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How to tell if you have a hormonal imbalance

Anxiety is a sign of a hormonal imbalance. (Getty Images)
Anxiety is a sign of a hormonal imbalance. (Getty Images)

A hormonal imbalance is a surprisingly common issue, thought to affect as many as 8 in 10 women – but how do you know if you have one?

Last year alone, Google saw an 150% increase in searches for “hormone balance for women”, and #hormonebalance has so far received over 300 million TikTok views.

Yet, it is still unclear what a hormone imbalance actually means and the signs and symptoms to look out for.

To help and clarify this, Hannah Alderson, BANT Registered Nutritionist and Hormone Specialist has detailed everything you need to know.

What is a hormone imbalance?

So, what exactly is a hormone imbalance? Alderson says that it can actually mean a number of different things.

"This is because hormonal dysfunction plays out like a spectrum, which could present itself as a mild imbalance all the way to a diagnosed endocrine disorder," she adds.

There are an estimated 50 different types of hormones in the body which all make up the endocrine system. These control aspects such as metabolism, internal balance, reproduction, mood, and the sleep-wake cycle.

Therefore, a hormone imbalance occurs when you have too much or too little of one or several hormones, and is a broad term used for different hormone-related conditions. While some hormone imbalances can be temporary, others are long term (or chronic).

A hormone imbalance can lead to conditions such as irregular periods, infertility, acne, diabetes, and thyroid disease.

Symptoms of a hormone imbalance

Alderson says some symptoms or signs of a hormone imbalance include:

  • An absent or irregular period

  • Weight gain (in particular around the middle)

  • Mood swings or rage

  • Low libido

  • Pregnancy complications

  • Miscarriage

  • Excessive hair growth (hirsutism)

  • Anxiety and depression

  • Fatigue

  • IBS

woman sleeping
A hormonal imbalance can affect your sleep cycle. (Getty Images)

What can cause a hormone imbalance in the body?

"Alongside your genetic blueprint, the process of hormonal imbalance unfolds via three main drivers— stress, inflammation and insulin resistance," Alderson explains, calling these the "triple threat" of hormonal health.

She adds that an imbalance can also be underpinned by your nutritional status, gut microbiome, vaginal microbiome, circadian rhythm (your sleep cycles), and muscle mass.

How to ‘fix’ a hormone imbalance

One of the reasons why you can see an imbalance, Alderson says, is because your hormones are unable to thrive in the environment where they are ‘living’.

The key to creating a better internal environment for your hormones? "Optimal health, improved energy, better sleep and boosted happiness," she adds.

"Another mistake people make is thinking that one magical pill or powdered drink is going to get to the root cause of their imbalances," Alderson continues.

"Hormonal health is an intricate dance and it is never just one thing that will solve it— a multifaceted approach will allow you to reduce presenting symptoms. It’s not a quick fix."

One thing you can do, Alderson explains, is "turn the volume down" on your symptoms by shifting your body to a different metabolic state.

"Your metabolic state will influence how you create energy, breathe, digest food, circulate blood, growth cell repair— the list goes on," she explains.

"You essentially want to shift the body out of a lagging, sluggish state, to one with a more optimal metabolic rate and, as a result, the body will have a better ability to create energy. Your hormones and metabolic state are hugely interconnected—when one is optimally functioning, so is the other."

Mid adult woman doing yoga at home on a sunny day. Indoor plants in the background.
Exercises like pilates can help you to de-stress and balance your hormones. (Getty Images)

Alderson says the way she supports her clients to boost their hormone health is by using her six pillar approach called 'The Positive Method'.

"It combines my education of hormonal health with practical tools and actionable steps, to work with your hormones, not against them," she explains. "Lose weight, boost energy and feel happier — you’ll never need to turn to another crash diet again."

1. Rebalance blood sugar

"One of the biggest drivers of hormonal dysfunction and weight gain is unregulated blood sugar," Alderson explains.

"Putting food together should not be complicated or based on a simple metric like calorie counting but on the combination of macronutrients for the best biochemical reaction in the body."

With this in mind, she suggests her 'Style your Starches' concept, which means that whenever you have a carbohydrate like rice, potato or pasta, 'style' it with a protein like lean meat or tofu, and a healthy fat like avocados.

"The overarching goal is to cultivate an environment that eases the workload on insulin, promoting sensitivity and efficient energy regulation post-meals," she says.

2. Eat the rainbow

One thing you need to ask yourself every time you have a meal: where's the colour?

"A diet rich in fibrous colourful plant-based produce is going to elevate your nutrient status which gives your body and gut the optimal tools it needs to thrive," she says. "The raw materials and cofactors so your hormones can do their job.

"By maximising whole foods high in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients you are going to run better as a machine and support a diverse gut bacteria (and better vaginal microbiome) which will ultimately lead to better hormonal health."

Make sure your meals are packed with colours. (Getty Images)
Make sure your meals are packed with colours. (Getty Images)

3. Get better sleep

Getting better sleep is key to optimum hormonal function. Alderson adds: "If this is not in check your body is going to have a pretty tough time knowing when to do what and this can create a downward spiral that can then drive insulin resistance, weight gain, inflammation and issues with overall hormonal health."

4. Prioritise the right kind of movement

Fasted workouts and too much HITT can be counterproductive your your hormone-balancing efforts, Alderson warns. "I see this mistake in clinic regularly," she adds.

Instead, choose a workout that you enjoy and that you'll stick to, and one that prioritises de-stressing such as yoga or pilates.

5. Embrace joy

Stress can wreak havoc on your hormones, so it's time to focus on lowering those stress levels as much as possible.

"Instead of trying to solve the big issues that may be out of our control, work on lots of pockets full of positivity. Like weaving a tapestry and enjoying lots of little moments that will remind your body that is it not under threat," Alderson recommends.

"This can be done by inviting more joy into your life, breathwork, more play, more self love, more love, more creativity, more human connection, more rest, more nature— plus more human connection in the aim to harness the positive power of your love and bonding hormone oxytocin."

6. Don't worry if it's not perfect

"There is no such thing as the perfect diet— it’s what you do for the majority of the time that counts," Alderson explains.

"When we do fail in the context of fad diets it can feel like a sin. Diet culture is dripping with shame and guilt - I know, I have been there. There is no such thing as failure, but an opportunity to learn and identify barriers."

Hormones: Read more