hormone balance

How to Balance Hormones

Kendra came to see me after her hormone imbalance symptoms became too much to handle and she desperately needed to know how to balance hormones naturally. “I’m raging and crying before every period, my sleep has gone down hill, and no matter what I do I can not 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, Kendra was offered birth control pills, hormone blocking shampoo, and an anxiety prescription for what was so clearly a hormone imbalance. And like so many women who have come to my medical clinic, Kendra wanted to feel “normal” again without a laundry list of prescriptions.

“I felt normal once, so I know it is possible to get there again. I just need to understand how to balance hormones and make these problems go away,” Kendra shared.

Kendra was right. Understanding the cause of her hormone imbalance was going to be the key to healing.

How to Balance Hormones

The first step in balancing hormones is understanding which hormones are driving your symptoms and why.

Hormone imbalances can show up in many ways. And because they all work together so intimately, deciphering which is the issue is often the most challenging part for women.

But know this, you can balance your hormones naturally and your symptoms are your body’s way of guiding you. Yup, they are clues to solving your hormone mystery.

Kendra's symptoms were pointing towards excess in estrogen, cortisol and low progesterone. A gut infection and stress were a couple of the reasons she was having PMS, issues with weight loss, and sleepless nights. And those sleepless nights weren't helping her hormones at all.

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Hormone Imbalance Symptoms

Symptoms of 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.

Estrogen has also been shown to be beneficial in regulating our immune system.

Too Much Estrogen

This is typically referred to as estrogen dominance and can be a state of way too much estrogen or not enough progesterone. More on that soon.

Excess estrogen is a common cause of hormone imbalance symptoms in women and something I commonly treat in my practice.

Symptoms of Too Much Estrogen

  • Irregular or heavy periods
  • Water retention
  • Breast swelling and tenderness
  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Fibrocystic breast changes
  • Swollen, tender breasts
  • Weight gain, especially butt, hips and thighs
  • Mood swings, irritability
  • Hair loss
  • Painful periods
  • PMS is often caused by too much estrogen

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.

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 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.

Symptoms of Too Little Progesterone

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

Too Much Progesterone

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 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 “dude” or “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 wrap because when it goes high we get hair in all the wrong places. And we lose it on our head. Lame. Scratch that…super lame.

Symptoms Too Much Testosterone

  • Hair loss on the scalp
  • Excess body hair (especially upper lip, chin, chest and abdomen)
  • Infertility
  • Acne
  • Oily skin
  • Increased body odor
  • Sleep disturbance
  • 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 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 wrap because it does lead to belly fat. But why? Because it loves you and wants you to survive.

All your hormones love you. Your body loves you. Got it? Good. Because that old story that your body is betraying you is so played out I just can’t with it anymore.

For Kendra, her cortisol levels were going cray. 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”

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

  • Exhale completely until your lungs are empty.
  • Then, inhale through your nose slowly for a count of 3-5
  • Hold the breath at the top for a count of 5.
  • 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.

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

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
  • Fatigue
  • Brain Fog
  • Thinning hair or loss of outer portion of eyebrows
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Memory trouble
  • Infertility

Within 3 months Kendra’s weight was “magically disappearing” as she put it. Nourishing her body with hormone supportive foods, dialing in her exercise to fit her current needs and leveraging the right supplements was moving the needle for her every day.

She was practicing sleep hygiene—sleeping in a completely dark room and getting in bed before 10 pm to allow her mind time to unwind.

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 was realizing was so necessary.

Kendra 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.

Achieving amazing hormones is totally attainable! If you need support, please check out what it looks like to work with my team and how we can help you get your hormones back into balance.


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About The Author

Dr. Jolene Brighten

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Dr. Jolene Brighten is a Functional Medicine Naturopathic Medical Doctor and the founder of Rubus Health, a women’s medicine clinic that specializes in women's hormones. She is recognized as a leading expert in Post-Birth Control Syndrome and the long-term side effects associated with hormonal contraceptives. Dr. Brighten is the best selling author, speaker and regular contributor to several online publications including MindBodyGreen. She is a medical advisor for one of the first data-driven apps to offer women personalized birth control recommendations.