It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know when hormones are imbalanced because lots of things go haywire. Ask any pregnant, menopausal or adolescent woman and you’ll get a similar response: Hormones can be hell. Everything from PMS to bloating to skin problems, fatigue, insomnia and gut health go awry when hormones are out of sync.

“Basically hormones are incredibly important. They’re responsible for waking us up in the morning, going to bed at night, in women for menstrual periods to occur, to get pregnant, carry the baby and give birth, for our mood, our energy, concentration, focus and memory, cardiovascular function, the list goes on and on,” says Kristy Vermeulen, ND, author of “Happy Hormones – Discover the Breakthrough Treatment Program for Better Hormonal Health.”

Vermeulen says when hormones are imbalanced, many problems occur. “What I mostly see in my practice in terms of symptoms," she says, "is fatigue, anxiety and also insomnia, difficulty maintaining weight, PMS symptoms, infertility, hot flashes and night sweats associated with menopause, difficulty focusing and concentrating.”

Hormones are like your bodies’ chemical messengers, and when they are out of whack, your body won’t get the message it needs to operate optimally.

Hormone imbalance can be broken into four categories:

1. Adrenal function

Adrenals are glands that sit atop the kidneys and they’re responsible for our stress response. Normally they take care of short-term stress, but with work and family stress, poor diets, and living in a chemical environment, adrenals can’t keep up. When that happens, you tend to have an altered stress response. You don’t deal with stress the way you did previously and may have irritability, anxiety and moodiness. “Things that never used to bother now bother, and there’s a loss of focus and concentration,” says Vermeulen.

2. Thyroid

The thyroid is the gland that controls metabolism, our body temperature, energy and weight maintenance. A lot of people who have trouble maintaining weight and are tired may have thyroid imbalance. There’s a difference when the thyroid is truly kaput and you need medical thyroid replacement and when it’s just working sluggishly.

3. Estrogen and progesterone

These two are thought of as female hormones but are also important for men. As women age, production of estrogen and progesterone slowly decline. When they decline to insufficient levels, that’s when women experience menopause. For women who are currently premenopausal, they can also have estrogen and progesterone imbalance, which usually gives rise to PMS. For men, as they age and testosterone begins to decline, estrogen levels rise and progesterone levels plummet. This can cause low libido, hair loss, erectile dysfunction, fatigue and depression.

4. Testosterone

Testosterone similarly declines with age and is important for energy and muscle and bone mass in men — and also women. Testosterone plays a huge role in women’s libido. And it plays a role in self-confidence and self-esteem for both men and women. Vermeulen has a theory that as men age and go through the so-called midlife crisis it’s in part because of declining testosterone levels. “Testosterone in men gives confidence and self-esteem and the ‘I can do anything’ attitude and when that begins to decline, you can question yourself more.”

How to balance hormones naturally:

Balance hormones naturally

Herbal remedies and lifestyle changes can help shape up hormones gone askew. (Photo: nomidavid/Shutterstock)

Black cohosh: It’s the most popular herbal remedy for menopausal symptoms, and can help with hot flashes. “It’s a plant estrogen. However, if your estrogen drops really rapidly, and you’re up all night sweating, it’s probably not going to be that effective and it probably won’t work for vaginal dryness either,” says Sue Decotiis, MD, a hormone replacement specialist with her own medical grade supplement line.

Chasteberry: Used for menstrual cycle irregularities, PMS, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder, Web MD notes that chasteberry, “seems to affect” many hormones that regulate women’s reproductive cycles. “I think it’s difficult to mimic the effects of progesterone through herbals. Some people think the chasteberry works,” says Decotiis.

Estro G-100: This product that contains Angelica, also known as Dong Quai, and helps with menopausal symptoms; in fact, one study concluded that it "significantly improved the menopausal symptoms of pre-, peri- and post-menopausal women without weight gain or any serious side effects."

Soy products: Soy may improve menopausal symptoms, but the evidence is mixed. If you want to try it, look for organic fermented soy. Get it through eating tofu, tempeh and miso.

Rhodiola and Astragulus: These herbs may be helpful for the adrenal glands and may provide energy support.

Probiotic: A really good probiotic will help about everyone,” says Decotiis.

Maca root: This tuber has a history of boosting hormone production and libido. Many women notice fewer PMS symptoms, increased fertility, and improved skin while men have increased sperm production, libido and better sleep.

Diet: “It depends on the hormone imbalance but diet can play a huge role,” says Vermeulen. A healthy diet will support hormones but a diet full of sugar and highly processed foods will be detrimental to hormone health. Eat organic when possible, include lots of cruciferous vegetables, less meat, omega-3 fatty acids and healthy fats like olive oil, avocado and flax seeds.

Manage stress: People with mental, emotional and physical stress, people who over-exercise or high-level athletes, and women who are very thin and have little body fat all will likely have low cortisol and low adrenal functions. Try meditation and yoga for stress relief.

Check your environment: Environment can play a big role — many paints, plastics, pesticides and herbicides are hormone disrupters and can mimic estrogen. Excess estrogen from environmental sources can lead to imbalance as well as other health issues. “One of the first things I do is get patients off plastic water bottles and throw out air fresheners and conventional cleaners,” says Vermeulen.

Bioidentical hormones: They aren’t for everyone, but if you have a lot of symptoms, these "natural hormones" could be the answer. “Most of the research shows that you get the most benefit from taking them for 10 years, so the closer to menopause you start with them and if you take them for a 10-year period, bone mass is better, sleep and energy is better, there’s less wrinkles and skin elasticity is better compared to someone who isn’t taking hormones,” says Vermeulen. Women with a history of breast cancer should talk to their doctor about options. Bioidentical hormones should be properly dosed, monitored and taken transdermally for minimal risk.

And as with all supplements and natural remedies, check with your health care provider first to see what's a good fit for you.

Related stories on MNN:

Hormones haywire? Balance them naturally!
Suffering from hot flashes, fatigue, insomnia or anxiety? Hormonal imbalance could be to blame — try these natural remedies to get things back on track.