200 actions in the body and they are essential for the production of female estrogen hormones.
If the hair loss is not patchy and is across the entire scalp this could be a sign of a thyroid condition. I would recommend a blood test to find out exactly which hormones are causing the hair loss. Please do note that conventional "normal range" is extremely different than therapeutic "normal range" so I would recommend having a holistic practitioner help you to read the results.
Why does maca give me pimples?
Maca is a powerful superfood which I absolutely love to use. However depending on your specific balance of hormones it can either cure hormone imbalances or make them worse.
Maca is a crucifferious vegetable from Peru where it has been used for centuries to increase fertility, balance hormones and boos libido. It is an adaptogenic food, which means it helps your body to adapt to stress on a cellular level. Maca decreases your level of cortisol which helps to encourage your bodies natural healing body response to kick in. It doesn’t directly change any one specific hormone, but gives your body what it needs so that it can regulate its own hormones.
If you have estrogen dominance maca can be incredible to clear acne and heal the reproductive system, boost energy and libido. However, if you have high testosterone/androgen hormones it will likely have the exact opposite effect and can cause acne.
SO WHAT NOW?
Just like your hormones can spiral out of control, implementing some of these tips can help your hormones to cascade in the other direction. Small positive changes every will make a big difference. Remember, if you still feel confused or want to know more it is always best to work with a qualified practitioner to ensure you are making the right changes for your body.
Happy hormones x