By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
As an ND with a main clinical focus on hormone balance, most people find it very interesting that we don’t dive right into supplements and support for hormones first. In fact, we get MUCH better and lasting results when we take a look at your overall health, and start upstream – stress levels, gut function, toxin exposure and more.
When I’m asked what affects hormone balance, the answer quickly becomes ‘everything’. Since all of your body systems are interconnected, there is communication with hormones when almost anything goes out of balance. One simple way to think about it is that your body will protect reproduction, meaning change hormone expression to prevent pregnancy when there is too much stress, insufficient nutrition, infections or other stresses on the body. This will change levels of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, cortisol, and thyroid hormones.
Here is a long list of things that affect hormone balance:
- Acute and chronic stress
- Nutrition / diet (especially insufficient calories, carbohydrates or protein)
- Nutrient deficiencies (ex. magnesium, vitamin B6, folate, zinc, selenium deficiencies)
- Food sensitivities and intolerances
- Sleep (quantity and quality)
- Gut microbiome
- Exercise (too much and too little)
- Infections (viral, parasites, bacteria, SIBO, etc)
- Weight and body fat distribution (especially visceral and abdominal fat)
- Blood sugar balance and insulin resistance
- Thyroid function & autoimmunity
- Toxins (especially xenoestrogens)
- Mitochondria function
So where do we start?
With an overwhelming list of factors that affect hormone balance, in most cases the starting point is the same. We begin in this order first:
- Gut function: treating the gut microbiome, infections, constipation, IBS and nutrient absorption.
- Adrenal support: addressing stress levels and self care, cortisol balance and rhythm, and DHEA levels.
- Liver: looking for sources of toxins (environmental chemicals, pesticides, plastics current and past); supporting phase I and phase II liver detoxification; in cases of estrogen dominance looking at genetics; addressing alcohol and caffeine intake.
- Insulin and blood sugar regulation: insulin resistance affects SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin) levels which then affect free hormone expression; also impacts ovulation in PCOS.
- Thyroid function: overt thyroid disorder, subclinical hypothyroidism, low free T3 levels and the start of autoimmunity with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis are addressed next as they greatly impact ovulation and estrogen metabolism.
I love the fact that as we create hormone balance, we are also working on overall health and wellness. Everything is truly interconnected.
If you would like to learn more about your hormones, please ask!