A hormone is a molecule that helps with regulating important processes in your body. Hormones are usually made in one part of the body, and they move through the bloodstream and act on receptors in different organs and your brain.The hormones in your body all work together to keep you healthy and happy. There are many complex pathways of hormones interacting with each other, and an imbalance in one hormone can lead to imbalances in others. Some of the more well-known hormones are described here.
Cortisol & Adrenal Fatigue
Cortisol is the primary stress hormone in your body. Produced by the adrenal glands, cortisol is a potent stimulant and immune system suppressor. Over time, when people are under stress that is beyond their body’s ability to cope, something called adrenal fatigue can occur.
Adrenal fatigue is one of the more common and significant things that naturopathic doctors treat. Like digestive health, your adrenal health is essential for your whole body to be able to function and heal. Most people have felt at least some level of burnout after working too hard: if this becomes the norm, you might have adrenal fatigue. It occurs in stages:
- Stage 1 – Your body produces too much cortisol in response to constant stress. This is often called the “tired but wired” stage, where you feel physically exhausted but have trouble sleeping or slowing down.
- Stage 2 – After time, the adrenal glands are unable to keep up with the demands of producing so much cortisol, and less cortisol is produced. This results in feeling tired all the time, and might include frequent infections or low mood.
- Stage 3 – This is the total burnout stage. Your body no longer produces enough cortisol to function properly. You’ll feel completely exhausted, and other hormone pathways might be affected. This can include thyroid hormones and sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
Because cortisol is a precursor to sex hormones, when there isn’t enough of it around, your body can’t make enough sex hormones either. Sex hormones play a bigger role than just sex, and a lack of them can result in depression, weight gain, and infertility. Treating your stress and revitalizing adrenal glands will help with all the other systems.
Testosterone is the main male sex hormone. It’s normal for men to have a decline in testosterone levels with age, but sometimes the levels drop sooner than they should. This seems to be increasingly common. Some of the warning signs of low testosterone levels include depression, weight gain, decreased sex drive, and fatigue. There are many factors that play into men’s health, and many natural approaches to supporting men in being healthy.
Estrogen & Progesterone
Estrogen and progesterone are the two main female sex hormones, produced by the ovaries. In a healthy woman, these two hormones balance each other out. Estrogen helps the uterine lining develop and is important for ovulation. Estrogen levels normally peak just before ovulation, and then drop off in the second half of a woman’s cycle.
Progesterone maintains the uterine lining and is necessary for embryo development. Normally, progesterone levels start to rise just before ovulation, and peak around day 21. If a woman does not become pregnant, progesterone levels fall, the woman has her period, and the cycle begins again.
It is common to see relatively high levels of estrogen and low levels of progesterone. This is called estrogen dominance, and might show up as headaches, anxiety, food cravings, weight gain, and PMS.
The thyroid gland is essential in regulating your metabolism and energy levels. There are four main thyroid hormones: TSH, T3, T4, and rT3, and you need to have proper levels of all of these. You can read more about the thyroid and conditions that affect it here.
Naturopathic Approaches to Hormone Management
Naturopathic medicine has many tools to help with hormone management. Healthy levels of good fats and cholesterol in your diet provides your body with the building blocks it needs to synthesize hormones. Supplementing with vitamins and minerals that work in different metabolic pathways helps various hormones get converted into their active forms, meaning you get more energy, less PMS, and greater overall health.
Herbal medicine is an excellent way to help balance hormones of all kinds. Herbs like chaste tree and black cohosh are great for female hormone balancing, and herbs like saw palmetto and nettle for male hormones. Adrenal hormones can be supported with withania and licorice root, and thyroid hormones with iodine-rich seaweed.
With hormone problems, there is often an imbalance of two hormones that would normally balance each other out – like estrogen and progesterone. Acupuncture can be a great adjunct to a hormone regulating protocol, because it works to balance whatever is out of balance in the body.
Want to see for yourself how naturopathic medicine can help with your hormones? Book an appointment with Dr. Emily Pratt ND now.