Hormonal imbalance occurs when normal levels and production of hormones in the endocrine system, or their ratio to other hormones, is disrupted. When it comes to hormonal imbalance, we tend to focus most on sex hormones related to pregnancy, periods and menopause.
But you have many types of hormones and they control many other functions including metabolism and weight, thyroid function, sleep cycles and your body’s response to stress. Even though all your hormones together form the foundation of your health, you may not realize how many symptoms and health issues are related to hormonal imbalance:
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a common cause of infertility and other issues in women of reproductive age
- Estrogen dominance, a ratio of high estrogen-to-progesterone that leads to symptoms
- Severe perimenopausal symptoms that can begin years before menopause
- Hypothyroidism and other thyroid problems
- Adrenal stress and fatigue related to the levels and production of the stress hormone cortisol
- Diabetes, which is directly correlated to the hormone insulin
Your hormones — including the sex hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone — are continually fluctuating. When you’re healthy and your body gets enough support, you can maintain balance between these key hormones.
Women’s lifestyles, and especially the way we take care of ourselves, has been shifting dramatically over recent generations. Many of these changes are leading to an increase in short-term hormonal events that are difficult for the body to manage.
As you struggle to keep up with the demands of your life, it’s important to focus on the three key factors that have some of the strongest negative influence on your hormonal balance: what you eat, how your body responds to the heightened stress you face daily, and the growing number of hidden toxins and endocrine disruptors that your body is trying to handle.
- What you eat: In general, we eat more pre-packaged food than ever before. That means we’re getting fewer nutrients and more sugar and additives. The problem is, increased sugar, preservatives, and other chemicals directly disrupt hormonal balance, including the major hormone, insulin. Once insulin is dysregulated, we’re more likely to gain weight and suffer from other inflammatory-related diseases. Poor nutrition also increases the severity and frequency of hot flashes and other menopause symptoms, PMS symptoms, adrenal hormone imbalance and thyroid-related symptoms.
- Your body’s response to heightened stress: For many women, workloads have gotten heavier, cash flow has gotten lighter, and overall stress has intensified. We also deal with more electronics-based stressors including mobile devices and WIFI exposure. These factors affect hormonal balance mostly by way of the hormone cortisol, which is released by your adrenal glands to help you manage stressful situations. Just looking at a computer screen or television can trigger stress signals in your body, and influence cortisol. Stress and cortisol imbalances set off a chain reaction that disrupts your overall hormonal imbalance. And many women are not able to prioritize stress reduction and prevention.
- Hidden toxins and endocrine disruptors.: Your endocrine system is easily upset by the presence of toxins and other substances known as endocrine disruptors. These are often found in makeup, skin creams, plastics, Teflon-type coatings, cleaning products, clothing dyes and more. A 2012 study by the European Environment Agency found that household products, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and food that contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals may account for the steep increase of diabetes, obesity, cancer and infertility. But recent studies show that even small changes in food choices and household practices can make a significant difference in creating a healthier environment and that’s good news for your hormones.
Most women with hormonal imbalance have no idea that many of their symptoms are linked directly to their hormones — even when they have symptoms like these:
- Irregular or absent periods: Increasing irregularities in your period signal a disruption in the hormonal activity that controls menstruation. Often, the cause is an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone due to the strong effects of the stress hormone, cortisol.
- Weight gain: Changes to your weight or body shape are caused by shifting hormones, particularly in menopause, that tell your body to store fat in the abdomen. This can occur even if you’ve never had a weight problem before. High stress and poor sleep increase belly fat that can be difficult to lose.
- Irritability and/or moodiness: Feeling out of control or overwhelmed can be caused by sudden changes in the balance of estrogen, testosterone and progesterone or from adrenal stress imbalances.
- Skin issues: Adult acne is associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal condition that also causes irregular or absent menstrual periods due to ovulation irregularities.
- Hair loss/unusual hair growth: Imbalances in thyroid function or between estrogen and testosterone can cause thinning hair, and high levels of testosterone (such as in PCOS) can lead to unusual hair growth, including on the face.
- Infertility: Women with PCOS often have high amounts of androgens (including testosterone) as well as insulin resistance. Both contribute to increased estrogen, along with lack of ovulation and infertility.
- Fatigue/loss of energy: Fatigue can occur even when you get plenty of sleep, leaving you feeling physically and emotionally drained. Thyroid imbalances and chronic stress are the most likely contributors to this debilitating symptom.
You can only live with your hormonal imbalance symptoms for so long before the problem begins to jeopardize your health and well being. Understanding the hormonal source of your symptoms, and the confusing array of problems it can generate, can show you the path to feeling better.
When your body’s hormones are balanced, your symptoms will recede and you will enjoy much better health, and a lot more happiness.
At every age, your hormones are fluctuating on a daily basis, in mostly predictable patterns. But sometimes your hormones fluctuate more dramatically: puberty, pregnancy and perimenopause. When the changes become too extreme, or if your hormones can’t return to natural balance, you’ll experience problems.
You may first sense that something is “off” or “not quite right” in your body. As the hormonal imbalance intensifies, you can experience physical and emotional symptoms that could become severe. As an imbalance worsens, symptoms can multiply, or their severity and frequency can increase.
The longer it goes on, the harder it can be to get back to a state of hormonal equilibrium. So it pays to take action sooner than later.
It can be a “eureka” moment when you first notice symptoms because they’re sending a clear message that your body is trying to juggle too many demands without getting enough support.
Even if PMS isn’t a problem and you’re not yet in menopause, you can still experience symptom-producing imbalances. Imbalances can occur in the ratios between estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and with other hormones in your neuroendocrine system.
When your body doesn’t get the necessary basics every day on a consistent basis, it’s more likely that you’ll develop one or more of the conditions related to hormonal imbalance:
- Menstrual irregularities
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- Estrogen dominance
- Blood sugar imbalances, including insulin resistance
- Progesterone deficiency
- Androgen imbalance