Today we are talking about hormone imbalance, what it is, what causes it, and what it means for your body. Let's dive in.
What are hormones?
Hormones are your body’s chemical messengers. Created in your endocrine glands, they travel through your bloodstream to cue your body to do different things. You can think of them as tiny puppet masters that control body processes like menstruation, metabolism, and mental health.
What is a hormonal imbalance?
First, let us make clear: hormonal fluctuations are normal. In fact, your period cycle only happens because of fluctuations in certain hormones. Your hormone levels also change naturally as you age, cuing puberty to begin and eventually also prompting menopause.
That being said, a hormonal imbalance can happen if your endocrine glands are producing too much or too little of a certain hormone outside of normal fluctuations.
Signs of a hormone imbalance:
Your symptoms will depend on which hormones aren’t being produced properly and as a result there is a pretty wide range of bodily functions that can be affected.
Signs of a hormonal condition can include:
- Drastic weight fluctuations
- General body aches or weakness
- Hair thinning or loss
- Depression, anxiety, irritability
- Frequent urination
- Increased or decreased bowel movements
- Sensitivity to temperatures
- Decreased sex drive or pain during sez
- Heavy or irregular periods, periods that last a long time or stop altogether
- Hair growth on your body
- Vaginal dryness
Causes of hormonal imbalances:
As with many bodily functions, there are a lot of factors that can contribute to the development of a hormone imbalance. These include changes in diet, sleep patterns, and use of substances like caffeine or alcohol.
Imbalances can also be triggered by certain therapies or medications, including cancer treatments like chemotherapy. Other conditions, like diabetes and thyroid conditions, may both be triggered by and contribute to further hormone imbalances.
Another key cause is trauma [TW: ED]. According to NIH, eating disorders like anorexia can disrupt your endocrine system and lead to hormonal imbalances. Women, especially adolescent women, with anorexia may stop menstruating altogether, and these effects on the endocrine system can delay puberty. Luckily, regular hormonal functioning can be restored as part of anorexia treatment. As the patient returns to a healthy weight, their hormones should kick back into gear.
Studies show that stress and PTSD can also disrupt the regular functioning of your endocrine system, because the overproduction of stress hormones can cause other damage to your body.
For women, our reproductive system and hormones are often the root of hormonal imbalances. Hormone treatment like hormonal birth control or preparation for fertility treatment can sometimes disrupt your body’s regularly scheduled programming. Major body changes such as pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause can also cause imbalances.
In women, the most common hormonal imbalance is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which you can read more about here. Researchers believe PCOS is caused by a combination of genetic factors and insulin resistance, which leads to an overproduction of androgen, another hormone, which can impact your body’s function.
How do I know if I have a hormone imbalance?
There is no one test that a doctor can give you to identify a hormonal imbalance on the spot. Part of managing any condition you are experiencing is an ongoing conversation with your healthcare provider to help get to the root of the issue.
With that in mind, it’s a good idea to keep track of your symptoms and when they occur so you can give your doctor as much context as possible.
One helpful tool is journaling. Tracking your symptoms each day will help you figure out if your body’s fluctuations are periodic, seasonal, or if you have a long-term issue. This symptom log can also be useful when you’re talking to your doctor, to help provide the information they need to figure out what’s going on.
Nurse Suzie’s Recommendation:
Whether you’re using a notebook, spreadsheet, or tracker app, here’s what you want to make sure you’re paying attention to:
- Symptoms (including mood changes, skin issues, bloating, etc.)
- Sleep (are you sleeping through the night? What time did you go to bed and wake up?)
- Weight gain
- Breast changes - note any soreness or swelling
Your doctor may run tests on your blood to measure your hormone levels. These tests are most useful for identifying thyroid issues, cortisol, and estrogen levels.
Gynecological Check Up
Other tests for hormonal imbalances involve parts of regular gynecological care. Your doctor may perform a pelvic exam to check for lumps and tumors, order a Pap smear, or perform an ultrasound to look at your internal organs more closely.
If you are tracking your fertility, or think you might be entering menopause, at-home testing kits can help give an idea of what’s going on with your body. These are usually a good starting point for tracking your hormone levels, but you should discuss any results you find with your doctor.
What kind of doctor should I see?
While your OBGYN or general healthcare provider is a good place to start, we recommend finding a reproductive endocrinologist, especially if you are trying to conceive. Your OBGYN will be able to help you with some aspects of navigating a hormonal imbalance, but reproductive endocrinologists have additional years of training to diagnose and treat hormone imbalances and infertility.
With the pandemic, it can be difficult to get an appointment with an OBGYN if you are not pregnant, which is why we recommend seeing a specialist. If you prefer a more holistic approach, a wellness coach can also be helpful to guide you along your journey. Just make sure you are working with someone who is licensed and well-versed in the treatment you are looking for.
Treatment for hormonal imbalances:
Can supplements help manage my hormone imbalance? Short answer: yes.
Supplements are a great way to support the healthy functioning of your body’s systems. Here are a few supplements that can help manage hormonal fluctuations:
Did you know that most hormones are metabolized in your gut? That’s why it’s so important to make sure you are taking a regular probiotic to support healthy gut function. Studies indicate that balancing your microflora is correlated with balanced hormone levels as well.
Hormones are made out of omega-3s, so if your body is not producing hormones correctly, this is another great supplement to add to the mix.
3. Vitamin D3
Vitamin D is critical for fighting the damage that hormone imbalances can cause in your body, and helping to reduce inflammation. Studies show it can also help manage symptoms of depression.
NIH estimates that 50% of the global population is Vitamin D insufficient, and we are definitely not getting enough from sun exposure alone with all the time we spend inside these days. Not to mention, Vitamin D deficiency is more prevalent in the Black community because melanin absorbs UV radiation and makes it harder to synthesize Vitamin D. All this to say, if you don’t already take a Vitamin D supplement, it’s a good one to add to the mix. For more on Vitamin D, click here.
Magnesium helps you to destress and reduce your production of cortisol. Too much cortisol can upend other regular functions of your body, like hormone production and sleep. Magnesium can also help manage chronic migraines, another possible symptom of a hormone imbalance. Better sleep and lower stress will help your body get back to hormone balance. To read more on the benefits of magnesium, click here.
At Binto, we love The Glow Down, our calming magnesium-calcium mix drink and one of our most popular products. We mix two teaspoons with water at night to help us fall asleep, relax our muscles, and calm our nerves. It’s gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, and organic. It’s also vanilla-berry flavored! You can get yours here, before it sells out again!
*Caveat. Supplements are not a quick fix. They work with your body over time to regulate your system. You might notice positive changes and think you can stop your supplement regime - this is a mistake! It’s important to take your supplements consistently to maintain the benefits they bring for your body. It’s usually not until we stop taking our supplements that we realize all the ways they were helping you to feel good.
Particularly for hormonal fluctuations associated with menopause and ovarian dysfunction, studies show that acupuncture can help increase estrogen and progesterone levels.
Depending on which hormones are out of balance, your doctor may recommend that you start taking hormonal birth control to regulate your menstrual cycle.
Another common hormonal treatment is estrogen supplementation. A low dose of estrogen, administered orally or vaginally, can help manage uncomfortable symptoms of menopause like hot flashes and vaginal dryness.
Treatment for PCOS may include anti-androgen medications, which can help manage hair loss, facial hair growth, and acne.
Be sure to discuss your particular concerns with your doctor, who is the best resource for recommending any further treatment.
As always, we are here to answer any questions you have about your hormones and how to manage them. You can reach us anytime in the chat, or you can schedule a telehealth appointment with one of our healthcare providers here.