Written by: Colleen Gerson
Ah the beautifully empathic, cyclical, and intricate hormonal dance of the female-bodied being – so often misunderstood and brushed off, owing to its complexity and our own (societal and medical) ignorance of its power and influence. Yet if we’re really listening, our hormones are potent communicators for tuning into our needs.
Hormones are chemical messengers produced by endocrine glands throughout the body, and vary in type from thyroid hormones to insulin and cortisol. Our sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone) are primarily produced by the adrenal glands and gonads (either ovaries or testes), and do much more than support sex and reproduction. They also influence our metabolism, immunity, minds and emotions, and essentially how we see and react to the world around us.
If our hormones are out of balance, we can feel riddled with anxiety, depression, carb or alcohol cravings, PMS and period irregularities, fertility issues, certain cancers, stubborn weight, or insomnia, and just not feel very vital or truly “like ourselves’. Yet when we seek advice, we may hear something along the lines of “this is just the way it is to be a woman”, and offered a contraceptive, antidepressant, or sedative, without much exploration into the deeper why.
“What is my body telling me?”
Our hormonal landscape may be complex and ever-shifting, but beyond the occasional challenge, it’s truly part of our great power. Through these cyclical currents we have the ability to create life and death within us, and thus tend to that in the greater world, as well as embody a closer connection to the seasons of the earth – as they live within us too.
So while we may have been masking or coping with hormonal symptoms and imbalances with the tools available to us, like pharma, caffeine, or sleep aids that act with the force of a hammer, let’s look a little deeper, into our core roots – and how hemp can weave in for support.
Let’s talk about stress, baby.
Before we get into hemp, we must first understand a bit of physiology. We know that our adrenal glands produce cortisol to wake us up and be alert, and surge when in states of heightened stress as well as daily modern living. Stress is not all bad, but being in a chronic state of distress has become the norm and does have downstream consequences, particularly on our hormones.
With our go-go-go society, endless emails and notifications, social isolation, environmental and political threats, our Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) tends to be more chronically activated. This is the “fight or flight” reactive survival mode, which stimulates cortisol and adrenaline – suppressing the immune system and increasing inflammation. It may even compromise our digestive, reproductive, and higher cognitive abilities. We tend to not feel so randy or connected to our highest insights when we’re stressed or overwhelmed, right?
A key component has to do with pregnenolone, known as the “mother hormone” as it’s the precursor to progesterone, estrogen, cortisol, DHEA, and testosterone, produced in the gonads, adrenals, and brain. When we’re chronically stressed, and our Sympathetic Nervous System is overactivated, pregnenolone gets used to make cortisol instead of progesterone and testosterone! All contributing to the potential for estrogen dominance, low progesterone, and low testosterone, which manifest commonly as stubborn weight, inflammation, anxiety, and low libido, to name a few.
However, when we can down-regulate our stress into our Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), we enter the restorative, digestive, and repairing mode, where our body is more fertile and vital, and where we can better access our higher thoughts and passions. This is where we want to live most of the time! Yeah right, but how?
In a time when we never seem to have enough resources to do “all the things”, perhaps it’s about doing less – less of the things that don’t actually nourish us. (See our Nervous System Support blog for tools for the daily.)
Soothing our stress daily is key, and figuring out what that means to you is your journey. It can be a delight. Plants are incredible allies for our nervous system and reproductive system – plants invented sex, after all. So enter here our heroine Hemp, as she works on both the SNS and the PNS – not to mention nourishing whole body homeostasis.
A plant ally for hormone balance.
By now you might have heard or experienced that CBD can help us feel more calm and relaxed. To learn why, read more here. In short, CBD can reduce elevated cortisol levels in the body and may also reduce the stress or anxiety we feel when our hormone levels are out of balance, helping us settle into our Parasympathetic Nervous Systems for repair and replenishment.
In addition, CBD has been shown to help with insulin and melatonin production, which could help offset the potential weight gain and loss of sleep that occurs with hormonal shifts. Ultimately, finding natural effective allies to support more restorative sleep and ease stress, as well as more balanced blood sugar, will support the foundational layers essential for healthier hormonal balance.
Further promising research is beginning to demonstrate that the Endocannabinoid System helps to modulate our HPA axis, ie stress response, as well as our Parasympathetic Nervous System and Endocrine System in various ways, so this subject is very much “to be continued”.
While CBD doesn’t directly increase or decrease our sex hormones, it plugs into our Endocannabinoid System, which seeks to bring homeostasis to all body systems and helps modulate our stress response, relaxation and sleep cycle, all of which forms the foundation and biological tools needed for better hormone balance, enhanced libido and overall vitality.
Although the Endocannabinoid System plays a role in regulating our endocrine system, neurotransmitters, and hormonal balance, there is very little to no published research yet, especially not beyond animal studies, on if/how CBD impacts androgens, estrogens, or progesterone directly. At this point more research has been done on THC and the endocrine system, and CBD research will hopefully catch up.
Any health issue or imbalance almost ALWAYS requires a multifaceted and personalized approach. What we choose to consume, how we manage our schedules and stress, our trauma and somatic scarring, our self-care and sleep, movement and play, time in nature syncing with the natural rhythms – all play roles in our multidimensional selves. So remember to stay curious and compassionate with your body and being, and seek support along the way from knowledgeable and self-empowering health practitioners.
Friends and foes for hormone homeostasis
For healthy hormone balance, managing stress and quality sleep is key, and what we feed ourselves is just as important. Too many processed carbs or sweets and consistent caffeine or alcohol disrupt blood sugar and adrenals, bog down our liver, and throw off our microbiome, all of which impedes a balanced endocrine system.
Secondly, hormones are made up of cholesterol, and despite the old fear of fat, our cholesterol levels are influenced by our genetics, stress, and sugar/carb consumption more than fat/cholesterol consumption. Consuming healthy fats, like avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts and seeds or their cold-pressed oils, wild seafood, cold pressed EPADHA oil, organic pasture-raised meat and eggs, all help provide the building blocks for our hormones, our brains, stable blood sugar and metabolism.
Thirdly, one of the biggest factors in out-of-whack hormones are the endocrine disruptors (aka hormone mimickers) found in many of our beauty and body care products (yes those anti-aging beauty creams), cleaning products, and even feminine care and sex products! That’s why we only use organic, natural ingredients from the earth, that you can pronounce and know. See where you can be more diligent about what you’re putting on and in your body, and don’t be swayed by fancy packaging, greenwashing and broad claims; read the ingredients, and if it’s not from the earth – best to avoid it! And while you’re at it, avoid body care, food and drinks packaged in plastic (especially those single use plastic water bottles), which have phthalates, parabens, and other xenoestrogenic and harmful effects. Your body and the body of the earth will thank you.
We are permeable, sensitive beings, and what’s around us and what we take in influences us, whether we like it or not. We can’t control everything, but with some awareness and love for our bodies and the earth, we can step by step make choices to heal more than harm, our hormones, our hearts, and our relationships with each other.
Want more? Sign up for our newsletter