by Elizabeth McMillan, CNS, LDNDo you ever feel like you are going crazy or have mood swings? Perhaps your menstrual cycle govern your mood and well-being, or you are having hot flashes or terrible menstrual cramps. Maybe you are so tired that you cannot get out of bed, or have steep dips in energy in the afternoon. Many of these concerns can be explained by balancing your hormones.
Hormones are chemical messengers in the body that are an essential part of every cell. Collectively, hormones, including estrogen, testosterone, adrenaline, progesterone, thyroid and insulin, make up the endocrine system. The endocrine system acts like the postal service of the body—sending messages between organs. Hormones function in nearly every system in the body. For instance, estrogen and progesterone are neuroprotective, meaning they protect the brain from inflammation, and later in life, from Alzheimer’s. They are also a critical part in the female menstrual cycle. There is a multitudinal relationship between the reproductive hormones and the hormones that play a role in one’s mood, willpower and motivation.
Estrogen and progesterone are also related to immune health, thyroid health, bone health, cardiac regulation and sugar metabolism. Each of us, women and men alike, has a unique balance of hormones and these may fluctuate throughout our life—however, it is important to maintain hormonal balance. Because hormones govern our bodies, when they are not in a “happy” state, neither are you. In excess or deficiency, our hormonal health can impact several areas of our health and wellness, and thus, promoting hormonal balance is key.
To find hormonal balance, it is important to first test (and not guess!) hormone levels to get a baseline. There are many tests to determine hormonal health from blood, saliva and urine. All have different benefits, however, there is a newer test, the DUTCH test, which is becoming the gold standard for hormone testing. DUTCH stands for Dried Urine Test of Comprehensive Hormones. This not only tests for hormone levels but also their metabolites, which are the second layer of hormonal health that allows us to better determine hormone metabolism. This test might show if your hormones are acting to protect the body or acting negatively on the body. Understanding one’s unique hormone metabolism provides insights toward a specific roadmap for hormone balancing.
Some signs and symptoms of hormone imbalance include infertility, irregular periods, weight gain, inability to lose weight, depression, anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, low libido, changes in appetite, digestive issues, hair loss/thinning and everything in between. Throughout one’s life, an individual’s hormones change drastically—from the start of menstruating and even after menopause. In the midst of these changes, it is important to know that the hormone cycle is not supposed to be a painful or moody life-changing experience that happens monthly. Menopause is supposed to be an event that comes with ease. Painful cramps, hot flashes, cravings, miscarriages, mood swings do not have to be hormonal occurrences. Typically, a woman’s hormones will take a hit in her 40s and 50s—right before menopause. After menopause, the adrenal glands must take over for the ovaries.
It is important to set up healthy adrenals so that menopause does not allow us to crash and burn. Stress, constantly juggling all avenues of life, dietary habits, sleep health and exercise will greatly impact hormonal health. Once a baseline is established, there are many ways to balance hormones and promote ultimate wellness. Different balancing measures are used depending on what the life goals are at that time. For instance, prescriptions for diet, exercise and supplementation will differ if one is trying to conceive children as opposed to a plan for a woman entering menopause. Testing is the starting point to finding our emotional and hormonal balance that encourages energetic wellness throughout our lives.
Elizabeth McMillan, CNS, LDN is a clinical nutritionist at the Rose Wellness Center. For more information, visit RoseWellness.com.