A hormonal imbalance occurs when the body produces too much or too little of one or more types of hormones. Hormones are chemical messengers that regulate cellular activity and control organ function. Your body produces hundreds of different hormones; however, the most common hormones that become imbalanced are estrogen, testosterone, thyroid, cortisol, insulin, and progesterone.
Understanding the Adrenal System
The endocrine system is comprised of multiple glands throughout the body, including the adrenal glands, the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, the thyroid gland, the pineal body, the parathyroid glands, the pancreas, and the ovaries or testes. Each of these glands controls a variety of functions in the body.
Adrenal Glands – The adrenal glands make a variety of hormones including adrenaline, aldosterone, cortisol, and noradrenaline as well as estrogen and testosterone. These hormones help regulate metabolism, blood pressure, immunity, and the effects of stress on the body.
Hypothalamus – The hypothalamus creates several hormones including growth hormone, follicle stimulating hormone, oxytocin, leptin, etc. These hormones help control the release of hormones produced by the pituitary gland.
Ovaries / Testes – The ovaries and testes are responsible for producing a variety of sex hormones, including testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone. These hormones help with development, libido, and fertility.
Pancreas – The pancreas is responsible for making insulin and glucagon. These hormones help to control glucose levels and supply the body with stored energy.
Parathyroid Glands – The parathyroid glands release parathyroid hormones that control blood calcium levels.
Pineal Body – The pineal body, also known as the pineal gland, produces melatonin. This hormone helps regulate sleep patterns for a restful night’s sleep.
Pituitary Gland – The pituitary gland produces several hormones, including growth hormone, prolactin, thyrotropin, corticotropin, and oxytocin.
Thyroid Gland – The thyroid gland produces thyroxine and triiodothyronine. These hormones help convert food into energy, aid in bone development and help with brain and nervous system function.
What Cause a Hormonal Imbalance?
A hormone imbalance occurs when one of the aforementioned glands does not function properly. When a hormone imbalance occurs, a host of health issues can happen. For example, if your thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone, it can cause hypothyroidism, which can cause a host of issues, including weight gain, low energy levels, hair loss, and much more.
Hormones throughout the body work together to maintain health. When one hormone becomes imbalanced, it can affect others. For example, if your cortisol levels are imbalanced, it can affect your estrogen levels or any other hormone in the body. It is important to realize that when one hormone becomes imbalanced, it can cause a snowball effect.
The Most Common Hormonal Imbalances
There are many different hormones in the body; however, certain hormones are more likely to become imbalanced. The symptoms of a hormone imbalance vary greatly. Here are the top hormone imbalances and the common causes for each type of imbalance.
A cortisol imbalance occurs when you are under chronic stress for a long period of time. In the beginning, cortisol levels can be high; however, as stress continues, the adrenal glands may not be able to keep up with the demands of stress, resulting in low cortisol levels. The symptoms of a cortisol imbalance include weight gain, fatigue, cravings (sugar, carbs, and caffeine to help with low energy levels), and difficulty losing weight.
Estrogen dominance occurs when the amount of estrogen in the body is greater than the amount of progesterone in the body. This can happen when estrogen levels are high and progesterone levels or normal or when estrogen levels are normal and progesterone levels are low. Some of the common reasons for this to occur include chronic stress, excess xenoestrogen exposure, and obesity. Estrogen dominance can cause a host of symptoms, including mood swings, migraines, fibroids, endometriosis, heavy periods, bloating, and water retention.
Many people are surprised to learn that women also produce testosterone. In fact, high testosterone levels is a common hormonal imbalance in women. High testosterone levels in women can be caused by insulin resistance, PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), congenital adrenal hyperplasia, and other underlying medical conditions. High testosterone levels can cause increased muscle mass, mood swings, excess facial hair and body hair, reduced breast size, thinning hair, low libido, a deep voice, obesity, infertility, and irregular menstrual periods.
Insulin is used by the body to help glucose enter the bloodstream so it can be turned into energy. When an insulin imbalance occurs, it can cause high glucose levels, which can lead to concentration issues, sweating, dizziness, blurred vision, and headaches. The most common causes of an insulin imbalance are a sedentary lifestyle, excess sugar consumption, and chronic stress. When insulin production becomes imbalanced, it can lead to prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.
Low testosterone occurs when a man’s testosterone levels decline. Low testosterone levels can cause a number of symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms are low libido, depression, memory issues, fatigue, mood swings, erectile dysfunction, and decreased strength. Although testosterone levels will naturally decline as a man ages, low testosterone levels can occur earlier in life. One of the most common reasons for low testosterone is actually high estrogen levels in the body, commonly caused by environmental toxins, chronic stress, obesity, and consuming too much alcohol.
Thyroid imbalances occur when the thyroid gland does not work properly. When the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism), you can experience weight gain, mood swings, and fatigue. Conversely, when the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism), you can experience anxiety, mood swings, sleep problems, and weight loss. There are several different thyroid imbalance causes including nutritional deficiencies, toxin overload, stress, and underlying medical conditions.
What Are the Symptoms of a Hormonal Imbalance?
The symptoms of a hormone imbalance can vary depending on the hormone that has become dysregulated. If you have any of the following symptoms, you should talk with your healthcare provider:
- Cold intolerant
- Concentration difficulties
- Hair loss
- Heat intolerant
- Hot flashes
- Increased body fat
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Joint pain
- Low libido
- Muscle aches
- Night sweats
- Skin issues
- Sleep issues
- Weight gain
How Do You Know if You Have a Hormone Imbalance?
Hormone imbalances affect thousands of men and women each year. These imbalances affect people of all ages. The symptoms of hormonal imbalances are quite varied, which can make it difficult to determine if the symptom is caused by an imbalance or another health issue.
If you believe you have a hormone imbalance, it is important that you talk with a doctor who understands the intricacies of the endocrine system and how hormone imbalances can impact the body. Your functional doctor will ask about your current lifestyle choices, how much exercise you get, how well you sleep, and your family history. Your clinician will use a variety of diagnostic tests like blood tests and saliva tests along with a physical examination to help reach the proper diagnosis.
How Do You Treat Hormonal Imbalance?
Correcting a hormonal imbalance will depend on the cause of the imbalance. If your hormone levels are lower than normal, your doctor may recommend hormone replacement therapy. If your hormone levels are higher than normal, the treatment options can vary based on the underlying cause. Some of the common treatments for elevated hormone levels include medications, radiation therapy, or surgery.
In addition to this, you may need to make some changes to your diet. Incorporating a plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains into your diet will help your body get the nutrients it needs for optimal hormone health. In addition, taking specific nutritional supplements can help correct any nutritional deficiencies.
Healthy lifestyle changes like getting at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, getting 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep each night, and managing your stress levels through meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, tai chi, and journaling can also help naturally balance your hormones.
Hormone imbalances cause a myriad of health issues. Luckily, there are several things you can do to prevent or treat hormone imbalances. Our team of functional medicine clinicians will work with you to balance your hormone levels so you can live a long, healthy life.