Hormone Imbalance & Related Symptoms

Hormone Imbalance

Hormones are the chemical messengers of your body that send out specific instructions to every organ. Hormones are responsible for everything your body does, and can influence your energy levels, weight, digestion, and mood.

Hormones are produced in your major endocrine glands including your brain (the hypothalamus, pineal, and pituitary glands), your thyroid, parathyroid, adrenals, pancreas, reproductive glands (ovaries and testes), and your gastrointestinal tract.

With so much of your health controlled by your hormones, it is vital that they function optimally. That’s why an underlying hormonal imbalance can be so detrimental to your overall health.

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What is a hormone imbalance?

Since hormones regulate your metabolism and other organ functions, a hormonal imbalance challenges those functions. This can lead to a cascade of health problems and uncomfortable symptoms. Hormonal imbalance occurs when certain hormones are either chronically too high or too low. When it comes to hormone levels, balance is key.

What causes hormonal imbalances?

Hormonal imbalances can be caused be a variety of different factors including:

  • Poor diet or nutrient deficiencies
  • Stress
  • Gut dysfunction (microbiome imbalances, increased gut permeability)
  • Environmental toxins
  • Mold exposure
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Methylation impairments

Everyone’s biochemistry is unique, so what triggers a hormonal imbalance for you might not for another person. Also, because all the systems in the body are interconnected, if you have one hormonal imbalance, you might have other ones as well. For example, if one hormone isn’t getting the correct message across it can throw off the rest of the body’s delicate communication system between other hormones

What are the signs of hormonal imbalances?

Signs of hormonal imbalance are going to look different between men and women however, there are a few signs that can are similar across the board including:

  • Weight loss resistance
  • Mood swings
  • Hair loss/thinning
  • Fatigue
  • Low libido
  • Blurred vision
  • Increased feelings of hunger
  • Increased feelings of thirst
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Dry skin
  • Excessive sweating

Hormone imbalance in women

Hormonal imbalances in women versus men can look a lot different. Since women need more estrogen, and men need more testosterone, an imbalance of either one can lead to more specific symptoms for each sex.

Women

Hormone imbalance in women most often has to do with the reproductive organs such as in the case of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Women have higher levels of estrogen than men and need a healthy balance between estrogen and progesterone.

Common symptoms of hormonal imbalance in women include:

  • Irregular periods
  • Acne
  • Hirsutism (excessive hair on the face or chin)
  • Infertility
  • Vaginal dryness

Men

Men should produce higher levels of testosterone than women. When testosterone is imbalance it can lead to symptoms such as:

  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Low sex drive
  • Weight gain
  • Irritability
  • Breast enlargement

Hormone imbalance treatment

Rebalancing hormones is not an immediate fix. But thankfully there are many things you can do to correct a hormonal imbalance. It’s important to stay consistent with whatever change you make in order to see long-term, sustainable results. 

While conventional medicine focuses on treating hormone imbalances with medication, these solutions operate as a bandaid to treat symptoms rather than fixing the underlying trigger of the imbalance. These natural remedies can help you on your way to achieving healthy hormone levels by addressing the root cause of what is going on underneath the surface.

  • Avoid endocrine disruptors

Endocrine disruptors are toxins that throw the endocrine system out of whack by increasing or decreasing the production of certain hormones, interfering with hormone signaling, or binding to essential hormones. These chemicals are ones we come in contact with every day and are hiding in common items such as cleaning products, plastic packaging, cosmetics, and even our water. You can find a list of the 12 worst endocrine disruptors from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) along with where they are found so you can avoid them as much as possible. (1)

  • Try adaptogens

Adaptogens are plant-based natural medicines that are generally safe for everyone, work to manage stress, and help to balance hormones. The sympathetic nervous system is the stress center of the body and also controls pathways in charge of inflammation. (2) When inflammation runs wild it can contribute to hormonal problems. Adaptogens help to rebalance hormones through alleviating stress and lowering inflammation.

  • Exercise regularly

Exercise is important for more than just physical appearance. When it comes to hormone health, physical activity like strength training and cardio have been shown to increase (3) insulin sensitivity and is also important for healthy thyroid hormones (4) and cortisol levels. (5)

  • Get more sleep

Sleep is your body’s time to regenerate cells and promote hormone production. The CDC recommends adults get 7 hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep every night but most of us don’t get enough on a regular basis. To facilitate a better night’s sleep, work on rehabbing your sleep routine by avoiding factors like screen time and light pollution that can mess with your body’s melatonin production - your body’s hormone responsible for regulating your sleep-wake cycle.

  • Eat enough healthy fats

There’s a reason the ketogenic diet has become so popular in recent years. When your body is starved of glucose it turns to fat to produce ketones. An increasing amount of research is showing that a high-fat ketogenic diet can help manage blood sugar and alleviate HPA-axis dysfunction to help regulate cortisol. Even if you don’t go full keto, eating more healthy fats like MCTs from coconut oil can increase insulin sensitivity. (6)

  • Limit sugar

Along the same line, too much sugar can lead to blood sugar spikes, insulin resistance, and other hormonal imbalances. Studies have found that too much sugar can actually turn off genes responsible for regulating testosterone and estrogen in both men and women leading to imbalances of these important sex hormones. (7) Choose your sweeteners wisely and check out my article to learn more about the best sweeteners to use.

  • Manage stress

Your body’s main stress hormone, cortisol, should be high in the morning to help you wake up and low in the evening to get you ready to sleep. But when you are chronically stressed, cortisol is constantly high contributing to adrenal fatigue and other hormonal imbalances. Therefore it’s vital to find ways to manage stress in your daily life.

Getting regular massages is one way to treat yourself and alleviate stress, with a single massage session shown to reduce cortisol by 31%! (8) Other great ways to lower stress include meditation and mindfulness practices like journaling, prayer, or taking a walk outside.

  • Run labs

While all of these natural remedies are helpful, the best thing you can do to correct a hormonal imbalance is to run labs. Lab work gives you a baseline understanding of what hormones are out of whack and where your hormone levels are at currently. Not only does this give you insight into why you are feeling the way that you are, it helps you and your doctor know what tools to implement and what lifestyle changes need to be made in order to be the most effective at correcting any imbalances.

With over a decade of consulting individuals in my telehealth functional medicine clinic, I have seen firsthand what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to correcting hormonal imbalances. By combining cutting edge diagnostic labs with lifestyle changes, supplements, and dietary management, you can be well on your way to overcoming hormonal imbalances and alleviating long-term symptoms for optimal wellbeing.

Now it’s your turn to rehab your hormones! As one of the first functional medicine telehealth clinics in the world, we provide webcam health consultations for people around the globe.

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References:

  1. 12 Hormone-Altering Chemicals and How to Avoid Them EWG OCTOBER 28, 2013. https://www.ewg.org/research/dirty-dozen-list-endocrine-disruptors?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI0dzCzMOP2QIV2A-BCh1eawecEAAYASAAEgKmmPD_BwE#.Wq_cS1nwYfF–
  2. Pongratz, Georg, and Rainer H Straub. “The sympathetic nervous response in inflammation.” Arthritis research & therapy vol. 16,6 (2014): 504. doi:10.1186/s13075-014-0504-2
  3. Borghouts, L B, and H A Keizer. “Exercise and insulin sensitivity: a review.” International journal of sports medicine vol. 21,1 (2000): 1-12. doi:10.1055/s-2000-8847
  4. Kocahan, Sayad, and Aykut Dundar. “Effects of different exercise loads on the thyroid hormone levels and serum lipid profile in swimmers.” Hormone molecular biology and clinical investigation vol. 38,1 10.1515/hmbci-2018-0025. 14 Nov. 2018, doi:10.1515/hmbci-2018-0025
  5. Beserra, Ana Heloisa Nascimento et al. “Can physical exercise modulate cortisol level in subjects with depression? A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Trends in psychiatry and psychotherapy vol. 40,4 (2018): 360-368. doi:10.1590/2237-6089-2017-0155
  6. Eckel, R H et al. “Dietary substitution of medium-chain triglycerides improves insulin-mediated glucose metabolism in NIDDM subjects.” Diabetes vol. 41,5 (1992): 641-7.
  7. Child & Family Research Institute. "Too Much Sugar Turns Off Gene That Controls Effects Of Sex Steroids." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 November 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071109171610.htm>.
  8. Field, Tiffany et al. “Cortisol decreases and serotonin and dopamine increase following massage therapy.” The International journal of neuroscience vol. 115,10 (2005): 1397-413. doi:10.1080/00207450590956459

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BY DR. WILL COLE

Evidence-based reviewed article

Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.