If anyone knows about hormone burnout, it’s yours truly. Despite a degree in nutrition, formal yoga training, and a license to practice naturopathic medicine, I spent years struggling with hormone imbalance and the unpleasant side effects.
My issues stemmed from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a complex condition that impairs regular ovulation and results in metabolic, mental health, and sex hormone imbalances. For me, it also meant I couldn’t get pregnant.
Traditional medicine would have someone like me take pharmaceuticals to treat PCOS and infertility, but I believed strongly that I could repair this imbalance using natural means, without the need for pharmaceuticals.
And I did.
Yes, I had to do the hard work of resolving my hormonal imbalances and addressing hormone burnout. Now I am glad to say that I went on to have not only healthy, natural pregnancies but also normal ovarian and metabolic functioning and restored mental health, without the need for any pharmaceuticals.
It didn’t happen overnight, but nothing worth having comes easily, right?
I’m also confident that you, too, can heal your hormones and put an end to the rollercoaster of physical and mental health challenges that are making you feel burned out, stressed, and incapable of shedding extra weight. First things first though: Let’s start with a basic understanding of what hormone burnout is.
Why Hormones Become Imbalanced
To understand hormone burnout, it’s essential to have a basic grasp of the endocrine system, i.e., the collection of glands that produce hormones. Within the endocrine system, there are several major glands, including the hypothalamus, pineal, thyroid, adrenals, ovaries, pancreas, and, most important, the pituitary gland — which is essentially the master gland that tells other glands what to do (see Figure 4).
Collectively, these glands produce more than 50 types of hormones that, together with your glands, work together to keep your body functioning optimally. Like the musicians in a symphony, they all need to play together for you to be in a state of perfect balance.
And if they’re out of tune, you could spend decades feeling like you’re stumbling around in the dark, trying to figure out why you can’t sleep right, lose weight, and manage your emotions.
Why Hormones Become Imbalanced
Various factors can come into play to cause hormonal imbalances. On their own, isolated instances of these contributing factors would not be enough to throw your hormones out of whack. However, over a period and when combined, they can cause imbalances in your body and ultimately hormone burnout.
Below are some of the most common culprits at play in hormonal imbalances that eventually may lead to hormone burnout.
Chronic stress causes a spike in cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone that gets released in response to stressful events or perceived danger. It raises your blood pressure along with your blood sugar, enabling you to act quickly and escape or protect yourself during stressful situations, like when you slam on your breaks to avoid hitting another car.
Harvard Health explains that the stress response begins in the amygdala, an area of the brain that’s responsible for emotional processing. When a stressful event occurs — whether it’s a life-or-death threat or something like a job loss — the amygdala sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus, a type of command center in the brain that communicates with the rest of the body via the nervous system. The hormonal changes and physiological responses happen so quickly that you don’t even have to think about it — you instantly get the energy to fight or flee (known as “fight or flight” mode). That’s where the problem starts with hormonal shifts that contribute to hormone burnout. If your body is in constant “fight or flight” mode where your sympathetic nervous system is always on, chronic stress could cause cortisol levels to rise to unhealthy levels. This can cause you to collect belly fat, deplete feel-good chemicals like serotonin in your brain, and disrupt your sleep. You may also experience depression, sugar cravings, and addictions to food or alcohol — along with imbalances in estrogen, insulin, and thyroid hormones.
Age-Related Hormone Drops
With age comes a reduction in several important hormones, including estrogen, testosterone, and thyroid. As these hormones drop and they’re no longer functioning optimally — both individually and collectively — your body responds in various ways. You can expect some or all of the following side effects:
- Fat on the breasts, hips, and buttocks
- Weight gain
- An increase in cravings and appetite
- Lack of a sex drive
- Weakened bones
- Hair loss
- Persistent feelings of being cold
- Heart disease
In addition, you may experience a decrease in sensitivity to the hormone insulin, leading to blood sugar spikes and cravings for sugar and refined carbohydrates like bread and pasta. When you add up all these hormone deficiencies over time, and as your body has to work harder and harder to try and bring these hormones into balance, hormone burnout is almost a given.
Processed foods contain ingredients known to trigger bodily inflammation. Gluten, grains, and dairy are some of the biggest offenders, contributing to brain fog, memory problems, gut problems, and disruptions to insulin and thyroid hormones. The more you eat inflammation-causing foods, the more you’ll crave them, and the more havoc they’ll wreak on your hormones.
Meanwhile, daily exposure to artificial chemicals like plastics can disrupt your hormones, too. These chemicals, known as xenoestrogens, act like real estrogen in the body and bind to your cells’ estrogen receptors.
It’s not just from plastic bottles and containers, either. In a given day, you may be exposed to more than 700 xenoestrogens and other endocrine disruptors through toothpaste, deodorant, sunscreen, personal care products, food preservatives, and certain interior home products like paint and carpeting, and even poor indoor air quality.
If you’re thinking more estrogen in your body is a good thing — say, if you’re experiencing a drop in natural estrogen related to age — think again. Xenoestrogens don’t play the same way your natural hormones do. Because they are foreign chemicals, xenoestrogens disrupt the endocrine system that’s responsible for hormone production, leading to infertility, disease, and the growth of adipose tissue (aka fat).
While it’s true that exercise can impact your health in positive ways — for example, contributing to heart health and mental health — it can also cause hormone disruptions. In a nutshell, more is not always better when it comes to exercise and your hormones.
If you’re constantly chasing a specific calorie burn through running, cycling, and other endurance activities, your body may start pumping out cortisol regularly. And as we discuss above, cortisol at high levels isn’t your friend as far as your hormones are concerned.
Over time, your body may become over-stressed by exercise if you’re overdoing it or aren’t engaging in activities like yoga, outdoor walks, and meditation that provide the benefits of exercise without the cortisol spikes.
How Hormone Burnout Accelerates Aging
When you hear the word “hormones,” your thoughts might jump to PMS, hot flashes, or infertility. However, given the information above, it’s clear that hormones of all types play a critical role in helping you manage stress, get enough rest, stay focused, lose or maintain weight, and optimize mental health.
When disrupted, hormone burnout can result due to disruptions of the major glands that balance energy, mood, weight, and reproduction. It goes beyond just a thyroid problem, weight gain, anxiety, infertility, or other problems; with hormone burnout, it’s like your entire system goes offline.
Some of the symptoms of hormone burnout may include:
Moreover, the overall loss of hormonal balance is both created and creates inflammation, leading to accelerated aging and chronic diseases. Essentially, it’s a vicious cycle of inflammation and hormone burnout that makes you age faster. My goal is to help you harmonize your hormones and unlock your hormonal superpowers, restoring your metabolism, energy, hormone balance, and youthful energy. We work inside to outside to understand your reproductive and digestive health, eliminate toxins, and find the right combination of herbs, supplements, movements, and breathing exercises to bring your hormones into balance.
When we uncover your innate personal powers from within, you’ll begin to discover your own fountain of youth. And in time, you’ll regain faith in your body’s incredible ability to heal.