At certain times in a woman's life, hormonal fluctuation is expected — during puberty, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause, for example.
Other times, a hormonal imbalance may occur because of a stressful time in your life, lack of sleep, or even certain health conditions.
If you want to know whether you may have a hormonal imbalance, what are its symptoms, and what you can do about it, read on.
What Is a Hormone Imbalance?
Hormones are chemical compounds in your body that act as chemical messengers. Produced by endocrine glands such as the pituitary, thyroid, and ovaries, hormones regulate various bodily functions, from menstruation and ovulation to mood and even digestion and hunger.
Hormones are released into your bloodstream, with each targeting different parts of the body. An abnormal amount of any hormone — whether too much or too little — causes a hormonal imbalance. Even a small shift in hormone levels can cause big changes within the body!
Top Hormonal Imbalance Symptoms
Some of the more common symptoms women with a hormonal imbalance may experience include the following.
- Irregular periods
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Change in libido (sex drive)
- Difficulty sleeping
- Mood swings, irritability, or anxiety
- Thinning hair or hair loss
- Night sweating
- Vaginal dryness
- Foggy brain
- Painful periods and heavy bleeding
- Heart palpitations
- Constipation and diarrhea
- Sensitivity to cold environments
- Skin tags
What Causes Female Hormone Imbalance?
There are many different reasons why women may experience a hormonal imbalance. Common causes of female hormonal imbalance include:
Menopause marks the time of your life when your period stops permanently. Though a normal part of aging, it has a tremendous impact on hormone production in the body.
The average age at which women experience menopause is 52 years old. First, however, women go through a menopausal transition period, or perimenopause, as their bodies adjust to hormonal changes.
In perimenopause, your ovaries produce less estrogen than usual and progesterone levels also fluctuate. Some symptoms of low estrogen, as well as progesterone levels shifting include:
- Hot flashes
- Difficulty concentrating
- Mood swings
- Low libido
- Weight gain
Estrogen and progesterone levels in your body fluctuate at different times in your menstrual cycle. Birth control disrupts your body's natural hormonal production. Though birth control options work in different ways in the body depending on the type you use, most of them suppress ovulation in order to prevent pregnancy from occurring.
Did you know the CDC found that 64% of women aged 15–49 in the United States are taking some form of birth control?
Because birth control alters the hormones your body naturally produces, some women experience both physical and emotional symptoms.
There are a variety of different forms of hormonal contraception, including birth control pills, skin patches, hormone-releasing contraceptive coils, hormonal injections, and vaginal rings. Most influence a woman's hormone levels to prevent pregnancy.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder. In healthy women, ovaries produce and release an egg each month as part of the menstrual cycle.
A woman with PCOS may experience premature ovarian insufficiency — the egg may or may not develop as it should and ovulation may not occur.
In addition to unpredictable ovulation, women with PCOS may experience irregular menstrual cycles. Other symptoms of PCOS include excess body hair, acne, dry skin, hair loss, insulin resistance, and weight issues.
Though the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, high levels of androgens — male hormones, such as testosterone — may be the cause.
While the ebb and flow of hormone levels is normal and expected in pregnancy, it may leave you feeling like you're on an emotional roller coaster with your hormones operating the ride. In addition to affecting mood, hormone changes may also cause pregnancy fatigue, tender breasts, nausea (aka morning sickness), and skin changes.
Whoa! Your hormones start fluctuating immediately after conception!
Hormonal changes in pregnancy begin almost immediately after conception. Once an egg gets fertilized by sperm and becomes an embryo, it travels to the uterus where it implants.
At implantation, hormones — such as estrogen, progesterone and the growth hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) — kick in to help the body support and sustain a pregnancy. These hormones all fluctuate throughout pregnancy.
The thyroid gland produces, secretes, and regulates certain hormones. Hypothyroidism — or underactive thyroid — occurs when the thyroid fails to produce enough of these hormones.
Did you know that women are more than 5 times more likely to develop hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is the most common thyroid disorder caused by hormonal imbalance; women are five to 20 times more likely to develop hypothyroidism, and this rate increases with age. Muscle weakness, fatigue, constipation, and weight gain are common symptoms.
Poor Diet & Nutrition
Eating a diet rich in processed foods, starchy carbohydrates, and sugar may lead to a hormonal imbalance by raising your body's insulin levels, increasing cortisol in the body.
Science shows that a diet rich in processed foods and meat will cause a hormonal imbalance.
Consuming animal products can disrupt your endocrine system and lead to a hormonal imbalance, too. Researchers discovered that eating meat or drinking milk from cows treated with hormones has a “profound" biological effect on humans.
Lack of Sleep
We spend a third of our lives asleep. And while that may sound like a lot of lost time to engage in the activities we enjoy, sleep is absolutely essential to good health.
Wow! Did you know that estrogen can affect sleep?
Sleep quality can have an impact on our endocrine system and hormones. While we sleep, our bodies are working at releasing and balancing our hormones.
For example, estrogen plays a role in sleep quality and lack of sleep may cause changes in estrogen levels. It can be a vicious cycle; lack of sleep affects hormones, and changing hormones affect sleep!
If you are struggling with sleep deprivation, consider a light yoga or stretching routine in the evening, or meditation to help calm your body and mind to help you get a restful sleep.
Can't focus or remember important things? You may have elevated cortisol levels in your body. Often called the “stress hormone," cortisol affects blood sugar levels, metabolism, and even our ability to form memories.
And that's not all. Chronic stress can cause fluctuations in many hormone levels and can lead to a number of health problems, including digestive issues, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, anxiety, and endocrine disorders.
Consider starting a daily meditation practice, or do a few minutes of relaxing breathing exercises when you feel particularly stressed. Know your limits and ask for help when possible, rest when you can, and be sure to get adequate sleep each night.
Bloating, breast tenderness, and moodiness are all symptoms of normal, expected hormonal fluctuations in women. But these symptoms can also be a sign of abnormally high estrogen levels, known as estrogen dominance.
Toxic estrogens called xenoestrogens can cause estrogen dominance. Xenoestrogens come from common household items such as plastic water bottles, home-cleaning supplies, pesticides, and other environmental toxins.
Estrogen dominance may also be caused by obesity or taking medications such as birth control pills.
Natural Remedies for Hormonal Imbalance in Women
If you are experiencing a hormonal imbalance, there is hope for improvement! Let's explore some natural remedies and lifestyle changes that may help you restore balance and improve your health.
Adaptogens are natural substances that help the body adapt, particularly to stress. Adaptogens work to bring your hormones back into balance. Some adaptogenic herbs to consider using to restore hormonal balance include milk thistle, ashwagandha, and licorice root.
No matter your age or issue, you may benefit from supplementation to help balance your hormone levels. Some of the best herbs and supplements for female hormone balance include:
Probiotics are microbes that have a beneficial effect on the body and human health. In women, probiotics support hormonal and vaginal health.
The probiotics in your gut play a role in recycling and metabolizing the hormones your body produces, such as thyroid hormones and estrogen. If you are looking for probiotics that specifically support women's health, Lactobacillus species are ideal. If you need more information, check out our guide to choosing the best probiotic.
Vitamin A & D
Supplementing with vitamins A and D can help regulate insulin, balance blood sugar levels, and support your body's natural hormone cycles. One of vitamin A's most important jobs is to help the thyroid function properly.
Wow! There could be a link between vitamin D deficiencies and fertility.
Vitamin D helps balance blood sugar levels in the body and regulates adrenaline and serotonin. A study exploring the impact of vitamin D on a woman's reproductive system showed that 93 percent of participants who experienced infertility were vitamin D3 deficient.
Chaste Tree Berry
Chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus-castus) is known to help reduce premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms. A review of several clinical studies done on chaste berry discovered that along with managing PMS side effects, it can reduce heavy periods, help with hormone-induced acne, and help regulate menstrual cycles.
Exercise does more than just help us stay fit — it can have a big impact on hormonal health, too.
Exercise can help promote normal insulin levels by helping balance insulin sensitivity. High levels of insulin can cause inflammation throughout the body, weight gain, heart disease, and other lifestyle-related diseases.
Aim for 150 minutes of exercise per week! You'll feel the difference.
You don't need to do intense aerobic exercise to enjoy the benefits of physical activity — even walking regularly may balance hormone levels to improve your strength and quality of life.
Eating a nutrient-dense, plant-based, balanced diet can do wonders for your physical and mental health, including hormonal health. Try to enjoy a variety of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
Refrain from consuming too many refined carbohydrates and processed foods, which can cause hormonal imbalance. Though it isn't always easy in our busy world, you'll find your investment in your health will be worth the extra time it may take to prepare healthy foods.
Staying in Savasana ("corpse pose") all day sounds relaxing, but you'll actually discover many health benefits by practicing yoga!
Going through menopause? Yoga can decrease hot flashes by 66 percent. No matter what age and stage of life you're in, yoga can have a positive effect on your endocrine system and help balance your hormones when they're off-kilter.
Research shows that regular yoga sessions can significantly decrease premenstrual symptoms such as moodiness and tender breasts.
Today's stress triggers — such as an impending deadline or loud construction across the street — can raise adrenaline and cortisol levels. Meditation can lower stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline, while also promoting normal blood pressure and heart rate.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a traditional option, particularly for menopausal women but studies linked it to higher rates of cancer and heart disease. However, we recommend more natural methods. After all, menopause is a normal, unavoidable part of life for women.
Many natural health stores sell a progesterone cream, which can reduce symptoms of menopause, such as burning, itching, and dryness. Many of these are made from Mexican wild yam root. The hormone is bioidentical to the one your body produces, and research indicates it is generally safe.
Points to Remember
Hormones are chemical messengers created by endocrine glands that control major bodily functions. When in balance, our hormones help us feel our best. But even a small hormonal imbalance can upset this delicate system and cause our bodies to experience unwanted symptoms.
There are many things that may cause hormonal imbalance in women. The good news is there are things you can do to help restore balance to your hormones. Dietary supplements, hormone balancing herbs, yoga, meditation, a healthy diet, and exercise can all help maintain hormonal balance — and good health — helping you live your best life in a healthy body.
Have you experienced a hormonal imbalance? What did you do about it? What helped? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.
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†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.