Troubleshooting Hormone Imbalances: Which do you have and how to fix it?

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Disclosure: some of the links on this page are affiliate links. If you’d like to learn more about what that means and my standards of recommendations, please read my full Affiliate Disclosure.It is ABOUT TIME, you all say.

It is ABOUT TIME  jess, the queen of #hormonehacks and period talk, put together a comprehensive post detailing the most common hormone imbalances women have and, more importantly, HOW to bring your body back into balance.

Yes, you are right. IT'S ABOUT DAMN TIME.

 damn right

damn right

Here’s the thing. Hormones are Complicated with a capital C. Meaning, there is a lot to understand and work through with a hormone imbalance depending on your case, which is why I work one on one with clients to do so, because having someone to guide you through a personalized protocol is always helpful. BUT ALAS, I do not have the time or brain power to work with every single woman in the world (as much as I wish), so I want to share the basics of how to figure out if you have a hormone imbalance, and my 4 PILLARS for bringing them back into balance.

THE TESTY TRIO

Okay, so first thing's first, you need to understand that your ovaries are not even the main player in this game. She is a part of a trifecta that contributes to the state of your hormone health, and the health of one depends on the health of the others. They are as follows

  1. Adrenals

  2. Thyroid

  3. Ovaries

These three are INTIMATE, think of them like a 3 legged stool. When one starts to break down, the entire stool topples over and everyone suffers. Meaning, you could have originated with an adrenal issue from a high-stress lifestyle that now results in hypothyroidism and insufficient estrogen production from the ovaries...Catch my drift?

This is why I never exclusively look at my client's sex hormones when seeking to restore balance. Just because your ovaries are struggling doesn’t mean the problem originated there. Hormone imbalances can come from a stressed gut, hypothyroidism, stress, adrenals, diet, or other lifestyle factors. AND VICE VERSA. It is all just a shit show of things happening, which is why I believe an integrative approach is not only preferred but NECESSARY for restoring your hormones back into balance (hence my 4 pillars). BUT FIRST, lets hit on the most common sex hormone imbalances so you can get a clue based on symptoms as to what your issue is.

Here's a general list of the most common symptoms associated with each sex hormone getting out of balance:

ESTROGEN

LOW

  • Night Sweats

  • Depression

  • Vaginal dryness

  • Insomnia

  • Incontinence

  • Hair loss

HIGH

  • Fibrocystic breasts

  • Weight gain

  • Heavy or irregular menses

  • Headaches

  • Mood swings

  • Breast tenderness

  • Irritability

  • endometriosis

 PROGESTERONE

LOW  (often, not always, corresponding to high levels of Estrogen/Estrogen Dominance)

  • Fibrocystic breasts

  • Mid-cycle spotting

  • Anxiety

  • Insomnia

  • Irritability

  • Menstrual cramps

  • Heavy or irregular menses

  • acne

HIGH

  • Easy to cry

  • Breast tenderness

  • Irritability

  • headaches

  • Fatigue

  • Edema

  • acne

Androgens (Testosterone and DHEA)

LOW

  • Loss of sex drive

  • Loss of muscle mass

  • Low mood

  • Loss of motivation

  • Lethargy

  • Muscle weakness

High

  • Acne along the lower half of face, focusing around the mouth and jawline, and back and buttocks

  • Unstable blood sugar

  • Insulin resistance

  • PCOS

  • Hair loss on scalp and hair growth on chin, chest, and back

  • Irritability/aggression

  • Oily skin

  • Sleep disturbance

Before you go zooming in on all these individual hormones, I want to make something clear: HORMONES ARE NOT AN ISLAND ONTO THEMSELVES. The production of testosterone is intricately connected to the production of estrogen, which is intricately connected to the production of progesterone, etc. So it is actually very common to experience symptoms of MULTIPLE hormones that are out of whack. Whether low or high is more of the main concern.

Furthermore, if you have a sex hormone balance, there is SOMETHING that is causing that. Your estrogen doesn’t just skyrocket out of nowhere: it can be a gut imbalance, insufficient liver functioning, past or current use of hormonal Birth control, a diet high in processed food, etc. Therefore, my protocol ALWAYS starts with the foundational systems in the body responsible for proper hormone production and works up from there. 

This is why, NO MATTER WHAT YOUR IMBALANCE IS, starting with the foundational healing tactics I am going to detail below are CRITICAL. No matter where your sex hormone levels are, you need to address the entire terrain of your body to ensure that your Endocrine System has the proper basis for healing. THEN, when you get that down, you can get more specific into your imbalance with specified supplements and protocols geared towards a specific hormone.  Does that make sense?

 i understand

i understand

PERFECT! Alright, Here are my 4 PILLARS for HORMONE HEALING:

THE 4 PILLARS FOR BALANCED HORMONES

1.Stress Management and Adrenal support

Your adrenals are little glands that sit on top of your kidneys that have the job of responding to stress by producing cortisol (your main stress hormone) among a couple others. When your body perceives stress, it tells the adrenals to upregulate cortisol while simultaneously down-regulating sex hormone production in a process we call the “Pregnenolone Steal” ( More on this later). This is the biggest reason why stress is the biggest turn off known to man, your body doesn't want you making babies when it's trying to focus on survival….

Priorities, right?

What happens in these times of stress is your body preferentially makes cortisol INSTEAD OF progesterone, which leaves your estrogen unmatched and puts you in an automatic state of Estrogen Dominance.

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oh no.gif

High levels of stress also mess with your blood sugar and spike your production of Androgens like DHEA and Testosterone which directly increase oil production of the skin leading to breakouts. (This is why my greatest advice for handling hormonal acne is to get your stress levels under control, and part of that is to stop freaking out over your breakouts because that's actually making everything worse!....but that's another post for another time).

In order to minimize the effect stress plays on your hormone imbalance, it is critical to care for your adrenal glands as a priority. This is a MASSIVELY overlooked component of hormone balance but is the most important starting place in my opinion.  Here are ways to support your adrenal glands and therefore your hormone production:

  • SLEEP: get in bed by 10 pm, with dark lights and a cool room, and DON'T be looking at your phone or computer at least 1-2 hours before bed.

  • Supplement with Magnesium: this is huge for stress management, adrenal health, and anxiety. I recommend THIS FORMto everyone and take it before bed.

  • EAT Vitamin C rich foods or supplement, do the same with B vitamin Rich foods like pasture raised eggs, leafy greens, and sweet potatoes...

  • Use Adaptogens Therapeutically: this is a cherry on top of the others I listed above. Here are a few of my favorites

2.Balance blood sugar

High insulin (the hormone secreted in response to blood sugar) causes our stress hormones to skyrocket and puts us in a state of androgen dominance which can lead to all the symptoms I listed above. Balancing blood sugar is critical for all hormone imbalances, but ESPECIALLY for my androgen dominant ladies that are diagnosed with PCOS (Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome).

Here are some things that contribute to unstable blood sugar:

-skipping meals

-not eating when hungry

-not eating a balance of macronutrients (especially Fat!)

-eating simple carbohydrates like bread, pastries, and sweets regularly and especially by themselves

-lack of sleep (studies have shown just ONE night of sleep deprivation gives us the same blood sugar as a DIABETIC patient all day!!)

-stress

*Here are my favorite practical tips to balance blood sugar:

  1. Make sure to get at least 20 grams of protein at breakfast, and eat breakfast within an hour of waking up

  2. Eat protein and healthy fat at every meal (for a list of my favorites, click here)

  3. Sleep well and keep stress under control

  4. Do not skip meals or “push through” hunger

  5. Preferentially choose nutrient-dense complex carbs (I wrote out a whole list HERE) over bread, pastries, and sweets

  6. Eat fiber-rich green veggies

3. Eat to support Hormone PRODUCTION and EXCRETION

There are two main components to this: 1.Targeted Eating and 2. Liver Support.

Targeted Eating: One of the biggest mistakes I see women make is to engage in restrictive dieting behaviors that cause them to undereat and/or over exercise. Here’s the deal: undereating is perceived as a STRESSOR by the body. It thinks there is a LITERAL famine happening. And you know what the body DOESN'T want to do in the middle of a famine? Worry about growing a child….Smart right? Restriction and over exercise are balanced hormones worst nightmare.

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I see women trying to get pregnant while also hitting the gym 6 times a week and eating 1500 calories and wondering why their pregnancy tests are coming up negative….. EAT LADIES. I'm serious, first and foremost, you need to eat for the body to feel safe enough to turn on sex hormone production in the first place. As you make sure to eat sufficiently (as in don’t ever ‘push through’ hunger or purposely eat less than your body is telling you it needs), make sure to eat the foods that support Hormone PRODUCTION. I outline my nutrition advice in detail in this post, but here some takeaways:  nutrient-Dense whole foods like green veggies, fresh fruit, starchy complex carbs (definitely not a fan of low carb diets for most women trying to balance hormones and/or get preggo), and CHOLESTEROL RICH FOODS like grass-fed butter/ghee, pasture raised meats and organic eggs.

I know, surprising right? Here's the thing, our body actually MAKES hormones out of cholesterol. The whole no-fat craze of the 90s resulted in a serious decline of hormonal health for many women because the body did not have the materials it needed to make progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone...Thank God the 90's are over, am I right?

Liver Support: If you have ever been on hormonal birth control or have a history of eating a lot of processed food, or have been using products rich in xenoestrogens (aka almost all mainstream personal care products out there), then supporting your liver should be of special care for you.

Our liver is responsible for detoxing old hormones, particularly estrogen, OUT of the body. What happens if our liver is sluggish and overburdened? Used estrogen gets reabsorbed back into your bloodstream. THATS NO BEUNO. This contributes to estrogen dominance more than most women realize. As a matter of fact, you can stimulate a state of Estrogen Dominance in the body even if your TISSUE estrogen and progesterone levels are normal  BUT if your liver isn't detoxing properly and the estrogen is getting reabsorbed back in your blood, then you can have elevated estrogen SERUM levels.  Loving your liver is major, and instead of going on about it, I'm going to point you to the ENTIRE post I did about practical ways to detox better HERE).

4. Love your GUT

 Your gut health is more indicative of your hormone health than you may think. How often do you go? Is it soft or hard or perfectly in between? Do you battle gas and bloating, what about heartburn? These are the questions I ask my clients as they stare at me confused like 'wait....I thought we were going to talk about hormones'.

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hahaha oh, little grasshopper...so much to learn.

 Your gut is responsible for keeping the BALANCE of hormones in place because of its role in excretion. We touched upon the liver in the last point, but if the liver is Bonnie, the gut is Clyde. IT TAKES TWO GUYS. The liver throws all the things away and the gut takes out the trash bins. This is why when I get clients struggling with constipation, I almost immediately begin treating them with estrogen dominance in mind as well. If you have anything short of regular, solid bowel movements about once a day, then your gut is in need of some love and your hormone production and excretion won't be regulated until that happens. I wrote a post ALL about how to heal your gut HERE, but here are the quick main takeaways:

  • Stop eating the foods that are irritating to your gut (most common offenders are dairy, gluten, corn, and soy...but every gut is different and we can all have random particular sensitivity...so I always think its a good idea to get formally tested if you can)

  • Probiotics--supplement or eat foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, raw kefir, etc

  • Bone broth--pretty much the number one food for gut health. (You can buy it ready-made for convenience)

  • Collagenpeptides- a component IN bone broth that rebuilds gut tissue and is easily dissolvable in all beverages without taste making it extremely convenient

  • L-glutamine: for leaky gut specifically

  • LOWER STRESS→ studies have made it clear our stress levels WRECK our gut microbiome, and can even alter the state of our flora making it more or less likely for us to get sick depending on your stress levels.

  • support stomach acid: as I mention in my GUT ARTICLE, insufficient stomach acid is an issue for a LARGE part of the population. If you feel bloated, gassy, or like your food sits in your stomach like a rock, then I suggest supplementing to increase stomach acid. Either:

1.Drink 1 TB of Raw Apple Cider Vinegar in 4-6 oz of water about 10 minutes before a meal

2.Supplement with HCL.

HORMONE SPECIFIC TIPS

These are the second tier (meaning IN ADDITION to the foundation steps outlined above) and allow for more customization to play around with depending on your symptoms and blood test results. As far as supplements are concerned, I really recommend doing all the NON supplement things first, then testing SLOWLY with supplements, hopefully with the guidance of a functional medicine practitioner or a coach trained in such things (*cough* me *cough*). Just because it’s a natural supplement doesn’t mean it's not strong. If taken IMPROPERLY, it can actually do more harm than good. Just keep that in mind peeps.

Estrogen:

LOW→ The biggest cause of low estrogen I see is women that have a history of over exercising and/or under eating. A large amount of the estrogen we produce is ACTUALLY in fat cells. Meaning, if your body fat level dips too low, so does your estrogen production, often putting you in a state of androgen dominance. Therefore, my biggest tip for all my low estrogen folks is to reassess your food intake and exercise routine.

So, reduce stress, make sure you are eating ENOUGH (as in none of that 1200-1400 calorie BS diet magazines are feeding you), and don’t overdo it in the gym. (To learn more about how to exercise in a hormone friendly way, read my post all about it HERE)

High→ Estrogen Dominance is something I’ve talked about at great length in THIS POST. SO if you suspect your estrogen is high, I recommend stopping there first, because it really does deserve its own post.

Overall, high estrogen is either caused by high estrogen intake (usually from xenoestrogens found in toxic self-care products and processed foods, or synthetic estrogen from hormonal birth control) AND/OR low progesterone. Your objective estrogen levels could be totally fine, but if you have low progesterone, then your ratio is thrown off and automatically puts you in a state of estrogen dominance. Here are recs for both instances:

  1. High Estrogen intake: if you are on are have ever been on the pill, read my post HERE all about healing your body from hormonal Birth Control specifically. Trust me, that's going to be critical.

    • Replace mainstream personal care and household products with nontoxic personal ones. Most lotions, makeup, cleaning products, etc have been shown to have extremely alarming levels of xenoestrogens and endocrine disruptors that can cause hormone imbalances in of themselves. I have a list of my favorite brands over on my recommendations page.

    • Avoid using plastic containers and bottles

    • Switch to nontoxic period care (this is HUGE guys, it is having direct contact with your reproductive organs..I wrote a post reviewing all my favorite products HERE)

  2. Low progesterone: read below

PROGESTERONE:

Low→ One of THE MOST common imbalances in women, especially living in today's world.

Why is it so common? Because the number one cause of low progesterone is STRESS.

When we are stressed, our body performs something called the ‘pregnenalone steal’ where it uses the materials it NORMALLY would use to make progesterone to instead make a stress hormone called DHEA, one that is a precursor to testosterone in the body and also increases oil production of our skin, making it the leading cause of hormonal acne in women. This is why one of the most common symptoms of low progesterone (which is caused by STRESS) is hormonal acne.

So, in simple terms: Stress= low progesterone. Low progesterone= anxiety, broken and bad sleep, breakouts, and estrogen dominance. Stress management is doctors orders here. (read more about practical ways to combat stress HERE)

In addition, there are nutrients you could supplement with/eat foods rich in that really support Progesterone production:

  • Vitamin C: citrus and melon fruits, leafy greens, broccoli, camu camu

  • Vitamin B6: found in egg yolks, sweet and russet potatoes, spinach, prunes, salmon, walnuts,grass-fed beef, and organic chicken.

  • zinc: found in pastured meats, oysters, pumpkin seeds, and cashews

  • Vitamin E: I recommend supplementing with Vitamin E rich foods/supplement during the luteal (2nd half) of your menstrual cycle to boost progesterone production. Eating 2 TB of organic sunflower seeds every day during my Luteal Phase is my favorite way to do this.

High → not very common at all, but is caused by adrenal hyperplasia. We fix it by addressing the Hyperplasia. 

Testosterone:

High→ one of the biggest causes of high testosterone is a condition called PCOS, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Acne, facial hair, head hair loss, oily skin, and blood sugar issues are all common symptoms of PCOS (having these symptoms doesn’t MEAN you have PCOS, you need to get tested for this). Here are my specific tips for lowering testosterone:

  • Balance blood sugar (see pillar 2)

  • STRESS MANAGEMENT→ DHEA is a stress hormone our body produces that is a precursor to testosterone. Meaning stress can up our androgen levels without changes in diet or exercise alone

  • Reduce caffeine and stimulants

  • Do not over-do intense exercise, focus on Parasympathetic inducing exercises like yoga and long walks

  • Drink Green tea (a natural Androgen Blocker)

  • Increase Omega 3 rich foods like wild caught salmon, Pacific sardines, wild herring, etc.

LOW→ If you are struggling with some of the symptoms associated with Low testosterone, it may be likely you have estrogen dominance as well, as they go hand in hand often. Here are specific actions to up your testosterone to healthy levels that will also help with Estrogen metabolization:

  • HIIT workouts and strength training--support healthy testosterone levels in women

  • eat Zinc-rich foods( pastured meats, oysters, pumpkin seeds, and cashews)

  • Supplement with Vitamin D→ if your vitamin D levels are on the low side, getting those up is crucial for hormone balance. My favorite supplement is THIS ONE that I take daily in the winter time to optimize my vitamin D levels.

  • Reduce stress

WHEW! Okay, we're done....for now. Remember, hormones are complicated but also fairly straightforward in that supporting the health of a few targeted systems can resolve a multitude of hormonal imbalances. Reducing stress, eating nutrient dense foods, sleeping well, and moving our bodies in a nourishing way are all going to do wonders for our health and hormones!

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If you would like to have someone to help guide you and create a personalized healing program, don't hesitate to reach out! It would be an honor to be your hormone helper;)

Live Whole, 

Jess