Hormone Health 101

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What are hormones?

Hormones have become a bit of a buzzword these days. We often talk about hormones causing different changes in our bodies, but what are hormones and how do they function? Basically, hormones are produced by the endocrine glands and carried through the bloodstream to other parts of the body to deliver chemical messages. Hormones are produced in the adrenal glands, pituitary glands, pancreas, ovaries, and other parts of the body and control literally everything from blood sugar levels, blood pressure, sleep, inflammation, metabolism, fertility, our periods, and more. Literally all of the things.

It is crucial for hormones to be well regulated, or you can experience symptoms of hormonal imbalance. hormonal imbalance symptoms. It is important to know that in order to truly address these issues, you have to consider the WHOLE body. That’s why I take a holistic approach with my clients. The fact is that all our bodily systems are closely connected, and our hormones are linked to ALL of them. When hormones are out of whack, the symptoms they create are your body’s way of telling you it’s not getting the support it needs to function optimally. 

Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance

Since hormones control so many areas of the body, identifying the symptoms of a hormone imbalance are crucial to finding a solution! Any one of those symptoms might be written off but when they occur together and frequently, a hormone imbalance might be to blame.

Many physical and mental symptoms can be attributed to a hormone imbalance including depression, fatigue, and a loss of appetite.

When symptoms start to stack up and have no obvious reason, there’s a good chance you’re looking at a hormone imbalance. This may be caused by outside issues like toxins in the air or in products around you or internally through problems with your thyroid or other hormonal glands!

If one hormone is off balance, all the others can be affected. Some symptoms of hormone imbalance are:

  • Stress
  • Acne Mood swings, anxiety, and depression
  • Change in sex drive
  • Irregular or painful periods
  • Inflammation
  • Chronic bloat
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Migraines

If you experience more than one of these symptoms, especially if they are constant or cyclic, it’s definitely worth taking a self-assessment, like my hormone imbalance quiz available HERE. From there, you can decide to get tested. I offer support for testing inside my Vibrant Woman Course. I always like to say “Test, don’t guess!” This way, you can nail down exactly what hormones are out of whack, and repair them at the root level. 

We’re seeing more and more women with hormone imbalance (more than 50% of women suffer from whacked out hormones!). This is due to our modern lifestyles which are so fast-paced. We’re always on the go, so we eat garbage and we’re stressed out. Also, as women age, they go through so many hormonal shifts in their life – from puberty, pregnancy, postpartum, and menopause which naturally causes hormones to become imbalanced.

Don’t fret though, there are somethings you can do to improve your hormone health so that you can live a balanced, happy, and vibrant life where you show up looking and feeling your best literally every day. Proper nutrition, lifestyle changes, and supplementation are key to this which is why my Vibrant Woman Course uses my proprietary 4-part method to help women find hormone + weight loss harmony. It also includes my Savvy Supplement protocol. The course is basically a step-by-step roadmap for empowering women to take control of their health and live their best lives.

(You can learn more about my 4-part Happy Hormones Method here by watching my free webinar!)

What to Eat for Healthy Hormones (and What to Avoid!)

Hormonal imbalances can have a major impact on your health. A lot of things can alter the delicate balance of your hormones and diet is definitely one of the factors that can do this. Unexplained weight gain, tiredness, bad skin, sleep problems and PMS can all be subtle signs that your hormones aren’t as balanced as they could be. Looking at your diet can be one of the simplest ways to start to balance your hormones and improve hormone health.

Creating a healthy diet is an amazing place to start for helping you to balance your hormones! Feeding your body well can help you lose weight and be healthier in every area of your life including with your hormones.

Pack in the protein

Protein is a really underrated way to balance your hormones, especially insulin and estrogen. Eating protein can decrease levels of ghrelin, the “hunger hormone,” whereas large amounts of carbohydrates and sugar can increase levels of insulin. Both of these can also affect weight gain or loss and the resulting hormonal changes.
Lean meats, fish, eggs and soybeans are all great examples of ways to up your protein intake. Fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel are super smart protein choices as they contain anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids.

Red meats and processed meats are more of a grey area as they can increase inflammation, and this can raise the risk of hormone imbalances that are linked to inflammation, like PCOS and Endometriosis.

Eat carbs and healthy fats too

Alongside protein, you’ll also want to include some complex carbs and healthy fats. These three macronutrients are super important for balancing your hormones. Ideally, try to include protein, carbs and healthy fats every mealtime. For fats, choose olive oil over vegetable oils, for example. Vegetables oils and margarine are full of inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids. Don’t forget to pack your plate with veggies too!

Support your gut with probiotics

If you’re not already eating probiotics, you’re missing out on a super easy way to support hormone health. Probiotics help to reduce inflammation and balance hormone production.

Eat plenty of fiber

Eating lots of fiber isn’t just great for your digestive health. It can also bind to estrogen and help to reduce some of the effects of excess estrogen.

High glycemic foods raise insulin levels

Foods that rank highly on the Glycemic Index increase insulin levels and alter the way that your body uses estrogen. They’re also inflammatory and can raise your levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Refined carbs such as white flours are a big culprit for hormone imbalances, partly due to their inflammatory nature. Eating more low GI foods helps to balance hormones.

Soy can be a problem

If you already have an excess of estrogen, soy can be an issue. It contains some natural estrogens so it stands to raise your levels of this hormone even more. This is good news if you have low estrogen levels but it can be a big problem if your levels are already on the high side due to factors such as contraceptive pills and hormone mimicking toxins from your lifestyle.

Soy contains isoflavones, which can increase the effects of hormones such as estrogen. The end result? You can end up with much higher estrogen levels than you realize, and this can present itself in problems such as heavy periods, bloating, acne, chronic headaches and mood swings.

There’s another problem with non-organic, GMO soy products too. They can often contain a chemical called glyphosate. And guess what? This is another known hormone disruptor. Fermented soy products avoid this, as do non GMO, organic options.

You might find soy to be an issue if you’re a vegan, as many vegan friendly foods are packed with soy and you can easily find yourself eating a lot of it.

If you suspect that your levels are already high, soy may be something you decide to stay clear of completely.

Processed foods can raise estrogen levels

Processed foods are another one to avoid as they can significantly raise estrogen levels. Experts suggest eating a diet rich in processed foods can lead to estrogen levels that are as much as double the “normal”, healthy levels. If you’re worried that your estrogen levels are on the high side, cutting back on processed and sugary foods is super important, along with “bad” fats and alcohol. Eating more fiber, especially from fruits and vegetables, and following a low GI diet can also help to bring estrogen levels back in balance again.

Ditch caffeine and alcohol

Caffeine and alcohol can both affect hormone production. Drinking a lot of caffeine can raise cortisol levels and can also have an impact on the adrenal glands. This can have a knock-on effect for lots of areas of your health, from sleep to digestion. Alcohol has been linked to “estrogen dominance” and can potentially increase insulin resistance and lower testosterone levels. The latter can be a factor in low libido, vaginal dryness and impotence.

Don’t skip meals

It’s not just what you eat that affects your hormones; when you eat can be super important too, especially for insulin. Skipping meals is a surefire way to raise insulin levels.

If you want a little guidance on eating for hormone health, check out my free 3 Day Hormone Reset. It’s packed with tons of helpful info and 3 days worth of meals to get you started on the right path to happy hormones. 

The Best Supplements for Hormone Health

I’m a firm believer in the power of supplementation. In my hormone health course, The Vibrant Woman, I go in depth with my proprietary Savvy Supplement Protocol to address hormone imbalances at the root level based on specific imbalances.

Supplements that are amazing for overall cycle health that I recommend for literally every woman are a multivitamin, Omega 3, magnesium, B-complex, probiotic, vitamin D, and ascorbic acid.

When using supplements, it’s super important to make sure you’re using high quality, professional grade supplements. These are supplements that are highly absorbable and don’t contain extra ingredients and fillers.

Supplements are not meant to make up for poor lifestyle and nutrition habits, however, they can be super beneficial as an added tool in your “healthy habits” toolbox.

If supplementation is something you’re interested in, I recommend my Vibrant Woman course so you can learn more about the exact brands, specific dosages, and the reason why I personally use and recommend them to my private clients.

Supplement List for Overall Hormone Health

What does a healthy period look like?

  • 21-35 day cycles with 2-7 days of bleeding.  A cycle shorter than 21 days or longer than 35 days is considered irregular.
  • Menstrual fluid should be mostly liquid, no large clots.
  • Once flow starts, the menstrual blood should be light to bright red.
  • Blood loss should not be more than 50 ml or three tablespoons over the course of your period. Menstrual bleeding often seems like a whole lot more than it really is! 
  • Minimal discomfort. Some discomfort is to be expected, but severe pain is not normal.  
 
Each of the fertility signs that you observe when you chart your fertility corresponds to a hormonal process and the presence of hormones in your bloodstream. Estrogen, luteinizing hormone and progesterone are the hormones that are responsible for the signals you observe when charting your fertility signs. 
 

Estrogen

Estrogen is high before ovulation and dominates the pre-ovulatory, follicular phase of your cycle (the days from the end of your period through to just before you ovulate). 

Estrogen does the following:

  1. Builds up your endometrium so that a fertilized egg can find nourishment and implant. Your endometrium is the lining of your uterus which you shed each month as a period if you are not pregnant.
  2. Produces your cervical fluid which is necessary for guiding and nourishing the sperm on its travels to your fallopian tubes where your egg may be fertilized.
  3. Causes your cervix to soften and open so that the sperm may enter and reach your fallopian tube for fertilization.
  4. Estrogen signals the release of Luteinizing Hormone (LH) which is needed to trigger ovulation.

Luteinizing Hormone

Luteinizing Hormone peaks before ovulation and is the hormone responsible for triggering the rupture of the ovarian sac that releases the egg at ovulation. 

Progesterone

Progesterone is high after ovulation and during pregnancy it dominates the post-ovulatory, luteal phase of your cycle (the time from post ovulation until you get your period). After ovulation, progesterone is produced by the corpus luteum (the remains of the ovarian follicle that houses your ovum or egg after ovulation) and is present in dramatically higher amounts. 

Progesterone plays the following roles:

  1. Makes the lining of your uterus soft and spongy so that your fertilized egg can latch onto it and implant.
  2. Causes your basal body temperature to rise after ovulation so that it can be measured with a BBT thermometer.
  3. Is needed to support and sustain a pregnancy.
  4. Causes your BBT to stay elevated throughout pregnancy.

 

Hormones + Your Cycle

Estrogen

Estrogen is high before ovulation and dominates the pre-ovulatory, follicular phase of your cycle (the days from the end of your period through to just before you ovulate). 

Estrogen does the following:

  1. Builds up your endometrium so that a fertilized egg can find nourishment and implant. Your endometrium is the lining of your uterus which you shed each month as a period if you are not pregnant.
  2. Produces your cervical fluid which is necessary for guiding and nourishing the sperm on its travels to your fallopian tubes where your egg may be fertilized.
  3. Causes your cervix to soften and open so that the sperm may enter and reach your fallopian tube for fertilization.
  4. Estrogen signals the release of Luteinizing Hormone (LH) which is needed to trigger ovulation.
  5.  

Luteinizing Hormone

Luteinizing Hormone peaks before ovulation and is the hormone responsible for triggering the rupture of the ovarian sac that releases the egg at ovulation. 

Progesterone

Progesterone is high after ovulation and during pregnancy it dominates the post-ovulatory, luteal phase of your cycle (the time from post ovulation until you get your period). After ovulation, progesterone is produced by the corpus luteum (the remains of the ovarian follicle that houses your ovum or egg after ovulation) and is present in dramatically higher amounts. 

Progesterone plays the following roles:

  1. Makes the lining of your uterus soft and spongy so that your fertilized egg can latch onto it and implant.
  2. Causes your basal body temperature to rise after ovulation so that it can be measured with a BBT thermometer.
  3. Is needed to support and sustain a pregnancy.
  4. Causes your BBT to stay elevated throughout pregnancy.

What is your period telling you?

 

SIGNS

WHAT IT COULD INDICATE

Bright red blood 

This is an indicator of healthy menstrual flow.

Clots 

Menstrual clots are usually caused when stagnation occurs due to excessive flow that does not get expelled. 

Dark, thick, or brown blood 

If you release blood that looks old and thick, it is blood that had been left over from your previous menstruation. This is usually caused by a sluggish menstrual flow, low uterine circulation, or lack of uterine tone. 

Heavy menstruation

This could be caused by either a progesterone imbalance or overstimulation of the endometrium due to excess estrogen, or both of these things. Some nutritional imbalances, such as a Vitamin A or C deficiency, can also lead to heavy menstruation.

Menstrual cramps 

Some cramping is normal during menstruation. However, severe cramping is not. Estrogen dominance, low progesterone, endometriosis and inflammation can cause menstrual cramps.

Long cycles 

Long cycles often indicate a hormonal imbalance or a failure to ovulate. Progesterone is responsible for stopping excessive bleeding during menstruation. When you have too much estrogen or too little progesterone, bleeding may continue for longer than it should. 

Missing a period 

Missing one period should be no cause for alarm, especially if you usually have irregular periods. Sometimes, hormonal balance can be affected by such factors as stress, so it will generally reset itself eventually. However, if you miss a couple periods in a row there could be an underlying hormone imbalance, hypothalamic amenorrhea or another medical condition.   

Short cycle 

Short cycles can lead to fertility problems. They could indicate a lack of ovulation, an unusually short follicular or luteal phase, lack of nutrition, low body weight, some form of deficiency, or anemia. Studies show, vitex was helpful in 83% of women with luteal phase defect.

Spotting 

Spotting occurs for many reasons. It is usually not something to be worried about. For many women, spotting happens when they exercise too much, when ovulation occurs, or when they use hormonal contraceptives. Spotting can also be caused by failure to ovulate, poor nutrition, endometriosis, cervical abnormalities, and ovarian cysts. 

Watery, pale, or thin menstruation

This is a sign of poor blood quality, an effect or hormonal imbalance and poor circulation to the uterus. A change to a healthier diet will usually help improve this situation – especially iron rich foods to build the blood. 

Have you lost your period?

Missing one period should be no cause for alarm, especially if you have irregular periods like many women with PCOS do. Now and Then, hormonal balance can be temporarily affected by such factors as stress or illness resulting in a missed period. However, if you miss a couple of periods in a row, you should consult your doctor to determine the cause.

Amenorrhea is the medical term for absent periods. Amenorrhea is not an illness itself; instead, it’s a symptom of an underlying issue, PCOS being the most common. Amenorrhea can also be caused by other imbalances such as hypothalamic amenorrhea and other disturbances of the HPA axis, insufficient caloric intake, stress, and nutrition weaknesses. 

 

Let’s look at these in detail. If you are trying to recover your period, evaluate these five areas:

  • Are You Eating Enough Calories? Your body requires calories, protein, fats and carbohydrates for hormone production. Insufficient caloric intake can stop your period because of the lack of energy and nutrients puts a significant amount of stress on the body and can dramatically disrupt the hypothalamus gland. Experts suggest women maintain a caloric intake above 1500 per day. If you have not been eating at least 1500 calories per day, and you are not menstruating, some experts suggest calories may temporarily need to be increased substantially. If you are unsure exactly how many calories to eat, speak with your doctor.
  • What’s Your Stress Level on a Scale of 1-10? When the body is under stress, it releases abnormally high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Any sort of stress can affect the menstrual cycle – emotional stress, physical stress or even just the small, but accumulated, stressors of daily life.
  • Do You Have Nutritional Weaknesses? Women’s bodies need enough of the right nutrients to perform all the necessary reproductive functions, such as regulating the menstrual cycle and producing sex hormones. A nutrient deficiency can lead to irregular periods and amenorrhea. For example, zinc is required for egg health and maturation and magnesium is crucial for hormone production. 
  • Are You Too Lean? Significant weight or fat loss can put stress on the body and it also means there are not enough fat cells to produce estrogen, which can also cause amenorrhea. In the same way, being overweight can cause problems as excess weight affects insulin resistance and, in turn, worsens PCOS symptoms. 
  • Are You Over-Exercising? While healthy exercise is beneficial for PCOS and anovulation, intense or extreme workouts can cause menstruation to stop and impair fertility. 

 

Do you have irregular periods?

It is very common for women with PCOS to experience the absence of a period for months on end, or skipped periods, or lack of ovulation. When periods are irregular, this leads to other concerns such as a build-up of the uterine lining and low progesterone (progesterone is made via ovulation).

The 4 Cycle Phases

Menses is your period or menstruation. You are generally not fertile during this time. This is Day 1 of your cycle – when you experience bleeding that requires a pad, tampon, or cup (not spotting!).

Follicular Phase (Pre-Ovulation)

The follicular phase is the most variable phase in the cycle and determines your cycle length. The follicular phase goes from the beginning of the cycle until you ovulate. The hormone estrogen dominates this phase laying down your endometrium (lining). During this phase follicles (with eggs inside) begin to develop and mature and your body prepares for ovulation. One follicle becomes dominant ready for ovulation. The length of this phase can vary from woman to woman and from cycle to cycle. You are most fertile at the end of this phase during the days just before and including ovulation.

Ovulation

Ovulation is then triggered by a surge of luteinizing hormone (LH), the ovarian follicle ruptures and releases the ovum (egg) which can then be fertilized. In a 28-day cycle ovulation occurs around day 14 but varies greatly depending on cycle length and regularity.

Luteal Phase (Post-Ovulation)

The luteal phase length (the second half of your cycle after ovulation) is constant, rarely changing by more than a day or two from cycle to cycle for the same woman. The luteal phase usually lasts from 12 to 14 days but may last from 10 to 16 days. The best time to conceive is just before and during ovulation. Progesterone is the hormone that dominates this phase. If you become pregnant progesterone keeps rising and it helps to maintain your uterine lining throughout pregnancy (hence no period!)

The Power of Cycle Syncing

Women are cyclical in nature. When you accept that, you can lean into the different rhythms and rebalance yourself. This is incredibly empowering and the foundation of what cycle syncing it all about. Your body is on a schedule, so when you turn inward you notice your mood, digestion, sleep, energy, and productivity are actually pretty predictable. The result? You can plan your life better and your mood is much happier. Becoming aligned with your cycle is the practice of becoming aligned with yourself.

If you’re on hormonal contraception like the birth control pill, you’re not going to experience the same phases as you would on a natural cycle. Hormonal contraceptives release synthetic forms of estrogen and progesterone that alter your natural hormone levels — this stops your body from ovulating. You can still monitor how you feel throughout the month and make adjustments, but your symptoms won’t always mirror those felt during a natural cycle.

Menstrual phase
+ Feels During your period, you’re drawn inward. Take the breaks you need (mentally, physically, emotionally), slow down and tune in so you’re less likely to feel exhausted and irritable. Examine your life and let go of those things that are no longer serving you.
+ Nutrition Focus on warm and nourishing foods like stews, soups, cooked vegetables, and iron-rich foods like grass-fed meat. Eating iron and B-vitamin-rich foods can replace nutrients lost from menstruating and support healthy energy. Limit salt, sugar, and alcohol as these can make cramps and bloating worse during your period. Take an Omega-3 supplement to reduce PMS symptoms like depression, bloating, and tender breasts.

+ Exercise Your energy is at its lowest at the start of your period. “Your hormones drop in order to trigger menstruation, which can leave you fatigued and feeling the need to take it slow,” says Brighten. At the start of your period, your hormones drop dramatically to tell your body it’s time to menstruate. This makes your energy super low. Honor your body with some of your favorite self-care rituals like a nap or meditation. If you’re up to exercising, stay away from the HIIT and cardio. Try yoga or Pilates instead.

Follicular phase

+ Feels During the follicular phase, your energy levels increase and you’ll feel ready to tackle life again after cleansing out toxins and excess hormones during menstruation.
This is the time of your cycle you’re most likely to get out of your comfort zone – without doubting yourself. Use this to your advantage by trying a new workout or taking a cooking class. This is also a prime time for work events and strategizing goals because your mind is in action mode
+ Nutrition Keep estrogen levels in check by eating liver cleansing foods like lemon, flaxseed, carrots, dandelion greens and green juices. Eat light and fresh (think: smoothies, salads, and lean meat!)
// Try Follicular Phase Meal Plan
+ Exercise Now is the time that more intense workouts, like HIIT and heavy weights, are going to feel amazing. This is because testosterone and estrogen levels are rising.

Ovulation Phase
+ Feels This time of the month you’ll be feeling energetic, social, all the high vibes so your social calendar may reflect that. Plan a girls night out or a special date night with your boo (thanks to mama nature you’ll be feeling extra frisky!). This is also the time to tackle your to-do’s and speak with others. Is there a conversation you’ve been meaning to have? You will effortlessly get your point across and your easy-breezy nature will make it hard for people to say no to you.
+ Nutrition Stay fresh by loading up on quinoa and cruciferous veggies like cauliflower, broccoli, and brussels sprouts. They’re rich in antioxidants that help you flush out excess estrogen. A magnesium supplements can also help keep estrogen and progesterone in balance.
+ Exercise You’ll have increased stamina this week to crush those difficult workouts. You’ll also have a heightened desire to connect with community, so choosing something like a group spin class could really serve you.

 

Luteal Phase
+ Feels Since progesterone increases during this phase, you may a bit slower and sleepier. You may also notice that you’re less mentally and physically able to handle extra stress. Try to avoid pushing yourself to exhaustion. You’ll feel a desire to rest and spend time alone. Don’t feel guilty about blocking off your calendar and doing some major manifesting.
+ Nutrition Choose earthy, grounding foods like soups and root vegetables. Berries are loaded in bioflavonoids and vitamin C to help eliminate excess estrogen, boost progesterone production, and curb cravings. To prepare for your period and keep inflammation low, use warming spices like turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon.
// Try Luteal Phase Meal Plan
+ Exercise You’ll Your energy fluctuates a lot in this phase, so honor what your body needs by tailoring your exercise to how you feel each day. Try doing something restorative, like a hot yoga class. This will help your body release toxins, decrease water retention, and prepare you for a happier period.

To sum it up...

Hormones are produced by the endocrine system and are crucial to your overall health and well-being. Stress, mood, reproduction, digestion, metabolism, and your general health can all be affected by your hormones. It’s important to keep hormone levels balanced, and the best ways to do so are through proper lifestyle, nutrition, and supplementation. 

Regular meals that help keep your blood sugar levels stable are the key to balancing your hormones. You’ll have to cut down on some foods that might cause issues with your hormones including foods that are high in sugar. Caffeine is also a culprit when you’re trying to keep your blood sugar levels stable throughout the day and has to be cut down to get those hormones in a good place.

Want more?

If achieving hormone balance and optimal health is something you’re really feeling aligned with and perhaps a transformation that you’d like to experience, then get in touch with me!

I’d love to help you reach hormone harmony so you can really show up in your life looking and feeling your best. My Vibrant Woman course is online and completely self-paced. There’s a private community of amazing women supporting and empowering each other. And it’s just so amazing. For all of the juicy details, click here or text “VIBRANT” to 513-642-9221. If you’re interested in 1:1 coaching, click here to schedule a quick phone chat with me. 

Whether you’re one of my clients or not, I want to help you live a hormonally balanced life. If any of these resources can play a part in making that happen for you, that’s a win in my book! So, don’t be stranger — stay connected with me and let me know what you’re up to! And please, keep working towards your hormone health and wellness goals. If that’s something you want, don’t let it fizzle. Make it happen. I hope to welcome you into the Vibrant Woman Course very soon!

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