One of the hardest things for women as we age is that it seems to be harder and harder for us to lose weight. Decreasing muscle tone, a slower metabolism and hormonal imbalances are common side effects of growing older, and because of it, many women pack on extra pounds. Hormonal issues will almost always prevent one from reaching their weight loss goals. Sometimes the hormonal changes are from age, other times it's from child birth, or dieting too much/restricting calories. It could even be from over training.
I train a lot of women over 40, and hormone imbalances tend to be one of the biggest issues when it comes to desired weight loss. Clients will hit a stubborn weight-loss plateau, even though they seem to be doing everything right, like eating the right foods and exercising. Does that sound familiar? If so, how can you overcome that obstacle?
First, many obstacles have nothing to do with what you eat or how much you exercise. Instead, they stem from things like nutritional imbalances, chronic inflammation, metabolic challenges, leaky gut, changes in your microbiome, environmental toxins and your genes.
And, as mentioned earlier, one of the biggest and often-overlooked reasons for weight-loss resistance involves hormonal imbalances. First, how do you know if you are dealing with hormonal imbalances? Here are some signs and symptoms you may be experiencing.
Signs & Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalances
- Irregular Periods
- Unexplained Weight gain or weight loss (not due to intentional changes in your diet)
- Depression and anxiety
- Brain Fog
- Hot Flashes/Night Sweats
- Mood Swings
- Changes in appetite
- Low Libido
- Digestive issues
- Hair Loss and hair thinning
Symptoms of hormonal imbalances can range dramatically depending on what type of disorder or illness they cause. For example, high estrogen can contribute to problems that include endometriosis and reproductive issues, while symptoms of diabetes often include weight gain, changes in appetite, nerve damage and problems with eyesight.
Risk Factors & Causes of Hormonal Imbalances
Hormonal imbalances are multi-factorial disorders, meaning they are caused by a combination of factors such as your diet, medical history, genetics, stress levels and exposure to toxins from your environment. Some of the major contributors to hormonal imbalances include:
- Food Allergies and gut issues: An expanding field of new research shows that your gut health plays a significant role in hormone regulation. If you have leaky guy syndrome or a lack of beneficial probiotic bacteria lining your intestinal wall, you’re more susceptible to hormonal problems, including diabetes and obesity. Often times, being prescribed anti-biotics repeatedly is an underlying cause for an unhealthy gut because they are killing both the good and bad bacteria. Inflammation usually stems from your gut and then impacts nearly every aspect of your health. I won't go into great detail here, but consuming probiotics whether in a pill form or through naturally fermented foods like kefir, kimchi, kombucha are super beneficial and should be added to your diet.
- Being overweight or obese (this may be your wake up call to alter your lifestyle)
- High levels of inflammation caused by a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle (have you met my friends ginger and turmeric?)
- Toxicity - exposure to pesticides, toxins, viruses, cigarettes, excessive alcohol and harmful chemicals (cleaning products, Round up, pool chemicals are often unsuspecting culprits)
- High Stress Levels
- Lack of enough sleep and rest
Ok, so maybe you have some of the above symptoms. Perhaps you can check the boxes to numerous risk factors. What's a girl to do? If you ask a doctor, he will probably put you on some sort of medication. Here's what I know. Most medications have side effects, and who wants to be bound to something for the rest of their life? If you go the medical route, that's ok, but if there was a healthier way to help yourself, why not try that? Below are 7 ways that you can help balance your hormones naturally.
7 Ways to Balance Hormones Naturally
Step 1: Swap Carbs for Healthy Fats
I'm not saying carbs are bad, but processed carbs are the devil. JK! They aren't the devil, but they sure wreak havoc on your body. I get my carbs from real foods like, oats, quinoa, fruits and vegetables. Swapping simple carbs for healthy fats is an easy way to improve your hormone imbalance. Eating a variety of foods high in short, medium and long-chain fatty acids is key to keeping your hormones in check. Your body needs various types of fats to create hormones, including saturated fat and cholesterol. Not only are these essential fats fundamental building blocks for hormone production, but they keep inflammation levels low, boost your metabolism and promote weight loss. Healthy fats have the opposite effect of refined carbohydrates, which lead to inflammation and can mess with the balance of your hormones.
My four favorite sources of anti-inflammatory, healthy fats include: coconut oil, avocados, grass-fed butter and wild-caught salmon.
Coconut Oil/ milk is a staple at every meal. — l literally put it in my coffee, smoothies, use it for sauteing veggies, and add it when baking healthy muffins. et Did you know that coconut oil (or cream/milk) has natural anti-bacterial and fat-burning effects?
As for Avocados, another bff, the benefits include improving heart health, lowering inflammation, and contributing to your daily intake of fiber which keeps you feeling fuller longer AND keeps the colon clean.
Salmon nutrition is also quite impressive: it’s one of the best sources of omega 3 fatty acids, which are known to lower inflammation and help with cognitive functions. Omega-3 fatty acids are a large component of brain-cell membranes and are important for cell-to-cell communication in the brain.
As a rule of thumb: Try to steer clear from oils high in Omega 6 (safflower, sunflower, corn, cottonseed, canola, soybean and peanut), and load up on rich sources of natural omega-3s instead (wild fish, flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts and grass-fed animal products).
Step 2: Use Adaptogen Herbs
Adaptogens are a unique class of healing plants that promote hormone balance and protect the body from a wide variety of diseases, including those caused by excess stress. In addition to boosting immune function and combating stress, research shows that various adapotogens — such as ashwagandha, medicinal mushrooms, rhodiola and holy basil — can:
- Improve thyroid function
- Lower Cholesterol
- Reduce anxiety and depression
- Reduce brain cell degeneration
- Stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels
- Support adrenal gland functions
Ashwaghanda, in particular, can be extremely effective at balancing hormones. It benefits thyroid function because it promotes the scavenging of free radicals that cause cellular damage. Additionally, it can be used to support a sluggish or overactive thyroid, and it can also help to overcome adrenal fatigue. Your adrenals can become overtaxed when you experience too much emotional, physical or mental stress, leading to the disruption of hormones like adrenaline, cortisol and progesterone.
Holy basil, which is also known as tulsi, helps to regulate cortisol levels, thereby working as a natural remedy for anxiety and emotional stress. Studies show that holy basil can also protect your organs and tissues against chemical stress from pollutants and heavy metals, which are other factors that can lead to hormone imbalance.
Step 3: Address Emotional Imbalances
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, internal emotions have a direct impact on a person’s health. Understanding and addressing emotional imbalances, external factors and lifestyle choices can help to prevent health conditions associated with hormonal imbalances.
For example, Fear can cause disease in your reproductive organs, kidneys and adrenals, affecting cortisol levels. This can lead to serious conditions like PCOS and infertility. The emotions of frustration, impatience and un-forgiveness cause disease in your liver, which can lead to an estrogen imbalance. And emotions of worry and anxiety can cause issues with your insulin levels, which can then affect several hormones.
A major component of balancing your hormones naturally is addressing any emotional imbalances that you are dealing with. You can do this by reducing stress levels, engaging in personal reflection and taking time for yourself. Practicing meditation, positive self talk or prayer can be extremely beneficial, in reversing these emotions as can exercise and spending time outdoors. Similarly, massage and acupuncture can also help to improve hormonal balance, combat stress and improve blood flow. (I am always down for a good massage!)
In short, our emotions and hormones are deeply connected. When possible, try eliminating the feelings of stress and anxiety by practicing gratitude and self care. By working on your emotions, you are also helping to balance your hormones.
4. Use Essential Oils
To balance your hormones naturally, it’s important that you eliminate toxins in your body by avoiding conventional body care products that are made with potentially-harmful chemicals including DEA, parabens, propylene glycol and sodium lauryl sulfate. A better alternative is to use natural products made with ingredients like essential oils, coconut oil, shea butter and castor oil.
To replace toxic body care and cleaning products, use these hormone balancing essential oils :
- Clary sage: Clary sage helps to balance estrogen levels because it contains natural phytoestrogens. It can be used to regulate your menstrual cycle, relieve PMS symptoms, treat infertility and PCOS, and even reduce the chances of uterine and ovarian cancer. It also serves as a natural remedy for emotional imbalances, like depression and anxiety. (13) Diffuse 3-5 drops of clary sage to help balance hormone levels and relieve stress. To ease cramps and pain, massage 5 drops of clary sage with 5 drops of coconut oil into your stomach and any other area of concern.
- Fennel: Problems with your gut health have been found to cause autoimmune reactions, including thyroid disorders. Use fennel essential oil to relax your body, improve your digestion and gut health, boost your metabolism and reduce inflammation. You can rub 2 drops of fennel into your stomach or add 1-2 drops to a class of warm water or tea to take it internally.
- Lavender: Lavender oil promotes emotional balance, as it can help to treat anxiety, depression, moodiness and stress. It can also be used to promote restful sleep, which will help to balance your hormone levels as well. Diffuse 5 drops of lavender oil at home, add 5 drops to a warm water bath or apply 3 drops topically to your temples, back or neck or wrists.
- Sandalwood: Sandalwood essential oil can be used to increase your libido, reduce stress, promote relaxation, boost mental clarity and even help you to relax. The powerful fragrance triggers peaceful feelings and results in the overall reduction of stress that can lead to hormone imbalances. Inhale sandalwood directly from the bottle, diffuse it at home or apply 2-3 drops to your wrists and bottoms of the feet.
- Thyme: Thyme oil improves progesterone production, which helps to treat or relieve health issues like infertility, PCOS, menopause, depression, fibroids, hair loss and insomnia. (To help balance your hormones naturally, add 2 drops of thyme oil to a warm water bath or rub 2-3 drops with equal parts coconut oil into your abdomen.
5. Supplement to Fill Nutritional Voids
It’s sometimes necessary to supplement in order to fill nutritional voids that can be leading to a hormone imbalance. Here are the top supplements that I recommend for your hormones:
vitamin D, primrose oil, bone broth and probiotics are all great.
6. Do your research when it comes to Birth Control and other medications.
Are you aware of your medication’s side effects? Some can disrupt your hormone balance, leading to side effects like fatigue, appetite changes, altered sleeping patterns, poor libido, sadness and even depression. Some medications that can mess with your hormone balance include corticosteroids, stimulants, statins, dopamine agonists, rexinoids and glucocorticoids. Beware of your medications, talk to your doctor about the side effects and research natural alternatives whenever possible.
Birth control is another dangerous medication that alters hormone levels. “The pill” is a type of hormone therapy that raises estrogen levels to such dangerous levels that it can cause many complications. My thought to birth control pills is do your research. There is an increased risk of breast cancer, uterine bleeding, migraines, back pain, and heart attack just to name a few.
7. Get More Sleep
Unless you get 7–8 hours of sleep every night, you’re doing your body no favors. A lack of sleep or disturbing your natural circadian rhythm can be one of the worst habits contributing to a hormone imbalance. How so? Because your hormones work on a schedule! Case in point: Cortisol, the primary “stress hormone,” is regulated at midnight. Therefore, people who go to bed late never truly get a break from their sympathetic flight/fight stress response.
When possible, aim at getting 7-8 hours of sleep at night. Sleep helps keep stress hormones balanced, builds energy and allows the body to recover properly.
If you found this blog to be helpful, please share it with a friend. And, if you have had issues with hormonal imbalance, tell me what have you done that's bringing you relief? I'd love to hear about it.
Cheers to growing older and loving the body we live in!