Author: Dr. Laurel Ash ND
Inner health and balance are as complex as the various sections of an orchestra playing in perfect harmony. What organizes all these various parts contributing to the melodiousness of the overall song of optimal wellness?
Hormones are the conductors of the orchestra of inner balance within the body, directing vast physiologic processes into ideal alignment.
Hormones influence mood, fertility, brain health, metabolic health, bone health, cardiovascular health, and much more. When in balance, hormones manifest healthy skin, hair, and nails.
Nutraceuticals, supplements, and botanicals can enhance the ability of hormones to remain efficient in navigating all body processes. In fact, natural therapies have been utilized traditionally by many civilizations for thousands of years to bolster hormonal health.
Understanding Hormones and Their Functions:
Operating on rhythms that cause their levels to ebb and flow, hormones follow patterns.
Some cycles, such as testosterone in males, may be encapsulated in a single day. For both sexes, thyroid hormone, and cortisol (the stress hormone) rise in the morning and fall throughout the day.
In women, other hormones, such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, operate over month-long cycles.
Menopause, which represents the natural decline in female sex hormones, occurs over decades. The male equivalent is andropause, the natural decline in testosterone around middle age.
These hormone cycles can unfortunately fall into disarray, causing hormonal imbalance and bothersome symptoms. Fortunately, it is possible to restore hormonal harmony with the right support.
Common Hormonal Imbalances:
The issues that can arise in the hormonal system can be gender-specific or common to both sexes.
Thyroid: The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped at the front of the throat. It is present in men and women and has important metabolic regulation functions. Human metabolism is responsible for maintaining an ideal core body temperature and burning fuel sources for energy, such as fat or glucose.
Imbalances of the thyroid can include either too much or too little thyroid hormone activity. Too little thyroid hormone, called hypothyroidism, the more common of the two. Women are more prone to thyroid disease.
Hypothyroidism can manifest as weight gain, low body temperature, cold intolerance, hair loss, and depression. Hyperthyroidism has many of the opposite symptoms, including heat intolerance, anxiety, and unintended weight loss.
Some forms of thyroid disease are autoimmune in nature, meaning the immune system attacks and damages the thyroid.
Cortisol: Considered the stress hormone and circadian rhythm hormone, cortisol is released by the adrenal glands. Cortisol is ideally highest in the morning, which promotes wakefulness. Cortisol typically declines throughout the day, readying the body for sleep. The adrenals also secrete cortisol during times of stress, elevating blood pressure and raising blood glucose levels to help the body respond to a threat.
Disturbances in the cortisol rhythm can provoke insomnia, daytime fatigue, anxiety, inability to relax, or a chronically overtaxed nervous system.
Cortisol is also an immune-regulating hormone and disturbances to normal cortisol levels can manifest as weakened immunity and frequent illness.
Testosterone: While typically considered a male hormone, testosterone is also present and essential in women. Testosterone supports libido, muscle mass, energy levels, red blood cell production and blood oxygen levels, and fertility.
Excess testosterone in women can cause infertility, acne, skin and scalp oiliness, and unwanted hair growth. While hair production increases on the face and body, scalp hair tends to thin and shed. Low testosterone in women can manifest as joint pain, low mood, fatigue, and low libido.
Men tend to suffer from issues of low testosterone, which can include fatigue and apathy. Muscle mass diminishes and men struggle with low libido and mood.
Estrogen: The master female hormone, estrogen is the lifeblood of optimal female wellness. Excess or deficient estrogen can cause fertility problems and difficult menses. As estrogen works in tandem with serotonin, the neurotransmitter that promotes positive mood, imbalances of estrogen are common in mood disorders. Estrogen is essential for brain health, bone health, and cardiovascular health.
Men can suffer from estrogen issues, and as estrogen-like chemicals are abundant in plastics, pesticides, and other industrial chemicals it is no wonder that researchers are observing declining sperm counts over the decades.
Excess body weight also tends to drive higher, and obesity tends to drive higher estrogen levels.
Progesterone: Progesterone peaks shortly after a woman ovulates. Progesterone is responsible for preparing the body for a pregnancy. Alongside estrogen, progesterone also enhances cardiovascular and brain health. Progesterone is essential for maintaining a calm mood, balancing estrogen, and restful sleep.
Excess progesterone is not a common issue, however deficient progesterone is. Low progesterone can manifest as infertility, mood issues, insomnia, and relatively high estrogen levels.
Melatonin: Present in both men and women, melatonin is produced in the brain in at night. Low light levels trigger melatonin production. Too little melatonin can deprive the body and brain of deep and restorative sleep.
Melatonin issues are common with the modern phenomenon of blue light emitting devices around us at all times of the day. Televisions, cell phones, tablets, and laptops emit blue light that suppresses melatonin production.
Additionally, melatonin is a potent anti-inflammatory. Perhaps melatonin’s anti-inflammatory activity is why insomnia is associated with a greater risk of metabolic disease, cognitive decline, and chronic health issues.
The Rise of Hormonal Balance Supplements
With all of the assaults on hormonal harmony through our environment, lifestyle choices, and modern stressors, it is no surprise that there is a massive consumer interest in natural hormone support.
The good news is that the options are vast for natural hormone support. The bad news is that it can be a confusing market to navigate in terms of what is effective and high-quality.
Supplements can include botanicals, nutraceuticals (defined as extracts of plant-derived foods), or hormones.
Herbal medicines come from medicinal plants and have been utilized for thousands of years. Growing interest in botanical medicine has given rise to research studies in which the active
components of herbs are investigated for their physiologic effects. Research has allowed the field of botanical medicine to gain legitimacy and standardization.
Nutraceuticals are extracts of food-derived compounds. Active compounds in foods have physiologic effects that can be harnessed to relieve certain hormonal symptoms.
Benefits of Hormonal Balance Supplements
Selenium: The thyroid gland contains the highest concentrations of selenium than any other organ in the body. Selenium promotes thyroid balance by protecting the thyroid from inflammation and damage. Selenium also assists in efficient thyroid hormone production.
Studies have observed that selenium can lower thyroid-damaging antibodies that occur in autoimmune thyroiditis.
Iodine: Iodine is the backbone of the molecular structure of thyroid hormone. Iodine is essential for sufficient thyroid production.
Ashwagandha: This herb is a cortisol-modulating plant. Research studies have shown lower cortisol levels with supplementation of ashwagandha.
Ginseng: In contrast to ashwagandha, ginseng is stimulatory to the adrenals. Ginseng is a good choice for low cortisol output, resulting in fatigue.
Zinc: Zinc is a mineral that is essential for testosterone production. Zinc can be supplemented for healthy testosterone levels and is generally well-tolerated in the correct dosages. Zinc can also modulate the potent androgen DHT which causes hair loss.
Saw Palmetto: Similar to zinc, the herb saw palmetto can reduce high-testosterone symptoms such as acne and hair loss by reducing the activity of the potent androgen DHT.
DHEA: DHEA is a hormone that serves as the mother hormone to testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone. In other words, DHEA can differentiate into testosterone to support higher testosterone levels.
DIM: Diindolylmethane is an extract of cruciferous vegetables. DIM reduces estrogen levels to reduce high-estrogen symptoms.
Red Clover: Red clover belongs to a large class of herbs called phytoestrogenic plants. Active compounds in phytoestrogenic plants mimic estrogen in the body, which can relieve symptoms of suboptimal estrogen levels.
Vitamin C: Ascorbic acid, also known as vitamin C, is effective for boosting low progesterone levels. This is an ideal choice for females wishing to support their fertility or relieve PMS- PMS-associated insomnia and mood changes. Vitamin C has evidence to support it’s effect on raising progesterone.
Chaste Tree Berry: This botanical is a shrub that works by raising progesterone levels. Chaste tree berry has a rich traditional history of being used to support female hormone imbalance.
Melatonin: There are many sleep aides available, however melatonin can be directly supplemented. Melatonin supplementation is ideal for those who have trouble falling asleep. Those who suffer from waking up at night may be suited to other sleep aides.
Choosing the Right Supplement for Your Needs
All botanical and supplement choices should be cleared by the guidance of a medical professional. Even natural medicines can interact with medications or be unsuitable for certain medical conditions.
There are many factors that are involved with starting a supplement, including: dose, duration of therapy, frequency of dosing, and more. All of these factors depend on your individual circumstances and should be discussed under the guidance of a medical professional.
Additionally, proper medical guidance can help you avoid the pitfalls of false claims in the supplement market. Many supplement brands are not undergoing third-party testing for quality and purity. Your medical professional will know how to identify quality products.
Integrating Supplements with a Healthy Lifestyle
To improve your chance of success on your hormone-balancing journey, understand that you cannot out-supplement a suboptimal diet or lifestyle choices that created the hormonal imbalance in the first place.
Supplements are supportive, not miraculous.
Hormonal harmony depends on vital nutrients and vitamins. Similar to ingredients needed in a recipe, your hormones need certain nutrients to be produced efficiently. A balanced and well-rounded diet is the foundation of hormone health.
Chronic stress is another factor that will sabotage hormonal wellness. Lean into healthy coping strategies and outlets for your stress to set the stage for solid hormones.
Lack of sufficient quality sleep is a form of stress on the body. Imbalances of melatonin and cortisol can cascade into other hormonal problems. Prioritize a sleep routine that includes a low-light environment, relaxing activities, and eliminating the use of blue-light emitting devices an hour before bed.
- Hormones are vital orchestrators of many body processes. Hormones, when out of balance, can lead to a long list of various symptoms. Fortunately, natural medicines and supplements can provide support.
- A healthy lifestyle and diet is the foundation of hormone health. While supplements are supportive, they cannot overcome unhealthy diet and lifestyle choices.
- All supplements should only be initiated under the guidance of a medical professional. Natural substances can interact with medications, and other supplements and occasionally be unsafe for certain medical conditions.