When women step into my office, there’s a lot we talk about—and it can get personal. From how to get pregnant to managing hot flashes at inopportune times (come to think of it, are they ever opportune?), we get into the big stuff, the kind of stuff fraught with mystery and, often, anxiety.
But in my OB/GYN practice, the one question I probably hear most often is “Why do I generally feel … off?”
When a woman comes to me with a sixth sense that her health is a little funky—and not in a good way—the first thing I want to rule out is a hormone imbalance. Here are the four questions I ask:
1. “How are you sleeping?”
If your sleep isn’t as sound as it used to be, hormones could be the culprit. Diminishing levels of estrogen and progesterone as you age have the ability to disrupt sleep and wake you up in the middle of the night. That can prompt you to reach for the sleeping pills—but they're only a temporary fix to a deeper problem.
2. “Did you suddenly gain weight that won’t go away?”
This symptom often points to out-of-whack hormone levels. On top of that, the weight problem is usually related to the sleep one, since your body will release more cortisol following sleep deprivation. And that cortisol, in turn, encourages your cells to store additional fat.
3. “Are you skipping periods?”
This is a big red flag: if a woman’s menstrual cycle is off, it’s time to look at her hormones. My patients often ask about cycle regulation in the context of fertility, but even if you’re not trying to get pregnant—and are just trying to feel better (see: bad sleep, weight gain)—it’s worth taking a closer look at your cycle.
4. “Are your breasts tender?”
Here, too, it's likely an estrogen or progesterone issue. When these two hormones aren’t at optimal levels, your physical body responds. And breast tenderness especially usually points to too-high estrogen or too-little progesterone.
How to Address Hormonal Imbalances
So, those are the signs. Any sound familiar?
If you suspect your “offness” may be a hormone imbalance, there are plenty of natural steps you can take to address it. Here’s what I would start with:
1. Deconstruct your diet.
This doesn't mean you have to go on a diet, but rather it's all about adding some hormone-helping flourishes. For example: love salad? Make it with spinach and throw on some almonds. Both will boost your calcium and magnesium, which benefits not only your hormones but your bone health as well. Love eggs? Eat the yolk: it’ll deliver you a solid punch of vitamin D. Love tea? Make it green: the antioxidants will give you a metabolism boost.
In general, eating in a way that favors clean proteins (lean and organic meats, nuts, fish, etc.) over simple carbs (cereal, rice, white bread, etc.) is a great way to up your minerals, energy, and digestion, setting up your hormones to work as effectively as possible.
2. Stock up on supplements.
There are plenty of ways to feed yourself hormone-balancing nutrients, but diet can help only so much. That’s why I point my patients toward high-quality supplements, including omega-3s to help regulate cortisol levels, a calcium supplement taken with magnesium, and black cohosh (with helps with hot flashes). I also recommend supplements that contain Chaste Berry, a super hormone helper. One that’s shown some promising science is Asensia—studies suggest it can increase progesterone production by 153 percent.
3. Mindfully meditate.
I know what you’re thinking: uh, meditate? I’m just trying to lose a little weight and sleep better.
But here’s the deal: your brain is a regulator of body chemicals that drastically affect how you feel overall. Cortisol, the stress hormone that's so easy to spike in our go-go-go culture, can be seriously reined in with a regular meditation practice. The impact I've seen meditation have on my own family’s life is profound, which is why I regularly ask my patients if this is a part of their health routine. Even five minutes a day can help!
I recommend my patients do a morning meditation for focus and an evening meditation for better sleep. Powering down all devices 45 to 60 minutes before bed then settling into a meditation length of your choosing will help you fall into a deep, peaceful sleep.