Essential Takeaways

  • Learn about the major imbalances that might be affecting your cycle, the warning signs, and what to do about it.
  • Your symptoms could be due to imbalances of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, cortisol, and thyroid hormones that are uniquely impacting the cycle.
  • Diet, lifestyle, and supplement changes can help to reverse the impact of hormonal imbalance. 

By Dr. Nicole Glathe DAOM, LAc, DiplOM, and the Elix Team 

As a doctor of Chinese medicine, I treat people for a variety of ailments—from neck pain to digestion issues, and everything in between. But regardless of what a patient comes in for, it’s crucial that I get a complete overview of their health in order to successfully diagnose and treat them. 

When asking female patients about their menstrual cycles (a vital sign of general health and underlying constitution), I was surprised by how often they responded: “I’m at home on the couch a few days each month, but I know that’s normal.” Actually, that’s not normal at all. 

I realized there needs to be more conversation around what a “normal” menstrual cycle looks and feels like—so, let’s dive in:

What a balanced cycle really means 

Your menstrual cycle is a symphony of hormones rising and falling throughout. When your hormones are balanced and flowing smoothly, you shouldn’t experience any extreme symptoms. It’s a bit like “no news is good news.” On the flip side, if you feel something, your body is saying something is out of whack. This can show up as an irregular cycle and/or cycle symptoms that disrupt your quality of life. 

Using a magic pill—be it birth control or ibuprofen—to wipe away your symptoms is tempting, but it ultimately does you a disservice. Because not only are the warning signs muted, but the root cause is allowed to fester over time, all the while experiencing additional side effects from whichever treatment you choose. Plus, as soon as the treatment stops, the symptoms from the unaddressed root issue come rushing back in. 

Hormones: they’re not just for your menstrual cycle

Researchers have identified over 200 hormones in the human body, which means that even though most of us know about the connection between hormones and puberty or fertility, they play so many more roles than just reproduction. Hormones control our sleep/wake cycles, blood sugar, energy, metabolism, mood, libido, memory, digestion… you get the picture. Virtually every bodily function is influenced by hormones in one way or another. 

All hormones interact with each other to facilitate these biological processes. Remember that symphony of hormones that controls the cycle? The sex hormones are only one part of that. Think of them like the percussion section of a larger orchestra. They work in tune with the other instruments (aka other types of hormones) to create the beautiful melody of life.

The thing about the sex hormones that control our cycle is that they’re often followers rather than leaders. So, when any of the other hormones (let’s say the thyroid hormones) go off track, the sex hormones can easily follow suit. With hormones, organs, bodily functions, external factors, and more constantly giving and receiving feedback, anything that disrupts the system can throw everything else out of balance. 

5 major players in hormonal imbalance that affect the cycle

A wide range of symptoms can occur from hormonal imbalance. And as hinted earlier, because the sex hormones are followers, one imbalance elsewhere can trigger imbalances in our cycle. Because of this interconnectedness, it can be difficult to nail down one reason for an imbalance and its symptoms. 

Some major triggers in hormonal imbalance are: 

  • Stress
  • Endocrine disruptors (e.g., plastic with BPA/ BPS, household products with phthalates, parabens, synthetic fragrances, etc.)
  • Alcohol
  • Being on and/or coming off hormonal birth control
  • Inflammatory diet (e.g., processed foods, pesticides, canola/vegetable/high omega-6 oils, sugar, etc.)
  • Inflammatory lifestyle (e.g., alcohol, inactivity, smoking, etc.) 
  • HPA axis dysregulation (aka adrenal fatigue)
  • Blood sugar fluctuations or insulin resistance 
  • Lack of sleep
  • Insufficient fat (all sex hormones are made of cholesterol) or vitamins/antioxidants in your diet

Below are the major hormonal players in the cycle and the symptoms associated with their imbalances. If you notice you experience the majority of symptoms in one category, that very well could be your primary imbalance.

  • Too much: Estrogen causes thickening of endometrium, which is why estrogen dominance can lead to heavy or painful bleeding. It also can result in fibroids, cystic ovaries, breast tenderness, and is associated with an increased risk of cancer. 
  • Too little: Irregular or missed periods, light colored menstrual blood, spotting mid-cycle, anxiety or depression, fatigue, thinning skin, low libido, vaginal dryness (with potential for painful sex), high frequency of UTIs, brain fog, hot flashes. 
  • Too much: (This usually occurs with over-exposure to exogenous progesterone) excessive sleepiness, dizziness, bloating, susceptibility to yeast infections. 
  • Too little: Irregular or short menstrual cycles, breast tenderness, heavy bleeding, infertility, anxiety, crying/depression, insomnia. 
  • Too much: Acne, oily skin/hair, thinning hair, abnormal hair growth on face/chest/abdomen, depression/anxiety, PCOS
  • Too little: Low libido, lack of motivation, depression, easy crying, mood swings, fatigue, heart disease, weight gain.
  • Too much: “Wired and tired,” waking between 2-4am with insomnia, overwhelmed, irritable, extra weight in midsection, elevated blood sugar. 
  • Too little: Fatigue (even after a full night’s sleep), energy crash in the afternoon, sweet/salty food cravings, dizziness, insomnia, low blood sugar.
  • Too much: Menstrual irregularities (irregular cycles, heavy bleeding, pain, mood swings), weight loss, anxiety, insomnia, hair loss, increased heat sensations/sweating, loose stool, palpitations. 
  • Too little: Menstrual irregularities (irregular cycles, heavy bleeding, pain, mood swings), weight gain, fatigue, memory loss, slower heart rate, increased cold sensations, depression/anxiety, thinning hair, brittle nails, dry skin, constipation. 

What is “Balance?”

Balance may seem elusive, but it basically means we never want to see one hormone being more dominant or not pulling its weight. We don’t want to hear one instrument louder than the rest and we need them all to play evenly in order to have harmony. Imbalances can look very different in each individual, depending on which hormone is out of balance, the root cause of that imbalance, and which hormones or functions are affected down the line. 

This cascade of imbalances is what results in symptoms. It’s also why treating just a symptom will not do much to heal the underlying imbalance. While symptom relief can feel like a huge weight off your shoulders in the short term, this approach often leads to an endless cycle of pill→ relief→ pill wears off → symptom → pill → and so on. Without addressing the root cause, those symptoms can never be relieved for good—plus, those side effects keep accumulating. 

Elix Cycle Balance: how herbs can help 

Because of the numerous ways that hormonal imbalance can be caused, there are numerous ways in which they can be addressed. Lifestyle changes and supplemental support can offer the most positive results.

Lifestyle changes that reduce stress, lower inflammation in the diet, remove toxins from household and beauty products, and increase exercise are all extremely beneficial. But oftentimes our bodies need help reaching balance faster and reducing our symptoms, before further damage from the imbalance sets in or we’re simply completely burnt out from our painful symptoms. 

For centuries, herbal medicine has been used to regulate cycles, decrease symptoms, increase fertility, increase energy, and more. Ancient practitioners knew that getting at the root of the problem, an underlying imbalance, was the best way to reduce all symptoms at once (rather than trying to knock them out one by one). The great news is that modern science now proves what the ancient practitioners observed was true—that herbal medicine has a direct effect on hormonal balance

Here’s how:  

Because everyone’s hormonal imbalances and subsequent symptoms are unique, having a personalized treatment guided by a qualified practitioner is paramount. That’s why at Elix, we’ve brought the experience of seeing a qualified practitioner online—eliminating the guessing game of Google searching to help you heal and feel better faster.

Try your own personalized herbal formula - take the free health assessment today

This article was reviewed by Dr. Elizabeth Fine.
Dr. Elizabeth Fine, DAOM, LAcDr. Fine is currently the Dean of Clinical Education at Emperor’s College and has been practicing Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine for over 25 years, with a specialization in Women’s Reproductive Health.

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