If you haven’t read Parts 1 & 2 of this series, you can catch up with those here and here. In this Part 3 on Hormone Basics, I’m going to talk about strategies to support hormone balance. Before I do, let’s explore a little deeper why hormone balance is so crucial to your health.
Although all of the various parts of your endocrine system are important, the core of your overall health and the stability of your entire metabolic system rest upon the balance of your thyroid, adrenal, and sex (ovaries and testes) glands. Think of these three glands like the legs of a three-legged stool. If one of these legs (endocrine glands) becomes too long (overactive) or too short (underactive) the stool (your health) becomes wobbly, making it very difficult for you to remain balanced and function effectively. Once things are out of balance, a cascade of changes happens in your body and it often looks something like this: “everyday” stress becomes overwhelming and your emotions swing all over the place. Your mental health plummets and your energy follows suit while brain fog sets in hard. Pretty soon your sleep is erratic and your mid-section starts getting thicker and thicker. As upsetting as all of this is, add in some environmental toxins and other physical stressors and suddenly you may be facing more serious chronic issues like depression, heart disease, infertility, memory loss, osteoporosis, and diabetes. So how do we keep the stool upright and balanced to prevent our health from declining? We focus on the basic foundations of hormone balance by constructing a pyramid of priorities that rebuild the body from the inside out.
What are the foundations of hormone balance? Across the entire endocrine system, balance and function rely on three things: digestive health, blood sugar balance, and liver detoxification. Poor digestion leads to inflammation, malabsorption, and nutrient deficiencies that can shut down either your hormone production or your hormone receptors or both. Unbalanced blood sugar spikes your stress hormone cortisol and triggers not only inflammation and nutrient depletion but also suppresses your immune system, alters your body’s pH levels, feeds bad gut bacteria and stresses your liver, all resulting in not only hormone problems but also serious metabolic disorders. Liver detoxification is the way your body gets rid of used hormones and when it is sluggish hormones can become toxic, build-up and recirculate in your body, leading to hormonal imbalances that can be intolerant even to hormonal therapy. Optimizing each of these will alleviate most if not all of your hormonal dysfunction, but HOW you do it as just as important as whether you do it at all.
Sadly, too often hormone balance is sought through the use of prescriptions and supplements without ever addressing the root cause and tackling the problem with real change. This will not serve you long-term and may even end up putting you at risk for problems much worse than the night sweats that drove you to seek help in the first place. Instead, your focus should be on constructing a pyramid of priorities that rebuild your body’s health. This pyramid looks like this:
Food should be the first priority and always the solid base upon which you build your health pyramid. In fact, the entire pyramid will collapse if your diet is off. For this reason, it is important to make sure that you find the nutrition template that works for YOU. There is a big difference between “eating well” and “eating right.” Eating well results in following superficial, broad-strokes recommendations with no personal context. Sure, sauerkraut may have the potential to put “good” bacteria in the gut, but if YOUR gut doesn’t do well with histamines, you’re just going to end up anxious and itchy. Thus, the focus needs to be on eating right – respecting your body’s reactions to different foods and creating a template that serves your body, not the body of the blogger on Instagram with the perfect looking refrigerator.
Once your diet is well-dialed in, using herbs to optimize your health is the next layer up in your health pyramid. Herbs may look innocent in either their fresh or dried forms, but herbs are like how I used to describe my youngest son – small but mighty. (Sure, he’s 6’2” now, but it applied when he was younger!) Whether it’s bitter herbs like ginger or peppermint to stimulate your digestion, or fragrant herbs like cinnamon or oregano that can help balance your blood sugar, or detoxifying herbs like milk thistle or dandelion that can revive a sluggish liver, herbs are nature’s medicine that along with a proper diet can help you restore your health.
The next and smaller layer in your health pyramid may be built from supplements. While I am not a fan of using supplements in place of diet and lifestyle modifications, sometimes your symptoms from being imbalanced are so significant that your body could use a little short-term assist. Things like enzymes, magnesium, B-vitamins, and ginseng may not only help your digestion, blood sugar and liver but also may help you calm your mind and body while you tackle behavior change.
Finally, at the tippy top as the smallest part of your health pyramid are prescribed medications. In most instances, prescriptions should only be a last resort because there really is NO magic pill for hormonal balance let alone overall health. That being said, depending on your age and hormonal status, bio-identical hormone replacement therapy could be the final missing piece of your health pyramid.
While it may seem daunting to strengthen the foundations of hormonal health by constructing your own health pyramid, resist the urge to just follow “protocols” and wellness dogma. Find and work with a holistic practitioner who is trained to assess you holistically and who will design a plan that meets your bio-individual needs. Not only will you more quickly return to feeling yourself again, but also you will ensure your long-term overall health and wellness. We cannot stop our bodies from getting older, but we can stop them from feeling and looking older! If you’d like some help, please reach out and let’s partner in your journey to balanced health.