As women, there are multiple stages in our lives when we can experience hormone imbalance. Our hormones ebb and flow throughout the months, weeks, and even days of our lives. They also ebb and flow through the different life stages we move through.
Stress, diet, gut health dysfunction, constipation, compromised liver health, medications, and blood sugar imbalance all can contribute to hormone imbalance.
There are so many confusing symptoms that come with hormones being out of balance. The list is so long, it can get overwhelming. And oftentimes imbalance symptoms get normalized, because they are so common.
Yet, hormone imbalance symptoms are not normal. They are signals from your body that something is out of balance and not working optimally.
So what can you do to get clarity on the confusing hormone imbalance symptoms happening in your body?
Test… and don’t guess.
A long list of symptoms can leave us with a lot of speculation. And even more guessing as to what is going on. The tricky part is that hormone imbalance symptoms can have a lot of overlap. High estrogen can also look like low estrogen. Low progesterone can also look like high estrogen… etc.
So, trust your intuition.
If you don’t feel right… listen to your body.
Then…look for a practitioner that you feel seen and heard with. Look for someone you feel an equal partnership with. And, look for someone that will give you the gold standard of testing so you can start getting solutions.
Life Stages and Your Hormones
We go through multiple “hormone life cycle stages” during our lives. Let’s touch on them briefly so you can reflect on where you have been, where you are now, and where you are headed.
Hormone Life Stages
- Reproductive years called Premenopause (this is the time when we are cycling)
In puberty our hormones are just beginning to ramp up, as our bodies prepare to start cycling. The average girl begins to menstruate at age 12. Although we are seeing girls get their cycles earlier and earlier often due to hormone disruption from xenoestrogens, which is called precocious puberty.
Reproductive years called Premenopause:
In our later teens and 20’s we experience rather robust estrogen and progesterone levels. Our 30’s can be more robust early on, and begin to taper a bit in our later 30’s. This time is often known as our fertile years, and called pre-menopause. During this period of life is when stress can really start to pick up. Stress can have a deep effect on hormone levels.
During our 40’s our hormones lower further, we might begin to have more imbalance symptoms like breast tenderness, sleep disruption, irregular cycles, longer cycles, shorter cycles and even missed cycles. Hot flashes, joint pain, and brain fog are common too. These symptoms can get confusing! Our mid to late 40’s are often a time of perimenopause. Perimenopause is on average about 5-7 years prior to menopause (average age we enter menopause is 51), but some women will have symptoms for 10 years prior to menopause, maybe even longer!
In our early 50’s we will likely enter menopause. Menopause is the cessation of cycles for one year (postmenopause is after that year). On average in the US women enter menopause at age 51. Early menopause would be prior to age 45, and premature menopause is prior to age 40.
This stage comes after menopause, and a full year without cycles.
I honor that you might not “need” all of the “life cycle of cycles” information yet, but I want you to be informed about every stage of life. So that you as the conductor of your hormones can do everything you can to keep your orchestra in harmony throughout each stage of life.
Your Are The Conductor
Our hormones operate like an orchestra. We have different sections in our orchestra, and they all work together to create the beautiful music that is our body, and our expression.
Think of yourself like the conductor of this orchestra. But with hormone imbalance…. maybe the sheet music is missing, or one of the sections of your orchestra forgot to show up that day, or maybe even as a conductor you are blindfolded? This can be what it’s like trying to figure out what is going on with your hormones. It is a witchy bag of tricks let me tell you.
I wish I had the knowledge I do now, back when I was dealing with a host of hormone imbalance symptoms. Stress, mold exposure, blood sugar imbalance, and medications all contributed to my hormone imbalances.
However, there are solutions to the confusion, and the imbalances. It does take some discernment, the right testing and the right practitioner that can see the bigger picture with you, as your partner.
My Hormone Imbalance Story
My hormone imbalance story is a long one. I’ll be sharing the full story with you soon. But here is an edited version of the story.
My hormone imbalance symptoms started in my teens. I went from excruciating mid cycle ovulatory pain, to decades on the birth control pill (to stop the mid cycle pain). The imbalance continued to follow me through each decade and stage of my life. In my 20’s I experienced crushing fatigue and joint pain. In my 30’s that continued, and I experienced an out of balance thyroid, and was finally diagnosed with an autoimmune condition just while I was starting fertility treatment. Through fertility treatment the bigger picture became even more clear; endometriosis, infertility, multiple miscarriages, along with the still daily joint pain and autoimmune condition. I would later learn I was exposed to mold decades earlier which also contributed to all of the issues.
It was a long and exhausting journey. I have worked incredibly hard to feel good in my body. The good news is, I am beyond these imbalances, and in a really good place now. It took concerted effort, quite a bit of work, really good partners and excellent testing to get there.
Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance
There is a very long list of symptoms that can come from hormone imbalances. Some of the most common symptoms are breast tenderness, mood swings, irregular cycles, cramps and bloating. And, there are so many more symptoms.
Let’s take a look at the below comprehensive list, so you can discern if you may be dealing with hormone imbalance symptoms.
Keep in mind, these symptoms are common, but not normal. These symptoms are your body’s way of trying to get your attention, and ask you for help.
- Breast tenderness,
- Irregular cycles
- Painful cycles
- Sleep interruption
- Night sweats
- Brain fog
- Short cycles
- Long cycles
- No cycles
- Missed ovulation
- No ovulation
- Belly fat
- Hard to lose weight
- Impaired memory
- Low sex drive
- Painful sex
- Trouble conceiving
- Urinary urgency
- Urinary frequency
- Hair loss
- Thinning eyebrows
- Cold sensitivity
- Joint pain
- Vaginal dryness
- Insulin resistance
So, what do you do when you have 3, 5 or even 10 of these symptoms?
Testing rather than guessing is your next best step. Let’s talk about options.
Testing Options for Hormone Imbalance
Testing for hormone imbalance can be incredibly helpful. Other times it can be really confusing. In allopathic medicine (also known as Western medicine, or traditional medicine) the most common hormone tests used are saliva testing, and blood serum testing.
Unfortunately, these tests can be fairly inaccurate.
Let’s walk through the most common hormone testing options. And talk through the tests that are the most reliable, and the most unreliable.
Saliva testing can be used to test estrogen and progesterone, as well as cortisol. However, the saliva testing for estrogen and progesterone is not very accurate. Saliva testing is best used for cortisol. But even when the saliva test is done, it will only give you the 24 hour cycle of cortisol. Or otherwise known as the availability of cortisol. It does not give you the cortisol level which shows the total production of cortisol. Which is a lot like understanding how much gas you have in the tank.
This test is most often covered by insurance and can be interpreted by your practitioner, but there is the big puzzle piece of cortisol that is missing here. So I maintain it is not accurate information on its own, and is missing the cortisol (gas tank) factor.
Blood Serum Testing
Blood serum is the most common type of hormone testing. Think of it like a “snapshot” of your hormones. This test only shows hormone levels… Which you might say back to me…Isn’t that enough?
Actually, no! Keep reading to find out why not.
Blood serum needs to be done at a specific time of the cycle to get accurate information, but is often not done at the correct time. So unfortunately, this test is not as telling as you might hope.
And yet, it’s the most common test women have had done. Women tell me all the time that they have had this test, and their practitioners said…. “Everything looks normal!” And then they tell me, “But I don’t feel normal, I don’t feel normal at all!”
The trouble with this test is it is a literal “snapshot” of your hormones if they are done properly.
What’s missing from this test is that it doesn’t always accurately show hormone levels. It also doesn’t show how your body is breaking down and using your hormones. In other words is your body breaking down your hormones in a way that is healthy, or not healthy?
And, this test doesn’t show how your body is clearing your hormones from the body, also known as methylation. These are really important pieces of the hormone health puzzle.
This test is most often covered by insurance, and may be able to be interpreted by your primary practitioner. However, I maintain that because this test is often done at inaccurate times, and doesn’t really give us much info… the information you receive is often inaccurate, or deeply lacking.
24 Hour Urine Test
The 24 Hour Urine Test is another testing option. In this test you collect ALL your urine over a 24 hour period. This test is not only cumbersome, and a bit gross, but also doesn’t take into consideration the fluctuations of your hormones throughout the day.
This test is not often covered by insurance.
DUTCH Testing – The Gold Standard of Testing
DUTCH Testing is the Gold Standard of testing, and my favorite method of testing. The DUTCH test is like a MOVIE of your hormones.
DUTCH stands for “Dried, Urine Test for Comprehensive Hormones”. The founder of this test was frustrated by the lack of information in the above tests, and so created a lab test that was a combination of all of those tests, plus much more.
DUTCH testing shows your overall estrogen, as well as the estrogen breakdown (estrone E1, estradiol E2, and estriol E3). It also shows how your body uses these hormones (or metabolizes them). It shows us if your body is breaking them down in a healthy way, or a proliferative way.
It shows us progesterone, androgens (the male hormones), cortisol (stress hormones), melatonin, vitamin and mineral levels or the organic acids test, a gut health marker and has an inflammation marker as well.
The DUTCH test is super easy to do. When you order the test, you will receive 5 test strips in the mail along with directions. Testing is done between days 19-22 of your cycle, during specific times in a 24 hour period. Essentially, you pee on the test strip. Let it dry. And when completely dried and labeled, mail them off to the lab for interpretation.
If you are not regularly cycling, or not cycling at all you can still do this test too. There are more specific directions in those cases, so it’s best to work with a practitioner to make a plan that meets your needs.
Is this test covered by insurance?
Not very often is the answer, but you may be able to use a health savings account. Don’t let this deter you though. Sometimes we need to pay for wellness care outside of our insurance plans, to ensure we get the best care needed. Remember insurance plans cover “sick care”. They don’t necessarily cover preventative care and wellness care.
Am I able to do this test with my primary practitioner, or my OB/GYN? Not very often. I have not found that many allopathically trained practitioners are trained in DUTCH testing.
That said, seek out a functionally minded practitioner like myself, that is trained in DUTCH to help you interpret the test.
You’ll Need A Trusted Guide
As I mentioned, most traditionally (allopathic) trained practitioners are not educated in the DUTCH test.
You will definitely want to seek out a practitioner that is functionally minded, and fully trained in interpreting the DUTCH test. My first practitioner I had interpret my test was functionally minded, but not well trained in interpretation (I found out after the fact). So when my test was interpreted, I got a very high level interpretation that did not go as in depth as I wanted or needed.
So when looking for a practitioner, you might start by asking for the key highlights of how they interpret the test.
They should be able to go over the following with you:
- Estrogen, Progesterone, Testosterone, DHEA and Androgen levels
- Estrogen Metabolites – 2OH, 4OH & 16OH
- How do you methylate your hormones?
- Cortisol availability & Cortisone production levels and pattern
- Diurnal rhythm of cortisol
- Vitamin & Mineral markers – the Organic Acids / OAT Test
- Oxidative Stress / Inflammatory marker
- Gut health marker
I hope this gives you some clear direction on what steps to take in testing when you are dealing with uncomfortable hormone imbalance symptoms.
Remember, there are solutions! There is hope! And you deserve really good care where you feel seen and heard. If you are looking for a practitioner to support you, schedule a 75 minute discovery session with me here.