The Most Common Hormonal Imbalances and How To Fix Them Naturally
Does the thought of your period fill you with dread?
For many menstruating people, the arrival of your period equals crippling pain, headaches and skin breakouts. Going through the month can feel like an unpredictable onslaught of mood changes, uncomfortable digestion and energy changes.
You have probably been told that this is all just part of being a woman, but I want to let you in on a secret – it doesn’t have to be like this.
The truth is, your body is always trying to communicate with you. When you experience hormonal symptoms like mood changes, tender breasts, irregular periods or acne, your body is sending you a clear sign that something is out of balance. It can be tempting to take a pill or another ‘quick-fix’ solution to mask these symptoms. These band-aid solutions can work short term, but ultimately don’t address the root cause of the imbalance. By exploring the triggers for your symptoms and identifying hormonal imbalances, you can get rid of your period symptoms for good and experience blissful, drama-free cycles.
The first step to identifying hormonal imbalances is understanding your period bleed.
What Does A Normal Period Look Like?
Since we only have our own period to compare to, it can be hard to know whether what we experience is ‘normal’. Let’s run through some normal cycle parameters so that you can determine where you fall:
The length of your period refers to the number of days from the first day of your bleed to the last day before your next bleed. A healthy range for your cycle length is anywhere between 21 and 35 days, with the average being around 29 days.
Many women in my nutrition clinic tell me their period is always “late” because it comes on day 30 (or 32). This is a huge misconception: that if your period isn’t 28 days, you aren’t normal. If your period consistently arrives around the same day of your cycle, and it falls within the healthy range of 21 to 35 days, this is your normal, healthy cycle length. Whether or not you fit this textbook 28 day cycle (which only 14% of the population actually have - think about that for a minute), the most important factor to consider is whether your ‘normal’ has changed or not.
Our menstrual cycles are very responsive to stress in our lives and demonstrate this most clearly in the length of our cycles. Stress is not always psychological (like being under the pump at work), but may be physical (e.g. under-eating, over-exercising, not sleeping enough or being low in certain nutrients). When we are more stressed, our body does not deem our environment to be a safe place to bring a baby in to the world, and can shut down ovulation all together, or delay it until it deems we are safe. The end result of this change in ovulation is a missing period altogether, or longer cycles than your normal. Think this might explain your menstrual cycle problems? Read on for how to address the impact of stress on your cycle.
The first half of the menstrual cycle is called the follicular phase and is where you experience a rise in follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) as several of your follicles (which contain eggs) begin their final race to ovulation. These growing follicles release the hormone oestrogen in higher and higher amounts. Luteinising hormone (LH) then triggers ovulation – the bursting open of a dominant follicle.
Following ovulation, there is a steep decline in oestrogen. The sack which contained the egg begins to secrete another hormone: progesterone which increases and becomes our dominant hormone in the second half of the menstrual cycle which is known as the luteal phase.
Each of these two phases last roughly two weeks in a typical cycle. If your cycle is longer than 28 days, the first half of the cycle will be longer, with the second half usually remaining around two weeks. After this second two-week phase, if your egg is not fertilised, the lining which has grown to support a potential pregnancy will be shed in the form of your period. The is accompanied by a sharp drop in all hormone levels as you return to baseline. This bleed becomes day 1 of your new cycle, and the process begins again.
As you can see, the delicate balance of hormones throughout the different phases of the menstrual cycle work in concert to orchestrate the process of ovulation and menstruation. This delicate balance can easily become disrupted, leading to hormonal imbalances. Let’s break down the key female hormones further and then explore what happens if they are out of balance.
The Key Female Hormones
The first hormone is oestradiol – this is the form of oestrogen produced in the greatest amounts by women of childbearing age. Oestrogen is considered the happy hormone, because it boosts neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which gives us a sense of pleasure and motivation. It is also great for:
The second key hormone is progesterone (which comes from the word “pro” - “gestation”) - the key role of this hormone is to sustain pregnancy; therefore, it is involved in sustaining a healthy uterine lining which is shed in the form of your period if your egg is not fertilised. Some of the benefits of progesterone include:
boosts body temperature and metabolic rate
protects against heart disease
helps us deal with stress and anxiety
The third key hormone is testosterone. Although testosterone is usually associated with men, women need it too. In healthy levels, testosterone supports:
The final key hormone for your menstrual cycle is insulin. The role of insulin is to stabilise blood sugar levels, support energy production and distribution, and support your metabolism. When blood sugar levels are not stabilised (think chronic indulgence on high starch and sugar foods), insulin becomes less responsive in the body and can cause the following:
Poor blood sugar control
Feeling sleepy after eating
Increased testosterone from ovaries
What happens when these hormones become imbalanced?
When there is an excess of oestrogen in your system, this can lead to heavy and painful periods, sore breasts, PMS, and weight retention around thighs and hips. The causes of oestradiol excess include higher production from ovaries and poor metabolism and detoxification.
Low oestrogen can also have negative effects on your health, which include low libido, missing periods, or very long cycles. The causes for low oestrogen include under-eating, over-exercising, stress, and smoking.
The consequences of low progesterone include PMS, spotting before period begins, anxiety, and prolonged bleeding. The causes of low progesterone include stress and not ovulating.
Having high testosterone can cause acne, male pattern hair growth, hair loss, and irregular cycles. It is associated with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which is associated with irregular cycles and excess androgens (male hormones).
This is a very brief overview of the symptoms associated with hormone imbalances. For a deep dive into these different conditions and how to address the root cause, check out my self-guided Hormone Harmony eCourse and banish period problems for good.
How to balance your hormones naturally
Balancing your hormones is a complicated process and takes time. It will often take up to 3 menstrual cycles to fully experience the benefits of bringing your hormones back in to balance. Unfortunately, there isn’t one quick fix or magic solution which will fix all of your period problems. Addressing diet, lifestyle, stress, exercise, mindset and emotional and spiritual health are the cornerstones to improving your hormone health.
In my 12-week Hormone Harmony eCourse I teach the exact protocols that I use with clients in my nutrition clinic to help them return to vibrant, balanced health. The protocols I teach are beyond the scope of this blog post and are aimed to educate and empower you to take control of your health. If you are truly ready to take back the reins on your hormonal health, enrol in my Hormone Harmony eCourse today.
In the meantime, I’m sharing my top 6 tips to begin balancing your hormones naturally. These are a great place to start if you are new to hormonal imbalances, and will set the stage for further exploration in my course.
#1 Get off the sugar roller coaster
Eating large amounts of processed sugar and refined carbohydrates (like cakes, pastries, lollies/candy and soft drink/soda) can lead to insulin resistance. This is where your body gets tired of receiving the signal that your blood sugar is high, and becomes less responsive to it. Excess insulin production causes inflammation in the body and increased production of testosterone from the ovaries. This can lead to irregular cycles, acne and hair growth on the face.
How do you get rid of sugar cravings? In my Hormone Harmony eCourse I teach my ‘Get Off The Sugar Roller Coaster Protocol’ where I take you step-by-step through how to create balanced meals that leave you feeling satisfied, full for hours and not experiencing massive dips in energy. I also share my top 6 tips for beating sugar cravings when they strike.
For now, aim to reduce your intake of processed sugars like:
Added sugar and syrups (e.g. in your coffee and tea, on pancakes/fruit)
Alcohol, particularly mixed drinks
#2 Balance blood sugar
Having balanced blood sugar means that your body produces a normal insulin response when you consume food. A balanced meal includes good quality fat, protein, and fibre. A balanced plate might look something like this:
1⁄2 of your plate greens and vegetables
1⁄4 of your plate good quality protein
1⁄4 of your plate complex carbs (whole-grains and vegetable starches)
1-2 tablespoons of healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds)
Signing up for my Hormone Harmony eCourse means you receive my bonus gift 40-page Hormone Balancing Recipe eBook! Get in to the kitchen with confidence and start preparing delicious, hormone-loving meals.
#3 Support hormone detoxification
Our liver and gut are the two major organs responsible for breaking down and clearing hormones once they have been used in the body. It's so important that these systems are working properly to prevent build-up of hormones which contributes to hormonal imbalances. Here’s a brief overview of how to support these two systems of detoxification (I share my full protocols for hormonal detox support in my Hormone Harmony eCourse).
Plenty of cruciferous vegetables: kale, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussel's sprouts
Start the day with one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar or the juice of half a lemon in a glass of water to stimulate liver detoxification
Enjoy bitter foods like dandelion greens, rocket, green tea Reduce the load on the liver: quit smoking, reduce/eliminate alcohol
Easy to digest, nourishing foods: soups, stews, bone broth, casseroles
Enjoy fermented foods like cultured, unsweetened yoghurt, kombucha, and sauerkraut
Reduce refined and added sugar intake
Try collagen powder to support the gut lining (1 Tbsp a day mixed in to hot or cold foods)
Slippery elm bark powder – soothes an irritated gut: 1 tsp in glass of cold water
In my Hormone Harmony eCourse I teach my ‘Supercharged Digestive Health Protocol’ to address issues like alternating bowel habits (constipation and diarrhoea), bloating, stomach pain, burping and gas – which all contribute to hormonal imbalances.
#4 Manage stress
Stress wreaks havoc on our hormones, particularly our production of progesterone. Progesterone is produced from the same building blocks as our stress hormone cortisol (our stress hormone). When we are stressed, our body ramps up its cortisol production and slows down on progesterone, contributing to a number of hormonal imbalances.
For many of us, we have little control over the stressors that are thrown on us on a day to day basis. The key then to managing stress is learning how to change your relationship with stress. Shifting your mindset around stress is the cornerstone to changing the way that it affects your body.
Try some of the strategies to help you manage stress:
Learn to say no
Meditation, yoga, breathing exercises
Protein with every meal to stabilise blood sugar and moods (important in reducing cortisol surges)
Regular exercise that you enjoy and is not too strenuous
Time outdoors: barefoot on the ground (this is great for helping ground yourself after an intense day)
#5 Consider supplementing
The above suggestions will go a long way to improving your body's production and elimination of hormones. Consider these initial steps as the 'ground work' for hormone balance. If you have implemented all of these tips, your next step is to consider adding 1 or 2 high quality supplements in to your regime (Important note: please check with your health care provider before starting any new supplement regime)
Magnesium: wonderful in helping the body cope with chronic, ongoing stress as magnesium is used in the stress response. Magnesium bisglycinate form is best for most people as it causes the least disturbance to digestive symptoms. 300mg per day is an effective dose for most people.
Zinc: Great for acne and digestive issues. 30mg per day in citrate or picolinate form after food (taking on an empty stomach can cause nausea).
Iron: great for heavy periods, low iron stores and fatigue. Please have your iron levels checked through a simple blood test which can be requested through your health care provider. Bisglycinate form is best as it causes the least digestive issues. 24mg every second day away from caffeine is a good dose for most people.
#6 Tune in to the subtle energies throughout your cycle
Our patriarchal work culture has been built around the masculine energy of high productivity every day of the month. Unfortunately, women are not designed to operate like this. Our menstrual cycles mean that we naturally go through phases of high energy (around ovulation: mid cycle) and slower, more introspective times (around menstruation).
Learning to identify and respond to these subtle energetic changes can revolutionise your productivity and output throughout your cycle. This is a topic I am very passionate about and spend an entire module teaching my students about in my 12-week Hormone Harmony eCourse. Sign up for the course to learn how to chart your cycle, become aware and respond to these changes so that you can stop fighting the inevitable ebbs and flows throughout the month and make them work for you instead of against you.
For now, my biggest tip is to take time to truly rest at menstruation. Even if this means for just one hour – asking someone to watch your kids, going to bed early, taking a bath or reading a book instead of tidying the house. I guarantee if you can take some time for some self-care at menstruation, you will be rewarded with overflowing energy, productivity and creativity at your next ovulation time.
Your highest energy levels will be during ovulation (mid cycle). This is when your productivity and focus will be at their highest. You will feel like connecting with others and being social. This is the time to schedule big meetings, important life decisions, parties and social gatherings. Use this energetic burst to achieve things on your to-do list that then allow you to slow down and rest during your menstruation.
So there you have it, my top 6 tips to begin balancing your hormones naturally. Have you tried any of the above suggestions? How did they go for you? I would love to hear your experience. I go in to so much more depth about all of these juicy hormone balancing tips in my Hormone Harmony eCourse. If you’re ready to take control of your health and feel like yourself again – I would love to support you.