Hormones influence function all over the body. One tiny imbalance can wreak havoc for a number of systems and functions. Unfortunately, as you age, hormone production can slow. Low hormone production can make you feel sluggish, moody, contribute to weight gain and impair your memory—among other things. Simply put, hormonal imbalances keep you from feeling like yourself.
Understanding the role of hormones in your body and how to identify the symptoms of hormonal imbalance can help you uncover the most effective treatment plan to balance your hormones and restore personal wellbeing.
The Function of Hormones
Hormones are chemical messengers that regulate essential functions throughout the body, including growth and development, metabolism, immune function and reproduction. Low DHEA and growth hormone are commonly associated with aging, but testosterone, progesterone, and estrogen also play a substantial role.
The thyroid plays a significant role in metabolism. Thyroid dysfunction, which is frequently associated with hormone imbalance, can affect your energy, weight, and even immune function. Your thyroid gland is controlled by a complex web of hormones. The functional loop begins in the brain and sends messages to the thyroid to secrete the two major thyroid hormones (among others). Running alongside this complex web are other hormones like cortisol, which is mainly secreted by your adrenal glands and can also affect thyroid hormone production and balance.
DHEA is a precursor hormone that plays a vital role in the formation of the sex hormones, estrogen and testosterone. DHEA is also plays a strong role in the transformational changes that occur as the human body grows and matures.
DHEA begins a gradual decline starting in the late twenties, contributing to the aging process. By the time you reach your seventies, your body produces less than 10 percent of the DHEA produced in your twenties.
Supplementing DHEA through hormone therapy is a treatment option for some patients. DHEA can be useful for treating auto-immune disorders, chronic fatigue, dementia, osteoporosis, and obesity. However, because DHEA converts to the sex hormones, estrogen or testosterone therapy may be a more targeted and effective treatment option, depending on the patient's symptoms and diagnosis.
Testosterone has gained popularity in recent years as the anti-aging hormone. Though commonly associated with all things male, both men and women benefit from adequate levels of testosterone and experience negative symptoms when testosterone levels are out of balance, including low energy, poor stamina, foggy thinking, anxiety, diminished muscle mass and strength, weight gain and low sex drive.
Bioidentical testosterone therapy comes in many forms, including pellet therapy, which ideally mimics the slow steady secretion of the natural hormone, testosterone. Pellet therapy has been shown to ideally reduce the effects of aging. In fact, many men and women attest to experiencing more energy, improved weight management, and increased sex drive through the use of pellet therapy.
Estrogen refers to the collection of hormones known as estradiol, estrone, and estriol. Each estrogen hormone has a unique chemical structure and function. Though estrogen plays a role in the physiology of both men and women, the significance of the hormone and its impact on aging is far greater in women.
For women, estrogen in essential in the development of the female body during various phases of change, such as puberty, pregnancy and menopause. During puberty, estrogen stimulates the growth and development of sexual characteristics, reproductive function, and breast development. When a woman begins menstruating, estrogen aids the growth of the uterine lining during the follicular phase of each cycle.
Estrogen is actually responsible for hundreds of functions throughout a woman's body. Estrogen regulates cholesterol and bone growth, among other metabolic processes in the female body. Research has also shown that estrogen has a substantial impact on women's health, offering a protective effect against certain diseases, including heart disease and colon cancer.
In men, estrogen plays a role in some of the changes that occur during puberty and can offer protective benefits to the brain and bones.
Estrogen levels have to be very carefully maintained. Conditions like estrogen dominance can occur if estrogen levels are not maintained in adequate ratios compared to progesterone and testosterone. However, these ratios can vary from person to person. Advanced and comprehensive lab testing as well as a one-on-one consultation with your physician can assess if estrogen therapy is right for you.
Progesterone is crucial for multiple functions in the body of both men and women. Without adequate levels of progesterone, you may struggle with sleep, immune system function, mood swings and even memory. Progesterone is also vital to the reproductive processes in women. Low progesterone levels are a frequent concern for patients dealing with symptoms of aging.
Like DHEA, progesterone is a precursor hormone. Progesterone converts to estrogen, testosterone or cortisol on the steroid hormone pathway. Imbalances can induce symptoms such as weight gain, mood swings, poor immune function and sleeplessness.
Progesterone in the treatment of fertility, memory and insomnia. Much like other types of hormone therapy, comprehensive testing and a consultation with an expert physician specializing in hormone health can help determine if supplementing progesterone is the best solution to your symptoms.
Human growth hormone, commonly known as HGH, is a hormone secreted by the pituitary gland. This hormone strengthens bone density, enhances tissue growth and increases muscle mass throughout the life cycle. HGH is essential for normal growth and the development and maintenance of organs and tissues—especially in children.
Growth hormone therapy is typically prescribed to treat stunted growth in children with hormone deficiencies. In rare cases, HGH may be prescribed to treat hormonal imbalance in adults. The only FDA-approved formulation of HGH is an injection.
Though you may find sprays and pills available without a prescription claiming to be HGH supplements, few, if any, have ever been proven to be effective.
Cortisol is produced in the cortex of the adrenal glands and released into the blood to be transported throughout the body. Nearly every cell in the body has receptors for cortisol. For this reason, cortisol affects numerous reactions in the body, including influencing blood pressure, controlling blood sugar levels, reducing inflammation and regulating salt-water balance.
Cortisol also plays a starring role in the stress response mechanism. When you experience fear or stress, the adrenal glands release cortisol. When the body encounters chronic stress, such as caring for an ailing parent, working for a difficult boss or worrying over financial matters—the body responds as if there is imminent danger, such as being chased by a bear or staring down the barrel of a gun. This response mechanism is better known as "fight or flight." Once cortisol is released, your body is mobilized and ready to face the danger. However, if there is no real physical danger, no need for the rush of adrenaline to induce hypervigilance for survival, cortisol will have no outlet and begin to build up in the body.
When cortisol builds up in the body, several systems can begin to breakdown. You may feel sluggish and tired all the time. Cortisol can impair immunity, raise your blood pressure, and make it difficult to lose weight. An overload of cortisol can also affect thyroid function. Modern lifestyles put people at risk of hormonal imbalance due to high cortisol levels. The constant influx of emails pinging on your phone is just one example of a small stressor that could trigger the release of cortisol and have major effects on your health.
Hormone therapy can be very effective for treating the conditions that occur due to an imbalance of cortisol. Advanced lab testing is necessary to make the assessment and determine which systems and hormones are being the most affected by abundant cortisol levels. With this information, your physician can develop a treatment plan that will balance your hormones and help you incorporate daily activities that reduce stress.
The thyroid hormones: T3 (triiodothyronine), T4 (thyroxine) are the major hormones produced by the thyroid gland. The pituitary gland releases TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) to signal the thyroid gland to secrete T3 and T4. These hormones work to regulate your body’s temperature, heart rate, and metabolism. It is very common for menopausal and postmenopausal women to experience thyroid dysfunction, often due to impaired production of these hormones.
Hormone replacement therapy can effectively treat thyroid issues that are the result of a hormone imbalance. Comprehensive lab testing that examines TSH, T3, T4, reverse T3, and cortisol levels can help your physician get a clear picture of which hormone—or hormones—may be the root cause of the issue. From there, your doctor can partner with you to develop a comprehensive treatment plan using bio-identical hormones, nutritional supplements, dietary changes, and stress-reduction techniques.
Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance
The symptoms of hormonal imbalance manifest in different ways for different people. This is why it is often difficult to identify hormonal imbalance. It is normal to feel tired after a hard week at work, be grumpy when you have a bad day or even experience sleepless nights from time to time, but chronic night sweats, incessant mood swings, insomnia, or inexplicable weight gain points to a bigger problem. You have to ask yourself, how frequently am I experiencing these symptoms? And, how long have I been feeling like this?
If you are struggling with a hormonal imbalance, symptoms often begin to pile up over time. For example, the issue might initially present with a decrease in muscle mass, but you really notice something is wrong when you experience hair loss.
Hormonal imbalance symptoms are more likely during middle age and beyond. Before, during, and after menopause, women experience a number of hormonal changes, which can lead to a hormonal imbalance and uncomfortable symptoms, such as hot flashes, mood swings and sleeplessness.
Men experience a similar transition during middle age, however, unlike women, the hormonal fluctuations are less abrupt. During middle age, men may begin to notice a diminished sex drive, decreased muscle mass, and low energy. This is because testosterone levels reach peak declines around midlife and production continues to slow with age.
If you think you may be experiencing hormonal imbalance, be on the lookout for the symptoms listed below. If you experience one or a combination of the symptoms frequently over intermittent periods or you have been experiencing one or a few for an extended period of time, it may be time to seek medical help concerning your hormonal balance.
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Weight gain
- Muscle loss
- Mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating
- Low sex drive
- Foggy thinking
- Low energy
The Benefits of Balanced Hormones
Achieving hormone balance offers men and women a number of benefits, such as more energy, better sleep, and stabilized moods, but beyond that research has shown that hormone therapy improves overall health by reducing risk of disease.
For example, stress can do a lot of damage to the body, including raising cortisol levels. This can cause extreme damage to the body. Cortisol raises blood sugar levels, insulin is released to combat the high blood sugar. If the body is overproducing cortisol, insulin resistance can develop, a major driver of obesity. Hormone therapy and a comprehensive treatment plan can restore hormonal balance—suppressing the overproduction of cortisol and reducing your risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Other examples of how hormone therapy can balance hormones and reduce disease include the results of the Veterans Database Study, published in 2015, which found that men who treated low testosterone with testosterone therapy experienced a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) early 2016 found that testosterone therapy improved mood, sexual health, and physical fitness in men.
Women endure many more transformational changes that affect hormone balance throughout their lifetime than men, therefore, women are more vulnerable to hormonal imbalance. Among women, hormone therapy has been heralded as the best treatment for menopause, helping to reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms. In March of 2016, the results of the highly anticipated ELITE study were published in NEJM, finding that women who begin hormone therapy early in their menopausal years experienced a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Bioidentical Hormones and Hormone Balance
Hormone replacement therapy using bioidentical hormones has gained popularity over the last few decades due to its effectiveness for treating hormonal imbalance. Symptoms of hormonal imbalance are often reduced or eliminated with little to no side effects and users reporting an improvement in quality of life and overall wellbeing.
What are Bioidentical Hormones?
Bioidentical hormones are the preferred form of hormone replacement therapy because they offer patients relief from the discomforts of hormonal imbalance, including hot flashes, sleeplessness, weight gain, muscle loss, and erectile dysfunction.
Bioidentical hormones are created to be identical to the hormones that are in your body naturally. They are created to have the same exact chemical structure as your natural hormones so that your body can use the hormones effectively. As such, bioidentical hormones tend to lead to fewer side effects because they act like your own natural hormones. The exact match to your body not only reduces the risk of side effects but also enhances the effectiveness of the treatment. Bioidentical hormones are available both from pharmaceutical companies or can be compounded in a lab to the exact specifications prescribed by your doctor. Each prescription is written so that dosage is specific to your body’s unique needs. Most bioidentical hormones are made from natural sources, such as soy or yams
Are Bioidentical Hormones Safe?
Multiple studies over the years have examined the safety and efficacy of hormone therapy and bioidentical hormones in particular1, 2, 3, 4,. The results show that for many symptoms and conditions of hormonal imbalance, bioidentical hormone therapy may be safer and more effective than some of the traditional methods of hormone therapy that include non-bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. Studies suggest that bioidentical hormones may have a reduced risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular complications as compared to traditional non-bioidentical hormone replacement therapy2,3,4 .
Comprehensive Treatments to Balance Hormones
The practitioners of the BodyLogicMD network are experts in hormone health. Each practitioner understands that achieving balance is a combination of advanced therapies, like bioidentical hormone therapy, and dynamic strategies for eating balanced diet, stress management, and sleep that work synergistically to promote optimal health. Every practitioner is specially-trained and certified in bioidentical hormone therapy and functional medicine practices to ensure every patient receives elite care and maximizes their health potential.
1 Effectiveness of Compunded Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy: An Observational Cohort Study
2 Efficacy and Tolerability of Compounded Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy
3 A Comprehensive Review of the Safety and Efficacy of Bioidentical Hormones for the Management of Menopause and Related health Risks
4 Bioidentical Hormones: An Evidence-Based Review for Primary Care Providers