Experiencing PCOS, hair loss or acne? Renew your hormones for healthy hair, skin and nails
The endocrine system consists of glands that produce and secrete hormones. Hormones function as the body’s chemical messengers, relaying vital information to cells and tissues, and are responsible for growth and development, metabolism, sexual function, reproduction and a balanced mood.
While period pain, breast tenderness and mood changes are the more obvious symptoms of a hormonal imbalance, there is an array of external symptoms such as hair loss, acne and brittle nails that may signify your hormones aren’t happy.
So, what hormones may be causing your hair, skin and nail concerns? Let’s delve into three of the most common culprits.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
One of the most common female conditions resulting from imbalanced hormones is polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). A woman with PCOS may experience irregular menstrual cycles, acne, oily skin, unusual hair growth on the face, neck, chest or bottom, thinning hair on her head and weight changes.
The main hormonal imbalances associated with PCOS are insulin resistance and raised androgens, which are known as “male sex hormones”; however, females also produce these.
Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that allows your body to use glucose (sugar) from carbohydrates in the food that you eat for energy or to store glucose for future energy use. You can think of insulin as a key that unlocks the door on your muscle, fat and liver cells to allow glucose to enter and be utilised for energy. Insulin helps keep your blood sugar level from getting too high (hyperglycaemia) or too low (hypoglycaemia), and in a healthy individual, insulin’s job is a tightly regulated process.
The trouble starts when the cell doors stop responding to the key (insulin) which is trying to unlock them to allow glucose to enter and be utilised for energy: this is known as insulin resistance. The body knows there is too much glucose in the blood, so it creates even more insulin to help transport the glucose into the cells — but the cells don’t respond to insulin, leading to a build-up of insulin in the body. Excess levels of insulin increase testosterone production in the ovaries, which impairs ovulation, causes irregular periods and leads to excess facial and body hair, acne and fatigue.
What causes insulin resistance?
It is believed that genetics, ageing, excess body weight, inflammation, lack of exercise and sleep deprivation all play a role in insulin resistance.
There are three main androgens in the body including testosterone, androstenedione and dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHEAS). Either one of these hormones can be raised, leading to androgen excess in PCOS. And as you now know, increased androgens are to blame for that excess hair and problematic skin.
What causes androgen excess?
- Increased insulin signalling the ovaries to make more testosterone
- A possible predisposition or abnormal stress response causing raised adrenal androgens (DHEAS)
- Inflammation leading to raised androgens
Natural treatment for PCOS
Remove sugar from your diet
Avoid processed sugar, fruit juices, sweetened yoghurts, desserts, honey and artificial sweeteners. Instead enjoy berries and two pieces of fruit per day.
Remove processed foods and trans-saturated fats from your diet
Processed foods and trans-saturated fats impair insulin sensitivity.
Aim to eat three wholesome low-glycaemic index meals per day
Ensure all meals are balanced with a small amount of complex carbohydrates, a good protein source, healthy fats and abundant vegetables.
Aim to implement a 12-hour fast overnight
If you finish dinner at 7pm, do not eat again until 7am. Gentle fasting has been shown to improve your body’s ability to manage insulin.
Incorporate 45 minutes of exercise four times a week
Enjoy a mix of strength, cardio and restorative practices.
Use your food as medicine
- Add cinnamon to meals abundantly. Cinnamon is a wonderful healing spice that increases insulin sensitivity and glucose transport.
- Add apple-cider vinegar to meals, as it has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity following a high-carbohydrate meal.
- Parsley is a medicinal herb used in Turkey by those with diabetes to lower blood glucose levels, and small rat studies have shown it has a positive effect on the liver. Add to meals where you can.
Supplement with key minerals
- Magnesium, required for both proper glucose utilisation and insulin signalling
- Chromium, which has been shown to reduce insulin levels
- Zinc, to improve hormonal signalling and ovulation and to reduce hirsutism (excess hair growth) and heal acne
Utilise the healing power of herbal medicine
A combination of peonia and liquorice have been shown to inhibit the production of testosterone. It is very important to always take herbal medicines under the care of a qualified health practitioner to ensure these herbs are not contraindicated with any other medicines you are taking.
High oestrogen and low progesterone
Balance is key when it comes to hormones. When everything is running smoothly the two main sex hormones in a female’s oestrogen and progesterone dance together throughout the menstrual cycle making you feel and function optimally. Problems arise when the dance becomes offbeat and in the second half of the cycle oestrogen is high when it should be low.
Excess oestrogen most commonly presents with heavy and painful periods and tender breasts. However, having inadequate progesterone levels and high oestrogen can also result in brittle, fine hair and problematic skin conditions.
What causes excess oestrogen?
- Xenoestrogens are chemicals that have a similar structure to the oestrogen your body creates. Exposure to this mimicked oestrogen can wreak havoc on your endocrine system causing hormonal imbalances. Xenoestrogens are found in plastics, pesticides, chemicals and cleaning products to name just a few.
- Excess oestrogen is detoxified through the liver and out through your bowels when you pass a stool. If your detoxification pathways are impaired for some reason you can have oestrogen recirculate back throughout the body, causing excess levels.
- Excess body weight increases levels of oestrogen and other hormones.
- High stress results in excess amounts of cortisol, insulin and norepinephrine, which adversely affects hormonal balance.
Natural treatment for high oestrogen and low progesterone
Choose organic food, beauty and cleaning products
Whenever possible, choose organic food, beauty and cleaning products made with safe, naturally derived ingredients.
Reduce “liver loaders”
Reduce alcohol, too much caffeine, chemical exposure, plastic, pesticides and genetically modified (GMO) foods. The liver is in charge of filtering out toxins from the body; if it is loaded up with excess chemicals, toxins and harmful substances the detoxification process can become compromised, meaning the toxins and excess hormones aren’t being excreted quickly enough.
Support the health of your liver
Increase liver-loving foods in your diet such as brassica vegetables, leafy greens, parsley, coriander, apple-cider vinegar, beetroot, garlic, dandelion root tea and green tea.
Support your digestive system
Once hormones have been filtered through the liver, they end up in your intestines ready to be excreted in your stool.
- Ensure you are drinking two litres of filtered water a day and more if you are exercising.
- Ensure adequate fibre in your meals such as fruit, vegetables, beans, legumes, whole grains and linseeds.
- Drink a warm lemon water first thing in the morning, and add two teaspoons of chia seeds to a big glass of water and drink.
- Take a probiotic to support a healthy balance of bacteria in your digestive tract.
Move your body
It is no surprise that regular exercise is beneficial for your overall wellbeing, but did you know that regular aerobic exercise has been shown to lower estrogen levels in the body? A good aim is to move your body for 45 minutes four times a week.
Incorporate daily stress reduction techniques
Managing stress is fundamental for healthy, balanced hormones. Some relaxation ideas that you could incorporate into your day include deep breathing exercises, meditation, slow stretches, Epsom salt baths, dancing, reading or journaling.
Utilise the healing power of herbal medicine
St Marys thistle, dandelion root, rosemary, globe artichoke and turmeric are all excellent herbal medicines to improve the health and function of the liver and gallbladder and encourage regular stools. You can get these in herbal tincture or powder from your qualified naturopath or herbalist.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ located in the base of your neck that plays a major role in metabolism, growth and development of the human body.
An overactive thyroid (also known as hyperthyroidism) occurs if the thyroid gland makes too many hormones. An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) is where the gland doesn’t make enough hormones. Both of these imbalances can lead to a great number of symptoms including coarse hair and hair loss, dry, rough skin and brittle nails.
What causes thyroid imbalances?
- Iodine deficiency or excess
- Autoimmune diseases
- Inflammation of the thyroid, caused by a virus or bacteria
- Nodules, or non-cancerous lumps, inside the thyroid
- Cancerous tumours on the thyroid gland
- Certain medical treatments, including radiation therapy, thyroid surgery and some medicines
- Some genetic disorders
Occasionally pregnancy can initiate a thyroid condition or worsen a pre-existing thyroid condition.
Natural treatment for thyroid imbalances
Avoid refined, processed and high sugar foods, caffeine and alcohol
Potentially dairy and wheat may need to be avoided on an individual basis.
Consume foods containing essential fatty acids
Foods such as nuts, seeds and avocado are anti-inflammatory and help regulate hormone production.
Consume a nutrient-dense diet
Add plenty of fruit, vegetables, protein and complex carbohydrates, as the increased metabolism from the higher thyroid levels means there is a greater need for high-quality nutrients.
Mental and emotional stress can affect adrenal function, and healthy thyroid function depends on healthy adrenal function. Mindful meditation, yoga, tai chi, deep breathing and other relaxation techniques can be very useful to reduce stress and cortisol levels and assist the thyroid back to balance.
Enjoy regular gentle exercise
Regular exercise helps to gently strengthen weakened or fatigued muscles. It is also a great treatment and prevention of the common comorbidities of hypothyroidism such as obesity, insulin resistance, anxiety and depression.
If you are concerned about a possible hormonal imbalance, I would suggest booking in with your health care professional and asking for a blood test to investigate this. Once you have the results you and your health care practitioner can co-create a treatment plan to begin working toward re-balancing your hormones. Remember there is so much that can be improved through healthy changes to your diet, exercise regime and lifestyle.
Here’s to happy hormones.