As a Naturopath I spend around a third of my clinic hours working with Hormonal Imbalances of some description- Endometriosis, PCOS, PMS, Menopausal Complaints, Low Testosterone etc..
It seems that whatever stage of life you are in, the potential for a hormonal imbalance to be plaguing your health is very real. But one thing I find disturbing, is the increasing number of practitioners and GPs who are simply giving some form of 'hormone replacement' in a bid to help balance them back out- whether it be a form of Contraceptive (hormone based) Pill, the more 'natural' Bio-Identical hormones, or even herbs which target the Hormones directly. Treating the Hormones themselves is like pouring red food colouring onto the tip of the iceberg and calling the whole thing 'pink'- It will remain pink for as long as the surrounding conditions support it- the sea levels, temperature, etc.. But what happens when its' environment changes and the Iceberg either grows or breaks away and turns? All of a sudden its clear that you were only masking the true nature.
The same thing happens when Hormones are treated by 'replacing' the low hormone with something else- you get a Band-Aid effect for a while, and then wonder why a year or two down the track your symptoms all of a sudden seem worse?
Consider that the hormones that most of us know- Estrogen, Progesterone, and Testosterone- are all that tip of the iceberg. In order get to them, the body must go through a series of conversions and processes, and these hormones are your end product. Like I said before, I have found in Clinic that treating these 'end products' is a waste of time, and by finding and addressing the REAL/Underlying drivers we will almost always find a long term solution to the Imbalance. The web of hormones is a massive one, but below are some of the things I look at for my patients with suspected Hormonal issues:
Starting from the very core, (the DNA level), it is important that a person does a thing called "methylate" properly. Methylation is a process that occurs in every cell, and involves the clearance of a toxin called 'homocysteine'. It requires particular nutrients to function- such as B12, B6 and Folate- but it also requires and enzyme Catechol-O Methyltransferase (COMT). COMT is something that we can assess on a gene profile to see if yours functions correctly- Generally speaking, where you find multiple generations of women who have Hormonal Issues, you usually find that the COMT enzyme is malfunctioning. This can be addressed with correct supplementation/support.
Adrenal Fatigue- Our adrenal glands are two tiny, yet fundamental, parts of our hormonal system.. They are what produce Adrenalin and Cortisol to help keep us going and adapting to our environmental stressors. If you are under prolonged/chronic stress (physically or emotionally), it is your Adrenals that keep you hammering through it, but this occurs at the expense of your Progesterone levels. During periods of stress, your body converts Progesterone to Cortisol, basically because when you are stressed you need your 'Stress hormone' and not your 'reproduction hormone'. IN short this is part of the "Fight or Flight" syndrome.
Essentially, by nourishing and supporting the adrenals by improving a person's quality of sleep, diet, and lifestyle, by using herb and relaxation techniques, you will in turn then be supporting the other hormones that come in further down the chain.
Low Thyroid- This one ties in with the adrenals, yet is something that is far too often overlooked. If the Thyroid is not functioning at optimal levels, then it will not have the capacity to send signals to the body to convert hormones down the pathways required. Simple as that.
Diet and Lifestyle- This one is a no-brainer, but I was to mention this because it is still something that isn't addressed enough. In order to actually build hormone, your body requires adequate nutrients such as fats, proteins, B vitamins, Vitamin D,and minerals such as Zinc and Magnesium. Without these on a regular basis you simply will NOT manufacture the hormones you should.
On that note too, there are factors in our diet which will rapidly deplete these nutrients from our body- a diet which is high in sugar, caffeine and/or alcohol can be directly related to an increase in the incidence of Hormonal Imbalances, and this is because in order to metabolise and detoxify them, we need the above nutrients. In order to regain control, these stimulants need to be reduced or eliminated from the diet.
Food Intolerances/Malabsorption - Just backing up the fact that you require nutrients to build hormone, sometimes you may have (on paper) the best diet in the world- but you simply can NOT absorb the vitamins and minerals at the Intestinal level. This can be due to a number of things including food intolerances, pathogenic load, drugs and medications, or even from a 'binding effect' caused by taking to many mineral supplements at once, which compete for absorption.
Any person who walks through our clinic door for the first time will almost always have one, if not more of the above issues going on. So rather than just throwing MORE hormone or herbs onto their already-congested pile and hoping for the best, I always prefer to strip them right back and see what is really happening underneath all the layers. Correct the imbalance at the source.
Of course there is sometimes a need to improve symptoms first, so that a person is relieved from what they are experiencing, but in the long run it is by far more effective to identify the UNDERLYING drivers and create long term relief and balance.
Claire @ Natural Body Lab