Hormones are extremely complicated because they are changing all day, there are lots of them, they are hard to test in a meaningful way, and they take time and effort to balance. However, they can also produce some symptoms that many women would really love to reverse, like yesterday! So, I’m going to do my best to cover some basic concepts on what’s normal, one of the most common hormonal imbalances women encounter before menopause, and some insight on how to tackle it.
What’s a Normal Female Cycle?
Every month, women go through a hormonal cycle in attempts to create a window where they can get pregnant. (We are animals after all). We see 2 major things happening during that 28-31 day time period:
- Increase in estrogen in the first half of the cycle
- Increase in progesterone the second half of the cycle
These two hormones work in tandem and have a yin and yang relationship meaning if one is out of whack, everything goes off the rails. I’ve written about birth control before, so if you are currently on hormonal birth control, please read that now! If you’re not taking synthetic hormones, then we can move on. Many times, low progesterone is causing issues in a woman’s body, and it’s giving her symptoms of too much estrogen. The catch here though, is that you may have normal levels of estrogen, but if progesterone is in the tank, you’ll have symptoms like you have too much estrogen because they aren’t in good balance. This is important to note, because if you start treating those symptoms like you have high estrogen, trying to lower it, you won’t be fixing the problem.
Symptoms of Low Progesterone
- Heavy Periods
- Autoimmunity or Allergies developing out of nowhere
- Weight Gain
- Body pain syndromes
- Brain fog or memory issues
Tell-tale Symptoms of High Estrogen
- Breast tenderness
- Heavy periods
In perimenopause, which is about 7 years prior to menopause, you will see a drop in progesterone levels before you see a drop in estrogen. That will mean you could experience all of the above symptoms. Awesome. However, toward the end, estrogen will lower too and you won’t experience most of things once you’ve reached menopause, which is typically around early 50s.
Should I Test My Hormones?
In many ways, symptoms are the best way to determine what your hormones are doing because they vary so much throughout the day, month, and years. Sometimes trying to do everything based on testing can feel like a moving target. Testing can be beneficial, but I would start with symptoms and lifestyle intervention first.
How can I fix low progesterone?
One way to address low progesterone is to take a bioidentical version of progesterone called Prometrium or Utrogestan. However, I encourage you to see how you feel after 3-6 months of commitment to lifestyle changes because you may be surprised how far you can go without the prescription!
- Regulate that blood glucose and insulin!
- That means cleaning up your diet to eliminate excess sugar, alcohol, refined carbs and making sure to include protein at every meal.
- In this way, testing your A1C and fasting insulin may do more for you.
- Avoid dairy
- Dairy can contribute to hormone imbalances for many reasons including animal hormones but also via activating mast cells which are connected to migraines and heavy periods
- Decrease stress
- Start a meditation or yoga practice, eliminate excessive commitments, hire a house cleaner, don’t feel guilty about getting a baby sitter, and go in nature.
- Here, heart rate variability is an easy thing to track through a wearable device or your phone.
- Lift weights
- Any exercise is beneficial for your hormones, but lifting weights or doing body weight resistance training seems to do the most for perimenopause, maintaining the muscle necessary to sustain metabolism, and aid in bone health.
- Avoid chemicals that are endocrine disrupters
- Every beauty product, plastic, and chemical in your home or on your body could potentially influence your hormone receptors and sensitivity, so use ewg.org/skindeep to determine if that’s a huge issue for you
- Consider supplementation of key nutrients like Magnesium, Taurine, Zn, Vitamin D Vitamin C.
- Consider the use of herbs such as Chasteberry, aka Vitex.
Feel free to see my favorite supplement blends and dosing here.
That sounds like a lot, but the good news is that the hormone fluctuation leading up to menopause won’t last forever and the healthier your lifestyle choices, the smoother the ride should be. However, don’t be afraid to find a functional doctor that works with bio-identical hormones to assist you after implementing these lifestyle changes because bio-identical hormones can be a life-saver for many woman!