In my work with fertility nutrition, I often find myself referring back to the same theme over and over:
Fixing the hormone imbalance from the outset isn’t the answer.
So what is?
When helping someone re-frame their thoughts regarding hormonal health and balance, I almost always refer back to something I call the priority pyramid. This is a listing, in order of importance, of what the body likes to focus on.
It’s tempting to look at bloodwork (this is an at-home blood and saliva test for fertility markers I recommend) that says testosterone is high or progesterone is low and search for ways to increase or decrease those numbers. It’s tempting to look at irregular menstrual cycles and use herbs shown to help them regulate to try and change them.
But fundamentally, working on rebuilding, lowering, or balancing any of the sex hormone’s misses the larger point.
WHY are the hormones imbalanced in the first place?
When we begin that train of thought, we really start to look deeper at that root cause that so often alludes us. What is causing the hormonal imbalance in the first place?
There’s a fair point to be made for genetics, sure. Most chronic conditions, including hormonal issues, have some sort of genetic underpinning. Depending on what it is, it may be harder to address than others. But gene’s aren’t static and the recent focus on the field of epigenetics shows us how strongly environment (think diet!) can play a role in turning our genes on or off.
So we shouldn’t look at our genetic predispositions and simply throw in the towel. After all, what kind of hope is there in that?
What we can do is look at how the role of other body systems, and the environmental factors that affect them, may be upregulating responses in the body that are leading to imbalance.
This is ESPECIALLY true in people who develop these hormonal imbalances as adults. Something had to change to take the body from behaving one way to behaving in another, right?
There’s certainly an evolutionary issue here that needs to be spoken for. Humans have had major histories of famine and malnutrition that have led to reduced reproduction or increased infant death. That’s the sad history of humanity. And now we live in a time of malnutrition again, only this malnutrition LOOKS different.
But in order to really, truly, address hormonal balance, we must first look at two major systems and their functionality.
It is incredibly common for stress to play a role in fertility. It’s a well-worn and frustrating trope that women who are stressed conceive less. But mental/emotional stress is just one kind of stress.
There’s also physical stress. Stress we put on our bodies from too much exercise, perhaps. Stress we put on our bodies from too little sleep.
Perhaps we struggle with getting enough sleep, maybe we can’t stay asleep. Maybe we eat foods that cause overproduction of insulin which further stress our bodies. Maybe we have a difficult job, maybe we live on coffee and prayers, maybe excessive cortisol production (or a lack of cortisol production) has left us with belly fat we can never budge which then produces it’s own estrogen, further imbalancing our hormones.
Our adrenal system, particularly that hormone called cortisol that surges in response to stress and gives us that energetic adrenaline-type feeling that keeps us going, is very delicate. Stresses both physical and emotional play a huge role in its production. Overproduction of cortisol is associated with increased insulin resistance. High cortisol can lead to suppressed ovulation via hormone imbalance.
Want to find out if you have imbalances in your adrenal function? There is an easy at home test you can do that will give you a personalized report. This is the same test I use for many clients in my practice. Click here for details.
Cortisol and adrenal issues are one of the major places hormonal imbalances begin and we must look at their functioning to address any imbalance. These issues are corrected through diet, lifestyle, and certain herbs and supplements to create a better balance. Phosphatidyl Serine– which helps balance cortisol whether high OR low is one of my favorites. Adrenal cortex or Rhodeola are helpful for boosting tanking adrenals.
And if there are cortisol issues, we must look deeper and check out another system to ensure there are no issues there.
Perhaps it’s the clientele that I work with, but I have yet to meet a person in my work that didn’t have gut issues, myself included. It seems to come with the territory with hormonal imbalance.
Particularly if we see any issues with food stressing the adrenals, we must look at the gut. A high insulin diet or inflammatory diet will stress the body whether we have gut issues or not, but if there are even slight gut issues, then inflammatory foods and seemingly healthy ones too can create stress the suppresses fertility.
Not all gut issues manifest as diarrhea or constipation. They can and often are much more subtle. It’s not useful to your body to have diarrhea constantly, that would put us on a fast track to dehydration. Instead your body reacts to foods it doesn’t tolerate by breaking down the barriers of its own mucous lining, increasing the space between the junctures and letting larger particles of food freely float into the bloodstream. This sends your body into an anti-body alert panic. And that panic is a stress.
That stress is called leaky gut and it’s the leading cause behind autoimmune conditions too (bonus points if you have fertility issues AND an autoimmune condition) because that stress is inflammation and inflammation is fertility suppressing.
Again, why would the body want to be fertile if it doesn’t feel safe and healthy?
The leaky gut condition doesn’t always manifest as digestive issues. It manifests differently for different people. For some it may be skin issues, brain fog, or fatigue (hey, adrenals!). For some it may be chronic pain, arthritis, or the flaring of an autoimmune condition. For some, it may simply be the hormone imbalance itself.
A leaky gut is also responsible for some of those blood sugar imbalances that make fertility so difficult, particularly with conditions like PCOS. A leaky gut is responsible for an unhealthy microbiome (and vice versa) and can become a viscous cycle.
An unhealthy diet feeds an unhealthy gut. The bacteria, yeast, and fungi each have foods they like to eat and the bad ones love sugar much more than vegetables. Since the gut is where we digest everything of nutrient value that we take in, the single most important thing we can do for it’s health is eat well. That looks different for each person. If you have fertility issues you could have some very odd responses to foods that you might assume ARE healthy. It’s worth looking into.
If gut issues are present, a targeted and individual approach that includes testing (food sensitivity and allergy testing, gut microbiome testing) and a therapuetic diet and supplement protocol is important. I hesitate to give too many resources over the internet because we are all so different, but a quality probiotic is a good start for most people along with an anti-inflammatory diet.
Gut issues, by and large, are the beginning point for fertility work. After all, 80% of the immune system lives there and if we don’t address gut health, we aren’t addressing the very fundamentals of human health.
This can be frustrating for someone in the beginning of the journey. It’s easier to look at those imbalanced hormones and take a supplement to see if they’ll regulate. Or try a detox. Or both. And those things are helpful and effective at times.
But truly addressing hormonal balance means looking deeply at those environmental impacts that make all the difference in the world.
That’s when we truly see improvement.
For more information, see some of my other articles: 5 Signs You Have Gut Issues, Even If You Don’t Have Gut Issues