Hormones are chemical messengers that influence the way our cells and organs function. There are many different types of hormones in the body and although each has a different function, they are all influenced by another. Hormones are produced, stored and secreted via a network of glands, which make up our endocrine system. They control growth, development, reproduction, metabolism, mood, sleep and digestion.
Hormone levels fluctuate naturally and are part of our inbuilt life cycle. For a woman it is normal for hormones to shift during the menstrual cycle, soar during pregnancy and drop off before menopause. During the menstrual cycle, estrogen and progesterone fluctuate as the body prepares for ovulation and a possible pregnancy. If there is no pregnancy, the production of hormones fall, which induces menstruation and a new menstrual cycle begins. When a woman approaches 50 her production of hormones naturally decline causing less frequent periods. When her periods eventually stop she will have reached menopause.
Hormonal balance is vital to a healthy body and mind but can be disrupted in many ways. Too much stress, a poor diet, ill health, too much exercise, prescription medicines and a toxic overload are some ways that cause a disruption in the level of hormones.
When the body produces too much or little of a certain hormone it is known as hormonal imbalance. Depending on which hormone(s) is involved a woman will experience a range of symptoms including moodiness, weight gain, digestive problems, acne, menstrual irregularities, infertility, headaches, insomnia, breast pain, anxiety, food cravings and loss of libido.
Yin and Yang
In Traditional Chinese Medicine hormonal balance is closely tied to the concept of Yin and Yang balance. Although Yin and Yang are opposite in nature they depend on one another to function properly. Hormonal balance occurs when Yin and Yang interchange smoothly making room for change and transformation. Just as it is important for estrogen and progesterone to be balanced so too should the Yin – Yang ratio be balanced. If there is too much or too little Yin or Yang in the body, imbalances will occur, which leads to hormonal imbalance.
Hormonal imbalance does not happen overnight. It takes time before symptoms become apparent.
A sedentary person who sits too much and has a poor diet is likely to end up with heaviness and congestion (too much Yin) in the lower part of her body. When blood cannot circulate properly and there is a buildup of fluids (not enough Yang to move Yin) problems such as sore back, varicose veins, achy legs, piles and painful periods may occur. When the liver, which is intimately connected to hormone balance, becomes congested it will not be able to function properly. If the liver cannot process or bio transform hormones efficiently, the body will feel “out of balance” leading to hormonal imbalance.
A woman who exercises too much without sufficient rest (too much Yang) will end up putting so much stress on her body she will drain her reserves. When a person’s reserves, which are stored in kidneys and adrenals, are running low, symptoms such as tiredness, low libido and poor appetite are common. If the body produces a lower than normal level of hormones (Yin deficiency), it can lead to hormonal imbalance. This in turn may lead amenorrhea (no periods) or infertility due to ovulation problems
The goal of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is to restore balance in the body. Acupuncture and herbal medicine are safe and effective forms of treatments, which promote a healthy equilibrium. Acupuncture has a regulating effect on the body and herbs have a hormone balancing effect on the body. They both play an important role in regulating the menstrual cycle, balancing emotions and promoting healthy organ function.
During a consultation a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner will inquire about your general state of health and examine your tongue and pulse. Depending on your Yin-Yang ratio and accompanying symptoms, she will select the most appropriate treatment for you. She will also advise you on the best diet, form exercise and supplements to support you. Some general recommendations are as follows:
· Eat organic foods and hormone free meats where possible. Pesticides, chemicals and hormones are used to treat produce and animal products contain synthetic estrogen like substances and have negative effects on our organ and endocrine systems
· Add more cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts and cauliflower to your diet. These cruciferous vegetables contain di-indolymethane (DIM), which helps break down estradiol in the body. Too much estradiol (a form of estrogen made in the body) can contribute to breast pain, weight gain, moodiness, low libido and breast and uterine cancer.
· Eliminate caffeine, nicotine and alcohol
· Avoid junk food
· Take time out to do things you like – hikes, facials, pedicures, foot massage, read a book, meditate
· Zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6 and Vitamin C are helpful.