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The (female) human body is an overwhelmingly woven piece of art; it has the power to procreate. But how many women today acknowledge this fact? Ask a woman suffering from hormonal imbalance in the body (which is, for instance, 1 in 10 women when it comes to PCOS) and she will tell you what a wreck the human body can become.
Staggering statistics aside, it is important for every woman to realize that turning this wreck back into that intricately designed super machine that’s capable of self-healing is now all in your hands. If you are wondering how to do that, begin with educating yourself with what hormones are and how they affect your health.
- Who Are Hormones?
- Most Important Hormones In The Body, Precisely Female Body
- Symptoms That You Have A Hormonal Imbalance
- How To Balance Hormones Naturally
- Adopt The Habit Of Eating Alkaline Foods
- The Herbal Way Of Fixing Hormonal Imbalance
- Vitamins And Minerals That Help You Balance Your Female Hormones Naturally
- Sleep Away To Glory
- Tame Your Weight
- Mixed Training Sessions In Synergy With The Phases Of Menstrual Cycle
Who Are Hormones?
Google ‘hormones’ and you are bound to find the phrase ‘chemical messengers.’ This is probably why I decided to personify these messengers with ‘who?’ Although that sounds like a story in itself, what do these chemicals actually do? Let us take the hormone insulin for instance. Insulin is secreted by the pancreas (hormones, in general, are secreted by glands and are sent to specific areas called ‘target sites.’) Insulin, although secreted by the pancreas, affects the glucose levels of the entire body.
Similarly, hormones travel all the way to those target sites, bind to the receptors quite like a simple lock and key, and affect their respective functions beginning from growth and metabolism to the sexual functioning that affects the entire body. Not to forget, hormones even have the ability to regulate your mood and behaviour too.
Most Important Hormones In The Body, Precisely Female Body
- Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH)
- Leutinizing Hormone (LH)
- Human Growth Hormone
Symptoms That You Have A Hormonal Imbalance
1. Erratic Menstrual Cycle
One of the first symptoms of hormonal imbalance in women is a menstrual cycle out of whack. You begin to observe that your periods have become irregular. This word ‘irregular’ is quite tricky, and needs a bit of care while being dealt with. The reason it is tricky is that it is a relative term and entirely subjective. What is regular for you in terms of flow, periodicity, or even number of days in each cycle might be far from regular for another woman.
Broadly speaking, a woman is supposed to menstruate once in every 28-35 days for anywhere between 3-7 days. Anything less or more than this is a sign that it requires medical attention. One of the most common causes for your irregular period could be PCOS – Poly Cystic Ovarian Disorder; primarily a result of increased male hormone – testosterone, in the female body.
Other hormones that go topsy-turvy in this syndrome are insulin, estrogen, progesterone, FSH andLH; which are, technically speaking, the most important hormones of the bodyto regulate your well-being. So, if you skip a period or two and find anything unusual about your cycles, it could be a sign of an underlying hormonal imbalance.
Also, a disrupted thyroid gland could be the cause for your erratic menstrual cycle. If you are bleeding more than your ‘normal’, it could be indicative of hypothyroidism (condition involving an under active thyroid gland) and if your period is scanty and infrequent it could be a sign of an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism).
2. Weight Fluctuations
Another symptom you ought to look for is the changes in your weight. Hormonal imbalance in women is a leading cause for rampant weight gain in a very short span. An imbalance in any of the vital hormones in the body including progesterone, estrogen, testosterone, cortisol, leptin, ghrelin, and even thyroid can result in rapid weight gain. If you observe deposition of stubborn visceral fat in your body of late along with any of these other symptoms, it is time you visited your GP for further medical investigations.
3. Acne And Skin-Related Issues
Acne and puberty, don’t they sound almost synonymous? Why wouldn’t they? Chronic acne all through the pubertal phase and the struggle young girls put up with is not something unheard of. The body enters the reproductive age during puberty and makes several preparatory changes during which there is a drastic change in hormonal levels in the body. However, it is not only during puberty that women suffer from acne. Adult acne is undeniably a sign of a hormonal imbalance. Increased level of testosterone is one of the major reasons for acne.
If repeated visits to the dermatologist and popping antibiotics are not working, it is time you realized that your acne could have a hormonal cause. Also, if you observe your acne to pop up at regular intervals sometime around your menstrual cycles and at specific places, it is even more a sure shot sign of a hormonal imbalance. Hormonal imbalances, quite often than not, cause cystic and painful acne. This time you find yourself popping a zit when your cycles are round the corner, make sure you visit the endocrinologist, just to make sure all your hormones are under control.
4. Facial Hair Growth
Again, sudden growth of facial hair clearly is indicative of an imbalance in hormones. Facial hair growth, medically known as Hirsutism is one of the major apparent symptoms of PCOS. If you find growth of dark and coarse hair anywhere in the areas like chest, upper lip, chin, around the nipples, or on the back, there are high chances of a hormonal imbalance in the body; for excessive hair growth on the female body occurs in case of increased testosterone levels.
5. Hair Fall
Losing even a few strands here and there is made a big deal of when it comes to women. However, hair fall in the case of a hormonal imbalance is not so simple. You could be losing hair at an alarming rate all of a sudden and might experience thinning of hair specifically around the region of your partition. Sudden and rapid hair loss could again be a sign of excess levels of androgens in the female body. All this excess male hormones clog the follicles of your tresses at the roots and cause irreparable hair damage and loss.
Apart from the male hormones going out of whack, even imbalances in progesterone and estrogen contribute to uncontrollable hair fall. To add to the list is an improper functioning of the thyroid gland. If you find way too many strands falling off and your luscious locks losing the charm, looks like it is time for a hormone test.
6. Mood Swings
Research conducted on the relationship between estrogen levels and mood in women says that, ‘women demonstrate an increased likelihood for new onset and recurrent depression during periods of marked hormonal fluctuation.’ The phase that witnesses a drastic drop in levels of estrogen is the menopausal stage. This is when majority of women experience increased levels of depression and anxiety. It is this connection that provides us an insight that hormones do have an effect on mood and emotional stability.
Progesterone is also said to have a calming effect on the brain by acting like an anxiolytic agent, i.e. an agent that reduces anxiety. Also,a hyperactive adrenal gland could perpetually make you feel like a bundle of nerves. So, if you find yourself constantly disturbed, irritable, or worse still, anxious and worried, it could mean your body is going through some major imbalance in some hormone(s).
One of the most common problems faced by a majority of women suffering from a hormonal imbalance is unexplained fatigue. It is easy to blame the adrenaline gland if you have the nagging urge to drop anytime of the day. However, it is not just messed up brain-adrenal communication that could be causing fatigue in you, but there are a host of other hormonal imbalances that could be making you feel fatigued all day long. A dysfunctional thyroid, under secretion of testosterone, and overproduction of cortisol are some examples that could be causing chronic fatigue in you.
One of the most debilitating outcomes of hormonal imbalance in women is infertility. Usually, with decreased estrogen there is an inevitable increase in FSH. This imbalance in hormones leads to absence of regular menstrual cycles which makes it impossible for you to get pregnant if you are planning to. Also, there is an equal role of the hormones prolactin, testosterone, and LH; all of which, when in balance, promote fertility.
Any imbalance in these hormones usually leads to difficulty in production of egg (anovulation), absence of periods (amenorrhea), and even failure of the maintenance of the uterine lining for pregnancy to happen. If you’ve been planning for a baby and find yourself unsuccessful, an imbalance in your hormones could be the reason.
9. Low Libido
Low sexual drive is considered to be more of a psychological issue. However, the reason for a low libido could be attributed to physiological reasons like low testosterone, imbalance in cortisol levels, and decreased estrogen levels. If you have begun to notice that your interest in physical intimacy with your partner is significantly reducing, it is reason enough to take an appointment with your doctor without further delay.
With increasing age, a decrease in sexual drive is natural. However, it should still not stop you from consulting your doctor if you wish to investigate the matter further. This is because a low libido could imply several other underlying problems apart from just decreased estrogen levels during menopause.
10. Inconvenience And Changes In The Breasts
Another effect hormones leave on your body is a change in the way your breasts feel and function. Even during monthly fluctuations during your periods when there are alterations in the hormone levels, you experience soreness or tenderness in your breasts, don’t you? This is exactly why it is suggested you perform self-examination of your breasts from time to time. If you find any lumps or significant and unusual tenderness or soreness in the breasts, it could be because of improper progesterone and estrogen levels.
Estrogen plays a role in causing an increase in the size of the ducts in the breasts, and progesterone causes swelling in the mammary glands. These changes in the breasts like finding lumps could signify underlying issues like Fibrocystic Breast Disease. Consult your ob-gyn to make sure the lumps are benign if you happen to find them. Also, get a thorough hormone test done to find out the crux of the problem.
How To Balance Hormones Naturally
The word ‘naturally’ is such a solace, isn’t it? While the environment today is not helping in any way to give your body that conducive atmosphere to heal itself, there are tons of things you can avoid, and there are even more things you can do to allow your body to recoup on its own. Go ahead and read what you can do to heal your hormonal imbalance naturally rather than just treating or curing it!
That sounds like a fancy term, doesn’t it? But really, if you stop and look at the number of toxins that go into your body in the name of food, you would be appalled beyond doubt.
- Eat Clean
Quite without your awareness, you tend to put yourself at the risk of toxic load. The treated (with hormones) meat you eat, the adulterated dairy you consume, and surprisingly the cosmetics like sunscreen lotions, nail polish and nailpolish removers that go onto your skin – all consist of toxins of which the most dangerous endocrine disruptors are xenoestrogens.
It disrupts the system simply by copying the act of the natural estrogen that is produced in your body. As a result, there is an ‘excess’ of estrogenand what happens next to your body is history! So, stay away from these products and stick to an organic diet as far as possible as a first step to balancing your hormones naturally.
- Eat An Anti-Oxidant Rich Diet
Why? Consumption of plenty of antioxidants during a detox will support and enhance the ability of the liver to execute an efficient detox process. Are you wondering why we are suddenly talking about the liver? That is because the organ that takes all the pressure to remove the toxic overload from your body is the liver. It breaks down the chemical substances and flushes it out of the body through urine.
However, it is not all rosy as it seems. As an unwanted side effect, there is a lot of free radical damage that happens as a result of this detoxification. This is where antioxidants come into the scenario. To nullify the free radical damage, you must supply the body with anti-oxidants. Foods that are rich in these antioxidants include berries – blueberries, cranberries, blackberries – foods rich in lycopene like tomatoes, foods replete with beta carotenes like carrots and broccoli, kidney beans, dark chocolate, walnuts, and raisins.
Also, another easy way of including antioxidants in your diet is by sipping on all the goodness that herbal teas have to offer you. Be it a cup of chamomile, lavender, lemongrass, or peppermint-infused tea – they all not only satiate your taste buds but also support the liver in the process of flushing harmful toxins out of the body!
Adopt The Habit Of Eating Alkaline Foods
- Holistic coaches have been stressing time and again on the fact that providing an alkaline environment to the body is one of the best ways of regaining bodily harmony. Regaining hormonal balance is no exception. The crux of the alkaline diet is to consume foods that metabolize in the body and promote an alkaline atmosphere i.e. a pH of 7.2-7.4 after the food has been broken down into simpler molecules inside your gut.
- Some of the alkaline-forming foods that you can include in your diet are veggies like broccoli, cabbage, kale, green beans, and celery. When it comes to fruits, every member of the citrus family readily bestows you with an alkaline gut environment. Watermelon and avocados are alkaline-forming too.
- If you are wondering about the grains that form a part of this alkaline diet, then let me tell you, quinoa, millets, buckwheat, and lentils will all work wonders to bring back the sense of balance in your body. The alkaline diet is known to even remove cancerous cells from the body. And talking about hormonal imbalance, an alkaline diet when followed religiously can rid you of symptoms of PMS, cramps during your cycles, menstrual irregularities, and mood swings, allin one go.
P.S – However, remember that when you shift to an alkaline diet or embark on a journey of detox, your body goes through a process of drastic changes, withdrawal, and massive healing. You might experience several inconveniences which are subjective during the process initially. But it is important you realize that this is an inconvenience that is leading to healing. Try maintaining a journal to keep track of all the physical and mental changes you experience during your process of healing.
The Herbal Way Of Fixing Hormonal Imbalance
There’s no way you can miss out on the herbs that mama Nature has to offer you when you have decided to heal your hormones. If you prefer cutting down your dependence on store-bought drugs, the best alternative is to take the aid of herbs as a natural way to balance your hormones. Better still, grow your own medical garden and reap the unconditional benefits to the fullest. Here’s a list ofherbs that help in healing the female hormonal imbalance:
- Shatavari – When literally translated, Shatavari means ‘the one with hundred husbands.’ Doesn’t that in itself speak tons about how effective this herb would be in treating the hormonal imbalance in women and promote vitality? Shatavari is loaded with phyto-estrogens and hence, helps in ridding you of menopausal symptoms, infertility, cramps and vaginal dryness, regularizingyour cycles, enhancing the quality of breast milk, improving the quality of the ovum, and acts a natural aphrodisiac if you are struggling with a poor libido.
- Ashwagandha -Scientifically called With aniasomnifera, this herb is categorized as an ‘adaptogen.’ Like the name is giving it away, adaptogen herbs stabilize the body by bringing it back to a state of equilibrium. Similarly, it works wonders on the thyroid gland, and in fact, the endocrine system as a whole. Its main area of focus as reported by Ayurvedic practitioners is that it acts on the stress regulating system of the adrenal gland, thereby bringing about balance in the rest of the hormones simultaneously.
- Purple Mountain Ebony– Native of the Asian continent, this herb helps primarily in balancing the functioning of the thyroid gland. Also, it helps in curbing increased blood flow, which makes it an effective remedy for excessive menstrual flow. It reduces inflammation and efficiently reduces issues like swelling and lump-formations. Goitre, one of the outcomes of thyroid imbalance, can be cured because of this property of Kanchanarak. a Purple Mountain Ebony.
- Licorice – Popularly known to Indians as Muleti, this herb is also loaded with phyto-estrogens which is why it helps with the symptoms of PCOS and menopause. Also, it is a natural aphrodisiac that will look after your low sex drive. It also relieves you of mood-related issues like depression and irritability, particularly those disturbances associated with your menstrual cycles or during menopause.
Licorice acts also as an anti-androgen. It sufficiently activates the adrenal gland and reduces excess production of cortisol. This reduction in androgen and adrenal excesses is what makes it an excellent remedy for hormonal imbalance, specifically, PCOS.
- Tulsi (Holy Basil) – Although PCOS is thought to be a reproductive system problem, the core of the disorder lies in insulin resistance rather than the tiny cysts in the ovary. Once the insulin metabolism is rejuvenated, it consequentially solves the androgen imbalance and the cysts disappear gradually. This is where herbs like Holy Basil come in to the scene. Tulsi regulates blood sugar levels, which will help you ultimately address the core cause of PCOS.
- Dandelion– One of the most difficult problems to deal with during PMS or when there is an imbalance in hormones is water retention and bloating. Dandelion is helpful in removing excess accumulated water from the body. Also, when you are on a detoxification spree, this herb wonderfully supports the liver to remove the toxins from the body. It removes the puffy feeling caused by fluid retention and promotes weight loss too.
- Fenugreek – Fenugreek helps women with hormonal imbalance in more than one way. It is popular for its progesterone increasing properties in the field of holistic healing. It helps in setting the progesterone-estrogen ratio and promotes ovulation. Apart from that, it is helpful in managing blood sugar levels and addresses the problem of insulin resistance.
- Vitex – This herb has acquired quite a bit of attention for its properties that aid in regulating the female reproductive system. Vitex is more popular as Chasteberry in the West. Vitex has been in use since a long time to the extent where eminent personalities like Hippocrates have also mentioned in their writings, the goodness this herb has to offer. It is known to balance the female reproductive system by acting on the Luteinizing hormone and can help in healing problems like irregular periods, PMS, post-delivery haemorrhage, and symptoms of menopause.
Vitamins And Minerals That Help You Balance Your Female Hormones Naturally
- Vitamin B6 And Calcium – One of the most important vitamins your body needs to keep the reproductive system in place is B complex. Nonetheless, Vitamin B6 is of primary importance. It not only helps you with menopausal and PMS systems, it also gives you a sense of overall psychological harmony.
In fact, a combination of Vitamin B6 with calcium together is even more effective. According to a research conducted on the efficiency of the combination of B6 and calcium in treating psychological disturbances during PMS and menopause, ‘Vitamin B and calcium plays an essential role in the regulation of mood, psychological imbalances, particularly symptoms of depression. This effect is related to the production of serotonin and tryptophan metabolism.’
- Vitamin C – Ascorbic acid or Vitamin C is found in large amounts in the ovary. The proper functioning of the ovary requires sufficient amounts of Vitamin C. This vitamin helps in regulated production of progesterone and estrogen. Also, luteal phase defects are corrected efficiently by Vitamin C, which makes it an essential element in the diets of women, specifically those who are suffering from reproductive and hormonal disharmony.
- Vitamin D – Deficiency of Vitamin D causes alarmingly low levels of estrogen. This is why it is important for you to make sure that the body is provided with sufficient amounts of Vitamin D. Low levels of estrogen contribute to bone loss and increasethe risk of osteoporosis. If you are at the perimenopausal or the menopausal stage, it is even more essential that you consume adequate amounts of Vitamin D.
Apart from regulating the female hormones, Vitamin D also affects the functioning of the parathyroid hormone and the master gland, pituitary. By regulating the ratio of the female hormones, Vitamin D not only keeps the reproductive system in balance but also enhances the protective effect that these hormones have on the nervous system. This ensures you have perfectly synchronized mental health.
- Sulfur – While the importance of detoxification has already been spoken about, let me now tell you that sulfur is one of the important minerals your body needs while flushing horrendous toxins like xenestrogen out of the body. Sulfur does this by increasing the permeability of the cells in the body. Also, once the toxins affecting the hormones have been flushed out, it shows an immediate result in the form of improved sexual health and libido.
- Magnesium – The production of progesterone, estrogen, testosterone, and thyroid, controlling the stress-levels of the body by reduction of cortisol production, and for that matter, even metabolism of sugar in the body – all require magnesium. Most women invariably have a magnesium deficiency. Irritability and other mood-related issues along with water retention, bloating, and breast soreness are all taken care of when there are optimum levels of magnesium in the system.
- Zinc – Another essential mineral that regulates the functioning of the female endocrine and reproductive system is zinc. It helps promote ovulation by providing the required nourishment to the ovarian follicles. Women suffering from PCOS and other issues resulting from an increase of testosterone in the body should consider regulating their zinc levels, for it has the property of balancing androgen in men and women,e. increases the levels when they are lesser than necessary and vice versa.
One thing to keep in mind when it comes to vitamins and minerals is to try and consume natural sources as far as possible. Also, make sure you include multiple sources rather than depending on just one vegetable or fruit for a specific vitamin/mineral. When you feel it is absolutely necessary, try supporting your efforts with supplementation, provided you consult the concerned expert before deciding on which ones to take and their doses.
Sleep Away To Glory!
For women who have been struggling with hormonal imbalance all their lives, can there be a simpler solution than this? All you need to do is grab that blanket, sneak under it and bask in the glory of a deep slumber every night. Ironically, while I type out this sentence to let women know the importance of sleep, the clock shows it is 02:36 AM.
This is where most of us abuse our bodies. It is tempting to stay awake all night for some of us because it is when you can get some work done without distractions while the rest of the people are asleep.
However, this is something you should stop doing on a priority basis. Your body has a natural biological rhythm regulated by what is technically called the circadian rhythm. Try getting in tune with this rhythm. It is when you try to defy nature that the body goes berserk. Research shows direct relation between circadian rhythmicity and the ‘hormonal harmony.’
Get your everyday dose of 8 hours of sleep to keep your cortisol, ghrelin, leptin, and most importantly, your melatonin levels in control. This way you are keeping a host of issues like diabetes, obesity, insulin resistance, stress, adrenaline fatigue, and psychological disturbances at bay – just by sleeping! There can’t be a more natural way to balance your hormones than this, ladies! I can vouch for that.
Tame Your Weight
When you lose weight, your hormones are balanced. When your hormones are balanced, you lose weight. How do you get out of this rut? Apart from following remedies listed above, it is absolutely necessary for you to follow a tailor-made fitness regime that will purely address the problem of your hormonal imbalance. Here are some tips you can follow if you would like to shed all the extra pounds and balance your hormones in the process!
- Exercising Helps With Insulin Resistance – A high-intensity workout immediately acts on your insulin and decreases insulin resistance. Your body experiences an increase in insulin sensitivity for more than 16 hours after working out. When you treat the underlying cause of PCOS – insulin resistance – it is easier for your body to regulate your female hormones.
- Balance Your Testosterone Levels – To balance the testosterone levels in your body, exercising the right way is essential. If you exercise too much or indulge in endurance sports, chances are that your body will be low on testosterone. If you work out a lot and are wondering why your hormones are still out of whack, this is the reason. Reduce your workout sessions to moderate intensity levels. And if you have higher levels of testosterone in your body, this is when you should consider increasing the intensity of your physical activity.
Tip – Switch your long and pointless cardio sessions to quick and efficient weight training.
- Weight Training will also keep your tummy fat at bay as you age. It stimulates the Human Growth Hormone, which takes over the functions of progesterone when there is a drop of this hormone with increasing age.
Tip – Make sure you lift heavy weights at least 2-3 times a week and remember thatwith heavy weights, less repetitions is more beneficial than light weights, which are benefitted by more repetitions when it comes to hormonal imbalance.
- Customise Your Training Sessions In Accordance With Your Menstrual Cycles – Remember that your female hormones play a major role in fat burning and fat distribution. When it comes to burning fat, estrogen and progesterone work in opposite ways. Estrogen promotes fat loss rather than burning the glucose in the body and progesterone promotes sugar burn-up than burning the fat reserves of the body. For a woman with PCOS or similar insulin sensitivity-related problems, it is important to lose both fat and spend the excess glucose in the body.
Tip – Try designing a workout plan according to the estrogen-progesterone levels in your body during the different phases of your menstrual cycle. Refer to the below table for further lucidity.
Mixed Training Sessions In Synergy With The Phases Of Menstrual Cycle
|Phase/ Day||Dominant Hormone||Fat Vs. Sugar||Exercise Recommended||To Remember|
|Follicular Phase (5 or 6 to 12-14)||Estrogen||Fat||Low Intensity (walking, long-distance running, cycling);
|Insert one or two brief sessions of high intensity|
|Ovulatory Phase (12-16)||Estrogen (Reaches the peak)||Fat||Low Intensity;
|Squeeze in one high intensity session|
|Post Ovulatory Phase||Estrogen and Progesterone||Fatand Sugar||Mix High With Low Intensity||Maintain a balance|
|Luteal Phase||Progesterone||Sugar||High Intensity (High Intensity Interval Training, Circuit Training); Short Duration||Make sure you also relax and include revitalizing activities|
- The Key Is to Maintain Balance – Whether you are trying to bring about a hormonal balance in your body or just working towards bringing harmony in your life, the key is to balance. This is one of the reasons the ‘To Remember’ column has been added.
However, there is another reason for suggesting a session or two of high intensity workouts even when there are low progesterone levels in the body. When more powerful hormones like insulin come into the scene, the role of estrogen and progesterone in fat or sugar burning is minimal. High intensity training will help keep insulinin balance.
This pattern of workout takes into consideration not just the functioning of your female hormones but also the other most influential hormone – insulin.
- Exercise During Menstrual Phase – Contrary to the common myth, there’s nothing that should potentially stop you from continuing your physical activity even while you bleed. Indulge in less-dynamic and relaxing exercises like stretching your body and Hatha Yoga poses to prepare your body for the following phases of your cycle. This is the best time to turn inwards and get in-tune with your system.
Doesn’t everything look sorted? What is stopping you now, from believing that the body is not just few organs, some flesh and bones put together? Make use of the intelligence that flows through every inch of your body and turn your life of imbalance into in-balance, now!