If you’re experiencing hormones and IBS symptoms, listen up: I did my research to learn how to treat these symptoms naturally at home. If you’re experiencing some of the same things I was, like bloating, painful periods, and hormonal acne, you may be able to lessen the severity of these symptoms with a few lifestyle choices, eliminating certain foods, and taking some supplements.
I am a certified nutrition coach, but I’m NOT YOUR DOCTOR. This post is meant to show you what I did and to give you some potential ideas to ask your doctor about. Make sure you read my disclaimer below and check in with your doc before making any changes to your diet or lifestyle.
What is Hormonal Imbalance?
A hormone imbalance is exactly what it sounds like: there is too much or too little of a hormone in your body. Here’s how Medical News Today defines hormone imbalance:
Hormonal imbalances occur when there is too much or too little of a hormone in the bloodstream. Because of their essential role in the body, even small hormonal imbalances can cause side effects throughout the body.Medical News Today
Everything from sleep, mood, stress, sexual function, metabolism, appetite, and even more processes in the body can be affected by hormonal imbalances.
Usually when women talk about hormonal imbalance, they’re referring to estrogen and progesterone, the two primary hormones that control our menstrual cycles as well as other processes in the body. Merck Manuals has some great charts that help you see how estrogen and progesterone work over the course of our cycle to keep our systems functioning.
In today’s modern world, estrogen dominance is common because it can be caused by our high-stress, hustle culture, as well as by diets high in sugar and fat.
What is IBS?
IBS is Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It’s a condition that affects the large intestine and can cause bloating, abdominal pain, and is often characterized by extended constipation or extended diarrhea.
IBS is frequently connected with psychological issues, such as high levels of stress, anxiety, and a history of abuse, but is also connected to physical issues such as food intolerances.
Leaky gut is also connected to IBS. Here’s what FODMAP Challenge says about Leaky Gut:
Intestinal permeability is basically how easily something can move through the cells of our intestinal (gut) barrier. This barrier allows the ‘good guys’ to cross into the gut (e.g nutrients, gut bacteria, fluid, electrolytes) and acts to stop the ‘bad guys’ from entering (e.g toxins and pathogens). So if intestinal permeability increases, larger (and a greater amount of) substances can cross the gut barrier more easily. This then increases risk of disease and GI complications.
The Link Between Hormones and IBS
You can easily see that the symptoms of hormonal imbalance and IBS overlap. Stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, food intolerances, and the Standard American Diet (SAD) that is high in fat and sugar can cause both of these issues in our bodies.
It isn’t a stretch of the imagination at all that two of our systems that share the same space in our bodies will become misaligned together. Parsley Health Blog tells us:
There are more neurotransmitters in the gut than there are in the brain, so it should be no surprise that anxiety and depression are sometimes accompanied by digestive symptoms. Hormones influence gut function through the microbiome and bacterial system in our intestines, so a hormone imbalance can impact the population and function of the bacteria in your gut, leading to symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, or nausea.
My Hormonal Imbalance & IBS Symptoms
The symptoms I experienced with my IBS/leaky gut, and hormone imbalance/estrogen dominance were:
- extreme fatigue
- disinterest in things that I usually love
- painful periods
- breast pain during latter 2 weeks of my cycle
- breast pain during ovulation
- painful ovulation
- muscle tension, particularly in my back
- foggy brain / poor memory
- sugar and simple carbs cravings
- dry skin & hair
- hormonal acne
- bloating & flatulence
- extreme constipation during the last 2 weeks of my cycle
- diarrhea during my period
- breast lumps (likely fibroadenomas, but my appointment is scheduled in 3 weeks)
- difficulty losing weight
Let’s be honest. These symptoms could be a lot of different things. IBS, leaky gut, hormonal balance, and estrogen dominance were at the top of my list because of things that I had already experienced at past points in my life. But these things could also be symptoms of chronic stress, thyroid disorder, PCOS, endometriosis, breast disease, depression, food allergies, anemia, and more.
So how exactly did I decide what to do?
How I Decided to Treat My Hormones and IBS Symptoms
I wish there was just one resource that I used, but unfortunately, it took a lot of digging, and essentially, I had to look up ways to treat each individual symptom, and it turned out that there was a lot of overlap.
For example, when I researched how to treat estrogen dominance, exercise and proper nutrition were on the list. Exercise and clean eating are also used to help calm the symptoms of depression and thyroid disorders also.
And while iodine is an essential nutrient for breast health, it is also essential for thyroid health.
I knew that, even though I had been eating well, I had not been exercising as much as I should have, and I had also been consuming a lot of caffeine.
Sources say that the link between caffeine and breast health has been debunked, but I personally have experienced the opposite: for me, my cyclical breast pain is absolutely caused by caffeine intake.
My Steps to Reverse These Symptoms
Here are the steps I took to help my IBS and hormone imbalance, which I will go into detail below:
- Increased exercise and activity
- Removed all caffeine sources in my diet
- Removed all dairy sources in my diet
- Vitamin B Complex
- Collagen & Probiotics
- Started my day with apple cider vinegar water
- Oil Pulling
- Removed all non-natural body products
- Used essential oils for stress support
All of these things have multiple implications for both hormones and IBS, as well as other, related conditions, like PCOS, endometriosis, and more. I also have reason to believe that I was anemic, which I’ll detail further below.
Increase Exercise to Reduce Symptoms of Many Different Ailments
Exercise is a something that has benefits on almost every single aspect of our lives.
As someone who teaches ESL online and blogs (and, as I write this, it is winter), I haven’t been getting a healthy amount of movement.
I added a 3 mile walk to my daily routine, in addition to doing a 10-15 minute cardio dance routine 2-3 times a week. I’ve been doing Jamie Kinkeade’s workouts and they are FABULOUS and FREE!
My cousin also introduced me to MoveU, which is a paid program to put your body and spine in correct alignment, with instructional videos and workout routines built into the program.
I have always been sensitive to caffeine, but as it turns out, there are more reasons to give up on coffee and other sources of caffeine. According to The Wae Clinic:
It’s possible that in some women, consuming caffeine may interfere with enzyme CYP1A2 and impact estrogen metabolism (which can lead to estrogen dominance and a host of hormonal imbalance!)
They go on to say that, “Caffeine can cause nutrient depletion of important nutrients, like vitamin B6, and interfere with nutrient absorption of essential minerals, including calcium, iron, magnesium and B vitamins.”
Did you notice several of the supplements that I added after removing caffeine? Vitamin B complex and iron. I also regularly take magnesium.
From Purple Carrot Nutrition:
Milk and other dairy products contain a hormone known as Insulin-like Growth Factor 1, which promotes the production of androgen hormones such as testosterone, which can worsen hormonal imbalances. … There is a link between dairy and acne…because excess androgens can stimulate sebum production which block hair follicles and result in those dreadful pimples!
I knew that I was sensitive to dairy as well, but I didn’t know that dairy could actually cause hormonal imbalance! I had to remove all dairy, not just milk and cheese, but also yogurt. Even though yogurt has those great probiotics (more on those later), my body was absolutely reacting to it, so it needed to go.
Supplement Iron: My Surprising Encounter with Beet Juice
One day I got a fresh beet juice from Sprouts Farmer’s Market. I expected that my poop might be red, but I didn’t anticipate that it would turn my pee pink.
Typically, your body filters out those colors, but when it doesn’t, it can be a sign of anemia, or low iron. (It isn’t always, but many people who experienced pink pee also had an iron deficiency.) Naturally, I started iron supplements.
Something surprising happened: my constipation cleared up.
Iron can typically cause constipation. If you’ve ever had an infant on formula, you are probably familiar with this.
But because my iron helped treat my constipation, I assumed that the iron was working to bring blood, fluids, and nutrients to my digestive system in a way that it hadn’t been before.
Not only this, but iron deficiency can actually mimic the symptoms of hormonal imbalance.
I had another beet juice about 3 weeks after starting iron every day, and it did NOT turn my pee pink the second time!
Supplement with Vitamin B Complex for Hormones and IBS Support
Another potential group of vitamins that can cause anemia is B vitamins. B vitamins are great for metabolism and energy.
Some potential signs of B vitamin deficiency are things like constipation, sore tongue, fatigue and weakness. Not only this, but there is a correlation between inflammatory bowel diseases like IBS or leaky gut and vitamin B deficiency. Vitamin B deficiency can make digestive issues worse, AND digestive issues can make vitamin B deficiency worse!
Supplement with Iodine
Iodine is a mineral that is needed by the thyroid and other parts of the body to make hormones. We typically get iodine from salt (if your table salt has iodine added to it.)
Iodine is a supplement that I took many years ago when I was having cyclical breast pain and fibroadenomas. I received this specific advice from a little health food store in Ohio, but Lara Brien, naturopathic doctor also prescribes iodine for all kinds of breast health and reproductive health issues.
My salt that I use for cooking and seasoning food does NOT have iodine in it, and I assumed I wasn’t getting enough from my diet. I chose a liquid drop form, and I added a single drop to a glass of water. Simple and effective.
Supplement with Collagen and Probiotics for Hormones and IBS Support
When we think of collagen, we think of how it helps our skin. But did you know that collagen is also good at protecting our digestive system?
Of course, if you’re vegetarian or vegan, you won’t be able to supplement with collagen, as it is an animal-based product.
The collagen that I used was a powder to stir into water, and it also included probiotics and turmeric. (Turmeric is known to be good for its anti-inflammatory properties that can help with everything from heart disease, Alzheimers, arthritis, and general health).
Probiotics are the good bacteria that help you break down your food. You can find probiotics in foods like sauerkraut or yogurt, but you can also just take it in supplement form.
Detox First Thing in the Morning
Every day, I would start my day with apple cider vinegar in water. Apple cider vinegar is great at helping to balance blood sugar levels and it’s something that can be recommended for diabetes.
Lemon and a small bit of honey is also another great way to “detox” in the morning.
Now remember, a substance that is usually labeled as a “detox” product, REALLY just means that it is something that can help the liver and kidneys do their jobs. Apple cider vinegar doesn’t actually pull bad stuff out of your system… it just assists the liver and kidneys to keep your body functioning and “detoxing” on its own!
Eat Pineapple to Treat Hormones and IBS
I also read something that made me suspect that perhaps my digestive issues began with low stomach acid. Not needing to add another supplement to my list, I decided to snack on pineapple every day for two weeks.
Pineapple can help make acid reflux better, which is often a symptom of low stomach acid. I figured it couldn’t hurt, and it’s a tasty and natural snack!
Oil Pulling with Coconut Oil
In case you didn’t know what oil pulling is, it’s basically using coconut oil as a mouth rinse. But instead of 30 seconds with your standard mouthwash, coconut oil pulling requires about 10-20 minutes. It has benefits for our oral health and teeth. (I’m pretty sure I’ve cured two cavities with oil pulling, and there’s science to back it up.)
Times of India says,
The positive impact of oil pulling on our oral health is known to all. But not everybody knows that oil pulling can even help in improving your digestive health. Swishing your mouth with coconut oil deep cleanses your mouth, boosts gum health and at the same time whitens your teeth. It is even beneficial for your digestive health.
Substitute Body Products for Natural Items
Did you know that the chemicals in beauty products… things like face wash, shampoo, lotion, and makeup… can be harmful to us and mess up our hormones? Parabens specifically can potentially raise our estrogen levels, causing hormone imbalance.
I had gotten rid of all my products with parabens more than a decade ago, but I was still using shampoo with sulfates and I was using a face wash that I’m pretty sure was not clearing my acne but actually making it worse.
So I switched to Ethique shampoo and oil cleansing method for my face.
Ethique bar shampoo is actually the best shampoo I’ve ever used! My hair has never been so thick and smooth! And the oil cleansing immediately helped with my acne.
Essential Oils for Hormones and IBS
Essential oils aren’t the cure to cancer. But they are great at stimulating your olfactory system in different ways, which can help stress. And as you remember from above, both hormonal imbalance issues and IBS have a correlation with stress.
I love lavender, grapefruit, frankincense, and doTerra’s Serenity blend for relaxing. Ah!
It has only been about a month since I’ve started this program, but I’ve already seen a huge improvement. I still have acne, occasional fatigue, and cyclical breast pain, although my breast pain is not nearly as bad. My constipation has cleared up, I have a LOT more energy, and my bloating, sugar cravings, and PMS is mostly gone. Even my dry skin and hair has improved a lot!
I anticipate that it will take a minimum of 3 months before I see the full healing I want to.
I will be sure to update this post after I have my breast exam to determine the type of breast lump I have, and as my symptoms improve or worsen.
Do you have hormonal imbalance or digestive issues?
What kinds of things have you done to help with hormones and IBS?