By Dr. Ashley Olberg
Every woman has female sex hormones, and they can get out of balance at any time in our life cycle. Many women think this is only an issue during menopause, but actually finding hormonal balance can be difficult at any time. High amounts of stress, inflammation, chemicals and GMOs in our food, and big changes to our environment all contribute to hormone issues. I hypothesize that this is just the beginning of our hormones becoming more and more out of balance. It’s a complicated issue, with multiple factors and many women struggle to talk about it or to seek out help. I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone, and there are more options than you realize.
Child Bearing Years
I am seeing more hormonal imbalance due to the amount of stress that everyone is under. Hormones getting out of balance is usually due to other disturbances throughout the body. When we experience stress we can have an increase in inflammation, which affects production of all hormones in the body. Child birth also causes huge shifts in hormones, proper estrogen levels are required for healing.
Symptoms of imbalanced sex hormone levels are:
Weight changes, fatigue, mood irregularity, irregular periods and cycles, changes in the amount of bleeding during a period, weight changes, fatigue, insomnia, headaches, osteoporosis, vaginal dryness, acne, memory fog, and poor healing.
This transition time is from the first period irregularities until the last period as your hormone levels decrease. Symptoms can include irregular period, changes in lubrication, fatigue, hot flashes, breast tenderness and difficulty sleeping. Adrenal fatigue can worsen your perimenopausal symptoms. It is important to take care of the rest of your body, check in with your doctor to make sure all of your systems are healthy and supported.
Hormonal imbalance is very common during menopause. Studies show that the more a woman is supported once moving into menopause, creating more hormonal balance for her, the better the quality of life is. We can have better cardiovascular health, prevent osteoporosis, increase mood, decrease fatigue, increase focus and cognition, decrease sexual dysfunction, and increase quality of sleep.
Testing Hormone Levels
There is no perfect test for hormone levels. Neither blood, urine, or saliva gives us an exact hormone level. However, it still provides us with a good baseline for where your hormones are at. Matching lab results with symptoms is imperative for getting the full picture, resulting in better outcomes. The normal range of hormones for women and men is broad, that is because different bodies feel best at different hormone levels. It’s important to find a provider that understands hormones and is willing to create a custom hormone treatment plan for you.
There are many different treatments for hormone balance and these should be tailored to you.
Some of these options include detox, lifestyle management, herbs, eating only organic and non-GMO foods, stress management, immune support, acupuncture, emotional support and therapy, and bioidentical hormone therapy.
There are different herbal options to help restore hormones. Maca is a South American herb that helps to support the adrenals, thyroid, and sex hormones. I believe that it works well due to the way it supports multiple systems. Vitex is another wonderful herb that can help balance estrogen and progesterone levels, as well as regulate prolactin levels. This herb is often used for decreasing PMS symptoms. Skullcap is another herb I like to use, I use this herb to help calm the nervous system and help increase the quality of sleep, as we cannot have hormonal balance without having good quality sleep. Ask a health care provider before beginning any therapy and assistance with safety and dosing. Many ask me if I can help hormone levels with herbs alone, and yes, I have many success stories exclusively using herbs to alleviate symptoms. So why offer bioidentical hormone options as well?
BioIdentical Hormone Replacement Therapy, or BHRT, is a wonderful option for those suffering symptoms of imbalance. BHRT is a safe and effective therapy when used appropriately by a professional. BHRT is not a fit for every person and there are risk factors that can make this therapy not suited for you. BHRT is different than traditional hormone therapy as it is identical to the hormones that our bodies produce naturally. They can be made into creams, injections, pills, patches, and gels. There are times when I recommend BHRT over herbs due to needing to heal tissue quickly, such as with atrophy that is occurring vaginally due to a lack of estrogen. In this case, an estrogen or DHEA cream can help to stop or in some cases reverse any tissue change that has occurred and can restore health and function to the tissue. BHRT is used to decrease symptoms quickly while we do all of the ground work to balance the rest of the body. I can also use BHRT to increase bone density in those that have osteoporosis (weak and brittle bones). Other women have found BHRT gave them significantly more energy, tone of the muscle, libido, and overall significant increase in quality of life.
Every woman’s body is different and you may prefer to use herbs instead or BHRT, or even a combination of both to find the right balance and best results. Make sure to clearly communicate your goals and preferences with your healthcare providers so that together you can safely and effectively manage your hormones.
Dr. Ashley Olberg is a naturopathic doctor at Vital Functional Medicine. She uses a variety of therapies to help patients improve their health, and works with conditions including hormone imbalance, thyroid disorders, autoimmune disease as well as stomach and digestion issues. You can contact her online at YourHealthIsVital.com or call 530-715-2115.