Hormonal Imbalances: Common Causes in Women
Hormones are powerful chemical messengers. They affect the heart, brain, bones, muscles, reproductive organs and are essential for the health of each and every cell.
Hormone fluctuations occur naturally as we move through the cycle of life, from puberty through pregnancy, peri-menopause, and menopause. For women of all ages, the goal is to restore natural equilibrium and rebalance our hormones.
The hormones of reproduction in women include; estrogen, progesterone, a small amount of testosterone, follicle stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone. Others include cortisol and DHEA. All are produced by the ovaries, the adrenal glands or both. Overall, it is the task of the Endocrine system to control the release of hormones from various glands.
There are times when the attempt to maintain hormonal balance is disrupted. Getting back into balance can be a tough task.
Common Causes of Hormonal Imbalance
High Levels of Stress
As a response to any stress, the adrenal cortex will react by overproducing cortisol. It is the body’s innate response to the “fight or flight ” dilemma, to any perceived threat whether real or imagined. Chronic unrelieved stress means the adrenal glands will continue to overproduce, non-stop! In its normal function, cortisol helps the body meet life’s challenges, converting protein to energy, releasing glycogen, and counteracting inflammation. In sustained increased levels, it can actually tear the body down and interfere with healthy endocrine function.
Poor Food Choices
Fresh fruit and vegetables of deep colors assist in estrogen metabolism. Avoid pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. Organic produce is always preferable as well as locally grown and seasonal foods especially if you want to avoid xenoestrogens. (endocrine disrupters, which cause estrogen-like effects, resulting in an estrogen dominant imbalance.)
Xenoestrogens can also be avoided by peeling non-organic fruits and vegetables. Choose hormone-free meats and dairy products. We are constantly exposed to harmful products in everyday life in the cosmetics we apply, creams, toothpaste and chemical based soaps we use as well as the many household and cleaning products in our homes. Many of these contain estrogen-like ingredients.
Taking Synthetic Hormones
Extended use of HRT (hormone replacement therapy) may increase the risk of both heart disease and breast cancer as shown in repeated studies. HRT was initially designed to “quiet” menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings and insomnia. With the passage of time, HRT was found to increase the likelihood of blood clotting, strokes and breast cancer. A preferred alternative treatment to HRT (a synthetic product ) are hormones derived from plant compounds known as Bioidenticals. They are essentially identical in structure and function to those naturally found in the body and are made from plant nutraceuticals extracted from yam and soy.
When we experience healthy sleep patterns, the stress hormone, cortisol decreases in concentration during the evening hours before bedtime. In chronic sleep disruption, the opposite occurs and cortisol levels rise instead of falling during the evening hours. This creates a cycle of continuous hormonal imbalance and sleep deprivation. Our normal sleep cycles when disrupted reduce the necessary restorative sleep we need. Sleep retraining will help to reset your biological clock.
With the onset of puberty, reproductive hormones begin to flood a young girls body, beginning the cycle of ovulation and the release of viable eggs once a month. It takes some time to adjust to these natural hormonal fluctuations under normal conditions.
However, growing numbers of younger women are showing signs of estrogen dominance as a result of anovulatory cycles (a failure to ovulate). This is linked to an unbalanced lifestyle: crash diets, chronic stress, exposure to synthetic hormones used in birth control pills, growth hormones found in many beef and dairy products as well as xenoestrogens found in many of the items used on a daily basis.
Valuing healthier life choices as well as reducing exposure to environmental toxins will contribute to restoring hormonal balance thereby reducing the possibility of anovulatory cycles.
By being mindful of the many factors that can contribute to hormonal disruption, steps can be taken to restore our bodies to a more natural balanced and healthy state.