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Beyond Birth Control

The Naturopathic Approach to Hormone Balance

When a woman experiences painful menstrual cramps, irregular cycles, heavy menstrual bleeding, acne, or worsening depression and anxiety around the time of menses, the root of the problem is likely a hormone imbalance. Medical treatment for these symptoms usually involves birth control pills which prevent natural hormone fluctuations, keeping them at a steady state. However, this quick fix has health risks and unwanted side effects such as weight gain, headache and worsening of depression.

The naturopathic approach to this issue aims to restore normal hormonal rhythm and balance by looking at hormones produced by the ovaries and then by looking at the body as a whole. The first goal is to identify the individual hormonal imbalance. This is done by taking a thorough history and getting a clear picture of the patient as a whole person. Specific hormonal imbalances can be identified through testing. Saliva, urine or blood can be used.

Common hormonal imbalances include high estrogen (estrogen dominance), low progesterone and high testosterone. Unique therapeutic approaches, which can include herbal medicines, are available for each of these imbalances. Chaste tree berry restores progesterone balance. Flax seeds, green tea and DIM address estrogen dominance. (DIM, or diindolylmethane, is a supplement created from cruciferous vegetables.) For elevated testosterone, regulating blood sugar levels and weight loss is essential.

Beyond the ovaries, a naturopathic doctor will address issues affecting other body systems. The endocrine system, which regulates the hormones, is an intricate and connected web that has much cross talk with other systems in the body. When you pluck one part of the web, the whole web vibrates. In order to achieve optimal balance of the hormones related to the menstrual cycle, the best approach for healing is to address other systems of the body, especially the adrenals, thyroid, liver, gut and lymph.

The adrenal glands, a pair of glands that sit on top of the kidneys, are mainly involved in regulating the stress response, and sleep and wake cycles. Imbalances in the adrenal’s main hormone, cortisol, can wreak havoc on normal hormone cycling because when cortisol is elevated during times of prolonged stress, it sends feedback that results in shutting down the functioning of the ovaries. Many women notice that menses are delayed or thrown off when stress is high. Balancing this stress response and supporting healthy adrenal function is key and can be done with adaptogenic herbs such as rhodiola, ashwagandha or ginseng, and nutrients such as B5 and Vitamin C.

Proper thyroid function also needs to be addressed when there are menstrual irregularities. A thyroid that is low functioning (hypothyroidism) can lead to suppression of the release of hormones from the ovaries causing various menstrual irregularities.

Supporting the liver is another key piece. The liver clears and metabolizes hormones. In conditions where the cause is excess estrogen or excess testosterone, incorporating liver-supportive herbs such as milk thistle, burdock and artichoke results in more balance.  

Another key factor is the health of the gut. Imbalances of the microorganisms in the GI tract, called dysbiosis, can lead to hormone imbalances. While beneficial bacteria (probiotics) help eliminate excess hormones, the “bad” or pathogenic bacteria in the gut make estrogens get recycled. This leads to estrogen dominance.

Lastly, ensuring healthy flow of the lymph fluid is essential. One of the main functions of the lymph system is to transport all the body’s waste to the kidneys and GI tract for elimination from the body. It is also the main delivery channel for progesterone throughout the body. It is common for women to have too much estrogen relative to progesterone (estrogen dominance). Ensuring adequate flow of progesterone throughout the body can help correct this imbalance. Exercise, deep breathing and dry skin brushing are great ways to keep the lymph fluid moving.   

While taking the naturopathic approach is not a quick fix, the payoff goes beyond relief from the symptoms of hormone imbalance. There is potential to resolve other health issues and to experience better health as a whole person. In the long run, it is worth the extra effort.

Dr. Joanne Aponte is a board-certified naturopathic doctor practicing at Lakeside Natural Medicine, located at 4433 N. Oakland Ave., in Milwaukee. She takes a holistic approach to wellness using a variety of tools such as clinical nutrition, herbal remedies, nutritional supplements, homeopathy and functional laboratory evaluation. She works with individuals of all ages with a wide range of health concerns including gastrointestinal disorders, women’s health conditions, autoimmune disease and skin conditions. For more information, contact Lakeside Natural Medicine at 414-939-8748, email Info@LakesideNaturalMedicine.com or visit LakesideNaturalMedicine.com.

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