Hormones play a key role in ensuring that our bodies function the way that they should. However, when we have too much or too little of them, it may lead to hormonal imbalance. This can have a number of negative impacts on our health and wellbeing. In this post, we take a look at some signs of hormonal imbalance and what might be causing it. We've also got some top tips for how to treat hormonal imbalance with simple lifestyle changes.February 22, 2023 6:17 pm February 22, 2023 1:00 am
What are hormones?
Before we talk about hormonal imbalance, it will be useful to have a clearer picture of exactly what hormones are. Basically, hormones are chemical messengers within our bodies. They’re produced and released into the bloodstream by glands in the endocrine system, such as the thyroid and pituitary gland. From there, they travel to organs and tissues all around the body, telling them what to do and when.
Hormones are vital for regulating almost all the processes that occur within our bodies. That includes metabolism, appetite, sleep, mood, blood sugar, growth, and reproductive cycles. So, for example, insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas that helps balance levels of glucose in the blood. And the pineal gland releases a hormone called melatonin at night to encourage sleep.
Normally, the endocrine system effectively maintains a delicate balance between all these different hormones to keep our bodies functioning healthily. However, it only takes a minor change to disrupt this. That’s when you get a hormonal imbalance.
What is a hormonal imbalance?
Not all changes in hormone levels are bad. For instance, a woman’s levels of oestrogen and progesterone naturally fluctuate every month as part of the menstrual cycle. Other hormones may vary depending on the time of day, or the stage of life you’re in.
A hormonal imbalance, on the other hand, is when you have too little or too much of a certain hormone. This can cause a series of knock-on effects in the body, depending on which specific hormones are out of balance.
We have a lot of different hormones in our bodies, and they’re responsible for a wide variety of functions. As such, the possible signs of hormonal imbalance are broad. There’s also not one single test available to diagnose a hormonal imbalance. Instead, doctors need to do blood and urine tests to check your levels of certain individual hormones. In some cases, other diagnostic tests such as ultrasounds and MRIs may be required.
What causes hormonal imbalance?
The endocrine system is extremely complex, and there’s no one underlying cause of hormonal imbalance. Depending on which gland or hormone is affected, there are many possible reasons why they might get out of balance. This includes medical conditions, environmental factors, and lifestyle habits. We’ve listed some of the most common causes of hormonal imbalance below.
Medical causes of hormonal imbalance
- Eating disorders (e.g., anorexia)
- Hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid)
- Hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid)
- Diabetes (affects the production of insulin)
- Addison’s disease (when the adrenal glands don’t produce enough cortisol and aldosterone)
- Cushing’s syndrome (abnormally high levels of cortisol)
- Cancerous and benign tumours
- Treatments for cancer, such as chemotherapy
- Some medications
- Hormone therapies and birth control pills
- Hypogonadism (low levels of sex hormones)
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Some types of injury or trauma
Hormonal imbalance is also more common during certain periods of your life. These include puberty, pregnancy, and the menopause. Similarly, women may experience temporary hormonal imbalance during different phases of the menstrual cycle.
Lifestyle causes of hormonal imbalance
- Chronic stress
- Lack of sleep
- Being overweight or obese
- Doing too much or too little exercise
- Eating a poor diet or not taking in enough nutrients
- Being exposed to toxins in the environment
- Misuse of some types of steroids
- Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
What are the signs of hormonal imbalance?
The specific hormonal imbalance symptoms a person experiences will vary depending on exactly which hormone or gland is affected. The signs of hormonal imbalance can also differ according to factors such as your gender and age. Some of the most common hormonal imbalance symptoms include:
- Weight gain
- Weight loss
- Changes in heart rate
- Night sweats
- Hot flushes
- Joint pain, stiffness, or swelling
- Muscle aches, stiffness, and tenderness
- Loss of muscle mass
- Loss of bone mass
- Increased hunger or thirst
- Decreased sex drive
- Pain during sex
- Vaginal dryness
- Erectile dysfunction
- Difficulty concentrating
- Dry skin
- Oily skin
- A puffy or rounded face
- Thinning or brittle hair
- Hair loss
- Excessive hair growth
- Blurred vision
- Trouble sleeping
- Irregular menstrual cycle or changes to your periods
- Development of breast tissue in men
As you can see, this is an extremely varied list with symptoms that have a wide range of potential causes. It also includes some contradictory symptoms, such as weight loss and weight gain. This is partly why it can be tricky to ascertain whether hormonal imbalance is behind what you’re experiencing or not.
If you suspect that you might have a hormonal imbalance, it’s best to visit a doctor so they can conduct diagnostic tests. Depending on the specific hormone that’s out of balance, they may recommend a treatment such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
However, if you’re wondering how to treat hormonal imbalance more naturally, there are some options you can try. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most effective techniques.