Shifting the Balance

How to recognize, naturally treat hormonal imbalances

By Brooke Stacia Demott

We live in an age of options.

For every medical condition, there are hundreds of traditional, natural, holistic and even spiritual solutions offered at the touch of a screen. Navigating the landscape of treatment options can be overwhelming. Some conditions, like hormonal imbalances, are complex, and thankfully, can be addressed in a variety of effective ways.

Signs of premature aging, excess weight that doesn’t respond to diet and exercise, or loss of libido at a young age can be an indication that your hormones are out of whack.

What are hormones?

Hormones are the body’s chemical messengers and are part of the endocrine system. Endocrine glands make hormones, which travel through the bloodstream to tissues and organs, and control most of our body’s major systems, according to The Endocrine Society.

So, our hormones are like little messengers sent by a director to a system of operators. If the messengers get the instructions wrong, often, the operation goes haywire.

To help our bodies get the message straight, we need to manage the glands responsible for hormone production. The key is discovering what’s causing symptoms.

Usually, when we’re talking about hormonal imbalances, the culprits are one of these four major players — estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and thyroid.

• Estrogen is produced in the ovaries and to a lesser extent, in the adrenal gland. It’s the primary female sex hormone responsible for ovulation, breast development, and mood regulation.

Ordinarily, men produce a low amount of estrogen. However, fat cells, (particularly in the mid-section) create what’s called an aromatase reaction which increases estrogen in women and converts testosterone to estrogen in men.

The more fat cells you have, the more estrogen your body makes. And, the more estrogen your body makes, the more fat cells you’ll have. It’s a relentless cycle.

• Progesterone creates a positive environment in utero for childbearing. In fact, endometrial progesterone levels are 200 times higher in fertile women versus those who habitually miscarry, according to the International Society of Gynecological Endocrinology.

Low progesterone is heavily linked to infertility. Additionally, a deficiency also contributes to premature aging and the development of intrusive ovarian cysts.

• Testosterone, the primary male hormone, is produced in far larger quantities in men than women. It’s responsible for producing sperm, deep voices, muscle and bone mass, and hair growth, (particularly facial hair.)

• Thyroid hormones are composed primarily of iodine, and work to regulate metabolism. When you have too much thyroid hormone, Grave’s disease/ hyperthyroid conditions can occur; too little, and you’ll be at risk for hypothyroidism, responsible for robbing energy and adding unwanted weight.

What causes imbalances?

— Dietary deficiencies: For instance, your thyroid requires iodine to function properly. In the Western world, we don’t have many bio-available — or easily absorbed — sources of iodine in our regular diet. Other than iodized salt — oft rejected for sea salt these days, which contains no iodine — there aren’t any potent sources of iodine in our regular diets.

“Iodized salt is now the main source of iodine in the American diet, but only about 20 percent of the salt Americans eat contains the micronutrient,” said Purnendu Dasgupta, a chemistry professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. Dasgupta and colleagues recently tested 88 samples of iodized salt and found that 47 of them, or 53 percent, did not meet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recommendations for iodine levels. His conclusion? Far more Americans are at risk for iodine deficiency these days.

In many Asian counties, however, where diets are comprised of high amounts of kelp and seafood-rich sources of iodine, populations enjoy the lowest incidences of thyroid problems in the world.

Studies indicate increased nascent iodine consumption, an easily purchased liquid supplement, can help balance the thyroid hormones naturally.

— Age: There is a natural decline in the production of sex hormones that regulate reproductive cycles and contribute to youthful appearance as we age. Unfortunately, discomfort and embarrassment can cause people to utilize side-effect-laden synthetic hormone replacement therapy for relief.

— Lifestyle: Commercial meats farmed with high doses of hormones can have disastrous effects on your body’s hormone regulation.

A lack of regular exercise seriously impairs the endocrine system as well.

ID your symptoms

How do you know if you have a hormonal imbalance?

• Identify your symptoms. Suppose you’re a woman between ages 40-50. You’ve got thinning hair, fatigue, weight gain, and dwindling sex drive. These symptoms may indicate estrogen dominance, low progesterone, or a combination of the two.

A man aged 40-50, with the same symptoms, however, is more likely suffering from low testosterone.

• Get tested. Lab tests at a hospital can be expensive, but saliva or blood home-test kits are accurate and economical. Find tests that can help expose issues. In these cases, the woman would want a test that would look at estradiol (the most prominent form of estrogen) and progesterone levels; the man would need a test to check his testosterone only.

If your problem is weight management, you’ll want a test that also checks thyroid and cortisol levels. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is released in response to stress and low blood-glucose concentration.

Even if you aren’t sure what’s wrong, a basic hormone panel can tell you a lot.

• Move forward with treatment. It’s important to know the dangers of hormone replacement therapy and the safer, equally effective natural alternatives.

Malika Iton, the newest certified nurse midwife at Oswego County OB-GYN, helps us to understand.

“Part of the concern with oral preps, birth control specifically, is the link between hormonal birth control and breast cancer once women are past a certain age,” Iton said. “Hormone replacement therapy doesn’t have as much research, but age and synthetic hormone seems to increase breast cancer risk.”

Iton said she sees more hormonal imbalances in older women.

“It tends to be self-limiting, often associated with menopause. Some people are lucky; it hits fast and boom, then you’re on the other side. But for some people, it’s drawn out, and they want options for relief,” she said.

Are natural preparations effective to balance sex hormones?

“I think they certainly are viable and we are always looking for viable options for our patients who choose not to use synthetic hormones,” Iton said.

Those viable options can be found in the form of bio-identical natural progesterone or estrogen creams, and they work wonders toward balancing the estrogen-to-progesterone ratio in a woman’s body, she noted.

“Bio-identical” means the hormone in the cream looks identical to the hormone in your body. They report no side effects, can be purchased without a prescription, and since it is absorbed by the skin, lower doses are required for effective results, Iton said.

Bio-identical testosterone creams are also available to men looking to offset a deficiency.

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