In my last post, Hormone Testing: Which Tests Are Best, I discussed the importance of testing your hormones and which type of tests I recommend. My goal was to give you a foundational knowledge of hormones and hormone imbalance. I explained what hormones are, how they work, symptoms of hormone imbalance, and which tests will give you the best information to be able to move forward with healing. Today I want to talk about why I think every woman should test her hormones.
Periods are already a pain in the butt as it is, but if you have a hormone imbalance, then forget about it. The heavy bleeding, the irregularity, the cramps, the bloating, the acne. And all of that is just happening for a few days each month during your cycle. What about all of the other things happening to your health due to hormone imbalance?
I hear this from women all of the time: “But I had my hormones tested and my doctor said they are fine.” I myself was told the same thing. My response is: yes, it is great to get your hormones tested and I recommend it to everyone I work with. But the key is to get them properly tested by someone that will also take your symptoms into account. You want someone who will treat you – the patient – and not just the test results.
Generally, I recommend that ALL women test their hormones and do so regularly since changes can occur over time for many different reasons. Here is a list of my top ten reasons why every woman should get her hormones tested.
1| Are you having symptoms?
Does something just feel off? Are you noticing feelings or aches that weren’t there before? Having trouble sleeping? Symptoms can be the result of a hormone imbalance and your goal is to free yourself from those symptoms. By having your hormones tested, you’re one step closer to feeling back to normal.
2| Are you stressed?
We live in a world where stress is coming at us from all angles, internally and externally. Things like your job, relationships, over-exercising, bills, traffic, and deadlines can all be sources of external stress that can ultimately mess with your hormones. Unless you’re independently wealthy and living on a quiet beach with no cares in the world, you are probably experiencing stress in some form.
3| Having gut issues?
The gut is especially vulnerable to the presence of chronic (and even acute) stress. If you are experiencing digestive problems, then working on balancing hormones may be a critical step in your healing process.
4| Is your doctor trying to put you on birth control in order to “fix” a health complaint?
Hormonal birth control doesn’t fix anything in most cases. They are designed to turn off your hormones. I speak from experience on this one. As soon as you go off birth control your symptoms may return and they may even come back worse than before you started. Your best bet is to properly test your hormone levels and work on balancing them naturally, not to rely on birth control. There may be instances when birth control is necessary but I recommend having a detailed conversation with your doctor and being an informed consumer.
5| How are your adrenals functioning?
As I mentioned earlier, I had my hormones tested and my doctor said I was “normal”. I didn’t feel normal though! That’s because, all too often, doctors only test women’s main sex hormones, not all hormones, like cortisol. The best way to ensure your adrenals are functioning properly is to have your cortisol levels checked 4-6 times throughout the day. By doing this, you’ll get a clearer picture of what is going on in your body. Your adrenal glands produce cortisol and DHEA-S. DHEA-S is also a precursor of the sex hormones, estrogen and testosterone. If your adrenals are not working right then it can throw off all of your other hormones.
6| Do you have thyroid issues?
Guess what: stress impacts both the adrenal hormone pathway and the thyroid hormone pathway. Stress can raise cortisol levels that may inhibit or alter the metabolic pathway of active thyroid hormone (T3). The thyroid is another gland responsible for producing hormones that keep your body running optimally. If your thyroid is out of balance, one possible explanation could be that excessive stress is “stealing” valuable resources to make stress hormones (like cortisol) instead of making thyroid hormone.
7| Nearing menopause or in menopause?
Menopause is a natural process that occurs as a woman’s ovaries stop producing eggs and the production of hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, declines. Women experience things like hot flashes due to the change in hormones levels. The adrenal glands are the only source of testosterone in women, and after menopause, are the only source of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. Know your hormones levels and how your adrenals are functioning to help make the transition into menopause as smooth as possible.
8| Blood Sugar Issues?
Your adrenals are partially responsible for controlling your blood sugar levels. Glucocorticoids are hormones released by the adrenal glands that are used in glucose metabolism. If there is a blood sugar emergency, like if your sugar levels are too low, then your adrenals respond with hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol to normalize blood sugar levels.
Food isn’t the only thing that can effect your blood sugar levels. Stress (and the anticipation of stress) signals the body to raise blood sugar (glucose) levels in order to generate energy to respond to the stress (in the event you were being chased by a bear and had to run away). When your adrenals aren’t functioning properly and adrenal hormone levels are lower, it becomes harder to maintain blood sugar balance, especially in response the increased demand from stress.
9| Got inflammation?
Inflammation is at the root of many of our chronic health conditions. One of cortisol’s many functions is to reduce inflammation. If your cortisol levels go too low or too high, this can lead to regular infections, chronic inflammation, autoimmune diseases or allergies. Cortisol plays an important role in regulating your immune system. Needless to say, a suppressed immune system can leave us vulnerable to disease.
10| Do you know your hormone levels?
Cortisol x 4, DHEA Sulfate, estradiol, estriol, melatonin, progesterone, secretory IgA, and testosterone. This is what a full panel should consist of to give you the best information for positive change. You may have some slight hormone imbalances that aren’t giving you unpleasant symptoms. Testing will give you the ability to make a change before things get worse.
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As a Registered Dietitian certified in Stress and Hormones by Functional Diagnostic Nutrition, I help clients get proper testing, assist in the process of reading those results using clinical correlation (treating the patient and not just the test results), and give them the proper tools (diet, supplements, and lifestyle) to start the healing process.