Hormones play a vital role in our overall health and well-being. They are responsible for many of our body’s functions, including energy levels, mood, sex drive, fertility, and metabolism. When our hormones are out of balance, it can lead to various problems and symptoms.
Together, we’ll explore what hormones are, how they affect our bodies, and the signs that indicate when they may be out of balance.
What Are Hormones and What Do They Do?
Hormones are chemical messengers that travel throughout the body to regulate various bodily functions. They are produced by the endocrine glands — pituitary, pineal, thymus, thyroid, adrenals, and pancreas — and released into the bloodstream. They then bind to specific receptors and cause a particular reaction.
There are three main types of hormones, each responsible for different functions:
- Protein Hormones – Protein hormones, also known as polypeptide hormones, are made up of chains of amino acids. These hormones are typically secreted by the endocrine glands and include growth hormone, insulin, and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). Protein hormones are essential in regulating metabolism, blood sugar levels, and reproduction.
- Steroid Hormones – Steroid hormones are derivatives of lipids. These hormones include estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and cortisone. Steroid hormones are secreted by the ovaries, testes, adrenal cortex, and placenta. They are crucial in regulating sexual development and function, fertility, and stress response.
- Amine Hormones – Amine hormones are derivatives of amino acids. These include catecholamines like adrenaline and dopamine, as well as thyroid hormones. Amine hormones are secreted by the adrenal medulla and the thyroid gland. They regulate energy expenditure, heart rate, blood pressure, and mood.
What Is a Hormonal Imbalance?
A hormonal imbalance occurs when there is too much or too little of a hormone in the body. Although hormones are essential for regulating many body processes, even a small change in hormone levels can significantly impact our health. For example, an imbalance of the hormone insulin can lead to diabetes. In contrast, an imbalance of the hormone thyroxine can cause problems with metabolism and energy levels.
In some cases, hormonal imbalances are temporary and will resolve independently. For example, a woman’s hormone levels will fluctuate during and after pregnancy, but they will eventually return to normal. However, in other cases, a hormonal imbalance may be persistent and require treatment to manage symptoms and maintain quality of life.
What Causes Hormone Imbalance?
There are a variety of things that can cause hormone imbalance in women. Many women experience hormonal changes during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. Imbalances can also be caused by stress, certain health conditions, and certain medications. In addition, unhealthy lifestyle choices such as smoking and drinking alcohol can also contribute to hormone imbalance.
While some hormonal imbalances may resolve on their own, others may require treatment from a healthcare provider. If you think you may be experiencing a hormone imbalance, it is important to speak with a doctor to determine the cause and develop a treatment plan. But to do that, you need to know what to look for. Here are some of the most common signs of hormonal imbalance in women.
Most Common Signs of Hormonal Imbalance in Women
1. Changes in Menstrual Cycle
One of the most common signs of hormonal imbalance in women are changes in their menstrual cycle. This can manifest in many ways, such as irregular periods, skipped periods, or uncharacteristic changes to flow and bleeding. For some women, these changes can be very subtle, while for others, they can be quite dramatic.
Fatigue is more than just feeling tired. It’s a feeling of overwhelming exhaustion that doesn’t go away with rest. You may also have trouble focusing or carrying out everyday tasks, a condition known as brain fog. Fatigue can be physical, mental, or both. It can be short-term, or it can last for a long time. Hormonal imbalance is one possible cause of fatigue. Changes in estrogen and progesterone levels can lead to fatigue, especially during perimenopause and menopause.
3. Trouble Sleeping
Trouble sleeping is a common sign of hormonal imbalance in women. Hormones play a vital role in helping us sleep, and when they are out of balance, they can lead to trouble falling asleep and staying asleep through the night.
Insomnia, or difficulty falling asleep, is often caused by an imbalance of the hormone estrogen. This is because estrogen helps magnesium to bind to GABA receptors in the brain, which promotes relaxation and sleep. It’s kind of like putting the brakes on your brain activity so you can drift off to sleep. Without this process, you may be left with racing thoughts and anxiety, making it difficult to fall asleep.
Trouble staying asleep, or waking up frequently throughout the night, can also be a sign of hormonal imbalance. This is often caused by an increase in the hormone norepinephrine, which acts as a stimulant and can make it difficult to stay asleep.
4. Unexplained Weight Gain or Loss
You’re doing everything right — eating well, exercising regularly — but the numbers on the scale just don’t make sense. Unexplained weight gain or loss can be one of the most frustrating things to deal with. You feel like you’re doing everything right, but your body isn’t cooperating. For women, this can often be a sign of a hormonal imbalance. When our hormones are out of balance, it can affect our appetites and how our bodies process food. This can lead to sudden weight gain or weight loss that is difficult to control.
5. Anxiety, Depression, and Mood Swings
Dramatic changes to your mood can be one of the most distressing signs of hormonal imbalance. They often impact personal relationships, only worsening the problem. Women who are experiencing a hormonal imbalance may find themselves feeling unusually anxious or depressed. They may also experience mood swings, feeling happy one minute and angry or frustrated the next. If you’re unsure what each of these feels like, here’s a quick rundown:
- Anxiety can be described as an overwhelming feeling of unease, worry, or fear. It can be mild or severe and come on suddenly or gradually. This can be accompanied by a racing heart, sweaty palms, and difficulty breathing.
- Depression is more than just feeling down or sad. It’s a persistent feeling of hopelessness and despair that can impact your ability to function in everyday life. You may lose interest in activities you once enjoyed or have trouble concentrating or sleeping.
- Mood swings are sudden, extreme changes in emotions. You may feel happy, then sad, then angry — often all within the span of a few minutes or hours. These changes can be very confusing and distressing for you and the people around you.
6. Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
Hot flashes are sudden feelings of warmth, sometimes accompanied by a flushed face and sweating. They can last from a few seconds to several minutes and occur at any time of day or night. Hot flashes are commonly associated with menopause but can also signify hormonal imbalance in younger women.
Night sweats are similar to hot flashes but occur at night and can often disrupt sleep. If you wake up drenched in sweat, it may be a sign that your hormones are out of balance.
7. Digestive Problems
There are a few reasons why digestive problems are common in women with hormonal imbalances. First, when your hormones are out of balance, it can affect the motility of your intestines, which is the movement of food and waste through your digestive system. Additionally, hormone imbalances can trigger inflammation in the gut, exacerbating existing digestive issues or leading to new ones. Finally, hormonal imbalances can also disrupt the delicate balance of good and bad bacteria in your stomach, leading to dysbiosis (an imbalance of gut flora).
Here are some of the most common digestive problems associated with hormonal imbalance:
- Constipation – This is one of the most common digestive issues associated with hormonal imbalance. When your hormones are out of whack and gastrointestinal motility is slowed, it can lead to constipation.
- Diarrhea – On the other hand, hormone imbalances sometimes cause diarrhea. This is usually due to an overproduction of cortisol, the stress hormone. When cortisol levels are too high, it triggers our “fight or flight” response, affecting the digestive system and causing diarrhea. This may also be accompanied by nausea and vomiting.
- Bloating and Gas – When your hormones are out of balance, it can cause your body to hold onto extra water, which leads to bloating. Additionally, imbalanced hormones can also slow down your digestive system, leading to trapped gas and bloating.
- Acid Reflux – Lastly, acid reflux is another common sign of hormonal imbalance. Hormonal fluctuations can relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which separates the stomach from the esophagus. When the LES relaxes too much, stomach acid can flow back up into the esophagus, leading to heartburn and acid reflux.
Acne occurs when the hair follicles become clogged with oil and dead skin cells. The sebaceous glands, which produce sebum (the oily substance that keeps your skin lubricated), are controlled by hormones. Androgen hormones, like testosterone, signal the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum. When these hormones are out of balance, the glands can go into overdrive, producing excess oil and clogged pores.
There are a few different ways that hormonal imbalances can cause acne. For example, an increase in androgen levels can occur during puberty, menstrual cycles, and menopause. In addition, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is another condition that can cause hormonal imbalances and lead to acne breakouts.
9. Dry Skin
In addition to acne, another common sign of hormonal imbalance in women is dry skin. This can be caused by several hormones in the body, including estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone. When these hormones are out of balance, they can cause the sebaceous glands to produce less sebum, leading to dry, flaky skin. In some cases, the dryness may be so severe that it leads to eczema or psoriasis.
10. Hair Loss
Many women experience hair loss at some point in their lives. In fact, research shows that up to 40 percent of Americans who suffer from hair loss are women. While it’s often considered a normal part of aging, hair loss can also be a sign of a hormonal imbalance.
One cause of hormonal hair loss is an increase in the ratio of androgens (male hormones) to estrogens (female hormones). This can occur during menopause when estrogen levels drop. Another possibility is an overactive or underactive thyroid gland. The thyroid gland produces hormones that play a role in metabolism, and an imbalance can lead to hair loss.
11. Breast Tenderness and Vaginal Dryness
These are two less talked-about symptoms that can be just as — if not more — debilitating than the others we have covered so far.
Breast tenderness can manifest itself in many different ways. For some women, the pain is so severe that it interferes with their ability to perform daily tasks or even get a good night’s sleep. Others may only experience discomfort when their breasts are touched or when wearing certain types of clothing. And still others may find that their breast tenderness comes and goes depending on their hormone levels at any given time.
Vaginal dryness can be a very uncomfortable and even painful condition. It can also lead to other problems, such as yeast infections, urinary tract infections, and sexual dysfunction. Many women also report that sex becomes less enjoyable or painful when they suffer from vaginal dryness.
12. Low Libido
Low libido is defined as a decreased interest in sex. It’s not just about having less sex — it’s also about having less desire for sex. Two main hormones play a role in female libido: estrogen and testosterone.
In women, estrogen is produced primarily by the ovaries and plays a vital role in sexual function. This hormone boosts blood flow to the genitals and increases vaginal lubrication. Testosterone is produced primarily by the adrenal glands and ovaries in women and plays a crucial role in sexual desire. This hormone helps to increase blood flow to the genitals and promote nerve growth in the pelvic region.
When these hormones are out of balance, it can lead to low libido or other sexual problems, such as difficulty achieving orgasm or painful intercourse.
Treatments for Hormonal Imbalance in Women
Thankfully, there are some treatments available that can help to alleviate the symptoms and restore balance. Here are three of the most effective:
- Hormone Replacement Therapy – One popular treatment for hormonal imbalance is hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT involves taking supplemental hormones to bring levels back into balance. Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) is often recommended for women with hormonal imbalances. BHRT uses hormones that are structurally identical to the ones our bodies produce naturally. This makes them more easily metabolized and less likely to cause side effects.
- Diet and Lifestyle Changes – Certain dietary and lifestyle changes can also help alleviate hormonal imbalance symptoms. For example, avoiding sugar, processed foods, and alcohol can help to regulate blood sugar levels and reduce inflammation. Eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy fats like avocados and olive oil can also be beneficial. In addition, getting regular exercise and adequate sleep is important for overall health and well-being.
- Natural Supplements – Many natural supplements can be helpful for women with hormonal imbalances. One example is hair supplements. Hair supplements are a natural solution that contains nutrients like biotin, zinc, and vitamins A, C, and D, which are all essential for healthy hair growth. Taking a supplement like this can help to address one of the common symptoms of hormonal imbalance — hair loss.
If you are experiencing any of these common signs of hormone imbalance, don’t panic. Many women go through this at some point in their lives. The first step is to consult a qualified healthcare professional to get hormone imbalance testing done. This will give you a better idea of what’s going on and whether or not you have an actual hormonal imbalance. Once you know what’s happening with your body, you can work with your doctor to find the best treatment options. Don’t suffer in silence. There is help available.