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5 Most Common Causes of “Hormonal” Symptoms in Women

Are you Feeling Fat, Moody, and Tired? It May Not be Your Female Hormones.



This is an article that I have been resisting writing, and I feel slightly guilty admitting that fact to you. Bioidentical hormones should a naturopath’s best friend, but I just have a hard time getting into it. Now don’t get me wrong, its not because I don’t know a lot about hormones.  In fact, I work with patients who have hormonal imbalances all the time.  In my medical training, endocrinology (the science of hormone systems) is one of the most difficult and complicated subjects in the curriculum, but it was also one of my favorites. So if I love hormones and I know a lot about them, why do I hate talking about them? I think the answer is this:


Almost all the mainstream media, books, and medical advertising are selling hormone replacement therapy to you as a cure all and a quick fix—which are two things I simple abhor.  Does this sound familiar to any of you? “Are you tired, irritable, overweight? It’s probably your hormones.” Or, “Do you suffer from insomnia, depression, or has your sex drive declined? Try this hormone cream and you’ll feel like a new woman.” Or to quote Suzanne Somer’s website, “Want to feel younger, sexier, more alive? Bioidentical hormones are the new way to age.” Gosh that sounds good doesn’t it? I want to feel sexier, younger, and more alive and I’m nowhere near menopause! I’m pretty sure I wanted those things when I was 20. Maybe I’m the only one?


What woman out there hasn’t struggled with depression, headaches, insomnia, or irritability? And whether or not the love has faded, after 10-20 years of marriage, sex is naturally going to have a different level of importance for most women. Not to mention, when her partner is being distant, childish, mean, or even just generally annoying, I challenge you to find a woman of any age who has much of a sex drive. And then of course there is the subject of weight. Isn’t this just what every woman wants to hear: “It’s not YOUR fault you’re overweight. That Burger King meal you had last night or the ice cream in the fridge you pull out when you have rough day has NOTHING to do with it. It’s your hormones that are to blame.” So what’s the answer? It’s the same answer allopathic medicine has for most symptoms: don’t change your diet, don’t change your lifestyle, don’t consider the mental, emotional, or spiritual causes of the imbalance in your body.  Just take this birth control pill, rub on this hormone cream, and POOF! MAJIC! You’ll be all better! You’ll be happy, thin, sexy, and energetic! Cue happy music and video of the middle-aged couple skipping off into the sunset together.



Ok so maybe that’s a little bit exaggerated, but I think you get my point. And now I need to backtrack a little, because to be fair, there is some truth to the propaganda. Menopause, which defined as the cessation of mensis due to declining levels of estrogen and progesterone, can have many or even all of these symptoms. In fact, some of the most common symptoms of menopause are fatigue, mood changes, low libido, hot flashes, headaches, weight gain, and insomnia. And premenstrual syndrome (PMS), which is defined as a cyclic constellation of symptoms appearing during the second half of the menstrual cycle and disappearing by the end of mensis, often has similar symptoms: fatigue, irritability, depression, food cravings, headache, altered sex drive, and abdominal pain/bloating. So can hormones involved in all these symptoms? Yes, of course they can, and in fact, they often are. But even then, you may want to do some research before you jump to hormone replacement therapy or the birth control pill right away to manage your symptoms. And at the same time, because your best chance for healing is always to find and treat the cause, you may also want to consider some (very common) OTHER causes for “hormonal-like” symptoms in women.


For easy reference, I have broken these other causes down into bullet points below. If you are one of the many women in the world who suffer from fatigue, weight gain, and mood changes, I encourage you to read through this list and discuss your symptoms and treatment options with a qualified physician.


  1. Female Hormones (Estrogen, Progesterone, Testosterone, DHEA):
    1. Common PMS symptoms:
      1. Bloatingweightgain, fatigue, headaches, cramps, breast swelling and tenderness, food cravings, low sex drive, depressed mood/mood swings/anxiety.
    2. Common menopausal symptoms:
      1. Weight gain, depressed mood/mood swings/anxiety, hot flashes, insomnia, low sex drive/vaginal dryness, fatigue.
    3. Testing:
      1. Saliva testing is the most accurate way to test your female hormones. Blood testing is significantly less accurate, but is the most commonly used method for testing.
    4. Home Health Tips:
      1. Your body makes sex hormones from FAT, specifically cholesterol. Eating a diet high in healthy fats from eggs, fish, organic meat, nuts, and produce like coconut and avocado feeds healthy hormone production and, contrary to popular belief, will not make you fat.
      2. Avoid chemicals and pesticides that disrupt your hormones: eat organic foods whenever possible, but especially the dirty dozen. Avoid plastic with BPA and phthalates, which are known hormone disruptors.
      3. Nourish and detoxify your liver. The liver is the key organ for detoxifying excess hormones. It also decides if your estrogen is going to stay in the healthy form or be converted into cancer-causing estrogens.
        1. Foods that fuel detoxification: cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts are especially good and should be eaten daily. Other foods like lemons, turmeric, leafy greens, green tea, and beets help nourish the liver as well.
        2. Liver detox pathways also require certain specific vitamins and nutrients, so eating a whole-foods, nutrient-dense diet and also supplementing with a multivitamin is important.
        3. Herbs that support detoxification: should be monitored by an herbalist or physician who knows what medications you are on, as well as what medical conditions and allergies you have.


2. Hypothyroidism

  1. The second thing that can cause symptoms of fatigue, weight gain, and depression is hypothyroidism. This is becoming more and more common, and women are 5-8 times more likely to have thyroid problems than men.
  2. Common Symptoms:
    1. Weightgain, fatigue, low sex drive, depressed mood, dry skin, hair loss, constipation, low body temperature
  3. Labwork:
    1. Bloodwork is pretty accurate when you are ordering a full thyroid panel. This includes TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone), free T3, free T4, and thyroid antibodies.
    2. Many physicians only test TSH, which alone is not enough to accurately evaluate thyroid function. Additionally, early Hashimoto’s disease (autoimmune hypothyroidism) does not usually affect TSH, but over time this disease causes irreversible damage to the thyroid gland. Early testing for thyroid antibodies can allow for early treatment and the ability to avoid thyroid damage.
    3. Naturopathic physicians often have different “normal” ranges for these hormones, and will often treat people with lab values that allopathic physicians consider normal
  4.   Treatment:
    1. Should be done under the care of a physician, but common naturopathic treatments are supplemental thyroid hormone, nutrients and herbs that stimulate thyroid function and reduce inflammation, and possible dietary changes.


3. Adrenal Fatigue:

  1. The last set of hormone systems that commonly affect your weight, mood, and energy is your adrenals. Your adrenal glands are tiny organs that sit on top of your kidneys and two of the main hormones they make are cortisol and adrenalin. These are your stress hormones, and they get pumped out when your body goes into “fight or flight”, or stress-mode. The problem is that we live in a world of chronic stress, and our adrenals were not created to pump out these hormones all the time. When they do, the excess hormones can cause all sorts of symptoms that can look similar to menopause.
  2. Common Symptoms
    1. Fatigue, insomnia, abdominal weight gain, sugar cravings, hypoglycemia, gastrointestinal problems, depressed mood, allergies, and brain fog.
  3. Testing:
    1. Best is a salivary Adrenal Stress Index, which shows your cortisol rhythm throughout the day as well as DHEA, an adrenal precursor hormone
    2. Blood testing of DHEA and AM cortisol is somewhat accurate but won’t tell the whole story
  4. Home Tips:
    1. SLOW DOWN and control stress levels. This is something we all know, but not something we all actually DO.
    2. Exercise in a way that is good for your body. Research shows that people with type O blood type do better with vigorous exercise like running and weight training, while people with type A blood are benefit from milder activities like yoga, Pilates, and hiking. Type A’s adrenal glands could actually be harmed by over-exercising.
    3. Meditate: numerous studies show that mindfulness meditation reduces cortisol levels.
    4. Get enough sleep. Despite what society tells us, our bodies need 8-10 hours of sleep per night, preferably between the hours of 10PM-7AM.
    5.  Treatment:
      1. Naturopathic treatment: depending on the extent of the adrenal imbalance, treatment may include supplementation of adrenal hormones, herbal ‘adaptogens’ that nourish and stimulate the glands, constitutional hydrotherapy, and homeopathy.


4. Depression:

  1. It’s like the elephant in the room. Who wants to stand up and admit they are depressed? Not many people. We live in a society that praises the Superwoman: we want and expect ourselves to have a great job, a great husband and relationship, perfect kids, be acceptably busy, and of course we want to look like supermodels while we do it. But let me tell you, no one’s real life looks like this. Those happy, perfect Facebook posts of happy, perfect families and beautiful lives, they are DEFINITLY not a perfect reflection of the truth. I hear the true stories every day from my patients, and the truth is this: Life can be hard, life can be lonely, and oftentimes life is just NOT FAIR. And it is very, very common for life situations to cause depression, which then causes all sorts of (VERY REAL) physical symptoms, many of which look just like the symptoms of a hormone imbalance.
    1. Common Symptoms:
      1. Fatigue, low sex drive, depressed mood, feelings of hopelessness, appetite and weight changes, insomnia or excessive sleep, anger or irritability, concentration problems.
    2. Testing:
      1. Rule out physical causes of depression like hormone imbalances, hypothyroidism, adrenal fatigue. Clinical diagnosis should be made by a psychologist or psychologist.
    3. Home Tips:
      1. Talk to someone. You are not as alone as you think you are. This is one of the lies that depression tells you. You are loved and this is the time to reach out to the people that love you.
      2. Get a councilor: having a safe space to get your feelings out, with feedback from someone who is both trained to understand depression and also give impartial feedback is vitally important.
      3. Homeopathic treatment is very effective in mental/emotional diseases because it stimulates the body and mind to begin healing itself. While medications and supplements can alter the mood and help in the short term, homeopathic remedies often have lasting, permanent effects on people’s ability to cope with life.


5. Eating the Wrong Foods:

  1. Even though most women who come to me think they have hormonal issues, this, by far, is the most common cause of fatigue and inability to lose weight. The problem is this: people think they are eating healthy. And according to a lot of the research and common knowledge out there, they usually actually ARE. But the truth is the same diet is not healthy for EVERYONE. Some people do better on diets that are high in protein and low in carbs, and others do better on a diet that centers around fish, vegetable proteins, and grains. Some people can process and digest wheat just fine, and for others, it is the biggest cause of their weight gain. Bottom line, we are all individuals with different heritages, different genetics, and different bodies. And when we eat foods that are not good for OUR bodies specifically, we actually change, at a cellular level, our body’s ability to metabolize sugar and calories. And besides the weight gain, eating the wrong foods leads to inflammation, which then leads to leaky gut and many other disease processes. I have had many patients who came to me thinking that hormones were the cause of problems. I do testing and often their hormones look just fine. So then we do dietary testing and get them on a diet that is good for them, and the pounds just begin to melt off. Oftentimes, there is a reversal in other disease symptoms and a huge energy increase as well.
  2. Common symptoms of food intolerances: fatigue, mood changes, weight gain, excessive or decreased appetite, gas/bloating/constipation/diarrhea, concentration problems or brain fog, MANY disease processes.
  3. Food Intolerance Testing:
    1. The Individualized Nutrition Program at Horizon Natural Medicine
      1. Using family history and blood type, as well as simple diagnostic tools like fingerprint analysis and measurement of the jaw angle, we are able to determine your specific Genotype and provide you will a highly personalized diet and lifestyle guide. The guide includes a full description of your type’s immune system and digestive capabilities, lists of “super foods”, “ neutral foods”, and “avoid foods”, and access to an online meal planning software program that allows to you find recipes that are harmonious with the results of your diet report.
    2. Sample Diet Report:




  • Posted by Dr Katie Nuckolls
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