Struggling With A Hormone Imbalance? Exactly How To Get Your Hormones Tested To Find Out For Sure
Your body runs like a well-oiled machine with your hormones acting as messengers sending specific instructions to every area of your body. Believe it or not, your hormones influence everything from your mood to your digestion. But we don’t always appreciate our hormones until they stop working the way that we want them to.
When it comes to rehabbing our hormone health, the first step I always recommend as a functional medicine expert is comprehensive hormone testing. Not only will this help you identify what hormones are out of whack, it will give you a blueprint for understanding your symptoms to come up with a plan of action to address the root cause of these imbalances. So without further ado, read on to learn about common hormone imbalances and how to get hormones tested.
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Understanding hormonal imbalance
Your hormones are produced in your endocrine glands including your thyroid, parathyroid, adrenals, pancreas, reproductive glands (ovaries and testes), and your brain (hypothalamus, pineal, and pituitary glands) as well as in your gut.
The problem happens when your body produces too much or too little of a certain hormone. And considering how interconnected your body is, one hormone imbalance can lead to a cascade of other health problems and additional imbalances.
That’s why it is so important to get your hormones tested as soon as you notice symptoms. What are often considered “normal” parts of aging by mainstream medicine, are usually just the first signs of something bigger going on underneath the surface.
Signs you need to have your hormones checked
Because your hormones influence so many different areas of your health, your symptoms can be just as varied. However, there are a handful of common symptoms that serve as tell tale signs that one or more of your hormones are out of whack.
- Chronic fatigue
- Low libido
- Weak nails
- Thinning hair/hair loss
- Weight loss resistance
- Rapid weight loss
- Dry skin
- Brain fog
- Hot flashes
- Ovarian cysts
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Heavy/painful periods
Causes of hormonal imbalance
Hormone imbalance is extremely nuanced. Since everyone’s biochemistry is different, what ultimately ends up triggering a hormone imbalance in you is going to be different than someone else. These are the underlying causes I see most often in my telehealth functional medicine clinic.
Chronic inflammation can blunt proper hormone signaling. In the case of leptin resistance, inflammation affects your hypothalamus, the area of your brain responsible for controlling your hunger signals. When this communication is inhibited, your ability to know when you’re actually hungry and stop eating when you’re full is impaired.
2. Toxin overload
Our world has become increasingly more toxic and this onslaught of toxin exposure has been linked to severe hormone problems. For example, xenoestrogens can be found in everything from household cleaning supplies, plastic, and beauty products. These synthetic chemicals act as estrogen in your body which increases your estrogen levels while making it more difficult for your body to effectively break down and eliminate excess estrogen. This doesn’t even take into account the thousands of other chemicals like pesticides, PCBs, plastics, heavy metals, and more that also play a role in developing hormone imbalances.
3. Nutrient deficiencies
Your body relies on a specific ratio of macro and micro nutrients to fuel hormone production and health. For example, vitamin D is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world, yet it is one of the main nutrients involved in hormone production. Looking even deeper, we can see how specific nutrient deficiencies are involved in certain hormone imbalances with selenium deficiencies linked to autoimmune thyroid conditions.
4. Chronic stress
When you are stressed, your adrenal glands release cortisol, which increases blood pressure and blood sugar that return back to normal levels once your stress has subsided. The problem is that many of us are under a constant state of stress. When this happens cortisol is consistently high which can lead to adrenal fatigue, metabolic health problems, and a downstream of other hormone imbalances.
How do you get your hormone levels checked?
If you suspect a hormone imbalance, the first step is to get your hormones checked. In conventional medicine, they will typically only run basic labs that look at a wide reference range. This can leave many people with “normal” results with no real answer to their persistent symptoms. Instead, you’re told that you’re either depressed, just getting older, or need to lose weight.
Functional medicine on the other hand runs more comprehensive labs and takes into account a narrower reference range. See, the reference range in conventional medicine is based on a statistical average of the population of that particular lab that you went to. Who gets lab work done? Sick people.
That’s why if your labs come back within the normal reference range, it doesn’t mean it’s optimal. A functional medicine doctor is able to see sooner whether you are trending toward dysfunction because they look at a narrower reference range.
Depending on your particular symptoms, your doctor can determine what labs are necessary for you to run. These are the top hormone labs I run in my telehealth functional medicine clinic to get a well-rounded look at a patient’s health case.
Every cell of your body needs thyroid hormones to function optimally. Thyroid conversion issues, autoimmune thyroid conditions, and thyroid resistance are all issues that don’t show up in standard labs.
Functional medicine labs: A comprehensive functional medicine thyroid panel includes Free and Total T3 (active thyroid hormone), Reverse T3, and thyroid antibodies to rule out autoimmune thyroid problems.
2. Estrogen + Progesterone
The ratio of the three forms of estrogen – estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), estriol (E3) – is important for both women and men. Progesterone works to neutralize the effects of too much estrogen to avoid estrogen dominance problems.
Functional medicine labs: A full blood and salivary female hormone panel, including all estrogen isomers.
An imbalance of cortisol - your body’s stress hormone - can lead to adrenal fatigue and further hormone problems.
Functional medicine labs: The 24-Hour Adrenal Stress Index is a salivary test that tracks your cortisol levels.
Insulin resistance happens when your body is producing insulin but not using it effectively. This can lead to metabolic health problems like weight loss resistance and diabetes.
Functional medicine labs: Serum insulin, c-peptide, fasting blood sugar, and HgbA1c will assess your blood sugar levels.
Both men and women need testosterone. While men naturally have higher testosterone levels than women, too much or too little testosterone proportionate to your gender, can result in major health problems.
Functional medicine labs: Blood and saliva testosterone and DHEA panel.
Leptin is a hormone produced by your fat cells that directs your brain to use your body’s fat stores for energy. Leptin resistance occurs when your body stops recognizing leptin, leading to unnecessary fat storage.
Functional medicine labs: Serum leptin
How much does it cost to get your hormones tested?
Depending on your insurance, chances are higher that your lab work will be covered through your conventional doctor and sometimes even your functional medicine doctor. On the other hand, a lot of at-home functional hormone saliva and urine labs are considered elective tests that aren’t always covered by your insurance but they can be purchased through an HSA or FSA account. Talk with your insurance provider on how to get hormones tested based on what is covered and what you will need to pay out of pocket.
Natural treatments for hormonal imbalance
1. Change your diet
Everything from too much sugar, processed foods, and underlying food intolerances can throw your hormones out of whack. Start by incorporating more clean, whole food sources into your diet including healthy fats which are necessary for hormone production.
2. Try adaptogens
These natural plant and herbal medicines are known for their ability to rebalance hormones and alleviate stress with little (if any) symptoms.
3. Limit toxin exposure
Endocrine disruptors and other chemicals can wreak havoc on your hormones. Make the switch to non-toxic beauty, cleaning, and personal care products to limit your toxin exposure as much as possible.
For a complete functional medicine guide to rebalancing your hormones naturally, check out my article here.
Hormonal health and weight gain
One of the biggest side effects of hormone imbalances is weight gain and weight loss resistance. Weight gain and the presence of visceral fat are a sign that your system is out of balance, and that can greatly affect how well your body burns fat, specifically belly fat.
Your hormones send instructions from one area of your body to another, to direct metabolic functions. When one hormone or hormone-producing organ goes awry, it can inhibit the whole process, and since metabolism is directly linked to your body’s ability to use food for fuel, this can send your fat-burning ability into a tailspin.
This is why the standard medical advice to lose weight doesn’t work. Instead of focusing on why weight gain is happening in the first place, it is shifting the focus to the symptom itself rather than the true health problem. To learn more about how hormones affect your weight and exactly what to do about it, check out my article here.
Seeking help from a functional medicine expert
If you suspect that you have a hormone imbalance, it's important to seek out help from your doctor right away. In my telehealth functional medicine clinic, we take a whole-body approach to hormone health, taking into account everything from diet to chronic stress. This, combined with your comprehensive lab work, we are able to come up with a plan of action to address your symptoms and rebalance your hormones.
Schedule a telehealth consultation today to learn more about how we can help you with functional medicine.
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.
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