“My hormones are such a mess” is probably one of the most common things I hear from women through various stages of their lives. Experiences range from fluctuations in their hormones, higher levels of stress, irregular cycles, PMS symptoms, unwanted weight gain, anxiety, skin conditions, and irritability, to the onset of menopausal symptoms at an early age.
Today, over 80% of women experience hormonal imbalances for some portion of their lives and are becoming more aware of these imbalances by paying attention to their bodies’ cues around their hormones and understanding what imbalances can look like.
However, it is not just women experiencing hormonal irregularities; men also have hormones and can experience similar imbalances.
Although women are more likely to experience symptoms of hormonal imbalances at an earlier age, men often can experience imbalances of their own later in life, with a variety of symptoms similar to women. However, most men don’t recognize these symptoms as a hormonal imbalance within their bodies.
Some of the common symptoms of male hormonal imbalances are weight gain around the abdominal area and chest (due to higher amounts of estrogen within the body), thinning hair and/or male pattern baldness (due to decreasing levels of testosterone), erectile dysfunction, loss of libido, depression, insomnia, anxiety, lack of motivation, brain fog, high stress, headaches, and loss of memory.
Both men and women have over 50 different hormones in their bodies; these chemical messengers are responsible for many functions, including our growth, development, metabolism, sexual characteristics, moods, reproduction, blood pressure, and energy levels. A synergistic hormonal ecosystem is how I like to describe our endocrine system—with essential hormones such as insulin, cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, aldosterone, and DHEA, to name a few.
However, when we think of hormones these days and find ourselves talking about our hormones, we tend to focus on certain ones associated with our sex, such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone (although we have many other hormones linked to these particular ones). We often don’t relate these particular hormones between both sexes, however, both men and women have each of these hormones. Women have naturally higher levels of estrogen in their bodies, and men have higher levels of testosterone. Each of these hormones is necessary for our reproductive health, strength, libido, growth, and development. Adjoining to these are hormones such as progesterone, DHEA, and cortisol.
When it comes to having healthy, happy, and balanced hormones for both men and women, it is important to look at both the external and internal factors that can play a role in our hormones’ health—things like our stress levels, diets, exercise routines, nutritional deficiencies, liver health, digestion, sleep habits, and even the daily products we use in our homes and skincare regime.
A majority of these factors can upset our hormonal ecosystem by causing fluctuations and imbalances in one or more hormones in the body. Our body always likes to be in a state of “homeostasis”, meaning balance, including our hormones. With various hormones working together in our body, you can see how having an imbalance in one can disrupt our entire hormonal ecosystem, causing symptoms and signs of imbalance throughout the body.
With various hormones within our bodies, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly which hormone is out of balance and causing the various symptoms we may be experiencing. I often recommend that both men and women take a look at the following areas commonly associated with hormonal imbalances.
When it comes to our hormones, cortisol (our stress hormone) can play a huge part in the balance of our other hormones, such as our sex hormones, thyroid hormones, leptin, and insulin. When we have high stress levels in our bodies, we can experience more noticeable and severe symptoms associated with hormonal imbalances. Reducing our stress levels is most definitely an important part of bringing balance back to our hormonal ecosystem.
The foods we consume daily have a big impact on our hormones’ production and health. We need healthy cholesterol levels in our body to produce certain hormones, so we need to ensure that we are eating enough healthy fats daily, as well as protein, complex carbs (not refined carbs), and eating as organic as possible, from grass-fed protein sources. It is also important to avoid skipping meals, consuming too much caffeine or alcohol, and processed foods. Foods filled with essential vitamins and minerals, such as cruciferous vegetables, dark leafy greens, and a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, are also an important part of healthy hormones and blood sugar balance within the body.
Liver and Digestive Health
These two main areas are critical for healthy hormone levels. Often when we have imbalances, we build up certain hormones in our body, such as estrogen. Our digestive tract and liver are responsible for metabolizing the excess hormones from our body and excreting them. If we have a sluggish liver or digestive tract, we most definitely are going to have some imbalances within the body, not to mention inflammation from toxins our body is trying to excrete. Signs of a sluggish digestive tract can include constipation, diarrhea, bloating, while of a sluggish liver can be skin conditions, weight gain, brain fog, headaches, and constant fatigue.
We can definitely be proactive in our hormone health at any age, focusing on a more holistic approach to naturally balancing our hormones. If you are experiencing symptoms associated with hormonal imbalances, working with a health care practitioner, nutritionist, or naturopath can help investigate specific hormonal imbalances and solutions. In the meantime, applying these suggestions and supplementing certain natural supports may help you find relief from symptoms associated with hormonal imbalances while supporting your overall hormonal health.
Chelan Wilkins is a Vancouver-based Registered Holistic Nutritionist and women’s health educator. She has focused her expertise in women’s health, hormones, digestive health, and skin health. She is co-author of a collagen guidebook, women’s health advocate and disruptor, creator of a women’s health and lifestyle forum and podcast host, A Hot Mess.