Sexual Health

Everything You Should Know About Hormonal Imbalance

Are you experiencing irregular periods, acne breakouts, and insomnia? Perhaps you are struggling with muscle mass loss and weight gain?

The symptoms that we mentioned can be all possibly caused by an existing hormonal imbalance. If you want to find out what causes a hormonal imbalance and what other symptoms can be expected, please join us in the next couple of minutes.

What is a hormonal imbalance?

Hormones are our chemical messengers. In the human body, there are up to 50 different hormones circulating the bloodstream.

You may recognize some of them including estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, insulin, cortisol, etc. Each of these hormones is produced and secreted by our endocrine glands. The testes, ovaries, and thyroid gland are some of the best well-known endocrine glands in the human body.

It is up to the hormones to travel through the bloodstream and give orders to each body organ. Hormones are very important. They control all bodily functions – from metabolism, body temperature, reproduction, and even your stress levels.

Knowing that it is essential that we keep each hormone within its normal ranges. This is referred to as hormone balance. Having too little or too much of any hormone can greatly impact our body and mind. Often, a present abundance of one hormone causes the levels of another hormone to drop. The term we use to describe this condition is “hormone imbalance”.

What are the symptoms?

Hormone imbalance is a much more serious and complicated issue than many believe it to be. What makes it so complex is the wide range of symptoms. The hormone imbalance symptoms also variate depending on the patient’s age, gender, general health status, and other factors.

But the biggest reason behind the wide variety of symptoms is the cause. The patient experiences different symptoms depending on which hormone is out of balance.

In the majority of cases, we see either cortisol or an insulin imbalance. You may recognize these as the “stress” and “blood sugar” hormones. Cortisol is one of the many hormones produced by the adrenal gland, while the “blood sugar hormone” is produced by the pancreas. Here are some general hormonal imbalance symptoms that are seen in both men and women.

  • Fatigue

  • Muscle weakness

  • Muscle aches/stiffness

  • Joint pain/swelling/stiffness

  • Unexplained weight gain/weight loss

  • Dry skin

  • Puffy face

  • Constipation/diarrhea

  • Frequent urination

  • Increased thirst

  • Hair loss

  • Brittle hair/nails

  • Extreme sensitivity to hot/cold

  • Insomnia

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Irritability

  • Blurred vision

  • Low libido

  • Infertility

  • Increased/decreased heart rate, etc.

But some symptoms are specific to men, and those that are specific to women only. Women mostly face with estrogen and progesterone imbalance, whereas men struggle with a testosterone imbalance. Let’s take a look into the different symptoms of a hormone imbalance that women and men experience.

Women

In women, there are two main sex hormones with that being estrogen and progesterone. Small amounts of testosterone are present as well, however insignificant they may be in this case.

During different periods of their lives, women experience somewhat normal hormonal imbalances, especially regarding their estrogen levels.

Puberty, pregnancy, breastfeeding, perimenopause, and menopause are all causing evident changes in hormone production. Certain conditions also contribute to the estrogen imbalance as well. As a side-effect, the estrogen hormone level increases or decreases, thus causing the following symptoms to take place.

Heavy/missed/frequent/irregular periods;

  • Stopped period

  • Mood swings

  • Hot flashes

  • Night sweats

  • Hirsutism or an excessive body/facial hair growth

  • Unexplained weight gain

  • Vaginal dryness/atrophy

  • Painful intercourse

  • Thinning of the hair/nails

  • Insomnia

  • Brain fog

  • Frequent acne breakouts.

Men

Men have only one main sex hormone and that is testosterone. Small traces of estrogen are present within the male body as well.

If the estrogen levels are not maintained within the normal ranges, this can result in estrogen dominance. The following symptoms are a result of low testosterone levels and/or estrogen dominance.

What causes a hormonal imbalance?

The wide variety of symptoms is not the only thing complex when it comes to imbalanced hormones. Often, doctors struggle with determining the exact cause that has led to changes in their patient’s menstrual cycle, sleep, or testosterone levels.

You see, many possible causes can take your hormones out of balance. And like the symptoms, there are also certain causes specific to women and men only. But first, we will review the most common general causes of hormonal imbalances in both genders.

Speaking of gender-specific causes, the cause is almost always related to the specific reproductive hormone. Anything that disturbs the natural estrogen and testosterone production will result in these symptoms. Now let’s take a look at the specific hormone imbalance causes for women and men.

Women

  • Puberty – The start of the production of the gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) is what triggers the beginning of puberty. This hormone is produced by the hypothalamus to help stimulate the pituitary gland to release two very important hormones – follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). These hormones then travel to the ovaries and kick off the production of estrogen and progesterone. By doing so, puberty triggers natural hormonal imbalances. It will take some time for these hormones to later get balanced.

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a common hormonal disorder among women. Research suggests that as much as 1 in 10 women of reproductive age nowadays struggles with PCOS. Although the exact cause is unknown, excess insulin, genetics, and inflammation are thought to play a role in the process.

  • Pregnancy – During the nine months of pregnancy, the woman’s body naturally goes through certain hormonal imbalances. While certain changes in the estrogen and progesterone levels are normal, other hormonal imbalances are not. Many pregnant women experience an imbalance related to their thyroid hormone levels.

    The thyroid gland is the small endocrine gland in the front of the neck. It produces two essential hormones – thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). It just so happens that hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, both of which are related to the thyroid gland, are common issues during pregnancy. These issues cause serious symptoms that require immediate treatment.

  • Breastfeeding – Breastfeeding too triggers certain hormonal imbalances. One of the most significant ones is the natural increase in prolactin levels which is the hormone that supports milk production. As soon as the breastfeeding stops, the prolactin levels naturally drop between the normal ranges again.

  • Menopause – Menopause refers to the natural life period which is when the menstrual periods stop. It usually starts after the age of 45. These changes happen because the ovaries stop producing estrogen and progesterone. The first menopausal symptoms can be noticed during perimenopause. Perimenopause is the transition period during which the ovaries gradually decrease the sex hormones production.

  • Premature menopause – Premature or early menopause marks the period absence that happens between the ages of 40 and 45. Up to 5% of the women experience premature menopause. In this case, the early menopausal symptoms are often triggered by the removal of the ovaries/uterus, autoimmune diseases, use of certain medications, smoking, etc. But early menopause can also happen naturally.

  • Use of birth control pills and other hormone drugs – Many women rely on birth control pills as their primary contraceptive method. Birth control pills work by keeping constant progesterone and estrogen levels. They represent a form of synthetical hormones and their job is to prevent ovulation, thus preventing pregnancy to happen. Other hormone drugs such as hormone replacement therapy, which is used to relieve the menopausal symptoms, cause hormonal imbalances as well.

Men

  • Puberty – Similar to what happens in women during puberty, in the male body, too, once puberty starts, the pituitary gland activates. It starts releasing FSH and LH which results in noticeable hormonal changes, both physical and mental.

  • Prostate cancer – But not all causes of hormonal imbalances are as innocent as puberty. In men, one of the common causes of hormonal changes in the prostate. The prostate is a small, reproductive organ which can only be seen in the male body.

    Its main function is to secrete a fluid that is nourishing and supporting the sperm only to be later excreted in the form of semen during ejaculation. Prostate cancer represents an abnormal growth of cancer cells inside the prostate. Unfortunately, this continues to be a growing health issue and is the second leading cause of death among men in the United States. Prostate cancer too can cause hormonal changes that are often treated with testosterone therapy. 

  • Normal aging process – If the puberty is when the testosterone production kicks off thanks to the pituitary gland, then it is the period after the age of 30 when the testosterone levels naturally decline. Women face menopause with all of its uncomfortable symptoms. But men, too, face a decline in their main sex hormone levels as well. It is not after the age of 50 that the real signs of the testosterone decline become noticeable.

Note that other causes outside this list can be the reason for your hormone imbalance symptoms. Consult a doctor if you notice any of these symptoms.

What effect does hormonal imbalance have on the body?

Leaving your hormonal imbalance untreated is never an option. Of course, that there is not much that one can do about the hormonal imbalances during puberty, but the rule does not apply when it comes to the much more serious causes.

Menopause, natural decline in testosterone production, prostate cancer, and PCOS, among others, can all be efficiently treated. Leaving a hormonal imbalance untreated exposes you to great health risks, including the following ones.

Women

Men

How is hormonal imbalance diagnosed?

Your visit to the doctor’s office will start with a routine physical exam and medical history. Depending on the present symptoms, the doctor may need to perform one or multiple tests.

Since almost all hormones are found in the blood, a blood test will be ordered. After collecting a sample of your blood, the doctor will proceed to analyze the results and make a diagnosis.

Other than this standard hormone test, a pelvic/scrotum exam, ultrasound, biopsy, X-ray, and an MRI scan are some of the additional tests that can be ordered. Doing these tests will help the doctor to determine the exact cause behind the symptoms as they proceed to eliminate all potential causes one by one.

Can you test hormone levels at home?

Testing your hormone levels at home is only possible in the case of menopause. If a woman suspects that she is in perimenopause or menopause, she can use a home testing kit to confirm her suspicions. The home testing kit will measure the FSH levels in the urine.

If the results show a higher than normal FSH level, then chances are that you have entered menopause. But keep in mind that the FSH levels naturally change during the normal menstrual cycle. For any additional questions, schedule a consultation with your doctor.

Treatment for hormonal imbalance

As soon as the doctor has determined the exact cause, they will then proceed to treat the issue. Depending on the issue itself, the following treatments may be used:

Thyroid hormone therapy

In patients with hypothyroidism, a drug called Levothyroxine is used. Levothyroxine is a synthetic form of thyroxine (T4), the thyroid hormone found naturally in our body. This hormone therapy helps replace the missing T4, thus relieving some of the symptoms.

Estrogen therapy

Doctors often prescribe estrogen replacement therapy to patients who have a hard time going through menopause. In this case, the hormone replacement therapy helps by compensating the low estrogen levels. With that, a significant improvement in symptoms such as mood swings, hot flashes, and insomnia can be achieved.

A popular hormone therapy method is using vaginal estrogen cream, ring, or tablet. The estrogen cream helps soothe any vaginal dryness and prevent vaginal pain during intercourse. This is the usually preferred option compared to the standard estrogen therapy since it helps avoid the common side-effects linked to this treatment method.

Testosterone therapy

For men struggling with low testosterone levels, the doctor may prescribe testosterone replacement therapy. Testosterone therapy is available in several forms. One can choose from using a patch, an injection, or gel. Nowadays, testosterone therapy is often used in adolescents with delayed puberty where it helps stimulate the start of puberty. A common use is to treat the symptoms of low testosterone levels, especially erectile dysfunction and infertility.

Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT)

In the last couple of years, we have had the pleasure to enjoy an advanced form of hormone therapy. It is known by the name of bioidentical hormone therapy. The BHRT can be used in both men and women who struggle with frequent hormone imbalances. BHRT is usually used in those with perimenopause and menopause, but also in cases of insulin resistance, osteoporosis, and fibromyalgia among others.

Metformin

Metformin is originally used as a diabetes type 2 medication. However, lately, it has also been used in those struggling with PCOS. While the use of metformin is still not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), some doctors prescribe their patients metformin to help lower androgen levels and encourage ovulation.

Anti-androgen drugs

Women who experience symptoms of high androgen levels, including hair loss, increased facial hair growth, and frequent acne breakouts, can benefit from using anti-androgen drugs.

Note that other treatment methods other than these are available. Your doctor is the only one that can recommend the right treatment method. Use this information only as a guide and do not take any medications without consulting your doctor first.

Natural treatments

As always, Mother Nature is here to take our troubles away. For thousands of years now, people have relied on natural remedies and supplements to treat any hormonal imbalances.

Although none of these alternative treatments has been scientifically proven to work, it is worth giving them a try. In the following, we will discuss some of the most popular natural remedies for hormonal imbalances.

  • Managing your stress levels – Being under constant stress can mess up your hormones, causing serious hormonal imbalances. Two major hormones are at stake here – your adrenaline and cortisol levels. Chronic cortisol and adrenaline levels will result in many serious health issues, which is why it is so important that you properly manage your stress levels. Meditation, exercise, and yoga are some of the best and inexpensive relaxation techniques that you can try.

  • Maintaining a healthy weight – A healthy weight can help you keep a lot of the common hormonal imbalance causes away from you. To maintain a healthy weight, make sure to follow a balanced diet. Your diet needs to be rich in all essential nutrients, especially protein and healthy fats. Replace processed foods and carbs with whole foods and healthy carbs. Eat enough fruits and veggies and drink your water. It takes a lot of small, yet meaningful steps to accomplish your goal of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. 

  • Regular exercise – Daily exercise will help support your hormonal health. One of the greatest effects of regular exercise refers to insulin. Research has suggested that regular exercise helps reduce insulin levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Exercise will also help reduce stress, improve your mood, and maintain a healthy weight, among providing additional benefits.

  • Using natural remedies – For men struggling with erectile dysfunction and low testosterone levels, the recommended natural remedies would be maca and ginseng. Both natural remedies have somewhat of a confirmed efficiency. As for menopausal women, the recommended natural remedies are ginseng, red clover, and dong quai.

Conclusion

PCOS, menopause and low testosterone levels are only some of the most common hormonal imbalances. These are the issues that millions of people are struggling with. The sad truth is that finding a solution is not as easy. Our hormonal system is complex and it will take time to find the right treatment for each patient. That is why it is so important to ask for help as soon as possible and trust your doctor that they can help you.

Sources

  1. Kaunitz, A. M., & Manson, J. E. (2015). Management of Menopausal Symptoms. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 126(4), 859–876. https://doi.org/10.1097/aog.0000000000001058
    Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4594172/
  2. Rivas, A. M., Mulkey, Z., Lado-Abeal, J., & Yarbrough, S. (2014). Diagnosing and Managing Low Serum Testosterone. Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings, 27(4), 321–324. https://doi.org/10.1080/08998280.2014.11929145
    Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4255853/
  3. Chen, F., & Zhao, X. (2013). Prostate Cancer: Current Treatment and Prevention Strategies. Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal, 15(4), 279–284. https://doi.org/10.5812/ircmj.6499
    Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3785898/
  4. Gawel, M. J., Park, D. M., Alaghband-Zadeh, J., & Rose, F. C. (1979). Exercise and hormonal secretion. Postgraduate Medical Journal, 55(644), 373–376. https://doi.org/10.1136/pgmj.55.644.373
    Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2425585/

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