One of the common complaints I hear when I ask patients why they have come to see me is, “my hormones are all out of whack!” Often they come to me after they’ve already tried dieting to lose weight, tried libido tonics to feel sexy again, taken a bit of St John’s Wort or Chaste tree here and there to help with PMS. Some women have gone through many different types of contraceptive pills just to see if they could balance their hormones or regulate their periods. Women in particular are at their wits end trying to figure out what their bodies are trying to tell them, and what they can do about it. Let’s look at what hormones are, what their job is in the body and why they can sometimes get out of balance.
Hormones are chemical messengers in the body. They are produced in the endocrine glands and are transported in blood or other body fluids to tissues to control things like hunger, sex drive, metabolism, fertility and mood. Hormones can influence thirst, sleep, energy and the way we respond to different situations and tolerate stress.
Hormones maintain a high level of expert communication with one another to maintain a delicate balance and activity level of the endocrine glands. If one hormone speaks out of turn, too loudly, or too softly, the entire communication system can fall apart. This can lead to other organs in the endocrine system missing out on proper instruction or doing their own thing and running their own agenda. There are so many processes and corrections needed to maintain proper function that constant vigilance by the body’s hormonal regulation systems is required. Sometimes, when there is overload or stress on the body, these regulation systems can become distracted and dysfunction can occur.
Take Lily for example. Lily was enjoying the good life. She had recently married, had a career she enjoyed and was expecting her first child. Lily was feeling great during her pregnancy, but the birth was another story altogether. After the birth of her son, Lily haemorrhaged and lost a lot of blood. While she recovered well, all things considered, Lily’s body had to make some quick assessments and changes during that crisis. You see the body is designed to maintain a certain level of balance. It is very good at prioritising critical needs. Lily’s body decided that some processes need to be turned off and toned down in order to preserve energy and aid recovery. So, instead of ramping up the hormone that stimulate milk production after birth, these hormones were toned down. Lily’s body had determined that she didn’t have the resources to sustain feeding a baby, so it held off her milk supply. Lily also found it difficult to lose weight after the birth, and started to gain weight again. She did her best to exercise and eat well, but her weight was slowly rising.
Stress, whether it is physical or emotional, if severe, or prolonged can place a huge load on a person’s hormonal regulation system and create a series of unfortunate events. The compensatory measures that the body puts in place sometimes become so complex that it is difficult to see where exactly the problem began and where to start work on fixing it. I see patients with heavy and painful periods or unexpected weight gain not knowing where or how it all began. Medicating this without looking at the full story, promises only a short term fix if anything.
To regain health it is important to dig deeper and investigate where, when or how the body got out of whack. Working in reverse to uncover the causes, re-calibrate and re-establish a good communication network for the body’s messenger system is essential. It is possible, once the causes are identified and managed, to get hormones back into balance, fit back into clothes from your mid 20’s and trust your body to do what it is supposed to do again. Work with me
Some of the reasons your hormones could get out of whack, or have trouble returning to baseline include:
There are certain toxins we may be exposed to on a day to day basis which can disturb hormone function. These toxins are known as endocrine disruptors. They can mimic, block or potentially alter the hormonal systems in the body. Toxins known as xenoestrogens are chemicals in our environment, that when taken into the body can imitate oestrogen. This can mean that your body exhibits symptoms of excess oestrogen due to what is coming in externally, rather than what your body is making. Xenoestrogens affect both male and female reproductive systems. In males there is evidence that xenoestrogens alter sperm quality, number and may affect fertility. Sources of xenoestrogens include plastics, chemicals, pesticides, tap water, shampoos, lotions, soaps, toothpastes, sunscreens, styrofoam cups, takeaway containers, food additives, tinned foods. Yes, endocrine disruptors are everywhere! Our best solution is to minimise our exposure and ensure our detoxification system is in peak condition
Some patients with heavy or painful periods report significant changes after a few months, when they reduce their contact with plastics, and switch to natural and chemical free body and personal hygiene products.
” One of every five adults are potentially exposed every day to all of the top seven carcinogenic impurities common to personal care product ingredients — hydroquinone, ethylene dioxide, 1,4-dioxane, formaldehyde, nitrosamines, PAHs, and acrylamide.” Environmental Working Group.
Poor Detoxification Pathways
The liver is considered the main organ of detoxification. It’s job is to bind up or transform toxins into a safer compound that can be efficiently removed from the body. It’s step by step process is finely tuned and requires all the right ingredients for success. Then the gall bladder, colon, kidneys, skin and lungs do the job of removing the packaged toxins from the body.
Unfortunately in today’s world, the workload on the liver, and the organs of elimination is increasing dramatically. There is no longer anywhere in the world that is pure, pristine and toxin free. The water we drink, foods we eat, air we breathe, clothes we wear and products we use to clean ourselves and our homes are potential sources of toxins. Our livers are pre-loaded with toxins to deal with even before we are born, with scientists finding over 200 chemicals in the cord blood of new born babies.
In a nutshell, the detoxification systems of the body are under a lot of strain. If any of the steps in the liver detoxification pathway (as summarised in the image below) are not able to be completed efficiently, chances are your body will recycle these toxins back into your system and tuck them away “safely” in your fatty tissue. In other words, your body has a back up plan. If it can’t remove toxins for any reason, it will do its best to limit their impact on your body. Rather than double handling and leaving the toxins floating around in your blood stream, your body sequesters them into fat, bone, and brain tissue. Unfortunately these stored toxins still have some level of influence while they are trapped in the body. The fatty tissue will slowly release these toxins back in to the blood stream, meaning that fat stores become a constant trickle source of toxins. When fat is broken down during weight loss, the body can once again become overburdened with toxins and affect metabolism, detoxification and hormone systems in a cumulative way. In some cases, the body will do it’s best to minimise this toxin release by preventing a person from burning fat. Cue – difficulty losing weight.
Hormone Detox Pathways
Certain nutrients and vitamins are critical for the production and regulation of hormones. Hormones are predominantly made from cholesterol (steroid hormones); amino acids and proteins (peptide hormones) and fatty acids (eicosanoid hormones). Then there are the micronutrients which are also critical for the production of hormones. Take iodine for example. The body cannot make thyroid hormone, T4 with an absence of iodine or tyrosine. In order to make the active thryoid hormone T3, the body needs zinc, selenium, iron, b6, b1, b2 and others. Vitamin B6, B3, chromium and magnesium are important in the regulation of insulin the hormone which manages our blood sugar levels and body weight. Vitamin B6 , zinc and magnesium are also involved in the regulation of oestrogen and progesterone. In other words we need optimal nutrient levels for optimal hormone and body function!
Just getting your RDA or recommended daily allowance of vitamins and minerals isn’t enough. Nutrient deficiencies can occur due to insufficient intake in the diet, poor absorption or uptake from the diet, loss in body fluids such as blood, sweat and faeces and urine, and also with increased demand such as following trauma, illness or infection. The body will give you a sign when it is lacking certain nutrients. Signs can take a while to show up though and most people don’t know what to look for. Your wholistic health practitioner is trained to identify and monitor nutrient deficiencies and help you to correct this through food, functional foods and sometimes nutritional supplements. Food first where possible!
Having hormones out of balance or “out of whack” will cause different issues in different people. Some will suffer fatigue, weight gain and hair loss, while others will be moody and get monthly thrush and migraines. There is no cookie cutter approach when it comes to identifying hormonal issues. Your hormone picture and how you experience life is going to be completely different to another person your age, gender and ethnicity.
Find your balance
There are certainly patterns that run in families, and this can be a good place to look for clues on where to start work. Dig deep into your health history looking with “new” eyes on the subject. Has there been prolonged exposure to toxins, either with yourself or through your parents before you were born? Do some research on endocrine disrupting chemicals to see where you can reduce the things that could be impacting your hormone system. Consider past health issues or medications which could have disturbed your hormone system eg severe stress, prolonged illness, medications like the oral contraceptive pill, hormone blockers, IVF medications or chemotherapy. Having a good understanding of your past health can provide a better action plan for your future health and hormone balance.
Restoring communication within the hormone messenger system can be complex, but a rewarding process. Once the layers are uncovered, systems cleaned, pathways cleared, and nutrients restored the body can return to a state of balance. The lines of communication will be open again, the zing will return to your step and you can trust your body to do what it’s supposed to do.
If you would like some help to create a clear picture with all the pieces of the hormone puzzle you can book your naturopathic consultation here.