It has on occasion be labelled “the hormone monster”– a hormonal imbalance can take over your mood, your well-being and your life. It can affect your capability to do your job, your sense of identity, people close to you and your family.
Professional Naturopath and inventor of 30 Plus NuWoman, Jeff Butterworth, says, “It’s very powerful – these women think they’re depressed or going crazy, they have these mood swings – and they think ‘Is this me?’ but it’s actually a physiological problem.”
Unfortunately, for these women it is a common experience to be told they are stressed or that the experience is just part of being a woman. Friends, partners and even doctors too often give the wrong advice to these women. In our society we are made to believe that mood swings, weight gain, irritability and other symptoms are normal for pre-menstrual women.
“These days, it’s accepted that women have a hormonal imbalance, so what’s accepted as normal is not necessarily healthy. Doctors say, ‘You’ve just got pre-menstrual tension’ but that’s not a healthy state, or normal state, so there’s that level of apathy that this is a normal thing,” says Jeff.
It’s true that every woman experiences periods of stress, sadness and fatigue. The difference is that a hormonal imbalance takes those things out of control; it’s the difference between being a little grumpy, and putting your fist through the wall, or being tired, and falling asleep at your desk. Many women who have experienced it say their gut instinct told them something was wrong because they were acting out of character, or didn’t feel “like myself.”
Jeff says many women who are diagnosed with depression, are in fact suffering from a hormonal imbalance. He points out that the biggest group of anti-depressant users – women aged between 30 to 45 – are those who are most commonly subject to a hormonal imbalance. And the symptoms are very similar – fuzzy thinking, sleep disturbances, physical aches, low mood and mood swings, anxiety and irritability. Unfortunately, in many cases, antidepressants are putting a band-aid on the symptoms and ignoring the root cause. In many cases, the anti-depressants just don’t work.
“Hormones have such a hugely powerful impact on the way that you behave – they’re mood modulators, so the change in personality that hormones can have on women is really profound. “So what happens is women feel this way, and it’s a very real feeling, and women then go to a GP and they classify it as depression but it could very much be coming from a hormonal standpoint,” says Jeff.
According to Endocrinologist, Megan Ogilvie from Fertility Associates Auckland, common hormonal imbalances include Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, thyroid dysfunction such as Hypothyroidism or Hyperthyroidism, and Premenstrual Syndrome.
Other hormonal imbalances that women may experience include the abnormal secretion of prolactin, and premature menopause. She says the symptoms that may indicate that you have a hormonal imbalance include, “Any new onset acne or significant worsening of acne, any hair growth in the areas we traditionally associate with a male-based pattern of hair growth, or any hair loss from the top of the head or from the temple areas.
“…these women think they’re depressed or going crazy, they have these mood swings – and they think, ‘Is this me?”
Also any particular change in weight that is otherwise unexplained can point to a hormonal abnormality, or any change in periods can suggest a hormonal abnormality. “Any discharge from the breast when not breast-feeding, or when you’ve stopped breast-feeding, can also indicate a hormonal abnormality.”
Megan says that symptoms of an overactive thyroid or Hyperthyroidism include unexplained weight loss, intolerance to heat, diarrhea, palpitations, exercise intolerance and period irregularity. Symptoms of an underactive thyroid or Hypothyroidism include period irregularity, difficulty getting pregnant, weight gain, constipation, cold intolerance, and exercise intolerance. Other symptoms of hormonal imbalance include a decreased sexual libido, mood changes, hot flushes, severe fatigue, and abnormal abdominal or back pain. If you have any symptoms, it is best to see a doctor in conjunction with a naturopath, to undergo tests and find a treatment plan to suit you.
It is common to experience hormonal imbalance after pregnancy, during major life changes or later in life as you approach menopause. Lifestyle, including diet and environmental factors, also contribute to hormonal imbalance.
Megan says conditions such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome can be caused by a combination of genetics and environment, “It does track in families, plus environmental factors that cause the symptoms to come out and create the syndrome.”
Naturopath, Tarryn Keep from Discover Health Auckland says our bodies can absorb “hormone mimics” from the environment, leading to hormone overload. These “xenoestrogens” can be found in PCBs found in pesticides and cosmetics, heavy metals found in cigarettes, paints, plastics and cosmetics, organochlorines found in insecticides, fungicides and herbicides, parabens in deodorants and cosmetics, dioxins found in sanitary products, Bis phenol A found in cellophane, cling wrap, plastic bags, drink bottles, take-away containers, and medications such as the oral contraceptive pill, hormone replacement therapy and fertility drugs.
Jeff explains that these xenoestrogens mimic the effect of natural oestrogen in the body. “They get into the body and they bind to these receptor sites, and they tell your body, this is an oestrogen in your system – but it’s not, it’s a false one, so you’re getting this over-stimulation of the receptor sites, and you get things like fibroids and cysts, and weight gain.”
According to Jeff, if your liver is being exposed to poisons such as alcohol, this inhibits its ability to flush these excess hormones from the body. “Basically, when your liver doesn’t break down those hormones, they recirculate and you get too much of that oestrogen hit – and that’s when the symptoms come on.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Whether you seek out a naturopath or doctor, experts from both fields of medicine recommend a healthy lifestyle to support hormone balance. Megan says treatment often includes making diet and lifestyle changes. “With something like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, we’re very keen for women to be healthy and eating sensibly and exercising regularly, and often if we can get women to have a healthy body mass index, then many of the symptoms will improve significantly.”
Megan adds that lifestyle change is the cornerstone to managing pre-menstrual symptoms. “For women in their 30s and early 40s, there’s so much going on in their lives, it’s really busy and stressful, and they haven’t got much time left over for themselves. I focus on getting women exercising regularly, to release feel-good hormones, and to help cope with all the things that are going on in their lives.
“Also eating to maintain a regular, stable blood glucose, and following a low-GI regime, especially on those days that are bad is important because lots of simple sugars are going to send your blood
glucose all over the place and your moods are going to follow that.”
Jeff says when it really comes to your health, it’s all about getting your life back into balance and your body will correct itself. “Like anything in nature, if it’s not well, if you take it out of the environment that’s making it unwell, and give it the right things, give it water and sunshine and give it some nutrients, it will correct itself. The body is the same thing; if you’re getting a hormonal imbalance and you’re living a stressful life, you need to get yourself back into balance by eating healthily, exercising and doing a detox.”
“Like anything in nature, if it’s not well, if you take it out of the environment that’s making it unwell, and give it the right things, give it water and sunshine and give it some nutrients, it will correct itself.”
To allow your body to correct the hormonal imbalance, it is important to remove the environmental factors that are contributing to the problem, such as chemicals found in plastics, herbicides and pesticides, cleaning products and cosmetics.
Tarryn suggests cutting out plastics such as food wrap, using glass drink bottles, and being very cautious about what you’re eating, for example, choosing organic meat. It may also be necessary to
use a non-hormonal form of contraception such as condoms, instead of the oral contraceptive pill.
Tarryn says you can help your body to break down excess hormones by supporting healthy liver function. She says to kick-start your liver into gear, “a balanced diet is the main thing – if you’re having too many processed foods or sugars, or alcohol, your liver is going to become sluggish and it won’t be able to clear out the excess hormones and you just keep storing it.
“Eat a lot of your brassica foods, so things like broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower – those are really important for liver detoxification; also onions and garlic, which help your liver clear
out any sorts of excess oestrogens.
“Hormones have such a hugely powerful impact on the way that you behave – they’re mood modulators, so the change in personality that hormones can have on women is really profound.”
“Organic vegetable juices are good, lemon and water is great for stimulating the liver, also green things like spirulina or chlorella. “Using ground flax seeds or LSA (linseed, sunflower seed and almond) – are really beneficial for hormonal balancing; the fibre binds to those toxins and the hormones, and helps to clear them out through the bowel. So that’s great for putting through a salad or through a smoothie.”
Studies have shown that Omega 3 fatty acids, found in LSA and fish oil, can promote positive mood, and may be particularly beneficial for women suffering from low mood post-pregnancy. Sometimes it may be necessary to take a supplement or medication to correct a hormonal imbalance. A natural solution is 30 Plus, which Jeff formulated as a daily supplement designed to support the body’s natural hormone balance. It contains a standardised extract of Cimicfuga racemosa (Black cohosh), which improves hormonal regulation via receptor sites and glandular action; L-tyrosine, which balances the function of the thyroid and adrenal glands to increase energy, improve weight management and reduce anxiety; vitamins B6, B9 (folic acid) and B12, which improve oestrogen clearance from the liver; and Chromium pocolinate, which helps to balance the blood sugar levels, increase energy and reduce food cravings; and calcium.
Megan adds, “There are a couple of small studies to suggest that calcium and vitamin B6 supplementation for mild PMS symptoms is beneficial, and a lot of women take those supplements to help control their PMS.”
If you consult with a doctor, it may be recommended that you take medication to correct the imbalance. Megan says that certain hormonal disorders can be treated with medication, such as the combined pill or thyroid medication, which have been shown to be very effective for some patients. Some women benefit from taking Yasmin or Yaz, which can improve acne, and reduce the hormonal fluctuations associated with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. However, even when taking a medication or supplement, it is important that your treatment is supported by a healthy lifestyle.
“If you’re still doing all the wrong things like running around and working 50 hours, and eating all the wrong foods, treatment will help but it won’t entirely fix the problem,” says Jeff. Ultimately, it’s important for every woman to take some time out to listen to her body, and give it the care it needs – including eating the right foods, getting enough sleep, rest and exercise, and seeing a naturopath or doctor to find a solution that works.
There is no need for you to suffer in silence – taking control of your health and well-being will see you kick that hormone monster once and for all.
(this article first appeared in M2Woman Magazine http://www.m2woman.co.nz/)