Hormones are often compared to the ultimate evils of the universe. They can be blamed for everything from emotional responses concerning ordinary events to a wide range of health conditions. Unfortunately, hormones do have that much control over our bodies.
When there is an imbalance in certain hormones, it can throw our entire systems off-kilter affecting everything from how much food we eat and how well we metabolize that food to the kind of mood we are in, whether we can conceive, and the stability of our emotions.
Hormonal imbalances can increase risks for breast cancer, lead to greater retention of belly fat, and even cause insulin resistance. Even worse, our emotions are in a nearly constant state of flux and small shifts can cause lead to problems that feel monumental.
Signs of Hormonal Imbalances
A variety of signs can signal a potential hormonal imbalance. Many of them are overlooked or dismissed. However, if you experience some of the following symptoms, you may consider seeking medical advice concerning your hormonal health.
- Belly fat along with loss of muscle mass
- Breast changes
- Digestive problems
- Dry skin
- Increased thirst
- Irregular periods
- Low libido
- Mood swings
- Puffy face
- Sleep disturbances (Insomnia)
- Vaginal dryness
- Weight gain (despite efforts to maintain or lose weight)
Alone, these may be signs or symptoms of other health problems or lifestyle choices. When you experience several of these in conjunction with one another, though, it might be time to consider paying your doctor a visit. While your family physician can address hormonal imbalance issues, seeing a specialist such as an endocrinologist or gynecologist might be warranted.
One myth some people have is thinking hormonal imbalances only occur in women. While women do experience hormonal imbalances frequently in their life cycles (puberty, pregnancy, menopause, and while breastfeeding), men can also have hormonal imbalances related to low or excessive amounts of testosterone.
Men who are not producing sufficient amounts of testosterone may experience some of the following symptoms of hormonal imbalances:
- Breast tenderness
- Decrease in facial and body hair
- Erectile dysfunction
- Loss of bone mass (Osteoporosis)
- Loss of muscle mass
- Low libido
- Weight gain
As you can see, some of the symptoms men and women experience as a result of hormonal imbalances overlap. In some instances, men can even experience hot flashes resulting from low testosterone.
Causes of Hormonal Imbalances
Many things can cause hormonal imbalances. Some of these things are serious health problems in themselves. This is why it is so important to work with your doctor if you suspect a hormonal imbalance to not only identify the possible underlying causes, but also to rule out more serious health conditions, like:
- Adrenal insufficiencies
- Cancer treatments
- Cushing syndrome
- Eating disorders
- Hyper or hypothyroidism
- Medication interactions
Other health conditions may cause hormonal imbalances in men and women. The following potential causes of hormonal imbalances are isolated to women:
- Hormone medications (birth control, for instance)
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
- Premature menopause
- Primary ovarian insufficiency
Treatments for Hormonal Imbalances
While many of the above hormonal imbalance causes you have little control over, there are some potential causes that you do have some degree of control over. These causes are the ones related to sleep patterns, the foods you eat, and the amount of exercise you get in the average day – and, to some degree, your stress levels.
Consider implementing the following changes:
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule allowing for seven or more hours of sleep each night.
- Adopt a nutrient-rich diet.
- Add exercise to your daily routine with more moderate-to-intense exercises at least three times each week.
- Learn stress management and coping techniques to reduce your stress level.
These small changes can improve your hormonal state and may help to avoid or eliminate some imbalances.
If you need help addressing your hormonal imbalance or are in search of relief from some of the more unpleasant symptoms, you’ll find that there are a few options to consider.
Hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, is an option. Because hormone replacement therapy is not for everyone, each person must decide whether they want to pursue HRT. Most HRT therapies involved oral pills, but vaginal creams, skin patches, injections, rings, gels and other topicals are also options.
- Bioidentical hormones: One of the most common is the use of bioidentical hormones. These treatments are made from natural substances and are bio-identical to human hormones. They can be customized to meet individual needs and are available in a variety of delivery methods. Estrogen, DHEA, progesterone, and testosterone are all examples of bioidentical hormones.
- Non-bioidentical hormones: These are manufactured hormones, such as Premarin, which can cause side effects since they are not bio-chemically the same as a woman’s own hormones.
- Synthetic hormones: Synthetic hormones are manufactured to mimic female natural hormones effects. They are not bio-identical nor made from natural substances. Provera is an example of a synthetic hormone.
Seeking treatment for hormonal imbalances is one of the most important things you can do to safeguard your physical health and emotional well-being. Working with a medical practitioner, such as your family physician, endocrinologist or gynecologist, can ensure you are getting the right treatment for your unique needs with minimal risks.