Here is my confession: when I started practicing as a naturopathic doctor, I didn’t have much interest in the realm of “hormone health”. It wasn’t until a few months of practicing that I realized so many women are feeling frustrated with their hormonal health and struggling to get help. I started to really enjoy working with women to help them understand and improve this area of their health.
What Do I Mean When I Say Hormones?
Hormones is a vague term, as our body makes well over 50 different hormones that have very different physiological effects. In this blog post, I’m mostly referring to reproductive hormones like estrogen and progesterone. Other hormones such as thyroid hormones and insulin also play a big role in the work I do with people.
Some symptoms that could have an underlying hormonal cause:
• Fluctuations in weight
• Period issues (cramps, irregular periods, PMS, etc)
• Poor energy
Hormones are inherently complicated (which is actually why my nerdy brain loves them), but I think there are some simple truths about hormones that we should all know.
1. Your hormones are highly impacted by our lifestyle. I cannot overemphasize this (I could write a whole blog post on this alone). Your hormones are designed to keep your body in homeostasis – meaning, a state of balance. They are highly sensitive to fluctuations in our environment. Irregular sleep patterns, nutritional deficiencies or imbalances, chronic stress, lack of movement – these are just a few things that can be stressful for hormones. Any hormonal issue benefits from the basics - getting a consistent 8 hours of sleep nightly, a balanced nutritious diet and a regular movement practice.
2. Our hormones are our friends. “Hormonal hell”. “Raging hormones”. “Hormonal nightmare”. This is the language we’re often introduced to early in life to describe the monthly fluctuations in hormones we experience. We’re set up to think that we’re just powerless beings being completely villainized by “our hormones”. This is problematic for two reasons – first, it doesn’t acknowledge the fact that if our hormones are out of whack, it might be because we stayed up till 2am watching Netflix (it sucks, but it’s the facts).
The second problem with the “hormones=enemies” theory, is that it completely disregards the enormous list of BENEFITS our hormones confer to us. Estrogen and progesterone, two hormones that are usually on the receiving end of the “hormone hate”, actually help us sleep, reduce anxiety, support cognition, protect our cardiovascular system, supports our metabolism, maintain muscle mass, keeps our skin healthy and our joints lubricated. Quite frankly, we will miss our hormones when they are gone. Learning how to make friends with your hormones instead of fighting against them can be a total game changer.
3. Changes in the way you feel throughout the month are normal. Now, I don’t want to say we should accept emotional rollercoasters or symptoms so severe they are affecting our quality of life. Please seek support if that is happening to you. But, I do want anyone with a menstrual cycle to understand that they are hormonally, and therefore physiologically, quite different at different parts of the cycle. Subtle changes in energy, weight, mood, and appetite are completely normal. I want to drive this home because I think there is this culture that expects 100% performance all the time which isn’t how our body works. Leaning in to your body’s demands for a bit more sleep, a bit more alone time, and a bit more food can actually set you up to thrive in other parts of your cycle.
4. You might not actually need your hormones tested. Questions around hormone testing is one of the most common reasons people come to see me. They are experiencing symptoms they believe are related to their hormones and so the next logical question is whether they should have bloodwork done to test their hormones. The answer to this is very dependent on what the issue is. Before doing any bloodwork, we always need to ask the question – will the results of this test change the treatment we do?
There are some instances, such as with fertility or irregular periods, where testing reproductive hormones like estrogen, progesterone, LH and FSH can be helpful. Bloodwork can help us get a diagnosis and/or understand what is happening, and this will change our treatment plan.
There are other instances, such as PMS, where testing your reproductive hormones is unlikely to give information that is useful or that would change the treatment plan.
There are other hormones, such as thyroid hormones or fasting insulin, that can often give very useful information. Testing other markers such as iron or vitamin D is often very useful as well – they are not hormones, but they have a significant impact on hormone function.
5. Birth control does not “regulate” or “fix” hormonal problems. If you have a hormonal problem like acne or painful periods, and you take birth control and your symptoms get better, the pill has not fixed anything. Instead, it is giving a different hormonal signal to override your body’s hormonal system. If you discontinue the pill, your symptoms will likely return unless the underlying issue has been addressed. This does NOT make the pill “bad” – it might still be a good option for you, depending on your goals and values. I simply want people to know and understand that there are other ways to manage those issues. As I’ve said before – our hormones are highly responsive to our lifestyle, and there is also a wide range of evidence-based supplements, herbs and nutrients that can be used to treat hormonal issues.
I hope you learned a little something about hormones here! I’m known for pulling out my laminated graphs and diagrams with patients to help them understand what is happening in their body and what we are working towards. If you feel like you need a little extra help with your hormones, you can book in with one of the naturopathic doctors at Naturally Inclined Health.