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  • Writer's pictureDr. Jennifer Noonan

Functional Medicine Approach To Hormone Imbalance

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

What is Hormonal Imbalance?

Hormonal imbalance occurs when there are too little or too many hormones in the bloodstream or the ideal ratios of those hormones are not ideal.

Hormones are profoundly powerful chemical messengers that course through the brain and the rest of the body working to regulate a variety of body processes such as blood sugar, menstrual cycles, growth, mood, memory, and so much more . Both men and women can experience hormonal imbalances, though it most often occurs in women.


Hormonal imbalances can present in a variety of different ways:

  • Infertility

  • Fatigue

  • Brain fog

  • Low sex drive

  • Insomnia

  • Constipation

  • Mood swings

  • Weight gain

  • Irregular menstrual cycle

What Causes Hormonal Imbalances?

There can be many underlying causes of hormone balance and this is where function medicine comes in, to understand why the hormone imbalance is there in the first place and address it at its root, rather than simply covering up the symptoms of imbalance. Common causes of hormone balance can include...

  • Environmental toxins

  • Endocrine disruptors

  • High levels of stress

  • Poor gut health

  • HPA axis dysfunction

The Functional Medicine Approach To Balancing Hormones

healthy foods for balancing hormones functional medicine

The very first step in the functional medicine approach to any aspect of health is identifying the underlying cause. Your functional medicine doctor will do a thorough look into your past and family medical history including illnesses, past infections, toxin exposure, nutritional habits and lifestyle. Even your mental and emotional health is factored in, helping to give a complete and holistic picture. Past medical records are often reviewed as well, offering more clues as to the underlying causes of illness.

In addition to all this information, your practitioner may order specialty tests, rarely used in conventional settings, to further understand what is at the root of your issues. .

After all this detective work is complete, the next step in the functional medicine approach is to present you with a plan to get well and stay well. Since each person who presents for care is completely unique, so are the functional medicine approaches to healing. Most often, however, a comprehensive program will include...

  • Nutritional changes

  • Targeted supplements to support hormone production and detoxification

  • Restoration or healing of the gut microbiome

  • Movement and exercise guidelines

  • Stress reduction

  • Lifestyle modifications

Nutrition that can support hormonal balance includes…

  • Cruciferous greens such as arugula, broccoli, radishes, kale, cauliflower, and cabbage are important for healthy detoxification of estrogens.

  • Magnesium rich foods such as spinach, kale, legumes, nuts, seeds, quinoa.

  • Anti-inflammatory spices such as ginger, turmeric, paprika, garlic

  • Healthy fats such as avocados, nut butter and seeds as well as olive, avocado and flaxseed oils

  • Quality proteins like grass-fed meat, fish and chickpeas

  • Other nutrient rich foods such as fruits and vegetables, peas and beans

Targeted supplements to support hormone production and detoxification

There are numerous supplements and herbs that help in the production and detoxification of hormones. For instance, fenugreek and Ashwagandha are known to have a positive effect on testosterone levels in men. Chasteberry, is an amazing hormone leveling herb that works at the level of the brain to promote progesterone production and can counteract the symptoms of estrogen dominance. Supplements and herbs are very powerful and effective and offer a safe, gentle way to help optimize hormone levels.

Restoring and healing the gut

Gut health is the foundation of all health and has a very direct and strong effect on hormones. Healing your gut to optimize hormone health may include:

  • Lower your sugar intake

  • Eat more healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, peanut butter and avocado

  • Consume more fiber

  • Eat high quality protein at every meal

  • Naturally detox your liver

  • Specific supplements recommended by your practitioner based on your specific gut issues.

Movement and exercise

Your functional medicine doc will base any exercise guidelines on your current level of fitness or lack thereof. Exercise is an essential part of any wellness program and hormone imbalance is no exception. Depending on your individual case, some recommendations may include:

  • Daily walks

  • Stretching and/or yoga

  • High intensity workouts, where appropriate

  • Resistance or weight training

Stress reduction is vital to getting well

Due to the effects of stress on the adrenal glands and hence the HPA axis, stress is one of the biggest causes of hormonal imbalance. In some cases, cortisol can be skyrocketing or in some cases stress can be so long term, that the adrenals have a weakened cortisol response. Both situations can be identified and treated functionally. This is one of the reasons functional medicine docs will recommend an adrenal stress test as a part of a complete hormone evaluation.

Common methods to help the stress response include:

  • Sleep hygiene

  • Move your body

  • Keep a journal

  • Limit caffeine

  • Adaptogenic herbs recommended by your functional medicine doc

  • Avoid nicotine and alcohol, especially before bed

  • Limit phone and television usage before bed

Lifestyle modifications to suit YOU

Just as each health problem is unique, each individual's need for lifestyle modifications differ case to case as well. Some of you are wired and tired multi-taskers burning it at both ends and some of you are sleep-deprived young moms.

The beauty of functional medicine is that we spend so much time getting to know YOU, inside and out and will recommend lifestyle modifications to heal and feed your life appropriately. A few examples of lifestyle modifications can be:

  • Walk once around the block, twice a day to get started on movement.

  • Get a standing desk at work and use it.

  • At your baby’s nap-time, instead of doing chores, sit and read a book or listen to relaxing music.

  • Always have a packed gym bag in your car so you have no excuse but to go directly to the gym after work.

  • Train your internal clock to go to bed at 10 and wake at 6 each day.

Why not just use synthetic hormones?

Synthetic hormone replacement such as birth control pills and patches may be convenient but carry many documented risks and contribute greatly to hormone imbalance and toxic build up. Synthetic birth control can cause hormonal imbalances such as an increase in thyroxine-binding globulin (TBG). This can lead to thyroid dysfunction, affecting energy levels, skin and hair health, and metabolism. It can also cause vitamin B deficiencies which are a crucial component for the body’s production and effective use of thyroid hormones.

The synthetic hormones in birth control negatively impact the natural balance of all hormones and the body knows it. As the body recognizes these artificial hormones, it classifies it as a hormonal imbalance and will alter production of the naturally occurring hormones. In addition, synthetic hormone use is associated with an increased risk of blood clots and certain types of cancer.

How do I know if functional medicine is right for me?

Functional medicine is for anyone who is not satisfied with superficial symptomatic treatment, but wants to have a deeper understanding of why they don’t feel well and are seeking a root-cause approach to healing. Someone who is right for functional medicine is willing to invest the time and make changes in order to improve lifelong health.

Unlike traditional medicine, functional medicine doesn’t offer a one-time fix approach. It requires instilling lifestyle and eating habits which takes time and commitment. While you may come in looking to balance your hormones, you will find that your overall health and wellness will improve as well.

Ready to get started?

If you have heard enough to know that functional medicine might be the answer you are looking for, fill out our health assessment forms. Once we receive your forms, you will be contacted for an introductory phone call!


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