Hormones are the body’s messenger biochemicals. They are essential to ensure that the mechanisms of the body work coherently together. Therefore, it is understandable that a hormone imbalance can cause chaos for health and wellbeing.
Women, in terms of reproductive health, have a much more diverse and complicated hormonal system than men. Female hormone problems go way deeper than just mood swings or period pain. Problems can also include:
- Weight gain and increased appetite
- Fatigue and muscle weakness
- Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness
- Joint pain, stiffness and/or swelling
- Fluctuations in heart rate and rhythm
- Decreased sex drive
- Depression, nervousness, anxiety and irritability
- Thinning hair or fine, brittle hair
- Dry skin.
80% of women will experience hormonal problems
The bad news is that, according to experts, around 80% of women will experience hormonal problems at some point. However, the good news is that a hormone imbalance doesn’t have to be endured with a brave face.
Dr. Aviva Romm from the US is a qualified midwife, herbalist, ecologist, mum, writer and Yale-trained medical doctor. She takes a holistic approach to female health issues. Dr. Romm said, “Hormone problems are so common, we’ve just come to assume they’re par for the course of being women.” She has just written a new book on the subject called Hormone Intelligence. In her view, women worldwide are in the grip of what she calls a hormone epidemic.
Dr. Aviva Romm: women’s health expert and author
Dr. Romm continued, “It doesn’t have to be this way. Taking a holistic approach that includes a hormone-healthy diet, supporting our microbiome health, getting enough sleep and self-repair time can allow us to go from feeling like our hormones are whipping us around to feeling comfortable and confident in our bodies, while bringing our hormones in alignment with our innate hormonal blueprint.”
Here, she identifies five common conditions associated with hormone disturbances:
Irregular menstrual cycle
- Irregular cycles are a possibility if:
- You go less than 26 days or more than 34 days between periods
- Your period lasts more than seven days or less than three
- You have excessively heavy or extremely light periods
- Changes can’t be explained by other factors or continue for more than three consecutive months.
Dr. Romm said, “If you have had an irregular cycle for a long time, there’s a good chance you have an underlying hormone imbalance, or it’s quite possible that you have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis.”
Women who experience this should seek professional advice as, if the changes reflect a problem like PCOS, it is not likely that lifestyle changes alone will alleviate the issue.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
There are many physical, behavioural, emotional and cognitive symptoms that have been attributed to PMS; everything from mood swings to full-blown depression, and from insomnia to sleeping too much, while irritability has become something of a patronising cliche.
While there is still much to be learned about the physiological/emotional nexus of the condition, Dr. Romm believes that hormone imbalances play a key role. She said, “What we do know is that many factors have been shown to increase a woman’s risk of having PMS, nutritional, lifestyle and other approaches have been proven to reduce or stop it.”
Many women who are prone to migraines also experience menstrual migraines, that take effect during menstruation. Some women only experience the menstrual type. These are related to the drop in the hormone, oestrogen, that takes place before a period. Dr. Romm explained, “Compared with non-menstrual migraines, the menstrual type tends to be more severe, lasts longer and are less responsive to usual acute medication therapies.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is thought to affect around 10% of women of childbearing age, although up to half may be undiagnosed.
It is caused by a hormone imbalance where testosterone, the male sex hormone that is also present in females, increases in the circulation. This causes symptoms such as weight gain, irregular periods, fertility problems, acne, hair loss and hair growth in unwanted places.
Here, again, Dr. Romm stresses the seriousness of the issue and suggests that a first port of call for those suffering from symptoms is a visit to a medical professional. Dr. Romm stressed, “It’s a big deal, not to be glossed over or treated simply with a pharmaceutical.”
This is another condition that is under-diagnosed. It occurs when tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus, the endometrium can grow on the outside, often on the ovaries, bowel or pelvis lining.
It is triggered by the menstrual cycle from when it starts at puberty and can cause chronic pain and internal scarring as well as fertility problems. It comes with hormone problems and can have far-reaching effects on the immune function as well. Dr. Romm said, “Doctors are missing the diagnosis so often and in many women for so many years, when catching it early can help prevent and reverse damage,”
As well as taking medical advice from a qualified health professional, Dr. Romm suggests there are three additional things you can try:
Try the Hormonal Intelligence diet
Dr. Romm suggested, “What you eat or don’t has a profound effect on your hormonal health.” She believes women can balance their hormones by eating:
- One serving of protein (poultry, low-mercury fish, eggs, legumes) per day
- A healthy fat (like avocado/olive oil/ghee) rather than butter or margarine
- Two servings of vegetables at every meal (up to eight servings per day)
- Two servings of fruit per day
- One to two servings of slow carbs (like grains) per day
- A handful of nuts/seeds.
Reset your body clock
Irregular and low-quality sleep can lead to disturbances of the internal body clock, which keeps hormones synchronised.
Dr. Romm said, “Your female hormonal physiology is deeply entrained to your circadian timing system.”
To reset your clock, aim for at least seven hours of good quality sleep each night by going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time each day. You can also enhance this process by avoiding using electronic devices like mobiles, tablets and computers first thing in the morning and just before bed. You should also get as much natural daylight as possible during the day and eat healthily and at consistent times.
Manage your stress
Dr. Romm said, “Even relatively short stretches of stress can impact your sex hormones and cycles. The latest research on stress shows powerful links to irregular periods, menstrual pain, PMS, endometriosis, fertility challenges, PCOS and more. We have to take a radical, proactive stand in favour of our health by getting out of a chronic stress mindset and into one that intentionally invites inner calm and a slower, more rhythmic, natural pace of life,”
Paying attention to your inner landscape is important. This is achieved by asking yourself how you feel, then trying to relax through mindfulness, having a bath, yoga, dancing, or anything else that calms you down. Dr. Romm recommends, “If you want to bring hormone health back into your life, reducing stress has got to be a commitment.”
To share her ideas so that more women can benefit she has written a book, ‘Hormonal Intelligence: The Complete Guide to Calming Hormone Chaos and Restoring Your Body’s Natural Blueprint for Well-Being’ where she covers all these topics and much more. Dr. Romm concluded, “Our hormones are natural, feeling miserable is not.”