From the moment of conception all the way into adulthood and beyond, there exists an unseen force inside you that keeps you alive, healthy, and vibrant: hormones. These tiny chemical messengers comprise what’s known as the endocrine system and control virtually every system of the body – from mood to muscle development to food metabolism to reproduction, and everything in between.
Hormones are what facilitate the constant knitting together and sustaining of human life both inside the womb and out. They spend all of their time traveling to and from organs and tissues via the bloodstream performing important maintenance tasks and other necessary duties.1 Without hormones, human life would cease to exist. This is why it’s vitally important to maintain healthy dietary and lifestyle habits to help support the proper balance of your hormones and to avoid harmful endocrine disruptors.
The Correct Hormone Balance for Women Vs Men
If you’re a woman, this means aiming to achieve a homeostatic balance that favors a higher level of estrogens compared to androgens (male sex hormones). The opposite ratio needs to happen in men with men needing more androgens such as testosterone and less estrogen. The key word here is balance though, as too much or too little estrogen in relation to testosterone can wreak tremendous havoc on a woman’s body. (An imbalance of testosterone respective to estrogen can do the same thing to a man’s body).
It’s a delicate and complex nudging process that, thankfully, the human body is designed to handle all on its own. At the same time, there are a number of endocrine disruptors that can throw this hormone production autopilot effect completely out of whack. Factors such as poor diet, stress, and exposure to toxins represent a few of the more prominent examples of endocrine disruptors. When this scenario occurs, grabbing hold of the hormone wheel and taking over may be necessary to help steer your hormones back on course.
Signs & Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance
It all starts with identifying a hormone imbalance, which can paradoxically be both simple and challenging. Simple in the fact that the symptoms of hormone imbalance are common, but challenging in that many of these symptoms are shared by a host of other health conditions. The hormone-related abnormalities that many women experience, in other words, may point to a number of other health conditions. This is why it’s advisable that any woman who believes that she might be suffering from a hormone imbalance undergo proper blood work under the guidance of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
Some of the symptoms a woman can look out for that may point to a deficiency of estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, thyroid function, or testosterone (yes, even women can be deficient in testosterone) include the following, many of which cross over into the other categories:2
Signs of Estrogen Deficiency
- Hot flashes / night sweats
- Problems sleeping
- Persistent headaches
- Problems focusing and retaining memories
- Heart palpitations
- Dry skin
- Low libido / painful intercourse
- Osteoporosis / bone loss
- Yeast infections
Signs of Progesterone Deficiency
- Weight gain
- Swollen breasts
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- PMS (postmenopausal symptoms)
- Mood swings
- Joint pain
Signs of Cortisol Deficiency
- Craving for sweets
Signs of Low Thyroid
- Low body temperature / intolerance to cold
- Cold extremities
- Low blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Brittle nails
- Muscle weakness
- Lack of motivation
- Thinning skin
- Vaginal dryness
- Male-pattern hair growth
- Loss of hair on scalp
- General aches and pains
- Chronic fatigue
It may seem strange, but many of these same symptoms are also associated with having an excess of estrogen hormones, or with having an overactive thyroid. Once again, it’s all about balance when it comes to hormones and how they affect the body. But it’s also important to remember that fixing an imbalance isn’t necessarily as simple as just popping a pill to raise one hormone or decrease another. Doing this can actually make the problem worse, especially when it fails to account for why the imbalance is occurring in the first place.
The Big 3 Causes of Endocrine Disruption in Women
There are three primary categories that lend to endocrine disruption which women need to be aware: diet, lifestyle, and environment.
What a woman eats directly affects how her body produces and expresses hormones, as does the way she lives her daily life. The environment in which a women lives – and especially the types of toxins she’s exposed to on a daily basis – are another major contributing factor to endocrine disruption.
Let’s cut to the chase: the average modern diet is an absolute nightmare for women’s hormones. All that sugar and all those cheap carbohydrates really do a number on blood sugar levels, ramping up production of insulin and consequently altering the way estrogen is metabolized throughout a woman’s body.
High-glycemic foods might as well be called high-stress foods, because the body tends to respond in kind by producing more cortisol, aka the stress hormone. This results in a systemic inflammatory response that further damages bodily systems, and the rest goes progressively downhill from there.
When women avoid sweets and refined grains, and instead stick with low-glycemic, higher-protein foods such as bone broths, grass-fed meats, and organic vegetables, they help their bodies to better support a healthy inflammatory response. This also aids the body in producing the right amounts and types of hormones for systemic balance in all the right areas.
This further includes avoiding alcohol, which actively decreases human growth hormone, or HGH, as well as consuming foods that are naturally high in magnesium.3 And don’t forget to always stay hydrated, sticking with properly filtered or spring water whenever possible.
Speaking of stress hormones, paying close attention to work-life balance will do wonders in helping a women to maintain a healthy hormone profile. Stress is one of the most damaging factors that contributes to endocrine dysfunction, and it can arise from many different things.4 Overworking yourself or getting bogged down with anxiety over the everyday affairs of life can contribute to an unhealthy stress response that leads to the body feeling the need to compensate by producing more cortisol.
This excess cortisol production can place an enormous strain on a woman’s adrenal glands, which can result in this important gland become fatigued and unable to produce other needed hormones. Prolonged stress that isn’t mitigated through proper rest, relaxation, and prayer, meditation, or other calming activities that give the body and mind a break is a recipe for hormone disaster.
In the beginning, the earth was perfect and free of chemical toxins that interfere with human biology. But today, humanity faces a barrage of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that target virtually every glandular system responsible for producing hormones. These include the pituitary, pineal, thyroid, thymus, and adrenal glands, as well as the pancreas, testes (in men), and ovaries (in women).5
Limit Your Exposure to These 8 Endocrine Disruptors
EDCs can both supplant and mimic natural hormones, obstructing the way the body responds to and uses the real thing. EDCs are essentially hormone impostors that confuse the body into either producing too little or too many of its own natural hormones. This results in all kinds of systemic damage, much of which starts out small and worsens over time.6
While it’s certain to be an endless battle trying to avoid EDCs entirely, there are ways to help minimize exposure, so long as a woman knows what to look for and what to avoid. Start with minimizing your contact with these 8 categories of endocrine disruptors to the best of your ability: 7
- Non-organic produce laden with pesticides – Atrazine, organophosphates, and other “feminizing” crop chemicals are prolific in non-organic fruits and vegetables. They’re almost impossible to avoid, in fact, which is why it’s important to stick with organic or certified chemical-free varieties whenever possible. And don’t be confused by the term “feminizing.” These chemicals harm women just as much as they harm men, directly interfering with both sexes’ ability to maintain optimal hormone balance.
- Plastic bottles and other consumer products made from petrochemicals – Whether it’s the plasticizing chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) or phthalates like di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), many plastic-based products are loaded with EDCs. So are various other common consumer products like food cans, personal care products that contain “fragrance” chemicals, plastic wrap, and even thermal paper receipts at the grocery store.
- Unfiltered water – This is an important one because all sorts of chemicals and drug residues are now being found in municipal water supplies, many of which aren’t being properly filtered out using standard methods at the treatment plant. Such chemicals include perchlorate, a byproduct of rocket fuel that displaces iodine in the body and can cause thyroid problems. Another harmful chemical found in most municipal water supplies, at least in North America, is fluoride, which is very difficult to remove except with activated alumina, deionization, or reverse osmosis water filtration systems.8
- Furniture, carpeting, non-stick cookware, and other household products – Many household products that people spend a lot of time either lying on or cooking in – things such as couches, carpeting, and cookware – are often hotbeds of EDCs. In furniture, the threat usually comes from fire-retardant chemicals like polybrominated biphenyl ethers (PBDEs). In cookware, it’s often perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) that pose the greatest risk.
- Air fresheners, candles, hand soaps, laundry detergents, tampons, and diapers – Many scented household products are plagued by undefined “fragrance” chemicals that existing law allows to be used as a blanket term to define more than 3,000 individual chemicals, many of which are known EDCs. Hand soaps are also problematic, as many contain a hormone-altering antibacterial chemical known as triclosan that studies have shown accumulates inside the body and interferes with hormone production.9 Then, there are laundry detergents, many of which contain highly toxic chemical byproducts known as dioxins that possess their own hormone-disrupting properties.10 Dioxins are also being found in tampons, as well as disposable baby diapers.11 The latter is exceptionally concerning because tiny humans are most prone to suffering severe health consequences from having their hormones disrupted during early childhood development.
- Phytoestrogens in food – Perhaps the worst phytoestrogenic food that millions of people eat daily (whether they realize it or not) is soy. Besides often being genetically-modified (GMO) and doused in toxic herbicides like glyphosate, this legume and its many derivatives are highly estrogenic, containing phytoestrogens like genistein and daidzein that can mimic natural estrogen in the body and lead to hormone disruption.12
- Old paint and children’s toys – Especially in older homes, wall paint is a common source of lead, a known neurotoxin that can directly interfere with normal hormone production. Old children’s toys are similarly problematic, though instead of lead they often contain arsenic, another hormone-disrupting compound.13
- Synthetic hormones – Many women going through menopause are told by their doctors to take synthetic hormones like diethylstilbestrol, a synthetic form of the female hormone estrogen that’s marketed as helping to re-balance hormone levels. However, some of the latest evidence suggests that such drugs can actually do the opposite, which is why many alternative practitioners now recommend bio-identical hormone replacement therapy instead.14 Anti-estrogenic drugs like estrogen antagonists and estrogen blockers also fall into this category, as they inhibit estrogens like estradiol from mediating their biological effects inside the body, potentially leading to an imbalance.
- What are Hormones?
- Conditions Improved by BioIdentical Hormone Replacement Therapy: Female Symptoms Lists
- The Links Between Your Diet and Hormone Levels, and How Estrogen May Protect You Against Dementia
- Factors that Affect Endocrine Function
- Types of Hormones
- Estrogenic Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals
- How Endocrine Disruptors Destroy Your Body + The Dirty Dozen to Avoid
- Top 10 Ways to Reduce Fluoride Exposure
- The Dirt on Antibacterial Soaps
- The best, and worst, laundry detergents with 1,4-dioxane contamination
- Exposure assessment to dioxins from the use of tampons and diapers
- Endocrine Disruptors
- 4 Sources of Arsenic You’d Never Expect
- The bioidentical hormone debate: are bioidentical hormones (estradiol, estriol, and progesterone) safer or more efficacious than commonly used synthetic versions in hormone replacement therapy?