Do your female patients often complain of fatigue, moodiness, insomnia, anxiety and inexplicable weight gain?
Do they have physical and emotional symptoms that simply won’t budge? If so, they may be one of the millions of women struggling with a common but burdensome problem: hormone imbalance.
Women are rarely told about the broad range of effects their hormones can have on their bodies, minds and spirits, even though the vast majority of women experience hormonal imbalances at some point in their lives. The natural hormone balance they typically enjoy in their 20s often begins to shift in their 30s with gradually changing hormones, and this can continue through their 40s and beyond.
These changes can radically affect women’s health, energy, sexuality, mental outlook and emotional equilibrium. In addition to low energy and unpredictable mood swings, symptoms can include low libido, irritability, premature aging, digestive issues, and much more. Yet many conventionally trained physicians overlook key hormone imbalances, or have little to offer except drugs and synthetic hormones.
But increased energy, an uplifted sex drive, better sleep and immunity, smoother moods and an overall enhanced passion for life are within their power. Here’s how hormones play an enormous role in a woman’s life—and how they can be nurtured naturally.
Hormone management: Gain knowledge
Hormones course throughout bodily tissues, exerting a profound influence on health, energy, thoughts, emotions, behavior and sexuality. Glands such as the adrenal and thyroid release these seemingly magical chemicals, often having potent effects on parts of the anatomy far from their origins. As they reach their target destinations, the chemical messages they deliver allow an individual to feel grounded, revitalized, empowered, confident, compassionate, relaxed, youthful and enthused about life.
An elaborate performance takes place every day in the body as these key hormonal players work together to help create overall health. To extend the metaphor, hormones can be likened to sections of an orchestra—strings, brass, woodwinds, and percussion—each playing independently yet blended in concert with the others.
When a woman has optimal well-being and healthy, balanced hormones, they form a well-orchestrated symphony, with all the performers beautifully synchronized. But if the key players are imbalanced, or if one is deficient or excessive, the results can range from minor dissonance to major hormonal cacophony.
The more your patients know about the chief members in their hormonal ensemble, the more effectively they’ll be able to guide them into a melodious, youthful balance. Encouraging your patients to familiarize themselves with six of their most important hormones—estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, cortisol, thyroid hormone, and DHEA—will arm them with the knowledge they need to discern whether one is lacking or if another is in excess.
A surplus of estrogen, for example, can result in exacerbated premenstrual symptoms, heavy menstrual flow, uterine fibroid tumors, breast or ovarian cysts, and a higher risk of estrogen-related cancers. Meanwhile, insufficient DHEA—a hormone produced mainly in the adrenal glands—may manifest in poor memory function, frequent exhaustion, and a lowered sex drive.
Caffeine, alcohol, sugar, processed foods, GMOs—all can wreak havoc on hormones, from raising cortisol to impairing the function of ovaries and the critical hormones they produce. In addition to eating organic whenever possible—pesticides and other toxins can further disrupt hormone balance—and loading one’s plate with fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and high-fiber complex carbs, you may want to advise your patients to increase their consumption of omega-3s.
Found in fatty fish such as sardines, cod and salmon, as well as in flaxseeds, walnuts, eggs, pumpkin seeds and more, omega-3s supply the essential fatty acids the body is incapable of making on its own. Omega-3s not only support cognitive and joint health but also encourage regular cycles, diminished menopausal symptoms, mood stabilization and relief from menstrual pain.
Address adrenal health
If your patient is experiencing unrelenting stress over an extended period of time and their energy is chronically depleted, they may have adrenal fatigue, which you may know is the condition of one’s adrenal glands being “burned out” and unable to correctly perform their normal functions. Because the adrenals play a fundamental role in hormone function and balance, with far-reaching consequences on one’s energy and behavior, encouraging a lifestyle that supports adrenal health can take a patient from frazzled and fatigued to jazzed and inspired.
Support adrenal health
The best way to begin supporting adrenal function is with a healthy diet and stress-reducing lifestyle choices (which can also address the deficiency or excess of two of those aforementioned hormones: cortisol and DHEA). Some stress is necessary—it gives urgency to life, and provides the determination a person needs to complete tasks, while other forms of stress are simply unavoidable.
But persistent negative stress—the sort of stress related to relationship complications, looming deadlines, illness and more—takes a tremendous toll on one’s health.
If your patient pushes herself nonstop, without sufficient exercise, rest and mental respites, she may not only find herself further from her goals but also generating the excessive cortisol output that can lead to adrenal fatigue (and the exhaustion, insomnia, decreased ability to surmount life’s challenges, and anxiety that tend to arrive with it).
Adrenal health can further be supported by supplementing the diet with vitamin C, pantothenic acid (also known as B5), phosphatidylserine, Siberian ginseng, and Rhodiola rosea—an adaptogenic herb that’s long been used to enhance energy and physical endurance by affecting hormones and neurotransmitters released in response to stress.
Your patients can unify the players in their hormonal performance, and set the tempo, direct the dynamics, articulate the expression, and shape the sound of their ensemble. Every lifestyle decision, dietary change and nutritional supplement they choose can be a deliberate gesture to cue their performers to greater harmony; and helping them achieve this ideal balance is priceless.
Laurie Steelsmith, ND, LAc, is a passionate spokesperson for educating and empowering women better health through natural medicines and practices that work with the body’s own healing processes. She is the naturopathic medical advisor to Daily Wellness Company, and the coauthor of three books; her latest being Growing Younger Every Day. She is also the medical director of Steelsmith Natural Health Center in Honolulu. She can be contacted through DrSteelsmith.com.