Hormones and Your Health: Recognizing and Treating Hormonal Imbalances

Hormones are chemicals that are created by your glands and regulate most of the functions of your body, from your emotional state to your reproductive cycle, to regulating your metabolism.

There are over 50 hormones that circulate through your body, acting as chemical messengers, and they are essential for optimal health. However, when they are not in balance, hormones can wreak havoc.

Read on to learn more about your hormones, how hormone imbalances can negatively impact your health and what steps to take if you suspect you are suffering from a hormone imbalance.

What do hormones do?

Hormones are produced by your endocrine glands, which are located throughout your body. The major endocrine glands include: pituitary gland, thyroid, thymus, adrenal glands and the pancreas. They secrete hormones directly into your blood. Hormones play a vital role in the body and understanding the key hormones and how they effect your health is essential to living a long and healthy life.

Hormones play a vital role in the body and understanding the key hormones and how they effect your health is essential to living a long and healthy life.

 

Estrogen

Estrogen is the main sex hormone that regulates women’s reproductive cycles. Estrogen is responsible for puberty, preparing the body for pregnancy and regulates menstruation. It plays a role in the development of secondary sexual characteristics, such as breast development and the growth of pubic and armpit hair; it controls lactation during pregnancy and puberty.Estrogen is also crucial for bone formation. During menopause estrogen levels dip dramatically often causing a slew of unpleasant side effects. Men also produce estrogen but a much lower levels than women. Secreted by the testes it helps with sperm maturation and effects the sex drive.

Estrogen is also crucial for bone formation. During menopause estrogen levels dip dramatically often causing a slew of unpleasant side effects. Men also produce estrogen but a much lower levels than women. Secreted by the testes it helps with sperm maturation and effects the sex drive.

Estrogen is also crucial for bone formation. During menopause estrogen levels dip dramatically often causing a slew of unpleasant side effects. Men also produce estrogen but a much lower levels than women. Secreted by the testes it helps with sperm maturation and effects the sex drive.

Progesterone

Progesterone, estrogen’s little sister, is also a female sex hormone that impacts the menstrual cycle and plays a role in pregnancy. It helps prepare the uterus to receive and nourish a fertilized egg and to sustain a pregnancy. It also prevents ovulation from occuring during pregnancy. Progesterone is to blame for many PMS symptoms, including breast tenderness, bloating and mood swings. If levels of progesterone are low women may skip their period and fail to ovulate. It also impacts sexual desire.

Testosterone

The main sex hormone for men it causes puberty and many of the secondary sexual characteristics in men, including hair growth, muscle strength and growth, and bone density. Although both men and women produce testosterone, it exists at much greater levels in men. It’s vital for sperm production, effects fat storage, aids in red blood cell production and it helps to govern the libido.

DHEA

DHEA is a hormone that is produced by the adrenal gland and in the brain. DHEA helps to make the other sex hormones, the androgens (the male hormones) and the estrogens (the female hormones). DHEA is a critical hormone for both men and women. Levels tend to decrease after age 30 and drop more rapidly in women. Low DHEA levels have been found in people with HIV/AIDS, immune disorders, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, depression, osteoporosis.

Cortisol

Also know as the stress hormone, it aids your body during times of stress by controlling many of the centers involved with your body’s reaction in times of stress. It helps to regulate your blood sugar levels, your immune system, anti-inflammatory actions within your body, your blood pressure, heart and blood vessel contractions and the activation of your central nervous system.

Cortisol is very important because it helps to keep us safe. Generally our levels of cortisol peek around 8 am and are lowest around 4 am. However, due to the frenetic pace and often stressful nature of modern life, many of us suffer from too much cortisol. This can cause feelings of anxiety and interfere with our sleep, etc. When the adrenal glands are constantly having to pump out cortisol they eventually start to wear out, leading to a condition called “adrenal fatigue” and too little cortisol in our bodies.

Melatonin

Produced by the pineal gland melatonin is commonly known as the sleep hormone. It is not necessary for us to sleep but it seems to impact our circadian rhythms. Levels of this hormone increase as it get darks, and we sleep best when levels are at their highest. When in balance your hormones help you thrive, however, when your hormones are out of balance you may suffer from a variety of symptoms and ailments. Keep reading to find out some of the most common causes of hormone imbalance.

What causes hormone imbalance?

There are a variety factors that can cause hormone imbalance, some of which you can control and others that are unavoidable. Some people are genetically predisposed to having a hormone imbalance and the correct balance of hormones differs for every individual. Understanding the symptoms of hormone imbalance and your hormone restoration options is imperative to living a long healthy life.

Understanding the symptoms of hormone imbalance and your hormone restoration options is imperative to living a long healthy life.

what causes hormone imbalance

Aging:

As we age, our parts age, including our brains and the glands that produce and regulate our hormones. This is natural, but not necessarily beneficial to our overall health.

Menopause

Menopause is a natural occurrence in women as they age. As they cross the threshold from menstruating, to egg production ceasing, a variety of physical changes occur. Levels of estrogen production rapidly decrease during menopause.

This sharp decrease can result in a variety of undesirable effects including senility, osteoporosis, less muscle mass, heart disease and even
depression.

Andropause

Most of us have heard of menopause, but did you know men also go through a similar stage as they age? Andropause, or male menopause, affects men as they age and cause their testosterone levels to drop. It tends to have a much more gradual and later onset than menopause.

About 30% of men over 50 suffer from andropause. After a man reaches 30, testosterone levels drop about 10% every decade. Low testosterone levels in men can lead to a variety of issues including excess abdominal fat, depression, anxiety, cardiac issues, fatigue, low libido, etc.

Stress:

One of the most common causes of hormonal imbalance is stress. Stress comes in many forms, including physical and mental or emotional stress. You may feel emotional stress due to a conflict in a personal relationship or from pressure at work.

Physical stress occurs when your body is hurt or injured in some way. Coping with physical pain causes stress. Your body can also suffer from stress due to your diet. Ingesting processed foods or foods that cause inflammation puts stress on your body.

When we are stressed our bodies produce more cortisol and too much cortisol is a ticking time bomb for your health. Cortisol impacts how messages from your hypothalamus and the pituitary gland are transmitted, two areas that play a main role in controlling hormone levels. It can cause hormone fluctuations that and leave us more susceptible to illness and digestive issues.

Too much cortisol also leads to muscle loss and excess fat storage, especially around the middle. Keeping stress in check is vital to keeping your hormones in balance.

Lifestyle issues:

Unhealthy diet

A poor diet can trigger a hormonal imbalance and digestive issues are often a symptom of an unhealthy diet.

Bloating, gas, diarrhea and reflux may indicate an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut which can cause inflammation. Inflammation in the gut can suppress the pituitary gland and hypothalamus and reduce production of your sex hormones, leading to a host of issues.

Also, drinking too much alcohol or eating too many processed foods can overwork the liver which is responsible for cleaning the impurities from your body and helps regulate the sex hormones.

unhealthy diets and hormones

Lack of sleep or inconsistent sleep patterns

Sleep is very important to your health as it provides time for your body to rebuild and replenish itself. Certain hormones are produced in greater quantities while you sleep, like leptin, for instance, which suppresses your appetite.

When you don’t get enough sleep, less leptin is produced and more of the hormone ghrelin is produced, which increases your appetite. That’s why the less you sleep the hungrier you feel all day. Chronic sleep issues can also mess up your production of cortisol. People who sleep less than four hours a night see their cortisol levels going up at night. Although it’s a necessary hormone that helps keeps us safe, you don’t.

People who sleep less than four hours a night see their cortisol levels going up at night. Although it’s a necessary hormone that helps keeps us safe, you don’t want increased cortisol at night as it will affect the quality of your shut-eye.

Lack of sleeps and hormones

Exercise, too much or too little

Frequent high intensity and long workouts put our bodies under stress. Your body doesn’t know the difference between good and bad stress and therefore produces more cortisol in reaction to stress. Also, excessive exercise can affect the glands that secrete the hormones which control egg production, and even shut down egg production altogether.

This is known as amenorrhea, (or lack of a period), and is experienced by up to 44% of women who exercise. Studies have shown that long-term over-exercising or training can lead to reduced testosterone levels in men and lower estrogen and progesterone levels in women. The reduced levels of these hormones can lead to bone density issues down the road.Too little exercise can also have a negative impact on your hormones. Fat cells make estrogen,so the more fat in the body, the more estrogen. Too much estrogen is not a good thing. It results in a host of problems and leads to a greater risk of developing certain cancers. Fat has an inverse relationship with testosterone. The more fat, especially around the belly, the less testosterone produced by the body. So if you don’t exercise and are overweight or obese as a result, your testosterone production will suffer, leaving you even more likely to gain weight, lose muscle mass and pack on fat.

exercise-too-much-and-hormone-imbalance

The reduced levels of these hormones can lead to bone density issues down the road.Too little exercise can also have a negative impact on your hormones. Fat cells make estrogen,so the more fat in the body, the more estrogen. Too much estrogen is not a good thing. It results in a host of problems and leads to a greater risk of developing certain cancers. Fat has an inverse relationship with testosterone. The more fat, especially around the belly, the less testosterone produced by the body. So if you don’t exercise and are overweight or obese as a result, your testosterone production will suffer, leaving you even more likely to gain weight, lose muscle mass and pack on fat.

The more fat, especially around the belly, the less testosterone produced by the body. So if you don’t exercise and are overweight or obese as a result, your testosterone production will suffer, leaving you even more likely to gain weight, lose muscle mass and pack on fat.

Too little exercise can also have a negative impact on your hormones. Fat cells make estrogen,so the more fat in the body, the more estrogen. Too much estrogen is not a good thing. It results in a host of problems and leads to a greater risk of developing certain cancers. Fat has an inverse relationship with testosterone. The more fat, especially around the belly, the less testosterone produced by the body. So if you don’t exercise and are overweight or obese as a result, your testosterone production will suffer, leaving you even more likely to gain weight, lose muscle mass and pack on fat.

The more fat, especially around the belly, the less testosterone produced by the body. So if you don’t exercise and are overweight or obese as a result, your testosterone production will suffer, leaving you even more likely to gain weight, lose muscle mass and pack on fat.

So if you don’t exercise and are overweight or obese as a result, your testosterone production will suffer, leaving you even more likely to gain weight, lose muscle mass and pack on fat.

Thyroid Functioning:

The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped gland that is located in your neck that produces the hormones that control your metabolism. The thyroid may become overactive at times, (known as hypothyroidism), resulting in nervousness, difficulty concentrating and sleeping, an elevated heart rate and weight loss. An underactive thyroid conversely causes sluggishness, weight gain, dry skin, slow growth, etc.

About 26% of women close to, or experiencing menopause are diagnosed with hypothyroidism. When there is an abundance of estrogen and not enough progesterone the estrogen can inhibit the thyroid hormones from functioning properly. Women who have an overabundance of estrogen often experience menopausal symptoms. What are the Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance?

What are the Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance?

With the numerous of roles hormones play in our bodies it come as no surprise that there are a slew of symptoms that occur when your hormones are not correctly balanced. Here are some of the most common symptoms of hormone imbalance:

1. Weight gain

Yup, most of us hate to gain a few pounds, but if your hormones are out of whack that number on the scale may steadily creep up. Our hormones impact our metabolism and are directly linked to how much muscle we build and fat our bodies store. Men with Low T, or low testosterone will most likely notice a paunch developing or increasing in size. Women with an overabundance of estrogen, may gain weight due to fats’ role in creating estrogen.

2. Fatigue & sleep disturbances

Feeling wiped out all the time? Your hormones could be to blame. Men with Low-T often suffer from low levels of energy. Women, especially when experiencing low levels of estrogen due to menopause, often have frequent night sweats and insomnia. Low levels of progesterone also may contribute to women feeling exhausted. Chronic stress can also lead to fatigue. Known as “adrenal fatigue” occurs because cortisol is overproduced by the adrenal glands when undergoing chronic stress.

3. Anxiety & Depression

Just as there are hormones throughout our bodies hormones also exist in our brains and affect brain activity. A hormone imbalance can affect our brain chemistry and cause us to feel anxious or depressed. Unbalanced brain chemistry and overworked adrenal glands can result in a low functioning thyroid or to hypothyroidism. The sex hormones are important for your mood. Estrogen is a natural emotion stabilizer and has anti-depressant effects. Progesterone is a relaxing hormone. Low testosterone levels often lead to depression. Having the proper balance of hormones can help you feel peaceful and calm.

4. Loss of muscle mass

Key to your body’s metabolism, when a hormonal imbalance occurs the body may break down muscle to use for energy instead of stored fat as it should. This leads to loss of muscle mass and an increase in fat.

5. Low sex drive

The “sex hormones” obviously impact your sexuality. Low levels of either estrogen or testosterone can negatively effect your sex drive. Estrogen decline can also cause vaginal dryness, poor blood flow to the vulva, clitoris and vagina and painful intercourse for women. Testosterone, present in men and women, directly determines sex drive. Low levels of testosterone in both men and women causes a decrease in your sex drive. 6. Hot flashes and night sweats

6. Hot flashes and night sweats

In a healthy person sweating is a useful mechanism of the body, cooling it when it gets too hot. But excess sweating is often a symptom of a normal imbalance, or medical conditions caused by or related to an imbalance, including diabetes mellitus, thyroid disorders and menopause.

7. Skin changes

Our skin changes throughout our lives and many of those changes are governed by our hormone levels. Both estrogen and testosterone play a role in the condition of our skin. Estrogen tightens pores, creating a smooth surface. It also builds vital proteins like collagen and elastin that contribute to making skin more elastic and helps skin heal and retain moisture.

Testosterone on the hand causes an increase in pore size and sebum, an oily substance that coats the skin. In our teen years both levels of estrogen and testosterone are elevated sometimes leading to acne. As women head into menopause those hormone levels drop causing an accelerated aging of the skin.

Studies have shown that each year following menopause our skin decreases collagen production by about 2%, that’s a 30% drop in fifteen years! In fact, the loss of estrogen contributes to signs of skin aging much faster than sun damage.

Elasticity is lost and our skin becomes drier and more wrinkled. Studies have shown that each year following menopause our skin decreases collagen production by about 2%, that’s a 30% drop in fifteen years! In fact, the loss of estrogen contributes to signs of skin aging much faster than sun damage.

8. Memory issues

Mental fog and memory issues are a common sign of hormone imbalance. Woman may experience this first around menstruation. Hormone levels are going up and down which can cause the brain to swell and can reduce blood sugar and oxygen levels in the brain. During menopause when progesterone and estrogen plummet some women may experience days where they can’t concentrate, experience mood swings and crying fits. During perimenopause hormone levels can rapidly shoot up and down making some feel like they are going crazy.

During andropause testosterone levels drop leaving many men feeling tired, foggy, forgetful and apathetic. Thus the phrase “grumpy old men”.

9. Food cravings

The adrenal gland can effect appetite and cravings in several ways. When cortisol levels are high due to stress, blood sugar levels spike, leading to hunger pains and cravings. When the adrenal gland is overworked, due to chronic stress and adrenal fatigue sets in, cortisol levels drop. Low levels of cortisol result in low blood sugar levels, and to feeling fatigued. Hunger ramps up and cravings kick in as your body seeks high caloried food sources to supply energy.

10. Digestive issues

Often overlooked digestive issues often indicate a hormonal imbalance. There are three primary hormones found in the gatsrointestinal tract that aid in digestion by helping to break down food so it can be rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. When these hormones are not in balance food isn’t broken down effectively-leading to gas, bloating, belching, nausea, etc.

Clearly none of these symptoms are pleasant to experience. If you are suffering from any of them, or if for any other reason you suspect you have a hormonal imbalance keep reading for the steps you should take next.

Testing for a Hormonal Imbalance

A hormone imbalance can compromise your health and well-being overall. Being tested for a hormonal imbalance is recommended if you suffer from any of the symptoms previously listed.

Hormone levels vary widely among different people, however levels are usually quite consistent within a single person. Therefore careful and testing and tracking over time is required to identify shifts in hormone levels. A thorough physical examination is also recommended prior to starting any treatments or therapies for hormonal imbalance. Hormone replacement therapies are readily available and in many cases can greatly reduce symptoms and improve your quality of life.

testing for hormone imbalance

Methods of Hormone testing

There are three main types of tests used to measure hormone levels: saliva testing, serum or blood testing, and Follicle Stimulating hormone (FSH) testing.

Saliva hormone testing

Saliva testing has been used by the National Institutes of Health for over thirty years and has been relied on by doctors for over a decade. Saliva testing is considered the most accurate way to determine levels of hormones available in the body.

Blood or serum hormone testing

Blood or serum testing determines the amount of hormones circulating through the bloodstream. Unlike saliva testing, blood or serum testing has its drawbacks as it does not determine the actual amount of hormone available in the body on a cellular level.

Follicle Stimulating hormone testing

This test is generally reserved for premenopausal women who are suffering from symptoms of menopause. It requires blood to be drawn three times at sixty-minute intervals starting at 8:00 am.

The averages of the hormones found at those three intervals are used to determine hormone levels. A one-size fit all approach is not suitable for hormone replacement therapy. Each person needs to be analyzed individually, with his or her hormone levels being tracked and monitored over time. Careful attention should be paid to signs and symptoms and how they correspond with the individual’s hormone levels.

Types of Hormone Replacement Therapy Treatments

There are three main types of hormones available for hormone replacement therapy, Bioidentical hormones, Non-Bioidentical Hormones and Synthetic Hormones. Bioidentical hormones are plant or animal-based substances that are bio-chemically the same as the hormones your body naturally produces. Bioidentical hormone therapy or BHRT is customized to meet the unique needs of each patient. Bioidentical hormones are often tolerated better by the body because of their identical structure and because they are made of natural ingredients.

Frequently used Bioidentical Hormones

Estrogen

Bi-estrogen or Bi-Est is a combination of estriol and estradiol. It has proven effective for relieving many of the symptoms associated with estrogen deficiency including vaginal dryness, vaginal thinning, painful intercourse, urinary tract issues, hot flashes and night sweats. It has also been shown to improve mood, memory and brain function, raise energy levels, promote better sleep, and reduce bone loss.

Progesterone

Often prescribed for women who have too much estrogen relative to progesterone, it minimizes the effects of the excess estrogen. It has been credited with improving sleep, increasing the sex drive, lowering blood pressure and balancing insulin levels.

DHEA

Dehydroepiandrosterone or DHEA is prescribed as hormone therapy for patients whose hormone levels tests indicate a low level of DHEA. DHEA can help build bone mass, increase libido, improve mood and alertness.

Testosterone

Testosterone helps to bring low testosterone levels back to normal levels. This yields an improvement in mood, weight loss and increased muscle mass, greater sex drive, better liver function, more energy, alertness and an improved cognitive functioning.

Bioidentical hormones are often favored due to their identical structure and natural components. In addition, bioidentical hormones are custom made for patients. A compound pharmacy, a pharmacy that specializes in creating individualized treatments, produces the prescription. Compound pharmacies can create formulations in lower doses, special combinations and offer unique delivery methods. This approach is overall more individualized and as a result the hormones are frequently better tolerated than other hormone replacement therapies.

Non-Bioidentical Hormones

Non-bioidentical hormones are made from natural sources, animal or plant, however, they are not bio-chemically identical to your hormones. Unfortunately, many patients experience negative side effects due to the chemical structure of the non-bioidentical hormone not matching their hormone receptors.

Synthetic Hormones

Synthetic are, as the name applies, created and developed by pharmaceutical companies and are not derived from natural sources. Chemical combinations that mimic the effects of natural hormones are synthetic. Synthetic hormones also reportedly can cause a variety of negative side effects.

Hormone Replacement Therapy: Factors to Consider

Moving forward with hormone replacement therapy can be a big decision which if intelligently pursued may dramatically increase your health and enjoyment of life.

Given the individualistic nature of hormone levels, careful testing should be conducted before starting any hormone therapy treatment. A “test and treat” approach is much preferable and will yield a better outcome than a “guess and treat” approach. Hormones are not a guessing game and the effects of hormonal imbalance can profoundly impact your health. If you are considering hormone replacement therapy be certain to see a physician experienced in the field, with the knowledge and know how to develop a treatment program to your individual needs.

Natural is usually better. Consider hormones manufactured from natural ingredients. They are less likely to harm the body. Individualized treatment is the way to go. After careful testing and tracking of your hormone levels, your treatment should be customized to your individual needs. One size does not fit all.

The Role of Your Compounding Pharmacy

Make sure your physician has a trusted relationship with a top notch compounding pharmacy or specialty pharmacy.  Working closely with your healthcare provider, your compounding pharmacist can develop custom medications with the exact amount of hormones your body needs to be brought back into balance.

internship-smppharmacy-testimonial-loliet2

Using your healthcare providers prescription your compounding pharmacist can prepare your medication at different levels of strength and a variety of dosage forms including; capsules, topical treatments including creams, gels, and foams, suppositories or sublingual drops (drops that are placed under the tongue).

The compounding pharmacist will work with you throughout your treatment to insure you are getting the results you want from your treatment while minimizing side effects. Finding and using an experienced compound pharmacy with an excellent reputation is essential to your safe and successful treatment.

Armando BardisaHormones and Your Health: Recognizing and Treating Hormonal Imbalances