hormone balance

How to Balance Hormones Naturally

Dr. Jolene BrightenPublished: Last Reviewed: Sex Hormones Leave a Comment

What is often treated with a laundry list of prescriptions can simply come down to a hormonal imbalance, which is particularly common in women. Things like hormone-blocking shampoo to prevent hair loss, birth control to “regulate” an irregular period, or anxiety medication for hormone-driven mood symptoms are often offered when really the necessary treatment is to naturally balance your hormones. In this article, I’ll guide you in how you can tell if your hormone levels are imbalanced and how to balance your hormones naturally so you can put those symptoms in check!

Take, for example, my patient Kendra. She came to see me after her hormone imbalance symptoms became too much to handle. “I’m raging and crying before every period, my sleep has gone downhill, and no matter what I do I cannot lose weight,” she explained. It was true. Kendra had tried just about everything to lose weight. From extreme dieting to extreme exercise and a handful of “scary pills on the internet” Kendra was feeling desperate. And worse, her hair was starting to fall out. Like many women, understanding the cause of Kendra’s hormone imbalance was going to be the key to healing.

Table of contents:

How do you know if your hormones are out of balance?

Symptoms of hormone imbalance in women can present in a variety of ways. Mood swings, anxiety, depression, weight gain, inability to lose weight, problems to your digestive system, changes to hair, skin and nails, heavy or painful periods, acne, PMS, inability to sleep, fatigue, and afternoon energy crashes can all be due to imbalances in our hormones.

How to Regulate Hormones

There are several natural ways to balance hormones. For example, nourishing your body with a hormone balancing diet full of hormone supportive foods and healthy fats, dialling in exercise to fit your current needs and leveraging the right supplements can have a positive effect when it comes to balancing your hormones. You could also try seed cycling as an effective method to promote a natural hormone balance.

In terms of quality foods to eat, green tea helps lower estrogen levels and is associated with lower risk of estrogen-dependent conditions. Flax seeds are rich in omega fatty acids and provide lignans, which have a weak estrogen effect. Together, these foods can help optimize your estrogen levels and avoid estrogen dominance. Other foods such as coconut oil and olive oil have been shown to help with hormone imbalances.

Give your body the nutrients it needs to create amazing hormones. Download your FREE Hormone Starter Kit with 7 Day Meal Plan & Recipe Guide Book.

What Are The Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance?

Symptoms of female hormone imbalance can present in a variety of ways. Mood swings, anxiety, depression, weight gain, inability to lose weight, changes to hair, skin and nails, heavy or painful periods, acne, PMS, inability to sleep, fatigue, and afternoon energy crashes can all be due to imbalances in our hormones.

Let’s start by reviewing some of our main hormone players and what it looks like for them to be out of balance.

Estrogen Hormone Imbalance Symptoms

Estrogen is what gives us our curves, plumps up the best parts, helps us develop eggs, ovulate, and build the lining of our uterus (the endometrium). This hormone also maintains our brain, bone, and heart health. It has also been shown to be beneficial in regulating our immune system.

Too much estrogen is typically referred to as estrogen dominance and can either be caused due to too much estrogen or not enough progesterone. Excess estrogen is a common cause of hormone imbalance symptoms in women and something I commonly treat in my practice.

As bad as too much estrogen can sound, too little can be equally problematic. Remember, estrogen is protecting critical organs. While estrogen will begin its decline as we near menopause if you’re younger than forty these estrogen imbalance symptoms may be a sign of early menopause.

Symptoms of Too Much Estrogen

    • Water retention
    • Breast swelling and tenderness
    • Migraines
    • Fibrocystic breast changes
    • Swollen, tender breasts
    • Weight gain, especially butt, hips and thighs
    • Mood swings, irritability

For Kendra, excess estrogen or estrogen dominance was causing weight to stick to her thighs and for her to feel enraged before her period came. Her PMS struggle was real.

One of the first answers to Kendra's question of how to balance hormones was found in her gut. She had yeast overgrowth and not enough “good” gut bugs. Plus, she was constipated.

We got to work fixing her gut so she could eliminate her estrogen and supporting her liver in detoxing her estrogen using Balance by Dr. Brighten, which also has the benefit of harmonizing estrogen and progesterone—two hormones Kendra desperately needed to get in check.

Symptoms of Too Little Estrogen

As bad as too much estrogen can sound, too little can be equally problematic. Remember, estrogen is protecting critical organs.

While estrogen will begin its decline as we near menopause, if you’re younger than forty these symptoms may be a sign of early menopause.

Symptoms of Too Little Estrogen

    • More fine lines and wrinkles
    • Brain fog
    • Creaky joints 
    • Drooping or sagging breasts
    • Painful sex, vaginal dryness
    • Vaginal atrophy
    • Headaches
    • Hot flashes
    • Fatigue
    • Depression
    • Irregular or missing periods

Progesterone Hormone Imbalance Symptoms

Progesterone is a key hormone in helping ease anxiety, getting good sleep through the night, creating easier periods, and maintaining a healthy pregnancy. This audio snippet is me reading from chapter 2 (The Lowdown on Your Hormones) from my new book, Beyond the Pill.

Progesterone is highest during the second half of our cycle, the luteal phase. Following ovulation, a structure in the ovary is formed called the corpus luteum. It secretes progesterone. So, without ovulation, we have no corpus luteum and this can be a common reason for progesterone to be low.

When progesterone is low in the luteal phase we can find ourselves with a relative estrogen dominance. That is, there is the right amount of estrogen, but no progesterone to balance it out. Relative estrogen dominance is a common cause of estrogen excess symptoms and why PMS can be so brutal. And why you’ll notice some of the low progesterone symptoms are very similar to estrogen excess.

We do not typically see excess progesterone symptoms unless a woman is pregnant or using progesterone topically or orally. In a rare genetic condition called congenital adrenal hyperplasia, there can be high levels of progesterone.

Symptoms of Too Little Progesterone

    • Fibrocystic breasts
    • Mid-cycle spotting
    • Anxiety
    • Insomnia
    • Irritability
    • Menstrual cramps
    • Heavy or irregular menses
    • Short cycles

Related: How to Boost Your Progesterone Levels

Symptoms of Too Much Progesterone

    • Feeling “bluesy”
    • Breast tenderness
    • Mood swings
    • Waking feeling groggy
    • Bloating
    • Dizziness
    • Increase in yeast infection

Testosterone Hormone Imbalance Symptoms

Often thought of as the “man hormone” and not necessary for women, it is actually an essential hormone in women's health. And I’m here to tell you, testosterone is your friend.

Testosterone is part of our motivation, our drive (not just sex drive) and that she-power energy you leverage to run your life.

It also supports bone health, much like estrogen. But it gets a bad rep because when it goes high we get hair in all the wrong places. And we lose it on our head. 

Symptoms of Too Much Testosterone

    • Excess body hair (especially upper lip, chin, chest and abdomen)
    • Acne
    • Oily skin
    • Increased body odor
    • Irritability, aggression
    • Long cycles

Too much testosterone is a big reason us ladies get offered birth control. But because it is so potent and disruptive to our hormones we often swing to having too little testosterone, which is equally troubling.

Kendra had both excess testosterone and estrogen, each can drive hair loss.

Symptoms of Too Little Testosterone

    • Fatigued
    • Depressed
    • Disinterested in sex
    • Loss of libido
    • Vaginal dryness
    • Memory loss
    • Joint pain
    • Hot flashes
    • Loss of muscle mass
    • Missing periods
    • Infertility

Cortisol Imbalance Symptoms

Don’t go hating on cortisol. Cortisol is the hormone of survival and has your back!  So here’s the deal, cortisol gets a bad rep because it does lead to belly fat. But why? Because it loves you and wants you to survive.

For Kendra, her cortisol levels were going crazy. Too high at night and too low in the morning. What did that look like? She wasn’t sleeping and she was dragging through the day. Yes, you can have simultaneously too little and too much cortisol, just at the wrong time of day. That’s why I designed my Optimal Adrenal Kit to help get cortisol in check!

The first step was to get stress down, but she needed more than just stress reduction because that train was on the wrong track! So we got her going with Adrenal Calm at night to help get her cortisol in check and optimize her sleep. (Psst…you’ll never lose weight or balance hormones if you don’t sleep.)

Symptoms of Too Much Cortisol

    • Headaches
    • Muscle aches
    • Feeling wired and tired
    • Belly fat
    • Inability to lose weight
    • Catching Every. Single. Cold.
    • Fierce sugar and salt cravings
    • Heartburn and tummy trouble
    • Low libido
    • Insomnia
    • Painful periods
    • Anxiety
    • Depression
    • Feeling “wired and tired”

Symptoms of Too Little Cortisol

    • Feeling stressed by every little thing
    • Feeling overwhelmed by day-to-day activities
    • Waking feeling tired
    • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
    • Low libido
    • Menstrual irregularities
    • PMS
    • Feeling lightheaded when you go from lying down or seated to a standing position
    • Low blood pressure
    • Blood sugar irregularities
    • Anxiety
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Exercise intolerance or difficulty recovering

How to Regulate Your Cortisol

Here's a simple breathing technique I taught Kendra to help get her stress (and cortisol) in check:

  1. Exhale completely until your lungs are empty.
  2. Then, inhale through your nose slowly for a count of 3-5
  3. Hold the breath at the top for a count of 5.
  4. Release the breath slowly from your mouth (for a count of 6-10), holding again for a moment at the bottom.

Try 5 deep breaths like this and see how you feel.

Thyroid Imbalance Symptoms

The thyroid is crucial to all hormone health and to every cell. And you know who gets hit with thyroid issues the hardest? Us ladies!

In fact, the majority of those with thyroid disease are women. It’s a common reason why our periods get weird and our weight gets stuck.

Symptoms of Too Much Thyroid Hormone

    • Diarrhea
    • Anxiety
    • Racing heart
    • Panic attacks
    • Insomnia
    • Weight loss
    • Tremor
    • Muscle weakness
    • Sweating
    • Pacing
    • Heat intolerance

Kendra was experiencing symptoms of too little thyroid hormone. Her antibodies were negative for Hashimoto’s, but her free T3 (active thyroid hormone) was suboptimal. Her concerns about weight, fatigue, and anxiety pointed towards hypothyroidism. The root cause? Her gut, adrenals and estrogen were off balance and she was in need of nutritional support. She started making shifts in her diet to help provide her thyroid with what it needed to function. She was also supporting her adrenals and estrogen to ensure her thyroid hormone was getting used by her cells.

Symptoms of Too Little Thyroid Hormones

    • Muscle aches and joint pain
    • Hair loss
    • Brittle nails
    • Dry skin
    • Depression
    • Anxiety
    • Long cycles, irregular periods
    • Constipation
    • Heartburn
    • Slow heart rate
    • Brain Fog
    • Thinning hair or loss of outer portion of eyebrows
    • Unexplained weight gain
    • Sensitivity to cold
    • Memory trouble
    • Infertility

After changing her diet, exercising and taking the correct supplements, within 3 months Kendra’s weight was “magically disappearing” as she put it. She was also practicing sleep hygiene—sleeping in a completely dark room and getting in bed before 10 pm to allow her mind time to unwind.

Kendra also started a prenatal and nightly Capillus therapy for extra hair support and in six months found that her head was “covered in fuzzies” and she was down 2 pants size! She was ecstatic that the hair loss had stopped and jumping for joy that she was finding new growth.

It took only two cycles for the PMS rage to diminish and she was feeling more in tune with what she needed and respecting it. Rather than pushing through every day with a yes to everyone who came her way, she was pulling back at just the time she needed to nourish herself. Something she always felt was selfish, but only now realized was so necessary.

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About The Author

Dr. Jolene Brighten

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Dr. Jolene Brighten, NMD, is a women’s hormone expert and prominent leader in women’s medicine. As a licensed naturopathic physician who is board certified in naturopathic endocrinology, she takes an integrative approach in her clinical practice. A fierce patient advocate and completely dedicated to uncovering the root cause of hormonal imbalances, Dr. Brighten empowers women worldwide to take control of their health and their hormones. She is the best selling author of Beyond the Pill and Healing Your Body Naturally After Childbirth. Dr. Brighten is an international speaker, clinical educator, medical advisor within the tech community, and considered a leading authority on women’s health. She is a member of the MindBodyGreen Collective and a faculty member for the American Academy of Anti Aging Medicine. Her work has been featured in the New York Post, Forbes, Cosmopolitan, Huffington Post, Bustle, The Guardian, Sports Illustrated, Elle, and ABC News. Read more about me here.