Our body’s hormonal system is a web of chemical messages that are picked up by the brain to regulate our immune system, metabolism, reproduction and hunger. Typically, the endocrine system dispenses and regulates the exact amount of each hormone our body needs to maintain the various processes that are constantly happening in the body. A hormone imbalance occurs when the endocrine system produces too much or too little of a hormone. Even small changes can have serious consequences in the body.
Hormonal imbalance can happen due to a number of reasons ranging from mild fluctuations due to stress and more serious medical conditions, like thyroiditis. There are at least 130 different hormones in the body that all serve different functions, so the range for hormone imbalance conditions is large (1). Symptoms for hormone imbalance will all depend on which hormone is out of balance and which glands are working improperly.
How to Identify it
There are a number of symptoms to identify a hormonal imbalance in the body, which has to do with the specific hormone that is functioning poorly. While some of the symptoms are quite subtle, they can indicate serious problems to your health and if you notice a few of these occurring to you, go see your doctor.
Some of these symptoms include fatigue, increased sensitivity to cold or heat, dry skin, muscle weakness, increased thirst, muscle aches, pain, stiffness, or swelling in your joints, increased hunger, decreased sex drive, nervousness, anxiety, or irritability, and purple or pink stretch marks.
Regulating hormones through a change in diet
One way to regulate your hormones is to regulate your diet. Protein is often a forgotten part of a healthy and balanced diet. It’s most commonly associated with muscle gain, but most proteins contain bioactive peptides, which are smaller protein fractions that help your body to regulate several hormones, including appetite and satiety hormones. Two of the most important hormones for regulating appetite and therefore weight are ghrelin and leptin. When we are hungry, the level of ghrelin in our body rises and signals to our brain that we need to eat. One study found that consuming approximately 30g protein at each meal can help regulate how hungry we get by reducing ghrelin and stimulating hormones that make us feel full: leptin, PYY and GLP 1 (2). Another study confirmed this by feeding three groups of young men with different levels of protein in each meal and determining that their satiety hormones, leptin, PYY and GLP, were increased after the meal. This helped to confirm that these hormones were “responsible for the satiety-stimulating effect of protein,” (3). By including a healthy amount of protein, it helps with cravings and compulsive eating when you are facing mood swings.
Regulating hormones through adaptogens
Adaptogens are a helpful way to combat a hormone imbalance. Adaptogens are plant extracts that contain effective components that “either reduce stress reactions in the alarm phase or retard / prevent the exhaustion phase and thus provide a certain degree of protection against long-term stress,” (4). Not only this, a “single dose application of adaptogens is important in situations that require a rapid response to tension or to a stressful situation,” and “administration of these adaptogens effectively increases mental performance and physical working capacity in humans,” (5). Ginsengs in particular have proven to be exceptionally effective and “[enhance] physical performance (including sexual), [promote] vitality and [increase] resistance to stress and aging,” (6). Adaptogenic herbs include Ashwagandha, Ginsengs (Siberian, Chinese, Brazilian), liquorice, reishi mushroom, and maca root, which can be easily added into juices or smoothies.
Regulating hormones through good fats
A third way to keep your hormones in check is by making sure you’re getting the appropriate amount of good fats. Beneficial Omega-3s and saturated fats are vital for proper cell function and for hormone function, since they are the building blocks for hormone production (7). One study found that Omega-3s “are important in the prevention and treatment of various diseases, especially in women,” and that they can regulate triglyceride production which reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease (8). These healthy fats can be found in avocado, linseed, nut, and oily fishes, like salmon. Plant extracts that are rich in good fats, like primrose oil, have been proven to help with female hormonal imbalance. According to one study, PMS symptoms, such as breast tenderness, bloating, water retention, acne, depression, foggy thinking, and headaches, can subside after using an evening primrose oil (9).
Regulating hormones through exercise
Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Studies have found that “exercise altered energy-regulating hormones in a direction expected to stimulate energy intake, regardless of energy status,”(10), which means that exercising can increase your energy levels due to its effects on your hormones. In addition, due to how exercise releases endorphins, and therefore it’s been proven that “increased aerobic exercise or strength training has been shown to reduce depressive symptoms significantly,”(11). Exercise is one of the best things you can do to improve your overall health, not only does it keep your metabolism in check while helping you have more energy throughout the day and help to keep you happy, it also has an effect on your ability to sleep. It’s been shown that exercising regularly can improve your sleep time and sleep efficiency, reduce sleep onset latency, and improve your overall sleep quality, leading to a rested and healthy lifestyle (12).
While hormonal imbalance can cause uncomfortable symptoms and can lead to more serious health issues if left unmanaged for long periods, it can actually be managed by changing your diet by including more healthy fats and more protein, by using adaptogens, and by exercising regularly. Managing hormonal imbalance as it happens is the key to maintaining a healthy, balanced lifestyle. As always, if you’re unsure as to whether you’re experiencing hormonal imbalance and don’t know where to start, consult your doctor.
Written by Stevie Deale