Female Hormone Imbalances

As much as I hate the all too common joke that a woman is “hormonal”, the truth is we have a lot going on with our hormones lades!

You Deserve Care Now

We have hormonal fluctuations throughout the week, the month and of course throughout the decades of our lives that have a profound effect on our mood, energy, body composition, sleep, mental sharpness, digestion, pain level and even disease risk. Not to mention, when your hormones are whacked you feel bloated, suffer with breakouts and hair loss, feel cranky and perhaps worst of all: just not like yourself.

Female hormones imbalances can range from uncomfortable or annoying (i.e. mild PMS) to downright debilitating (i.e. endometriosis) but they are all worth you tending to. Women are so good at taking care of everyone else and putting their own needs and health on hold. Often we try to ignore mild, pesky symptoms and don’t tend to ourselves until our hormones become very deranged and symptoms are too bad to ignore. We often wait for a crisis to make a change, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You deserve care now and your hormones are telling you when they aren’t doing well so please don’t ignore them.

Your Hormonal Symptoms May Be Common, But That Doesn’t Mean They Are Normal

Ladies, our bodies should’ve come with an owner’s manual – or at least a hormone decoder ring. Our hormones are talking to us all day and no one has taught us to listen. Until now! This is my life’s work and I want every women to know two important things:

What your hormonal cues tell you about what’s going on with your internal physiology, metabolism and how to more easily know what works for you.

When your hormones talk…listen! We so often put our pesky symptoms on hold because:

We don’t want to complain because our symptoms are annoying but not as bad as so and so’s period, whoa. We are tending to our career or families (or both!) and think there will be more time for us later (as a working mom in her 40s now I can tell you: there won’t be!)

We don’t really want to make changes to our lifestyle because our issue isn’t that severe, we have bad PMS but it’s not ovarian cancer right? Ladies we don’t need a crisis to make a change, yet often we wait for one. Often those changes can PREVENT things from becoming a crisis if we’re prepared to make them now.

And finally just because all of your girlfriends complain about bloating, mood swings and low libido does not make it “just the way it is”. Again, don’t mistake common for normal. You can feel better!

When we have more significant hormonal imbalance like endometriosis or PCOS (more on both of those below) we may not ever have a “perfect period” but we can do oh so much better but for the vast majority of female hormone issues showing up at cramping, irregular bleeding (heavy or light) or the host of symptoms such as moodiness, bloating and wonky digestion, insomnia, fatigue, water retention or cravings that show up prior to our periods you can tune in and make a few change that can give you a pleasantly uneventful period.

In this post I give natural options for very common female hormones issues.

Guide to Your Period

Below I talk about more significant hormonal problem such as endometriosis and PCOS but for all women here’s your hormonal cheat sheet. Use this guide to tune into how your hormones talk to throughout your cycle, if you’re experiencing symptoms in any of these 5 categories it’s time to listen up:

  • Cramping + Clotting
  • Regularity in timing
  • Amount
  • Moodiness
  • Painful or tender breasts
  • Skin breakouts or oiliness
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Endometriosis

This often incredibly painful condition that affects 1 in 10 women comes up lacking in conventional medicine whose tools are  the birth control pill, surgery and pain meds which often only offer temporary relief.

With endometriosis the pain and discomfort are triggered with the normal hormonal fluctuations typical of a menstrual period. The problem arises because tissue that is normally lining the uterine wall (the endometrium) can take up residence elsewhere including the ovaries, fallopian tubes or intestines and it responds to hormone chances and bleeds as well (similar to what happens inside the uterus that results in a period bleed).

This can cause a lot inflammation and irritation of the nerves in the abdominal cavity resulting in considerable and often debilitating pain. In time scar tissue can form and adhesions between pelvic and lower abdominal organs can occur as well.

Women with endometriosis can have what they describe as hellish periods due to the pain that can be even too significant for pain meds to be helpful. They can struggle with fertility (it’s estimated that 50% of women with infertility have endometriosis), pain during intercourse, fatigue as well as digestive or urinary symptoms (i.e. bloating, constipation, pain with urination, etc.) as well as flu like symptoms and uncomfortable fevers during their period.

Like so many female hormone issues, conventional options can fall short but it’s lifestyle and natural medicine to the rescue here.

Normalizing estrogen metabolism, decreasing the seemingly relentless endocrine disruptors women are faced with in our modern world ranging from our cosmetics and body products to our food supply to our plastic water bottles, managing inflammation from all sources and supporting better hormone balance overall with stress management and an estrogen friendly diet (high veggie intake, mindful of animal fat, and finding one’s Unique Carb Tolerance etc.).

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PCOS

My own struggles with PCOS actually led me from my career in pharmacy to a becoming a naturopathic and functional medicine doctor.

With my conventional option of the pill or Mirena IUD making me feel much worse and nutrition advice that made me gain weight rapidly and feel sluggish, I had to find better options. Luckily PCOS is a condition where nutrition, exercise and natural health options really shine. However the internet is rife with misinformation about PCOS ranging from simply go low carb and do more cardio to “Oh you don’t look like you have PCOS”.

This is an incredibly common hormonal condition that is more than a fertility or weight management problem. PCOS has underpinnings of inflammation that increase our risk of cardiovascular, autoimmune and chronic disease; almost always has cortisol, insulin and thyroid involvement as well as estrogen:progesterone imbalance and creates a host of frustrating symptoms ranging that leave us feeling far from our best.

Read More About PCOS

Could You Have PCOS and Not Know It?

Yes, yes you can. Many women present atypically (meaning they don’t look the part) so they don’t get an adequate workup or they fall into a grey area where they don’t meet the diagnostic criteria for PCOS but they have basically a lighter shade of PCOS that may not fit a diagnosis but can still be helped by addressing PCOS-like hormonal imbalances.

And yet many more women present with PCOS but it’s not discussed thoroughly the hormonal issues that PCOS brings and where their power is in terms of diet, exercise and lifestyle to manage their symptoms, restore hormonal balance and help them feel their best, instead they are given the birth control pill.

So many women present to their doc in their teens with an irregular cycle, perhaps a painful or heavy period and some breakouts. What happens?

Almost immediately they are offered the birth control pill to “normalize” their cycle. Little testing or conversation happens about what’s actually going on with this young woman’s physiology and potential PCOS diagnosis. Personally, this was my experience.

I was promptly given the pill for my painful periods and breakouts with no mention of my underlying issue of PCOS. This led me to years of frustration with the Pill as it never agreed with me and like every other woman with PCOS, when we come off the pill our hormonal imbalance are still there (often more severe), waiting patiently for us.

But the good news is we can do much better than that for women with PCOS! It starts with a proper and through evaluation.

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PCOS Diagnostic Criteria

For a diagnosis of PCOS to be made there must be mandate two of the following three findings:

  • Hyperandrogenism (elevated androgens such as DHEA-S or testosterone)
  • Ovulatory dysfunction (not ovulating normally each month)
  • And polycystic ovaries seen on ultrasound

You must also have had other causes of ovulatory dysfunction and elevated androgens ruled out.

If you are curious about whether or not you have PCOS or at least some flavor of it get to work with a functional medicine doc and get to the bottom of your hormonal imbalances and take your power back.

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Wondering if you have PCOS?

If you’re curious is PCOS is behind some of your sytmpoms but haven’t had a clear diagnosis it’s wise to get a thorough workup because left unmanaged, insulin resistance – a key mechanism driving PCOS – can develop into Metabolic Syndrome X or Type II Diabetes, increasing risk for cardiovascular disease and other serious health issues.

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