Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance
Bloating, fatigue, irritability, hair loss, palpitations, mood swings, problems with blood sugar, trouble concentrating, infertility -- these are just a few symptoms of hormone imbalance. These compounds affect every cell and system in the body. Hormone imbalance can debilitate you. Some hormonal shifts are normal, like monthly fluctuations of sex hormones responsible for menstruation and ovulation or the changes that occur during pregnancy. Menopause is another time for a normal hormonal shift in a woman's life. Many women may experience weight gain, mood swings, night sweats, and diminished sex drive during this time. Other times these fluctuations may be due to a medication or a medical condition.
Balance Your Cortisol
Cortisol is an important hormone that may become imbalanced with stress or illness. Cortisol is secreted by the adrenal glands that lie on top of the kidneys. Low intensity exercise can help lower elevated cortisol levels. Stress impacts adrenal function and hormone levels. Get acquainted with hormone imbalance symptoms and signs so you can notice when things in your body and mind don't seem right.
Most women have menstrual cycles that last between 21 and 35 days. Up to one quarter of women experience irregular periods. This includes having periods that are shorter or longer than usual or periods that are lighter or heavier than usual. Some women who have irregular periods may experience abdominal cramping or a lack of ovulation. Amenorrhea is a medical term that refers to an absence of periods for at least 3 months even though a woman is not pregnant. Menorrhagia is the term that means excessive menstrual bleeding. Dysmenorrhea refers to pain and cramping during periods. Prolonged menstrual bleeding involves periods in which bleeding routinely lasts for 8 days or longer. Oligomenorrhea is a condition in which periods occur infrequently or more than every 35 days. See your doctor if you believe hormonal imbalance is affecting your menstrual cycle.
If you can't sleep or you don't get good quality sleep, hormone balance may be to blame. Progesterone is one compound released by the ovaries that helps you sleep. Low levels may make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. A small study in postmenopausal women found that 300 milligrams of progesterone restored normal sleep when sleep was disturbed. Estrogen levels decrease in perimenopause and after menopause. This may contribute to night sweats and hot flashes, which often disrupt a woman's ability to sleep. See your doctor if you believe an imbalance in hormones is contributing to sleep problems.
Many women experience monthly breakouts before or during their period. However, chronic acne is something different. Acne that does not go away may be due to excess androgens, male hormones like testosterone that both women and men have. Excess levels of these androgens make oil glands extra productive. Androgens also affect skin cells that line hair follicles. Excess oil and skin cell changes clog pores, leading to acne. A doctor may prescribe birth control pills, corticosteroids like prednisone (anti-inflammatory medications), or anti-androgen medications to treat hormonally influenced acne. High androgen. levels may sometimes indicate polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Women with PCOS may experience infertility. High insulin levels can stimulate the production of androgens and may be associated with insulin resistance. Weight loss can help reverse insulin resistance.
"Brain fog" is a common complaint even though this is not a true medical term. It is a commonly reported symptom with many potential underlying causes. Women in perimenopause and after menopause report more memory complaints and difficulty concentrating than premenopausal women. Declining estrogen levels may be to blame, but other factors may play a role. Perimenopausal and post-menopausal women often have trouble sleeping and experience hot flashes and increased depression. These, in turn, may contribute to brain fog. Thyroid disease is another common cause of brain fog. See your doctor if you are experiencing brain fog so you can find out and treat the root cause. If declining estrogen levels are to blame, hormone therapy may offer some relief and restore hormonal balance.
Cells lining the gastrointestinal tract have receptors for both estrogen and progesterone. Levels of these hormones change throughout the course of a woman's monthly menstrual cycle. When they do, they impact the function of the gastrointestinal system. Women often experience abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, and nausea before or during their periods. These symptoms can also occur with many other conditions. If a woman experiences them along with mood changes and fatigue before or during her period, it may be more likely that the GI disturbances are occurring due to monthly hormonal fluctuations.
Fatigue is a common symptom that may have many potential underlying causes. Just as too little progesterone can make it hard to sleep, too much progesterone can make you more tired. Another common hormonal imbalance that causes fatigue is low thyroid hormone levels (hypothyroidism). This condition is easily diagnosed with a blood test. If your levels are low, you can take prescription medication to bring your levels back up to normal. Regardless of any hormone imbalance that may exist, practice good sleep hygiene to optimize your sleep. This involves going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on the weekends. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and exercise from the late afternoon on to avoid interfering with sleep. Establish a relaxing nighttime routine to give your body the message that it's time for sleep. Take a warm bath, sip a cup of chamomile tea, or listen to relaxing music.
Hormonal imbalance may be to blame for some cases of mood disturbance. Many women experience anger, irritability, mood swings, depression, and anxiety before and during their periods. These can be associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a more severe form of PMS. Women who have PMS or PMDD appear to be more sensitive to changing hormone levels. Estrogen has an effect on neurotransmitters including dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. Not smoking or drinking alcohol can help with these symptoms. Steer clear of caffeine, sugar, and sodium. Get plenty of exercise, enough sleep, and get adequate calcium. Some women may benefit from taking birth control pills or a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Talk therapy may be beneficial, too.
When Estrogen Drops, Hunger Increases
A decrease in estrogen levels during a woman's monthly cycle may trigger mood changes in some women. Some females may reach for comfort foods that are high in fat, calories, sugar, and salt in an effort to feel better. Sadly, eating these foods backfires and makes women feel worse. Sodium increases water retention and bloating. Sugar, excess fat and calories will lead you to pack on the pounds. Falling estrogen levels also affect leptin, a hormone that inhibits hunger. Combat hormonal weight gain by adopting a healthy diet and exercise plan. Stick to lean meats, healthy fats, complex carbs, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables to help prevent PMS and encourage healthy blood sugar levels and weight loss.
A variety of things may trigger headaches, but a decrease in estrogen levels is a common cause in women. If headaches occur routinely at the same time every month, just prior to or during a period, declining estrogen may be the trigger. If hormonal headaches are particularly bad, a doctor may prescribe birth control pills to keep estrogen levels more stable throughout the cycle. Try over-the-counter pain relievers to ease headache pain. If you need something stronger, a doctor may prescribe a triptan or other medication to treat and prevent headaches. Eating right, exercising, avoiding stress, and getting adequate sleep will help you minimize PMS symptoms and headaches.
Falling estrogen levels during perimenopause and a lack of estrogen after menopause may lead to vaginal dryness. This makes the wall of the vagina thinner. It can be painful to have sex. A doctor may prescribe synthetic hormones or bio-identical hormones to combat these and other symptoms related to menopause. It's important to take progesterone along with estrogen to decrease certain risks of hormone therapy. Some women are not advised to take it because of an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, blood clots, gall bladder disease, breast cancer, and endometrial cancer. Hormone therapy may be associated with side effects that include headaches, breast tenderness, swelling, mood changes, vaginal bleeding, and nausea.
Testosterone is typically thought of as a male hormone, but both men and women have it. Low testosterone levels may cause low libido. In one study of more than 800 postmenopausal women reporting low sex drive, those who received 150 or 300 micrograms per day of testosterone in the form of a topical patch reported more sexual desire and less distress than women who received a placebo. Women receiving extra testosterone also reported more satisfying sexual experiences compared to women who took a placebo. However, women who took 300 micrograms of testosterone per day had more unwanted hair growth than women who took the placebo. Men can get low testosterone, too. The condition has been referred to as andropause in males.
Estrogen that is too high or too low may lead to changes in breast tissues. High estrogen may cause lumpy or dense breast tissue, even cysts. Estrogen levels that are too low may cause decreased breast tissue density. In one study, postmenopausal women who took estrogen plus progesterone hormone replacement therapy experienced an increase in breast density compared to women who took a placebo. Xenoestrogens are compounds that mimic estrogen function in the body. They are naturally occurring in some plants and fungi but they are also found in some drugs, industrial by-products, and pesticides. Non-naturally occurring xenoestrogens may produce a number of harmful effects in the body, including effects on breast density and the risk of breast cancer. They may also disrupt the endocrine system. If you notice any breast changes or are concerned about your estrogen levels, see your doctor for an evaluation.
The pineal gland is a small endocrine gland that is located in the brain. It produces melatonin, which affects circadian rhythm and the levels of other hormones in the body. A pineal cyst is a disorder of the pineal gland that may not produce any symptoms. If the cyst is large, it may produce symptoms including water on the brain (hydrocephalus), headache, eye problems, and vision problems. Large pineal cysts that cause problems usually affect women who are in their second decade of life.
The pituitary gland is a small structure located at the base of the brain. It is known as the "master gland" because it produces several hormones that affect many bodily processes and other endocrine glands. Hormones produced by the pituitary gland include prolactin, growth hormone (GH), thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), adenocorticotropin (ACTH), and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). The pituitary gland also releases antidiuretic hormone (ADH) and oxytocin. A pituitary gland tumor is the most common kind of pituitary disorder. They are usually benign (noncancerous). Sometimes these tumors secrete more or less of hormones made by the pituitary gland. Other tumors don't secrete anything. Some pituitary tumors produce symptoms because they grow large enough to affect the functioning of the pituitary gland or surrounding brain structures.
The hypothalamus is the portion of the brain that lies near the pituitary gland. It helps regulate hormone secretion in various parts of the body, controlling functions like body temperature, mood, hunger, thirst, sleep, fatigue, sex drive, and circadian rhythms. Dysfunction of the hypothalamus may produce many symptoms depending on which hormone systems are affected. Supplementing hormone levels that are low may help relieve symptoms. If the hypothalamus is malfunctioning due to the presence of a tumor, treating the tumor may provide relief.
Parathyroid glands are four tiny structures located within the neck. They secrete parathyroid hormone which regulates the level of calcium in the body. People who have high levels of parathyroid hormone suffer from hyperparathyroidism while those who have low levels of the hormone suffer from hypoparathyroidism. Hyperparathyroidism is much more common than hypoparathyroidism. Overactive parathyroid glands may be treated with surgery.
The pancreas serves as both an exocrine gland and an endocrine gland. As an exocrine gland, it secretes enzymes that are necessary to digest protein, fats, and carbohydrates. The endocrine function of the pancreas involves the secretion of the hormones, insulin and glucagon, which regulate blood sugar. The body needs a steady supply of blood sugar to fuel the brain, kidneys, and liver. Diseases like diabetes cause problems with insulin which may produce weight changes, excessive thirst, and unstable blood sugar levels. A doctor can diagnose and treat diabetes with insulin and other medications so your blood sugar levels remain stable.
Hormone imbalance is a common cause of female infertility. Abnormal levels of estradiol, testosterone, luteinizing hormone, follicle stimulating hormone, progesterone, prolactin, and other hormones may contribute to female infertility. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is condition that affects approximately 10 percent of women of childbearing age. It causes irregular periods, such as skipped periods, more frequent periods, or even total cessation of menstruation. While women who have PCOS are more likely to experience infertility, doctors can treat the condition with hormones to restore ovulation.
Decreased levels of estrogen in perimenopause and menopause are associated with skin aging. The skin gets thinner as we age and it tends to wrinkle as collagen is lost. Skin also becomes drier, less elastic, and less vascular with age. Lower estrogen is associated with increased signs of skin aging. Hormone therapy may help prevent or delay the signs of skin aging, but it may also increase the risk of breast and uterine cancer.
Estrogen is believed to have a protective effect on the brain. It appears to positively impact brain chemicals (neurotransmitters), cognition, and the ability to withstand stress. Dropping estrogen levels appear to be associated with an increased risk of psychosis. The age of menopause is associated with a second peak of schizophrenia onset in women. Results of preliminary research suggests selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) may improve cognition and other symptoms in women who have psychiatric disorders. They may even reduce the frequency of manic episodes in women who have bipolar disorder. However, these drugs are not without potential risks. See your doctor if you believe decreasing estrogen levels are contributing to serious mental health symptoms.
The risk of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) increases in women during and after menopause. Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious condition that causes people to stop breathing repeatedly during sleep. OSA occurs when muscles in the throat relax and block the airway during sleep. People who have this type of sleep apnea often snore. Researchers who performed one study found that perimenopausal and postmenopausal women who had lower estrogen levels were more likely to suffer from obstructive sleep apnea than women who had higher estrogen levels. More studies are needed, but women who feel tired or who have unrefreshing sleep should see their doctors to assess hormone levels and discuss risk factors and testing for sleep apnea.
Estrogen helps women build and maintain strong, healthy bones. The loss of estrogen after menopause is associated with bone loss and an increased risk of osteoporosis. Approximately 50 percent of women over the age of 50 will suffer a bone break due to osteoporosis. Caucasian and Asian women have higher levels of osteoporosis than women of other ethnic groups. Estrogen therapy may help postmenopausal women retain bone mass, but it may also increase the risk of breast cancer, stroke, heart attack, blood clots, and other conditions. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned about menopause symptoms and thinning bones.
Estrogen dominance is a condition in which there is too much estrogen in the body. Estrogen receptors are present on many tissues in the body including the brain, heart, uterus, breast, skin, and other areas. Excess estrogen plays a role in breast cancer, ovarian cancer, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), infertility, autoimmune conditions, and even "man boobs" (gynecomastia). Diet and lifestyle changes may help you balance your estrogen levels. Certain supplements, including diindolylmethane (DIM) may help lower estrogen levels. DIM is a compound derived from broccoli and other vegetables of the Brassica family. A naturopathic doctor (ND) or a medical doctor (MD) who practices functional medicine can diagnose and treat estrogen dominance.
As estrogen levels decrease in women who are postmenopausal, they may notice they gain more weight around the abdomen and arms. This central obesity, as it is known, is dangerous because it increases a woman's risk of cardiovascular disease. In one study, postmenopausal women who received hormone replacement therapy (HRT) did not experience weight gain in the trunk and arm areas compared to women who did not take HRT. Women treated with hormones gained an insignificant amount of weight during the study in their legs. This pattern of fat distribution is not associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The treated women had better bone mineral density compared to those who did not receive hormone therapy, too. Talk to your doctor if you notice you're gaining more weight around your middle. Hormone therapy, if it's appropriate and safe for you, may help.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY:
- Getty Images/amana images
- American Family Physician: "Parathyroid Disorders."
- American Pregnancy Association: "Female Fertility Testing," "Female Infertility."
- BMC Women's Health: "Gastrointestinal Symptoms Before and During Menses in Healthy Women."
- Clinical Interventions in Aging: "Effect of Estrogens on Skin Aging and the Potential Role of SERMs."
- Columbia Surgery: "The Pancreas and Its Functions."
- Dermatoendocrinology: "Estrogens and Aging Skin."
- Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: "What Are Menstrual Irregularities?"
- Frontiers in Bioscience: "Xenoestrogen Exposure and Mechanisms of Endocrine Disruption."
- Hormone Health Network: "Pituitary Disorders."
- Integrative Medicine Insights: "Memory Decline in Peri- and Post-menopausal Women: The Potential of Mind-Body Medicine to Improve Cognitive Performance."
- International Journal of Endocrinology: "Translational Significance of Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators in Psychiatric Disorders."
- International Journal of Pharmaceutical Compounding: "Efficacy and Tolerability of Compounded Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy."
- Journal of Endocrinological Investigation: "Exercise and Circulating Cortisol Levels: The Intensity Threshold Effect."
- The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism: "Progesterone Prevents Sleep Disturbances and Modulates GH, TSH, and Melatonin Secretion in Postmenopausal Women."
- Journal of the National Cancer Institute: "Estrogen-Plus-Progestin Use an Mammographic Density in Postmenopausal Women: Women's Health Initiative Randomize Trial."
- Menopause: "Association of Estradiol with Sleep Apnea in Depressed Preimenopausal and Postmenopausal Women: A Preliminary Study."
- National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences: "Hypothalamic Dysfunction," "Pineal Cyst."
- National Headache Foundation: “Menstrual Migraine."
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: "Acne."
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid)."
- National Osteoporosis Foundation: "What Women Need to Know."
- New England Journal of Medicine: "Testosterone for Low Libido in Postmenopausal Women Not Taking Estrogen."
- Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology: "Effects of Estradiol and FSH on Leptin Levels in Women with Suppressed Pituitary."
- Schizophrenia Bulletin: "The Role of Estrogens in Schizophrenia Gender Differences."
- WomensHealth.gov: "Menstruation, Menopause, and Mental Health," "Menopause," "Period Problems," "Premenstrual Syndrome."