Why do Hormone Imbalances Happen?

Hormone imbalance stems from various factors. In fact, symptoms and sensations you might consider normal as an aging woman are actually from broken hormones that can easily be fixed with some lifestyle adjustments.

Here are the main culprits causing hormonal troubles:

Stress

Hormone imbalance is far too common these days. The main culprit is chronic stress, which causes cortisol to spike. Cortisol is the body’s main stress hormone, released when you’re in a fight with your boyfriend, or under a deadline at work. Cortisol’s job is to raise blood pressure (so you can run) blood sugar (to power your muscles,) and modulate your immune system. The problem is that it backfires if you’re under chronic stress. It becomes poison, causing you to grow belly fat, deplete your happy brain chemicals like serotonin, and rob you of sleep. The problem is that most of us run around stressed all the time. All those stress hormones wreak havoc over time, and make you store fat—especially in your belly. High cortisol is also linked to depression, food addiction, and sugar cravings, so that you overeat the wrong foods like cookies and processed foods. High cortisol comes loaded with other misfiring hormones, particularly problems with estrogen, insulin and thyroid.

Aging

With age, both men and women make less testosterone, leading to more fat deposits at the breasts, hips, and buttocks. Women produce less estrogen, which normally protects the hair follicles and skin–and reduces appetite. Lower levels of estrogen and testosterone may weaken your bones and your sex drive, and furthermore, lower estrogen-to-testosterone ratios may trigger hair loss and heart disease. Unfortunately, your thyroid gland slows down and, along with it, your metabolism, so the bathroom scale climbs a few pounds per year (or even per month). You get cold more easily. Your cells become increasingly insensitive to the hormone insulin, which leads to rising blood sugar in the morning. As a result of higher blood sugar, you may feel foggier and experience stronger cravings for carbs, then notice more skin wrinkling along with an older-looking facial appearance. The key point is that the right food, sleep, exercise, and support for detoxification can reverse many hormone problems associated with aging.

Food

Processed food can cause inflammation by including ingredients that cause intolerance. The biggest offenders are gluten, grains, and dairy. For me, they cause inflammatory weight gain for me, confirmed by the results from my elimination/provocation diet and lab testing that shows I’m intolerant of gluten and dairy. They cause a frat party in my gut by poking holes in the lining, so I need to avoid them. Grains in particular are known to carry mold toxins, and one in four people are sensitive to these toxins, which can cause weight loss resistance and brain symptoms like fog, memory issues, and pain. These offenders cause hormones to get disrupted, mainly setting off insulin and the thyroid. In addition, too much meat and alcohol can disrupt the hormones, too. The best and easiest way to improve your diet is to aim for a plate that’s mostly vegetables. I aim for 1-2 pounds of vegetables daily. When you eat more foods that detoxify your body, such as cruciferous vegetables, fruits, and nuts, you turn on nutrigenomic pathways, or the interactions between your individual genetic makeup and dietary components that result in modulation of genetic expression. eat mostly plant-based food, with animal-based food as a condiment, and choose anti-inflammatory forms of protein and dairy.

Exercise

While exercise is an essential part of managing health and balancing your hormones, it can also throw them further out of whack if not managed properly. Some exercises, like running and spinning, place so much stress on the body that cortisol shoots sky-high. My advice is to stop exercising so hard in an obsessive desire to burn calories, and start exercising smarter. Practice yoga, meditation, or guided visualization several times a week. Add burst training, also known as “interval training,” to your routine. Burst training involves short periods of high intensity exercise with moderate-level exercise as recovery. It is incredibly efficient and comes without the cortisol-raising side effect of a long run. Not only that, but it is incredibly effective at raising growth hormone.

Toxins

There many artificial chemicals that you are exposed to in your daily life, such as plastics, that act as endocrine disruptors by throwing off the natural synergy of your hormones, particularly causing high estrogen. Known as xenoestrogens, there products have a structure similar to real estrogen and act falsely like estrogen in your body. Xenoestrogens hijack your natural hormones and have reproductive and developmental consequences. In a typical day, we are exposed to more than seven hundred xenoestrogens and other endocrine disruptors in toothpaste, deodorant, sunscreen, food preservatives, the lining of food cans, many kinds of plastics, polyvinyl flooring and wall coverings, wall-to-wall carpeting (a carcinogen magnet), high VOC paints, stains and sealants, and poor indoor air quality as a result of insufficient ventilation.

What are 5-6 physical signs of a hormonal imbalance, with a brief explanation for each?

If I had to pick the s most common, I’d go with these:

  • Weight gain–a sign of excess cortisol (the main stress hormone), too much estrogen relative to progesterone, and low thyroid function. Each leads to fatty deposits at different places: cortisol at the belly, excess estrogen at the hips, and thyroid all over.
  • Hair loss–a sign that your thyroid is off, particularly from the head, eyelashes, and outer third of the brows
  • Low sex drive–about 70 percent of low libido is hormonal, related to the crosstalk between testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, thyroid, and cortisol.
  • Belly fat–high cortisol and insulin block make you deposit fat preferentially at your waist
  • Cold hands and feet, slow transit time–low thyroid function diverts resources away from nonessential activities like thermogenesis (heat production and fat burning). It can also make you experience sluggish digestion, fewer bowel movements, and constipation.
  • Moodiness and anxiety–when the control system for your hormones is off, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, you can feel anxious, depressed, or a combination of the two. Half of people with depression have high cortisol.

Hormones drive what you’re interested in — they influence emotion, brain chemicals, behavior, the immune system, and how you turn food into fuel. When your hormones are in balance, neither too high nor too low, you look and feel your best. But when they are imbalanced, they become like bullies in school, making your life miserable with a range of symptoms, including fatigue, sugar cravings, weight loss resistance, bloating, belly fat, trouble sleeping, anxiety or irritability, and constant stress. You can feel lethargic, irritable, weepy, grumpy, unappreciated, anxious, and depressed. The message women receive from doctors is that it is normal to feel like this as we age. But the truth is, it’s not normal. You can rebalance your hormones and get back to feeling delicious, vital and genuinely content.

More on hormone imbalances and protocols on how to remedy them in my book, The Hormone Cure

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Sara Gottfried MD About Sara Gottfried MD

Sara Gottfried, MD is the New York Times bestselling author of the new book, Younger: A Breakthrough Program to Reset Your Genes, Reverse Aging, and Turn Back the Clock 10 Years. Her previous New York Times bestsellers are The Hormone Cure and The Hormone Reset Diet. After graduating from Harvard Medical School and MIT, Dr. Gottfried completed her residency at the University of California at San Francisco. She is a board-certified gynecologist who teaches natural hormone balancing in her novel online programs so that women can lose weight, detoxify, and slow down aging. Dr. Gottfried lives in Berkeley, CA with her husband and two daughters.