If you are a woman who has experienced any or all of the following symptoms: PMS, moodiness, brain fog, memory lapses, night sweats, hot flashes, irritability, depression, anxiety, weight gain, sleeplessness, hair loss, water retention, muscle pain, lack of motivation, in addition to a variety of many low-grade symptoms that erode well-being that are discounted as symptoms of ‘getting old,’ you could be suffering from hormone imbalance.
Hormones are chemical messengers produced in our body that control and regulate the activity of cells and organs as well as their functions. They are produced by endocrine glands and exert their effects at a distance as well as in close proximity to the site of their production.
The human body produces hundreds of hormones. The ones listed below have the greatest impact on a woman’s mental and physical health:
- Thyroid hormones: regulate energy, weight and metabolism. These are the most misinterpreted and inadequately treated hormones in women by the traditional medical system. The proper test for thyroid hormones is a thyroid panel, not the TSH reflex, the standard test ordered as part the traditional thyroid protocol. Additionally, since the primary building block of your thyroid hormones is iodine, (and iodine levels are lacking in our soil due to unsustainable farming practices), currently, more women are experiencing thyroid dysregulation from its lack. Low thyroid levels can cause symptoms of weight gain, mood and sleep disturbance, anxiety, depression, water retention, fatigue and skin changes, to name a few. Balancing your thyroid is essential for your health.
- Estrogen: One of the main hormones produced by a woman’s ovaries. In addition to regulating mood and emotions, estrogen also effects your feelings of well-being especially when balanced with progesterone. Adipose tissue (fat) also produces estrogen, so if you are carrying extra body weight, you may be estrogen dominant. Estrogen dominance (too much estrogen not balanced by progesterone) can cause symptoms of further weight gain, anxiety, mood swings, sleep disturbance and mental fog. Estrogen dominance can also increase your risk for breast cancer, endometriosis, uterine cancer, strokes and hypertension.
- Progesterone: This female hormone produced during ovulation, is essential for feelings of well-being and mental and emotional regulation. Progesterone must be present at levels high enough to balance estrogen for half a month while a woman is still menstrual. Stress and poor diet can lead to low levels of progesterone. When enough progesterone to balance estrogen is not present, not only does this cause estrogen dominance, but can also cause depression, anxiety, memory loss, hypertension, muscle and joint pain, fibromyalgia and irregular and heavy periods. In addition, the most common cause of menopausal symptoms of fatigue, anxiety, depression, mental fog, memory loss and weight gain can be the result of declining progesterone levels, so balancing estrogen with progesterone is essential for a woman’s well-being as she progresses towards menopause.
Even after menopause, a low dose of natural progesterone can lead to an improvement in emotional and mental well-being. Over the counter progesterone is dangerous for women to use as it is not standardized or unregulated and can do more harm than good. Natural progesterone should always be prescribed and monitored under the supervision of a physician who specializes in natural hormone balance.
- Testosterone: Although produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands in much lower quantities in women than men, testosterone has a profound effect on a woman’s well-being. It impacts her mood, motivation, libido, muscle strength and endurance. All women need is a low dose of testosterone after menopause. A large dose will likely convert into estrogen, resulting in estrogen dominance. This is common when testosterone pellets are inserted into women’s bodies after menopause by physicians (the latest fad) to assist with waning energy and libido. In women with Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), most often defined by testosterone excess, estrogen dominance, suppression of ovulation, and insulin resistance results in eating too much sugar which can drive testosterone production, resulting in dysregulation and an imbalance of female hormones.
- DHEA: Produced by the adrenal glands, this hormone is most valuable in protecting against stress. Your DHEA level can increase under highly stressful conditions and can actually decrease to a very low levels if stress becomes chronic. The latter is called ‘adrenal burnout.’ DHEA levels are more elevated in youth and decline as we age. Maintaining an adequate level offers resilience and energy. If your DHEA is too high, it will convert into testosterone or estrogen, causing estrogen dominance. A low DHEA level can cause symptoms of memory loss, fatigue, muscle weakness, weight gain, mental fog, sleep disturbance and lack of resilience. A healthy DHEA level is necessary for mood stability, energy, memory, mental clarity, weight regulation and deep sleep. Over the counter DHEA is unregulated and dangerous to take on your own. I would discourage you from trying this. DHEA should only be taken under a physician’s supervision with blood levels checked every three months to make sure it is not converting into testosterone or estrogen.
As you can see, hormone balance is extremely important and necessary for your well-being. Hormones collaborate with one another, and even one hormone being too low or too high can trip switches and dysregulate other hormonal pathways. For example, thyroid hormones support female hormones, and female hormones support thyroid function. We have already learned how high doses of testosterone can convert into estrogen as another example. A healthy lifestyle heavy in plants and low in animal protein is essential to maintain hormone balance as the chemistry of the food we eat is converted into our body’s biochemistry.
All hormones are metabolized by the liver and gut flora, so maintaining a healthy intestinal microbiome with a diet heavy in plants, lentils, roughage and omega-3 in addition to a broad spectrum, temperature stable probiotic (not requiring refrigeration), will serve you well. Alcohol consumption and a diet high in animal protein/saturated fat can impair the liver function and gut flora. For decades, scientific evidence has shown that eating a Mediterranean diet offers the best support for hormonal balance,
Bio-identical hormones are a much safer way to balance your hormones than synthetic hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or testosterone pellet insertion.
This is an area I am passionate about and specialize in. If you feel you are experiencing symptoms of hormone imbalance, please don’t hesitate to contact The Ommani Center for an appointment. I would be happy to help you restore your health and well-being by balancing your hormones.
For more information on hormone balance, Dr. Kumar’s book Becoming Real is a great resource.
©February2023 Kalpana (Rose) M. Kumar M.D., CEO and Medical Director, The Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine, Pewaukee, WI. www.ommanicenter.com Author of Becoming Real: Reclaiming Your Health in Midlife (2nd Edition), Medial Press, 2014. Dr. Kumar is currently accepting new patients. Call 262.695.5311 for an appointment, either virtual or in-person for those free of symptoms.