Balancing Women’s Hormones
Dr. Amanda Hegnauer
Balancing hormones is like an intricate dance. It takes time, dedication and persistence to find the right balance. However, with success, you feel elated as all the pieces come together in one elegant movement. Like in dance, there are certain aspects of rehearsal that are rather uncomfortable to mention. As a dancer may not want to talk about the time he or she fell at center stage, a woman may not feel comfortable discussing her menstrual cycle, going through menopause or how it emotionally affects her and her family.
There are many factors that affect the menstrual cycle. Diet and nutrition are vital to one’s level of energy. In addition, exercise and movement, too much or too little, can cause menstrual irregularity. A woman with low weight can lead to amenorrhea (no menstruation). However, an overweight woman can develop polycystic ovarian syndrome. Nevertheless, any hormone disruption is not age or body-type specific.
A great example of this is stress. The effect of stress on ovarian hormone balance is not age related. The cycle goes something like this: Most women have stress on a daily basis, and prolonged stress can lead to chronically elevated cortisol levels. Cortisol is your ‘stress hormone’ that balances your body’s physiology during time of stress. In an attempt to control cortisol production, the body converts progesterone to cortisol, this leaves estrogen and progesterone out of balance. Unfortunately, this is increasingly common as a source of hormonal disruption, in all ages of women.
How do we stabilize an imbalance? Herbs and bio-identical hormone therapy are two great options. These two therapies can be used separately or together. Herbs are utilized because there are many combinations and they can be individualized based on the patient and their imbalance. An example of a good combination is as follows: rhodiola, chaste tree berry (also called vitex) and ashwagandha. Rhodiola stabilizes mood and is also an adaptogenic herb (non-toxic substance that helps the body resist the damaging effects of stress). It helps the adrenal gland to heal and continue to produce cortisol. Chaste tree berry stabilizes the estrogen/progesterone ratio while ashwagandha acts to balance stress hormones.
If bio-identical hormones are recommended, there are a few different avenues to consider. Bio-identical estrogen is made from soy and made to look exactly like your own hormone; hence the term bio-identical. Because of the base, the hormones are safer and the body uses a smaller dose more efficiently than traditional hormone replacement therapies. Progesterone is always used to balance estrogens. Natural Progesterone is made in the lab from wild yam. Bio-identical hormones can be administered orally, trans- dermally or sublingually. They are perhaps a better choice than Progestin or Equine Estrogens as the latter have been shown to double the risk of Breast Cancer; however, they are uterine protective. Progestin is a synthetic form of Progesterone found in popular birth control pills.
Progestin side effects include:
- Bloating and Fluid Retention
- Hair loss
Although you can find herbs as well as Progesterone cream made from wild yam at a natural food store, bio-identical hormones require working with a naturopathic or holistically minded doctor who will prescribe the precise balance needed for your body. Even with the over-the- counter options, hormone balance can be tricky, and a practitioner’s guidance is warranted.
Treatment of hormone imbalance should be individualized. What is the safest and most effective fit for you? When balancing female hormones through natural therapies, it important to remove any obstacles affecting hormone secretion, metabolism and function. Consider stress, body weight, nutrition and xenoestrogens (xenoestrogens are synthetic hormones that imitate estrogen and tend to have negative effects on hormone balance and increase disease risk. Common sources include most plastics, BPA, PCBs, and phthalates). Furthermore, search for and address other hormone imbalances like thyroid and adrenal concerns. Every organ system is separate within the body however each plays a part of the elaborate dance that goes on within.
Updated April 2015