Taz Bhatia, M.D., is a board-certified physician and professor at Emory University who specializes in integrating mainstream medicine with holistic practices. To learn more, check out her NEW mindbodygreen class, The Doctor's Guide to Hormonal Imbalance.
It's critical that we protect our hormones. Without the right balance of all our hormones playing together in a perfect symphony, we are simply not ourselves.
The symptoms may differ from person to person, and the situations may vary, but the comment I always hear from my patients dealing with hormone imbalance is, "I just don't feel like myself." From thinning hair to fatigue, hormones affect and influence many areas of our health and beauty. Here are the most common signs that you're dealing with a hormonal imbalance:
1. Hair thinning at the crown
I've personally experienced this. In fact, thinning hair was what jump-started my health journey and my initiation into the world of alternative systems of healing. At 28, my hair, which was once my crowning glory, started disappearing, leaving me with bald patches on my scalp and most noticeably at the crown. It was at the urging of my family and husband that I began to search for answers.
Every hormone can influence our hair. You have to learn the roles of all the hormones to really identify your hormone imbalance.
Thinning hair at the crown is usually a symptom of thyroid or insulin issues. A sluggish thyroid or insulin levels that flip-flop dramatically throughout a given day can trigger increased production of androgens, which can lead to hair loss. Androgens are male hormones that result in each hair follicle becoming smaller, with each hair strand becoming thinner and then eventually falling out.
What to do: The first step is to get your hormones checked and make sure your thyroid and insulin levels are stable. Sometimes it takes checking them every six weeks to really understand where they are trending and what may be normal for you.
Balance your blood sugar levels and think about removing all sugar, as well as eating at regular intervals. Try small servings of protein — 7 to 10 grams — every three to four hours to keep blood sugar stable.
2. Hair thinning at the temples
Thinning at the temples is a classic sign of an estrogen to progesterone imbalance. This commonly occurs after pregnancy or during menopause. It's a warning sign to get those particular hormones checked and to focus on hormone-building foods.
What to do: Try foods high in healthy fat and even with a bit of cholesterol, which is the building block for hormones. Consider adding in a daily egg, a teaspoon of ghee, or hormone-building soups containing herbs like dong quai, gui zhi, or goji berries.
3. Fatigue or low energy
Any hormone can lead to low energy, so it's important to get them all checked out. One of your clues can be understanding where in your monthly cycle this drop in energy occurs. If it's happening as soon as your cycle starts, it may be that you have too much estrogen on hand. If it's happening the weeks before your cycle, then low progesterone is likely to blame.
On the other hand, a deep fatigue that lasts all month may be more of an issue with your cortisol levels or your thyroid, both of which need support if you're stressed. High and low cortisol can create fatigue, including brain fog, the afternoon slump, or that feeling of being "wired but tired." A sluggish or overactive thyroid can create a fatigue that includes muscle cramps, weakness, poor exercise tolerance, and even shortness of breath.
What to do: Understanding the rhythm of your particular fatigue will help you identify the root cause much faster. Begin healing fatigue with food by increasing your protein and your healthy fats and lowering your intake of sugar. Then add in a daily B-complex — B-vitamins boost energy as well as support hormone production and breakdown.
Ultimately, tracking your fatigue against your cycles can help you and your doctor find lasting energy.
4. Belly fat
Weight loss seems to be a challenge for women as they navigate through various phases of their lives like adolescence, their 20s, the fertility years, perimenopause, and beyond. It's the unpredictable hormone shifts that are such a challenge to women and can leave them starving and overexercising their ways to weight loss.
If you're struggling with abdominal weight, the hormone insulin is most often to blame, along with its buddy, cortisol. Both hormones spike in response to stress and encourage storage of abdominal fat. The keys to weight loss here are to improve digestion and level out insulin and cortisol levels.
What to do: Eat consistently and at regular intervals. Stop eating by 8 p.m. and maintain a 12-hour fast overnight to keep your metabolism and digestive system humming.
5. Heavier breasts
Increasing cup size is a warning sign that your estrogen levels may be climbing, or you may not be breaking down estrogen effectively.
What to do: Add estrogen metabolizers like foods in the cruciferous vegetable family such as broccoli, kale, or cauliflower that help the liver break down estrogen. Exercise also helps estrogen metabolism, so aim to move about 45 minutes every day.
6. Weight gain in your hips and thighs
Gaining weight in these areas may be a sign that your thyroid isn't balanced.
What to do: Besides getting your thyroid checked, support your thyroid with iodine-rich foods and foods high in iron. Both are important for thyroid balance.
7. Skin problems
Your skin is one of the largest organs in the body, and the skin on your face tells a story. Pale, dull complexions are considered a deficiency state in Chinese medicine — a body chemistry that does not have what it needs to balance hormones. A reddish hue to the complexion hints at a congested liver and more trouble balancing and detoxifying your hormones. Acne on your chin and jaw area is a definite sign of unbalanced hormones, usually high androgens or trouble with insulin or with estrogen and progesterone balance.
Just knowing some of the signs and symptoms of hormone imbalances will empower you to take action on your hormones and protect them for years to come.