When it comes to the organs involved in overall hormone health, most people think the ovaries in women or testes in men are the only factors involved. However, the liver, thyroid, gut, and adrenals are of primary importance throughout the different ages and stages of hormone changes. To maintain hormonal health, we first need to understand some of the barriers to optimal hormone health and the organs responsible for hormone balance.
Barriers to Hormone Health
Hormones influence all aspects of health, and healthy hormones are the key to overall optimal health. Some barriers to hormone health include:
- Lack of exercise
- Standard American Diet (SAD) – refined carbohydrates, sugar, bad fats
- Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) *
- Stress and adrenal fatigue
- Undiagnosed thyroid disorder
- Gut microbiome imbalance
*Certain chemicals in plastics, cleaning products or those that end up in our food supply, or are added to cosmetics also affect hormone balance in a negative way. These chemicals are referred to as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), also known as xenoestrogens. They are estrogen imposters –that look molecularly similar to those produced by the body. These “imposters” contribute to many estrogen-dominant conditions such endometriosis, fibroids, infertility, and breast cancer.
Healthy liver function is necessary to prevent many hormone imbalances. We previously mentioned the importance of the liver in the detoxification of various chemicals, particularly those that disrupt the endocrine system, leading to conditions associated with estrogen dominance. The liver also plays an important role in the metabolism of estrogens.
Healthy liver function is absolutely critical for the prevention and treatment of estrogen-dominant conditions. Indole-3-carbinol (I-3-C), and calcium-D-glucarate, help with the breakdown of these harmful estrogens to help maintain hormone balance. There are also excellent combination formulas that help support detoxification.
The adrenals play an important role in hormonal balance particularly during the more dramatic hormonal changes in perimenopause or menopause. When the adrenal glands are working properly, they produce adequate amounts of precursor hormones that are further synthesized into estrogens and testosterone to balance the diminished production from the ovaries. However, many women have adrenal insufficiency long before these transitions due to chronic stress. In chronic stress, the precursor hormones (specifically pregnenolone and progesterone) are shunted into the stress hormone pathway to make more of the hormone cortisol. This can cause a deficiency in hormones such as estrogens, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), progesterone, and testosterone.
Women in general and more specifically working mothers, have experienced additional stress over the past year due to the pandemic. In addition to normal demands they are now having to juggle intermittent school closures, working from home, home schooling and the added anxiety over concerns for their families. Stress support becomes even more important in these unprecedented times in our lives. While we may not be able to get rid of the stressors, the good news is we can support the body to handle stress better.
Adaptogens are a category of herbs that have been proven effective for regulating the stress response. Some examples include Siberian ginseng, schisandra, rhodiola, suma, and ashwagandha. There are also good combination formulas available. Talk to the knowledgeable staff at The Vitamin Shop about combination formulas to support the adrenal glands.
The gut microbiome directly influences hormone balance. About 50% of the estrogen “couples” formed in the liver are excreted via the bile into the intestines. The successful journey of these couples through the intestine depends on healthy microflora. Poor mood, hormone issues, fatigue can occur when an imbalance in gut microbes. Taking a good probiotic periodically can help to maintain a healthy gut microbiome.
Thyroid hormones play an important role in balancing female hormones by improving energy and metabolism and supporting brain function. It is not surprising that poor thyroid function produces a wide range of symptoms in many areas of the body. Symptoms of hypothyroidism are often mistaken for problems with estrogen and progesterone fluctuations, and hormone imbalances. Recent studies indicate that one in every ten Canadians has a thyroid disorder. Of those, as many as 50% are undiagnosed.
There are natural supplements that support the overall health of the thyroid including: tyrosine an important amino acid precursor for the synthesis of thyroid hormones T4 and T3; ashwagandha supports the adrenal glands as well as healthy thyroid function; Vitamin D is a cofactor for the synthesis of thyroid hormones. There are also excellent combination formulas that help support thyroid.
NOTE: Natural supplement support does not replace your prescription medication in clinical hypothyroidism.
In addition to supporting the organs that influence hormone balance, diet, exercise, and stress reduction are the foundation of hormonal health.
KAREN JENSEN, ND
Karen Jensen was in clinical practice for 25 years and although she is retired, she continues to write books and educate on the naturopathic approach to wellness. She is author or co-author of seven books, her most recent is Women’s Health Matters: The Influence of Gender on Disease.