5 Common Indicators of Hormone Imbalance and How to Address Them Naturally
"But I've been told by my Doctor that my hormones are normal and all my lab tests came back within range?!...
This was my client Anna*.
She came to see me a few months ago, complaining of symptoms such as weight gain, low energy, anxiety and difficulty sleeping. She was told by her GP that the symptoms she was experiencing were due to stress and that her hormones had nothing to do with it.
But I knew, just by listening to her story, that her endocrine system was out of whack!
Although symptoms can be widespread and can affect every system in the body, I find that there are a few common symptoms that the majority of pre-menopausal women share when they are struggling with imbalanced hormones.
This in itself covers a huge array of symptoms, from mood swings and cramps to bloating and breast tenderness.
PMS, which stands for premenstrual syndrome, can occur 1-2 weeks prior to the arrival of your period. It is one of the main indicators of a hormone imbalance and is usually due to low progesterone levels, relative to the hormone oestrogen.
Many women experience at least one symptoms of PMS each month and although it is very common, PMS is not normal.
What you can do: One simple way to combat some of the symptoms relating to PMS is to optimise your levels of omega 3 fatty acids. Prostaglandins, which are hormone-like compounds that control levels of pain and inflammation within the body, are highly influenced by fatty acids.
Consuming too much omega 6 rich food (vegetable oils, conventional meat, dairy, peanuts) or too little omega 3 rich foods (oily fish, seafood, walnuts, flax, chia) can create inflammation within the body.
If you aren't already, I recommend that you consume 2-3 portions of oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, trout) per week and use healthy fats such as coconut oil, ghee, grass fed butter and olive oil (low temp) for cooking rather than vegetable oils.
Can't stand fish or suspect high levels of inflammation? You can supplement with a high quality, pure fish oil to boost your levels and improve symptoms such as cramps, anxiety and mood swings.
If you are still dealing with pimples in your 20's and 30's then that is an indication that you have an internal imbalance, often related to hormones. Low progesterone, high cortisol, insulin, androgens and oestrogen can all drive hormonal acne.
Acne located around the mouth, chin and jaw is strongly associated with androgen excess and the condition Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), however you could experience breakouts anywhere on your face.
To learn about other potential causes of your acne, check out this blog post: The Root Causes of Your Acne ( and Solutions )
What you can do:
Sugar exacerbates sebum production, blood sugar fluctuations and inflammation, therefore eliminating all processed foods and refined sugar is crucial if you want to have clear skin.
If you already eating a real, whole foods diet then you may need to lower your intake of 'healthy' carbs and sugars such as sweet potatoes, fresh fruit, dried fruit, honey, gluten free pasta/bread, maple syrup, grains and legumes. When lowering the intake of carbs, you should increase your intake of protein and/or fat to make sure you avoid under-eating.
3. Low libido!
When our body is under stress, from any source, your reproductive function can basically 'switch off'. For some, that could mean losing your period, having difficulty conceiving or the loss of your sex drive.
From an evolutionary stand point it makes sense.
During caveman times, a stressor was being chased by a sabertooth tiger or going days on end without food. As a protective mechanism the female body has been designed to not conceive (or have no desire to conceive) during these stressful times. Could you imagine trying to raise a child safely in those conditions? This in-built stress response hasn't changed as we have evolved, therefore our modern day stressors (finances, work, traffic, social media) now create the same response in our body, as those life or death situations did.
What you can do:
As I just mentioned, stress can come from many different sources, whether that's dietary, emotional, financial, physical or chemical. Cleaning up your diet and lifestyle, exercising smartly and working on managing emotional stress and mindset can all help to lower your stress burden, thus increasing libido.
Upping your intake of nutrient dense foods, rich in B vitamins and zinc specifically, may also help to enhance your sex drive. Foods that are known as aphrodisiacs, such as oysters, have this effect due to their nutrient profiles. Eggs, organ meat, shellfish and certain spices such as ginger, clove and saffron are also great foods to incorporate into your diet!
4. Sleep issues!
Whether its being unable to fall asleep, stay asleep or waking up several times in the night to urinate, these things indicate an imbalance with your hormones. If this occurs cyclically, it can be related to your menstrual cycle fluctuations. If it occurs more frequently, without a noticeable pattern, it may be driven by blood sugar dysregulation or high cortisol/stress. Cortisol is our 'awake/alert' hormone and it naturally increases in the morning to get us out of bed and off to work. If your blood sugar is poorly regulated throughout the day through grazing, skipping meals or eating too much sugar, then this fluctuation can carry on into the night. When blood sugar levels spike or crash, this will cause the body to release adrenaline and cortisol, which wake you up, disturbing the important sleep cycles.
What you can do:
Daylight has a massive influence on our circadian rhythm and hormone output. During the day, try to exposure your skin and eyes to as much natural sunlight as possible and in the evening, when the sun goes down, avoid blue light from devices. I like to recommend shutting down all technology around 8-9pm so that melatonin (sleep hormone) production won't be negatively impacted. If you just cannot go without your tech in the evening, pop on some amber coloured glasses which block the blue light.
Eating at a similar time each day can also help to train our body clocks and reducing the amount of snacking you do will control blood sugar fluctuations.
5. Period problems!
You can think of your period bleed as your monthly report card. The colour, amount and consistency all reflect on how well you had taken care of yourself on the weeks prior. Menstrual blood should be bright red, fresh, not clotted or super heavy. If you experience light pink, clotted, dark brown, heavy or even absent periods, that is a big sign you are dealing with an imbalance in your hormones, oestrogen and progesterone. If your menstrual cycle is absent or irregular then this is affecting your chances of ovulation. Without ovulation, we cannot make the amazing hormone progesterone, which keeps the proliferative hormone oestrogen in check.
What you can do:
In order to fully understand what is going on with your hormones, testing is super important. I regularly use the DUTCH hormone test with clients to assess both their stress and sex hormone metabolites, which is something that conventional doctors do not offer. We always need to test not guess, as embarking on a typical 'oestrogen detox' (if you don't actually need to), can create a worsening of symptoms and further imbalance your hormones. You can purchase a functional lab test such as the DUTCH through a functional medicine practitioner, naturopathic doctor or registered nutritional therapist.
Identifying and addressing your hormone imbalances in your 20's and 30's will not only enhance your quality of life, but may also prevent the development of more serious conditions, in decades to come.
Want more specific support and coaching to help rebalance your hormones? Find out how to become a client here!
(*Clients name has been changed in this post for confidentiality)