Beyond Birth Control Pill- The Naturopathic Approach to Hormone Imbalance
By Joanne Aponte, ND • April 20, 2018
If you experience painful menstrual cramps, irregular cycles, heavy menstrual bleeding, acne, or worsening depression and anxiety around the time of menses, the root of the problem is likely a hormone imbalance. Medical treatment for these symptoms usually involves birth control pills which prevent the natural fluctuations of the hormones and keeps them at a steady state. This quick fix, however, has some health risks and unwanted side effects such as weight gain, headache and worsening of depression.
The naturopathic approach aims to restore normal hormonal rhythms and balance. First by looking at hormones produced by the ovaries and then by looking at the body as a whole. The first goal is to identify the individual hormone imbalance. This is done by taking a thorough history and getting a clear picture of the patient as a whole person. Testing for specific hormone imbalances is available by running a saliva test to measure levels.
Common hormone imbalances include high estrogen (estrogen dominance), low progesterone and high testosterone. Each of these imbalances has a unique therapeutic approach. Herbal medicines are available to address each of these imbalances. Chaste tree berry restores progesterone balance. Flax seeds, green tea and DIM address estrogen dominance. For elevated testosterone, regulating blood sugar levels and weight loss is essential.
Beyond the ovaries, we will look at and address issues affecting other body systems. The endocrine system (your hormones) is an intricate and connected web that has much crosstalk with other systems in your body. When you pluck one part of the web, the whole web vibrates. In order to achieve optimal balance of the hormones related to the menstrual cycle, the best approach for healing is to address other systems of the body, especially the adrenals, thyroid, liver, gut and lymph.
The adrenal glands, a pair of glands that sit on top of your kidneys, are mainly involved in regulating your stress response, sleep and wake cycles. Imbalances in the adrenal’s main hormone called cortisol can wreak havoc on normal hormone cycling. This is because when cortisol is elevated during times of prolonged stress, it sends feedback that results in shutting down the functioning of the ovaries. Many women notice that menses is delayed or thrown off when stress in high. Balancing this stress response and supporting healthy adrenal function is key and can be done with adaptogenic herbs such as rhodiola, ashwagandha or ginseng and nutrients such as B5 and Vit C. We run a 4 point salivary cortisol test to assess adrenal function.
Proper thyroid function also needs to be addressed when there are menstrual irregularities. A thyroid that is low functioning (hypothyroidism) can lead to suppression of the release of hormones from the ovaries causing various menstrual irregularities. A full thyroid panel is needed to properly assess thyroid function, this includes TSH, FT4 and FT3.
Supporting the liver is another key piece. Your liver clears and metabolizes hormones. In conditions where the cause is excess estrogen or excess testosterone, incorporating liver supportive herbs such as milk thistle, burdock and artichoke results in achieving more balance.
Another key factor is the health of the gut. Imbalances of the microorganisms in the GI tract, called dysbiosis, can lead to hormone imbalances. While beneficial bacteria (probiotics) help eliminate excess hormones, the “bad” or pathogenic bacteria in the gut make estrogens get recycled! This leads to estrogen dominance.
Ensuring healthy flow of the lymph fluid is essential. One of the main functions of the lymph system is to transport all the body’s waste to the kidneys and GI tract for elimination from the body. It is also the main delivery channel for progesterone throughout the body. Most commonly women have too much estrogen relative to progesterone (estrogen dominance). Ensuring adequate flow of progesterone throughout the body can help correct this imbalance. Exercise, deep breathing and dry skin brushing are great ways to keep the lymph moving.
While taking the naturopathic approach is not a quick fix, the payoff goes beyond relief from the symptoms of hormone imbalance. There is potential to resolve other health issues and to experience better health as a whole person. In the long run, it is worth the extra effort.
Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.