Happy Hormones, Happy Mind.
Fluctuating moods are normal. Feeling lethargic after a long day, the ever-growing pressures of keeping up with work, family, relationships, health, irritability close to menstruation, and prolonged sadness after a personal loss or trauma are all natural (although perhaps less desirable) shifts in mood. There are thousands of reasons our moods can fluctuate, but what happens when you can’t figure out why you’re feeling down? What happens when your lethargy feels chronic, your irritability continuous and your moods shift from one to the next as though they have a life of their own?
Then it’s time to look a little deeper into the possible root causes. Hormonal imbalance in all genders, a condition that comes up often in clinical practice, counts malaise and mood swings as common symptoms. Such imbalances often go undetected in conventional medical care, yet feature high on our list of suspects in functional care.
In this article, we’ll discuss some effective actions you can take to help balance your hormones and get your life back on track.
Common Reasons Hormones Fall Out of Balance
Maintaining the delicate balance of hormones is key to optimal health and longevity, and even a slight imbalance can cause undesirable side effects. Modern life is rife with hormone disruptors that can contribute to hormonal imbalances that in turn often lead to mood fluctuations. Here are some of the most common factors that can affect hormonal balance:
- Stress: The hormone cortisol is released into our system when we experience stress. If that stress continues over the long term without significant times of rest it can exacerbate health issues, particularly anxiety and depression, and cause an imbalance in hormone production in the body.
- Nutrition: Nutrient deficiencies due to digestive issues or a diet that is high in processed foods and/or low in nutrients can disrupt the body’s ability to build hormones and maintain balance.
- Weight Gain: Stubborn weight gain is one of the more common signs of a hormonal imbalance, potentially being eventually attributed to thyroid imbalance, PCOS or perimenopause. However, excess weight in itself can contribute to an imbalance as visceral fat reduces the body’s sensitivity to insulin and may also contribute to high estrogen levels.
- Menopause & Perimenopause: A decrease in estrogen levels as women get older can disrupt testosterone and progesterone levels, affecting the entire body. Hot flashes, sleepless nights, mood swings and anxiety are some of the most common symptoms of a hormonal imbalance experienced during menopause.
- Pharmaceuticals: It is well known that steroids and opioids have the potential to disrupt hormones, causing such symptoms as testicle shrinkage in men and male pattern baldness in women. The birth control pill, HRT and fertility meds are also candidates, as synthetic hormones have been known to bind to the wrong receptors, bringing on an imbalance.
Manage Stress to Help Balance Your Hormones & Your Mood
Managing your stress levels is one of the most important things you can do to support your mood as well as your hormonal balance and break the cycle. The following key factors have been shown to make a difference in our ability to be more emotionally balanced and to adapt better to the stressors in our lives:
Just like the health of your teeth is dependent on good oral hygiene, the quality of your sleep is dependent on good sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene, at its core, is the sum of behavioural and environmental factors that promote regular, good sleep where you wake up feeling refreshed every morning. Here are our suggestions for sleep hygiene:
- Create a nightly routine and stick to it
- Go to bed at the same time every night
- Keep your bedroom quiet, dark and cool
- No screen time for at least one hour before bed
- Go to sleep on an empty stomach
- Don’t consume caffeine after 12:00 pm
Adopt an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
An anti-inflammatory diet that is nutrient dense, low in sugar, and high in probiotic foods can go far to help manage your stress levels. The links between stress, anxiety, inflammation and the microbiome of your gut are well known. The following suggestions can help keep inflammation and your gut microbiome balanced:
- Eat a diet rich in vegetables, especially dark, leafy greens and low starch carbohydrates like sweet potatoes.
- Enjoy fermented foods such as Kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, and yogurt.
- Reduce consumption of food containing refined sugars and enjoy foods sweetened with maple syrup, honey, blackstrap molasses, monk fruit, or stevia.
- Avoid processed foods.
- Increase your fibre intake, with a focus on whole grains and legumes
- Regularly eat fish or supplement your diet with an omega 3 essential fatty acid supplement.
Regular physical activity helps reduce stress. It stimulates your feel-good endorphins and helps you sleep better at night. It is generally recommended to do 30 minutes of daily, moderate exercise to keep your stress levels in check. This can include anything from a walk in your neighbourhood, to yoga, to playing soccer. What’s most important is that you keep moving and, ideally, you do something that brings joy.
Determining and enforcing clear and consistent boundaries in both our personal and professional lives is particularly important during times of high stress. Setting boundaries around your physical space, your feelings, needs, and responsibilities helps to maintain emotionally safe personal and professional lives, and plan how to respond when your boundaries are encroached upon or broken. Boundaries act as a stress buffer, keeping us from falling into negative-rumination, mood swings, and patterns of abuse.
Mindfulness & Self-Compassion
A regular practice of mindfulness helps build an inner strength that makes us more resilient to stress. A regular practice of self-compassion helps us to not suffer when we don’t meet our own expectations of managing stress. Try journaling about what went well and what was positive at the end of each day. Together, mindfulness and self-compassion are powerful tools that can drastically increase our resilience, reduce our stress levels, and balance our moods.
Get a Hormone Check-Up
If lifestyle changes are proving difficult or are not making the difference you had hoped, working with a natural health practitioner is a good next step towards rebalancing your hormones and your mood. Your functional doctor can perform a number of tests to check your levels of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, cortisol and your thyroid to determine if there is any kind of imbalance. Your practitioner can then guide you through a tailored lifestyle, nutrition and supplement support plan based on your specific results.
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- Dr. Brady