A guide to the most common signs that you have a hormonal imbalance, understanding the importance of progesterone, why stress might be wreaking havoc on your hormones, and 11 simple things you can do today to get back to a life with healthy and balanced hormones.
If you don’t know anything about me, you should know that I have struggled with hormonal imbalances on and off since I can remember. At the ripe age of 17, after only one year of having a regular menstrual cycle and while struggling with an eating disorder, I was placed on birth control to protect my bone density. Many people are unaware that while on synthetic birth control, you're not able to get a true bleed.
It wasn't until 10 years later when my interest grew in naturopathic medicine that I stopped taking birth control and focused my energy into working with my body's natural rhythms. When I was off the pill, it took me four years to regain my period. I only had one real period before becoming pregnant with my first child. After giving birth it took 19 months for my period to return. Needless to say, I have a long history of irregular periods and hormonal imbalances, which is what has caused me to be so passionate about the topic and hope to empower other women to not lose focus on the importance of having and maintaining a healthy menstrual cycle.
What Does a Hormonal Imbalance Look Like?
If you are worried about your hormones here are some common signs that will help indicate if you have a hormonal imbalance.
1. Missed or Irregular Periods
One of the very obvious signs is that you have a hormonal imbalance. Whether your period is always surprising you when it comes or has gone completely MIA, these could all be signs that your progesterone is imbalanced and inhibiting your ability to have a healthy menstrual cycle.
PMS symptoms are those annoying symptoms that we feel before actually getting our periods. Today it's common for women to think that all these extreme and debilitating symptoms are just part of womanhood and carry on as best we can. But if you're suffering from PMS you're most likely also suffering from a hormonal imbalance which is worsening your symptoms. The culprit is most likely your levels of progesterone. When your progesterone is balanced you can live in a world where your symptoms are minimal.
These symptoms include:
3. Heavy Menstrual Bleeding
Excessive and heavy bleeding is when you need to change your pad or tampon every two hours or you are passing clots the size of a quarter. Heavy bleeding is associated with deficient levels of progesterone.
4. Spotting Mid-Cycle
This is often known as breakthrough bleeding and is an indication of low progesterone.
5. Trouble Conceiving or Maintaining a Pregnancy
Low progesterone hinders the successful implantation of a fertilized egg, making it challenging to become pregnant as well as holding onto the pregnancy.
6. Mood Swings, Irritability, Anxiety
Progesterone is the hormone that helps chill out. Simply put, when progesterone levels drop, anxiety rises.
7. Insomnia/ Trouble Staying Asleep Throughout the Night
If you are struggling with falling asleep, or staying asleep throughout the night, this is a common sign of blood sugar dysregulation, high cortisol, and also fluctuation of progesterone levels.
8. Changes in Libido
Both high and low levels of progesterone are going to affect your sex drive. I often see that low sex drive is linked to lower levels of progesterone.
9. Digestive Issues
This one is surprising to most people! Your digestion and hormones are interconnected which is why as a Digestive Health Coach, I cannot talk about digestion without talking about hormones. An imbalance in progesterone can affect your digestive health, leading to bloating and constipation.
What is Progesterone?
After going through the common signs of a hormone imbalance, you likely noticed that many of them are connected to progesterone deficiencies. Progesterone is known as a protective hormone. It plays a critical role in our reproductive system, but reaches beyond that-- impacting our menstrual health and our overall well-being (hello anxiety!). Without balanced progesterone levels, our anxiety and stress can run rampant. Research shows that progesterone is responsible for maintaining a stable mood, maintaining bone density, lowering anxiety levels, and is critical to cardiovascular health.
Stress and Hormones
You might not think that stress would be a relevant factor but it's a huge contributor to our hormones. The body is smart and is focused on protecting us. When we think back to our primitive days, if we were being chased by a lion or bear our body has a system in place that overrides our hormones to keep our bodies from reproducing because it knows it's not in a safe environment for a child.
How it works:
Cortisol, one of our many hormones, is a beautiful thing. It’s responsible for waking us up in the morning and is very useful for getting us through our day. It is also known as a stress hormone. If we were to encounter something dangerous, cortisol would be released and be shot through our system serving to our benefit to run faster and lift heavier objects to protect ourselves.
But cortisol can be released when we’re stressed as well. If we have an important work deadline, are facing changes in our lives, or any other unpredictable challenges we might face in our lives, cortisol will be released. Typically, cortisol is released through the body from the hours of 6 to 8 in the morning to wake us up and then should steadily decline as we begin our day.
When our cortisol remains high all day from the unwanted stress in our lives it will stimulate a blood sugar response that makes us feel irritable, anxious, jittery, and all the other downstream effects you may be feeling. The cortisol released is also prioritized over your other hormones. When we have an unhealthy amount of stress in our lives cortisol steals away from our estrogen and progesterone to create more cortisol which leads to a hormonal imbalance.
It doesn't matter if you're taking every top-rated supplement, eating a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep. If you don't learn to calm your nervous system and reduce your stress throughout the day your hormones will remain imbalanced. It's so important that we learn ways to come off operating on stress hormones. If we don't our bodies can struggle from the long-term effects which include insulin resistance, and infertility. Managing your stress is not just a luxury but a necessity for our health.
11 Things you can do to Balance your Hormones
If what I described about hormonal imbalance resonates with you and you wish to regain balanced hormones, there are some simple and easy things you can do today that will help restore balance to your hormones.
When we talk about a healthy menstrual cycle, progesterone is the hormone that ensures that your period comes in a timely and predictable manner.
1. Work with me
Many women who suspect that they have a progesterone imbalance or are experiencing disruptive symptoms have turned to me for guidance while working towards rebalancing their hormones. I offer two packages. Each will identify the root of the problem and work holistically to rebalance their hormones. Click here to learn more.
2. At-Home Lab Testing
If you feel that you are suffering from a hormone imbalance, I recommend ordering an at-home lab test kit which will give you an exact look into the levels of your hormones.
In all of my client packages, I include an at-home test from the company Nimbus, and would recommend them to anyone who is struggling. They offer affordable, comprehensive lab tests that help women get to the root cause of their health issues.
You can find the Nimbus at home hormone test here. Use code: REALRAW10 to save 10%
3. Learn and Practice Cycle Syncing
This comes down to understanding the different phases of your cycle and working with them rather than against them. As women, our bodies operate on a 28-day cycle in which we go through 4 different phases.
With each of the different phases you are able to support and optimize them with exercise and nutrition. If you're interested in learning more I have an entire podcast that dives deeper into cycle synching.
4. Stress Management
We cannot talk about balancing your progesterone without talking about stress management. Having too much stress is the quickest way to deplete your levels of progesterone. If you are guilty of high-stress levels, I recommend setting aside time for yourself to work on breathwork or meditation. You only need 10 minutes a day. It can be first thing in the morning, during your lunch break, or a way to wind down from a busy day. The key to lowering your stress is to stay consistent and commit to relieving your body from anxiety every day.
If you are unfamiliar with these exercises there are several apps or Youtube videos that you can follow along to that will guide you through. If meditation and breath-work don’t work, I recommend yoga or taking a walk outside in nature. (but, I would really challenge you because the ones who don't believe they need meditation are often the individuals who need it most!)
5. Dietary Changes
Whether your progesterone levels are too high or too low, there are changes you can make to your diet that will help pave the way for improved hormonal health.
Adequate vitamins and minerals that help support hormone production. These are vitamin B6, magnesium, and zinc.
Protein. I cannot tell you how many women are unintentionally undereating protein. The amount of protein you should eat is generally around .6-.8x your body weight. Example below:
140 lbs. X .6 = 84 grams of protein
140 lbs. X .8 = 112 grams of protein
This person should be aiming to eat between 84-112 grams of protein every day.
It may sound like a lot, but when you eat 3 full meals a day (30g/meal) + 1-2 snacks (10g/each), it is entirely achievable.
Fats. Healthy fats are the backbone of our hormones. Some of my favorite fats that are easy to include in my meals are:
6. Quality Sleep
A key component to stress reduction would be getting quality sleep that is restorative to your body. Timing is an important factor when we talk about sleep. Besides the amount of hours we sleep every night, research has taught us that the timing of our sleep is incredibly important.
Going to bed should be consistent between the hours of 9 to 10 p.m., and waking up in the morning between the hours of 6:30 and 7 a.m. These times align with our body's natural circadian rhythm and with your body's production of melatonin (the hormone that makes us tired) and cortisol (the hormone that wakes us up). When we don't fall asleep between 9-10pm., our body reacts by releasing a second wind of cortisol that works against your release of melatonin (hello, burst of energy at 10:30pm).
Also, make sure that you are wearing glasses that protect your eyes from blue light during the hours when the sun goes down. When we spend time with the blue light that comes from screens our body becomes confused by the light and releases hormones that keep you awake.
7. Low Impact Exercise
Making time to move your body every day helps regulate your blood sugar levels which positively impacts our hormones. Aim for a balanced exercise routine that you love. Exercise shouldn't feel like a punishment, but instead feel like a way to honor and respect your body. Remember, if you have high cortisol, and then do High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), more cortisol is going to be released, which steals from progesterone.
8. Herbal Supplements
Many people forget that herbal supplements are meant to fill in the gaps in your health. It’s important to remember that supplements are not a one-size-fits-all to fixing all of your health issues but rather one of the many tools in your toolkit to bring your hormones back to a balanced state. Herbs such as Chasberry and Vitex have been linked to supporting progesterone balance.
Dr. Jolene Brighton has an entire line that I love and often recommend to my clients. She has an amazing line of natural herbs and supplements that aid in optimizing progesterone levels.
9. Minimizing Toxins
In many households, the majority of us have endocrine-disrupting chemicals in our plastics, pesticides, and personal care products. I know it can often feel overwhelming to buy completely new products, so I recommend starting small and making a few swaps until most of your household products are toxin-free. The average female puts over 186 unique chemicals in her body/ day with traditional skincare products. This adds up, and absolutely plays a material role on our hormone health.
I cannot advocate more strongly for acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine in general. I have been doing acupuncture on and off for five years and have seen an enormous change from it.
Find a practitioner that you love and can fully trust with your health problems. I believe in it so strongly for regulating hormone balance, improving reproductive health, and any other health issue.
11. Other Supplements
There are some critical vitamins that people are missing in their systems. This isn't our fault. We could be eating the most colorful and nutrient-dense dishes, and still not receiving enough vitamins because our soil is much more depleted than it should be from mainstream farming practices.
An important one to have is magnesium. I would say that 90% of people are deficient in magnesium. I suggest taking magnesium citrate and glycinate in combination that you can take at night which will even help you have a deeper and restorative state of sleep.
Omega 3. Unless you have a cut of fatty fish every day you should be taking Omega 3s which are anti-inflammatory, and critical for neurological health as well as hormonal health.
Need More Guidance?
Hormone balance is complex and I find that many women can be disheartened when relief takes longer than they expected. This is why I recommend working with a professional. You can always reach out to me and purchase one of my packages where I will be able to take the guesswork out of imbalance and get you set up on a path that works for you. You are also able to check out more of my podcasts here where I cover a variety of health topics and dive deeper in balancing your hormones.