When we think of hormones, it's easy to think back to our teenage years, when pimples were our biggest drama, or pregnancy, when mood swings and cravings are out of control. But up until menopause, women have a daily relationship with their hormones, and while for some it can be relatively drama-free, for others, hormone issues can be a pain.
We spoke with Libby Weaver, PhD, one of the Australia's leading nutritional biochemists, about the tell-tale signs that you could have a hormone imbalance, and what you can do to help yourself.
1. Your skin is breaking out.
If you've noticed a few pimples or if you're experiencing acne, it could be because of what's going on inside. Dr. Weaver says that pimples along the jawline or on your chest or back are classic signs your sex hormones are out of balance.
"At puberty, when sex hormone levels first increase, that increase is sebum production. So it's the elevation in the blood of the sex hormones that increases the release of sebum from the sebaceous gland," she says.
But as we have bacteria living all over us all the time, when you produce more sebum, it gives the bacteria more to feed on, so they then multiply in numbers. "Then we feel like our skin is a bit congested. Pimples or pustules could form, or it just might feel a bit lumpy, or little cysts might begin to appear," she adds.
2. Your hair is falling out.
If you've ever stood in the shower and thought about how much hair you're losing, it could be normal. But if you've noticed that it's coming out in clumps orvthat the part in your hair has started to get wider, that can be a sign that your hair's starting to thin and that you're losing it quicker than you can regrow it.
"One of the common hormone imbalances linked to that is when your prolactin levels are elevated," says Weaver. "Prolactin is the sex hormone that we usually only make when we're breastfeeding, but these days, more and more younger women are making it when they're not pregnant or breastfeeding.
"When you have high levels of prolactin, it can lead to elevated levels of androgen, which are male sex hormones. And with that elevation in androgen comes head hair loss. That's another symptom that the sex hormones need looking at," she adds.
3. Your menstrual cycle is a mess.
Many women suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome, and one major symptom is irregular periods, which means irregular ovulation. And when you ovulate irregularly, your progesterone levels are low.
"Progesterone plays a role reproductively, but it plays a lot of other biological roles: it's a very powerful anti-anxiety agent, it's an antidepressant, and it's a diuretic so it allows us to get rid of excess fluid," says Dr. Weaver.
"Some women across the menstruation years don't make enough progesterone, and then for others that kicks in at perimenopause when they stop ovulating regularly. Across those perimenopausal years, estrogen tends to surge and then drop. When it surges, you get really hot and irritated, and when it drops, your mood goes very low. And of course, one of the main symptoms for menopause these days is the hot flashes."
4. You have skin pigmentation problems.
Skin pigmentation issues can arise due to a number of reasons, whether that's too much time in the sun or extreme stress. However, it's also often due to an excessive amount of estrogen and not enough progesterone in the body.
"Women might notice that they get some pigmentation when they go on the pill, or when their hormones are changing and their PMT gets worse, for example. And quite often, that's related to too much estrogen," says Weaver.
How can we look after our hormone health?
So is this just a case of bad luck, or is there something we can do to look after those chemicals buzzing around in our bodies? Weaver says there are two things that can make a big impact.
Most adults are not eating their recommended five servings of vegetables every day, and while that's a boring message, we need to eat a lot less junk food and eat our greens for good sex hormone balance and healthy liver function.
"The Brassica family of vegetables, which include broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and Brussel sprouts, contain substances beyond their vitamins and minerals, [such] as phytochemicals that help to stimulate the part of the liver that's needed to deal with estrogen," she says.
Another way to look after our hormones is to stress less, though of course that's easier said than done. When humans roamed the earth thousands of years ago, our adrenaline levels would rise when our lives were in actual danger.
"These days, most of our stress is psychological. So when we produce adrenaline, the body [doesn't know how] to discern the adrenaline that we make when our life is literally in danger [from] the adrenaline that we make because of the pressure related to our to-do list, our email inbox, running late, or worrying about what other people think of us," explains Weaver.
One top tip for managing your stress, as easy as it sounds, is to practice breathing diaphragmatically. "When you do your yoga breathing, it communicates to your body that you're safe because you'd never be able to breathe like that if your life was truly in danger. When you breathe diaphragmatically, it lowers stress hormones more effectively than just about anything."
As always, if you think you have a hormone imbalance or any other medical problem, speak to your doctor.
This article was originally written by Alex Lilly. For more, check out our sister site, Now to Love.