Hi, I’m Susan Bratton, your trusted hot sex adviser, with my friend Dr. Jolene Brighten. We’re talking about hormonal imbalance. Hormonal imbalance originates from the interoperability of the five main hormones in your body. We will talk about how synthetic birth control affects hormones, but first we will discuss the general hormonal imbalance of the five: Estrogen, Testosterone, Progesterone, Thyroid and Cortisol.
We will start with estrogen, the symptoms of estrogen imbalance and the solutions, and we’ll give you ideas for the next steps in achieving hormonal balance.
An important thing to understand is that a hormone is never imbalanced on its own. I like to think of it as a symphony and all the hormones have their own instrument. At a symphony, if one instrument is off, the whole thing is off, and so they interplay with one another. Estrogen is the queen in a way. Estrogen is the reason we are plumped and curvy. It plumps our lips, breasts, hips, and it benefits our bones, brain, and heart. When estrogen is too high, we find ourselves feeling cranky and bloated, our periods can be heavier, we might see more clots, we retain more weight or have difficulty losing weight. If that’s true for you, you might want to look at your bowel movement because that’s how we move estrogen out. Once your liver packages it all up, it’s up to your gut to move it out. Even day of constipation can cause your estrogen levels to rise. When we talk about hormones, we have to look at what you’re putting into and moving out of your body, what you’re saying to yourself and what’s going on with your environment.
The side-effects of synthetic birth control are leaky gut, gut dysbiosis, adrenal fatigue. Being bloated, tired, constipated are indications of a hormonal imbalance. It’s short-sighted to think that your gut is just your gut and that your hormones have nothing to do with it. It’s one tube from your mouth to your rectum.
When their estrogen is too low, my patients say, “My breasts are drooping. My skin is wrinkly and it’s looking thinner.” That can leave you more prone to injury. Your periods might be two days or less, or maybe you need a panty-liner. It’s a sign that something is going on, and a big reason you might have too little estrogen. When we move into menopause, the ovaries will quit and will not make estrogen. You will get some estrogen from your adrenal glands, but if you are nowhere near menopause and your estrogen is too low, you might want to look at your dietary fat. Fat is your friend and it is the building blocks of your hormones. You must eat healthy fats like coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, nuts, seeds, salmon and other fatty fish if you have low estrogen. If you’re wrinkling up, you’re not eating enough healthy fats. Also important is omega-3, which is present in cod liver oil and some fish oils. These will not only help your estrogen, but also your hormones and your skin.
Let’s talk about progesterone. It’s not common to see elevated progesterone, and if we see too high progesterone, it’s often because we’re using bioidentical replacements. With high progesterone, your breasts will become tender, you’ll want to cry all the time, and you’re groggy, especially in the morning. It’s not exactly being depressed, but you don’t feel so happy. You may want to check your prescription because it also could mean that you need to evaluate all your hormones.
Let’s talk about low progesterone, which is very common. How do you get progesterone? When you ovulate, you release an egg. What’s left behind is a structure called the corpus luteum, which secretes progesterone in hopes that that egg will be fertile. If it’s not fertile, then the progesterone-estrogen levels will drop. That is normal. That’s your luteal phase. Your progesterone is high in your luteal phase and it drops off when the egg isn’t fertilized. Estrogen is predominant in the follicular phase which is roughly days 1 through 14. After you ovulate, the luteal phase follows. If you don’t ovulate, you can still have a period, but the corpus luteum isn’t equipped to put out that progesterone or if maybe you’re stressed out, your brain is saying shut down any possible way that we can get pregnant. Your body wants you to survive. If you’re stressed out and your body thinks the environment is unsafe, the last thing you want to do is get pregnant because you can’t run from a tiger when you’re pregnant.
I said that estrogen and progesterone are besties because if you don’t have adequate progesterone during the luteal phase, you have estrogen dominance. If progesterone is low, you can gain weight, you’ll retain fluid and your breasts will swell. The way it’s different from high progesterone is that you don’t feel bluesy. In fact, you’re feeling anxious and you probably have insomnia. That’s because progesterone is stimulating the GABA receptor in your brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter that puts the brakes on those let’s- freak-out neurotransmitters in your brain. Without progesterone we want to freak out, we can’t sleep and we worry. You may also have a 21-day cycle instead of 28. You can have a 26, a 32-day cycle as long as they are regular. There is no right and wrong here but if you’re finding that your cycle is getting shorter, it could be a sign that your progesterone is too low. When you hear this, you’re thinking, “Oh, I need to reduce stress,” but hanging out with our girlfriends helps bump your progesterone. It’s all about community. You feel safe. You feel “I got people to take care of me.” That’s one way that you can start to influence your progesterone. I’d also add including vitamin C which can raise progesterone, and taking a look at how sex hormones work in your body.
The third hormone is testosterone. Women always say, “I don’t want testosterone. It’ll give me a mustache, acne or facial hair.” But you need it. If it is too high, you’ll see cystic acne. It starts with oily skin, acne follows and then it can become cystic. You can also see back-ne and neck-ne, as some of my patients call it. We’ll also see abnormal hair growth. Us ladies lose the hair on our head and unlike men it spares no follicle. Men have male pattern hair iron loss, but us ladies can lose all the hair on our head. Then you start growing hair on your face, chest and abdomen. I like my man to have hair in those places, not me and that can be a sign you have too much testosterone. You might feel enraged too. If you have road rage or you’re feeling really aggravated, it could be a sign of your testosterone being high, and it affects your menstrual cycles.
If you have high testosterone, get yourself checked for polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS. This is where it gets tricky. You may have true PCOS which means the day you started, your periods were always irregular or you may have had it coming off of birth control which is called pill-induced PCOS. If you get your testosterone levels in check, you can get your period back. It’s what the pill did to your body that has disrupted the whole system.
Let’s talk about low testosterone because that’s imbalance. You don’t want any hormone imbalance but so many doctors miss it because they don’t check testosterone in women, or if they do check, they estimate the range in men and if you’re somewhere within that range, you’re fine. If our testosterone is too low, we have no libido, no interest in sex. We have no drive, no joy, no motivation, and our brain, bones and heart also age quicker because both testosterone and estrogen are necessary for keeping your cells youthful and operating at full capacity. It keeps your hippocampus plump. If your testosterone is too low, you definitely want to get lab work done and start investigating. You can also try adaptogenic herbs like rhodiola or ginseng. Rhodiola is in the ginseng family. Those have been shown to be beneficial in helping with testosterone levels and they’ve got the benefit of loving up your adrenal glands as well.
We still want to talk about thyroid and cortisol because you can’t deal with hormonal imbalance unless you look at all these hormones. At the end we’re also going to tell you a bit more about how you can get your hormones tested and the right and wrong kinds of tests to get.
We’re going to talk about cortisol. This is something so many of us women speak about, when it comes to “I’ve got the muffin top, I can’t lose the belly fat.” It’s high cortisol, and so you can start storing some of that belly fat there, but you can also find yourself feeling wired and tired. Your body is exhausted, but your brain is still going. You find that you whether it’s low or high, you’re more susceptible to infections and that’s because cortisol has a big role to play with your immune system. If your cortisol is high, you feel like you are on the edge at all points, and any little thing will tip you right off and you’re gonna topple right over feeling just bananas-stressed-out with cortisol being too high. That’s something that not only adaptogenic herbs can help with, but also B vitamins.
Your synthetic hormonal birth control is suppressing your B vitamin intake. That’s why you experience hair loss. It’s also pushing your hormones off and out as well. So all hormones need B vitamins and your adrenal glands especially love B5 and vitamin C. So you’ve seen a pattern here. There’s several things that you can use that actually help affect this entire symphony so that they get in tune and they play a better song for your body.
With low cortisol, women do not wake feeling rested. So maybe they did have a full night’s sleep but they can’t get out of bed in the morning. Again, you can be susceptible to infection as well and we see that afternoon slump. If you’re guzzling coffee around lunchtime, then maybe your cortisol levels are too low. Cortisol should spike in the morning when we wake up and slowly decline throughout the day. It’s okay if we get a little second wind in the afternoon and it should be at its lowest at night. But if your cortisol levels are dysregulated, all of your hormones will be dysregulated. When we look at low cortisol, we want to get adequate sleep; you’ve got to dial back stress and look at your exercise routine. If you have a stressed-out life, exercise is a good stress for your body. But if your cortisol is too low, you want to start dialing it back. Do yin yoga and pilates instead of strenuous exercise. Take time to meditate and nourish your system.
Thyroid, I found to be the most confusing of all of the hormones. Know that once again synthetic birth controls are affecting your thyroid production. The most common form of thyroid disease is hypothyroidism and the number one cause of hypo- to little thyroid hormone is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. It’s an autoimmune thyroid disease and when it’s ramping up and the immune system’s getting busy on your thyroid, you can show symptoms of hyper and then fluctuate into hypo which leaves your doctor saying “Maybe you need an anti-anxiety med or an antidepressant med.” Both anxiety and depression go hand-in-hand with hypothyroidism, which is too little thyroid hormone. With hypothyroidism, your energy will be low, you can be infertile, your periods can become irregular, you’re constipated, you’re cold, have dry skin and suffer from hair loss. Your voice being gravelly in the morning can be a sign that your thyroid hormones are too low. It’s because when thyroid hormone gets low, sugars are deposited on our vocal cords. Some women have said that it sounds like they’ve smoked a pack of cigarettes. That’s a subtle way it can show up because thyroid hormones affects every cell in your body. Another subtle symptom is that the muscles of their feet and hands hurt because they are using them the most every day. You need the thyroid hormone while you’re sleeping to repair all those tissues.
You’re the only one who knows what’s normal in your body. If at any point you say “This is not normal for me,” it warrants investigation and a doctor who will listen. And if your doctor won’t listen, you need to find one who who will because there is only so much that lab tests and a physical exam can tell us. The data you walk around with every day in your body is priceless. So write it down and track it and help doctors like me be able to find the root cause of your symptoms.
If you have hyperthyroidism, too much thyroid hormone, that is Grave’s disease, an autoimmune disease. In Hashimoto’s hypothyroid, you destroy the thyroid gland. In Grave’s disease you dock antibodies. These antibodies grow unto the receptors of the thyroid and stimulate it to go into overdrive and now you’re making excess thyroid hormone. Now with that you may get a goitre. It may be that we see an enlargement of your thyroid, but most of the time you’re not sleeping, you’re sweating and you feel super super hot. You have diarrhea and you have anxiety.
I’ve seen so many women come in with hormone imbalances being given mood-altering prescription when there’s a root cause. So before you pop a pill, ask your doctor “Is there something deeper going on?” Because with a simple blood test, you can get answers. I can give you some tips that will help. If you have Grave’s disease, you need a doctor. Your heart will race and you will feel like you’re going to have a heart attack. It’s not likely that you will, but it is very uncomfortable. With high thyroid, and this is true of high cortisone, you can lose your bone rapidly. So you definitely have to get checked out and and look into. You may require medication. I would say I have found so many times women do best on natural desiccated thyroid hormone. It’s the thyroid from a pig or a cow. It’s a combination of T4 and T3. T4 is the inactive thyroid hormone. They take the thyroid from the animal and dry it out and you take that as a supplement. It’s not a synthetic. It’s bio-identical. It’s approximating because this animal is closer to the human than the synthetic chemical is to what the human can produce. It’s got T4 and T3. T4 is inactive, and T3, the good stuff, is active. Right now we have no idea what T1 and T2 do, but we know we make it. I know about the human body. It doesn’t do anything it doesn’t need to do and so some experts hypothesize that might be part of it.
The thyroid hormone is much like the glass slipper in the Cinderella story. It’s not one size fits all. You have to find the shoe that fits for you. Most women do better on a natural desiccated thyroid hormone like Armor or Nature Throid or WP Thyroid Well. That may not be true for you and you might have to do some looking. The other thing that can be really helpful in case of Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism is taking selenium, and research has shown that 200 micrograms can actually help put the antibodies that are part of the whole attack system on your thyroid into remission.
While many doctors say “Oh you’re hypothyroid. That must be an iodine deficiency. Go take that in the United States.” That does not tend to be true. In fact, it’s not true in terms of the research, and many multiple studies have shown if you take iodine and you have a selenium deficiency, then you’re at risk of flaring that autoimmune disease. Birth control depletes your selenium. In fact there’s been countries that test their population. They introduced iodized salt and found higher incidences of Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism just by increasing iodine. It’s not that iodine is bad; you must have adequate selenium. I always start patients with selenium first. We bring on iodine second, and it’s important to recognize you only need about 150 micrograms of iodine. We use iodine to suppress thyroid function. So it actually can make your symptoms worse. That was my cautionary tale there of hypothyroidism.
There are a couple of steps that we have for you. Get tested and get the right tests. You will need your thyroid tested and your hormones tested. Doctors will do a blood test and look at the free hormones in your blood in that blood draw. That’s not helpful because you are a cyclical woman, both through the month and through the day and so what we recommend instead is something called a four-point dried urine test.
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