Hormonal Imbalance

Symptoms of hormonal imbalance and information on balancing estrogen levels

symptoms of hormonal imbalance - info on balancing estrogen levels

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  1. What is Hormonal Imbalance?
  2. Diagnosing Hormonal Imbalance
  3. What Causes Hormonal Imbalance?
  4. Help for Hormonal Imbalance
  5. More Information on Hormonal Imbalance

What is Hormonal Imbalance?

Hormones play a vital role in every woman’s health and well-being. Very often when women are in a bad mood, you will find that they, or their partners, blame it on their hormones. When hormone levels fluctuate, this can affect your mood, sexual desire, fertility and ovulation. In other words, the imbalance of hormones may impact negatively on how your reproductive system responds.

Every month, the female hormones estrogen and progesterone are produced. When estrogen and progesterone levels do not balance, this may have a dramatic effect on your health. The gonadotrophin releasing hormone, also affects the functioning of the hypothalamus which in turn affects the pituitary gland, which then affects the ovaries, fallopian tubes and uterus.

The imbalance of estrogen hormones can also cause menopause and all the symptoms associated with it. These hormones are influenced by certain factors such as nutrition, diet, lifestyle, exercise, stress, emotions, age and ovulation.

Diagnosing Hormonal Imbalance

There are trained specialists such as obstetricians, gynecologists and reproductive endocrinologists who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of hormonal imbalance and abnormalities.

Treatment options depend on the individual’s overall health, the type of hormonal imbalance and the severity of the fertility condition. For instance, a diet that is low in fat and high in fiber may be recommended. In addition, those who are suffering from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) may be treated with ovulation medications such as clomiphene (Clomid) while estrogen cream may be prescribed for cervical mucus irregularities.

Women of all ages may experience hormonal imbalances, often with symptoms becoming evident in their late twenties and throughout their forties. Many women also experience symptoms of hormonal changes during their premenstrual cycle.

General Signs and Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance
  • Changes in menstruation
  • Acne
  • Basal body temperature
  • Oily skin
  • Excessive hair growth
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Allergy symptoms
  • Anxiety
  • Low sex drive
  • Headaches
  • Weight gain
  • Depression
  • Endometriosis
  • Water retention
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Urinary tract infections (UTI’s)

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Types of Hormonal Imbalance

High Levels of Estrogen

High levels of estrogen are very common in women, especially in women over 35, yet most ignore and try to live with the problem because they attribute it as part of their menstrual cycle or aging.

In addition, many women of menopausal age believe they are actually lacking in estrogen, and this misconception has led many women to engage in hormone replacement therapy. However, this additional estrogen only exacerbates the problem further, complicating health even more.

Women who are overweight, have high blood pressure or diabetes, take estrogen-containing drugs or are in certain stages of pregnancy may also be suffering from excess estrogen. This condition is also referred to ‘estrogen dominance’, because while some women may have surges of estrogen, it is often the imbalance between the normal hormones levels in the body, progesterone and estrogen, where the problems most occur.

Symptoms of high levels of estrogen may include:

  • PMS
  • Migraines
  • Mood swings, feeling easily angered
  • Cramps
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Depression
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Feeling fatigued or lethargic
  • Osteoporosis
  • Insomnia
  • Allergies
  • Memory loss
  • Skin problems such as acne, psoriasis, or a red flushed appearance
  • Breast sore, tender, and/or enlarged
  • Miscarriage
  • Low sex drive
  • High blood pressure
  • Facial hair – excessive growth
  • Inflammation
  • Hot flashes
  • Thinning hair or excessive loss
  • Irregular periods
Low Levels of Estrogen

While most common during menopause, women can experience low estrogen levels if they undergo a hysterectomy, have chemotherapy or radiation therapy, or have an autoimmune disease. Women with very low body fat, often due to excessive exercise, may also experience low estrogen levels.

Mood is greatly influenced, as hormones decrease the onset of an enzyme called monoamine oxidase (MAO), destroying neurotransmitters that greatly effect mood and emotions, including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Neurotransmitter fluctuations can have an effect on thinking, digestion, sleeping, eating, pain levels, and can lead to onset of disease and mental health disorders.

In addition, low estrogen levels can adversely affect the vagina, causing thinning of the walls and dryness, which can lead to painful sex. The lining of the urethra also thins, leaving the body susceptible to infections like UTIs.

Symptoms of low estrogen may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Memory lapses
  • Difficult concentrating
  • Joint pain
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Dry skin (which can lead to premature aging, wrinkles, and brown age spots)
  • Loss of libido
  • Artherosclerosis
  • Headaches/migraines
  • Vaginal infection
  • Arthritis
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Low self esteem
High Levels of Progesterone

A hormone naturally secreted by the ovary during the menstruation cycle, progesterone levels can become raised by birth control pills or menopausal hormone replacement therapy. Excessive progesterone can lead to fatigue and even sedation. It also promotes vaginal dryness, and can also decrease the amount of menstruation or cease it entirely by reversing estrogen’s effect on the growth of the uterine lining.

Symptoms of high progesterone may include:

  • Breast tenderness
  • Feeling bloated
  • Mood swings
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Dizziness
  • Susceptibility to yeast infections
  • Functional estrogen deficiency
Low Levels of Progesterone

Progesterone is one of the most important hormones produced by the female body. It plays a critical role in stimulating and regulating various functions within the body. Progesterone is a fundamental hormone that is also responsible for the production of additional hormones such as estrogen and cortisone.

There could be many possibilities that could cause the progesterone levels to fall. Some prominent factors include excess estrogen, resistance to insulin present in the body, chronic stress, sugar-laden diet, insufficient exercise and certain medications.

Symptoms of low progesterone may include:

  • Infertility
  • Thyroid dysfunction or disorders
  • Depression
  • Fibrocystic breasts
  • Weight gain
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Low blood sugar
  • Panic attacks
  • Water retention
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Blood clots during menstruation
  • Magnesium deficiency
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Breast tenderness
High Levels of Androgens

In a woman's body, one of the main purposes of the androgens is to be converted into the female hormones called estrogens. These hormones influence and regulate the function of many organs, including the reproductive tract, bone, kidneys, liver and muscle before, during and after menopause. Androgens also affect libido and sexual pleasure. However, excessive androgens can pose a problem and disrupt the healthy functioning of many of these bodily systems.

Left untreated, high levels of androgens can lead to serious health consequences, such as insulin resistance, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Symptoms of high androgens may include:

  • Acne
  • Hirsutism (excess hair growth in "inappropriate" places, like the chin or upper lip)
  • Thinning hair
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Irregular or absent menstrual periods
  • Infertility
  • Low HDL cholesterol ("good cholesterol") and high LDL cholesterol ("bad cholesterol")
  • Obesity around the abdomen
Low Levels of Androgens

Low androgen levels can be a problematic as well, and may affect women at any age, but most commonly occurs during the transition to menopause, or perimenopause. Associated conditions which may lead to low androgens include hypothalamic amenorrhea (absence of menstrual periods resulting from excessive dieting and exercising) and hyperprolactinemia (characterized by high levels of prolactin, the hormone that drives milk production when a woman breastfeeds).

Rarely, pituitary gland tumors also can affect low production of testosterone (as well as other hormones). Low androgen levels also have been linked to bone loss and osteoporosis.

Symptoms of low androgens may include:

  • Low libido
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced sense of well-being
  • Vaginal dryness

What Causes Hormonal Imbalance?

Hormonal Imbalance and Menstrual Cycle

Many factors can disrupt hormonal balance and a normal menstrual cycle. Birth control pills, stress, and many other conditions may be to blame. Drug use, reliance on stimulants like caffeine and alcohol, and even poor nutrition seems to physically change the proteins in the brain so they can no longer send the proper signals for normal ovulation.

Other factors which can disrupt hormonal balance and menstruation include:

  • Adrenal Exhaustion - The adrenal glands contribute to about 35 percent of premenopausal female hormones and almost 50 percent of postmenopausal hormones. Therefore, compromised adrenal function profoundly affects hormonal balance. When we are under stress, regardless of the source (danger, personal relationships, work, environment) our adrenal glands are designed to secrete the hormone cortisol, which has a direct impact on the sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and DHEA.
  • Eating disorders - While hormonal changes do not cause eating disorders, an imbalance in hormones can occur in severe eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia. When an eating disorder occurs, the reproductive hormones which include estrogen and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) are low while the stress hormones are high. In addition, the thyroid and growth hormones are also considerably affected. These conditions can lead to amenorrhœa, or the absence of a menstrual period.
  • Ovulation disorders - These types of disorders are caused by high levels of androgens (male sex hormones) or prolactin. Androgen levels promote the male sex characteristics and are responsible for the development of pubic hair and sex drive ( libido) .
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) - This condition is caused by abnormally high levels of male hormone, which in turn results in high levels of luteinizing hormones as well as low levels of follicle stimulating hormones (FSH).
  • Abnormal cervical mucus - Irregularities related to cervical mucus include mucus that is too thick to allow sperm penetration even during ovulation or insufficient cervical mucus production in the cervical glands.
Hormonal Imbalance and Post Partum

As it is common for hormone levels to be off balance after pregnancy, many women experience emotional and physical disturbances, most commonly postpartum depression. Postpartum affects approximately 13% of new mothers and if left untreated, can have detrimental consequences on health.

Affecting 5%-7% of women who give birth is the condition postpartum thyroiditis, a painless inflammation of the thyroid gland that can occur in the mother about 2-6 following childbirth.

Symptoms may resemble an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), including rapid heartbeat, sudden and unexplained weight loss, nervousness, fatigue, and increased sensitivity to heat. The condition may then turn to symptoms of underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), which may include unexplained weight gain, hoarse voice, constipation, puffy face, fatigue and increased sensitivity to cold. Blood tests can confirm diagnosis.

In most women, thyroid function returns to normal, in varying time frames from a month to several years. However, some women develop lasting thyroid conditions and require long-term treatment.

Hormonal Imbalance and Birth Control Pills

Some women may experience hormonal imbalance from taking birth control pills, or if they choose to stop taking them after chronic use.

Women on birth control pills tend to have very low testosterone levels, since the majority of the natural hormones in the blood are inactivated by serum hormone binding globulin (SHBG), which not only absorbs testosterone, but is also one of the body’s main hormone regulating mechanisms. It makes sense that pills that disrupt this cycle can have adverse effects on health.

In addition, synthetic hormones alter the menstrual cycle, so women taking birth control pills aren't making their own estrogen, progesterone or testosterone, or ovulating. Over time, suppressing the brain from making its own chemicals can lead to a permanent loss of hormone functioning. Some women who go off birth control pills can be extremely hormone deficient for weeks or months, sometimes years.

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Other Causes of Hormonal Imbalance

Hormonal imbalance can clearly have many effects on health, and can even lead to female infertility. Some other causes of hormonal imbalance include:

  • Glandular problems - Primary glands such as the hypothalamus, thyroid and pituitary glands are responsible for the production of reproductive hormones. They send signals during reproductive processes that cause various levels of hormone production. When hormonal abnormalities occur in these glands, fertility problems in women may occur. The primary glands may be affected by a wide range of underlying conditions such as weight changes, stress, medication, birth control pills and medical disorders such as hypothyroidism and tumors.
  • Premature menopause - Premature menopause is also known as premature ovarian failure. It occurs when women under the age of 40 lack hormones required for ovulation and menstruation as a result of a depleted supply of eggs.
  • High insulin levels
  • Painkillers
  • Environmental chemicals (pesticides and hormones) in our food, water and air. From plastics, pesticides, and other poisons found in common household items, these foreign substances mimic estrogen once they enter the body.
  • HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy)
  • Candida - A Candida waste product produces a false estrogen, which tricks the body into thinking it has produced adequate levels, signaling a reduction of its own estrogen. Similar messages can also be sent to the thyroid, reducing thyroxin production and initiating or worsening a hypothyroid problem.
  • Prolonged stress. The body is designed to cope with stress by producing its own stress-fighting hormones. However, chronic stress disrupts this natural process, leading to compromised production of female hormones and multitude of symptoms including irritability, mood swings, headaches, sleeplessness, and weight gain.

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Help for Hormonal Imbalance

Hormonal balance is essential for good health and immunity. There are also more natural, gentler ways to treat the symptoms of hormonal imbalance which are still effective and improve your overall health,  helping to restore balance to hormonal levels.

Depending on the type of hormonal imbalance, a proper diagnosis must be established to determine the best treatment options to correct it. However, most everyone can benefit from the benefits of a holistic and healthy lifestyle, which includes diet, exercise, sleep, and stress reduction.

The liver is responsible for eliminating excess hormones (e.g. in the case of estrogen dominance). In addition, estrogen-mimicking chemicals found in many products and in the environment would also be eliminated by the liver. Therefore, supporting the liver is an important and essential part of treating hormonal imbalance.

More Information on Hormonal Imbalance

If you think you are suffering from hormonal imbalance, speak to your doctor right away. He will make a proper diagnosis and provide you with treatment options for your specific condition.

A healthy and balanced diet is crucial for hormonal health and overall systemic balance. Make sure to reduce overly processed foods, especially refined sugars. Eating wholesome organic foods with plenty of fruits and vegetables will help your overall health, including the regulation of hormone production.

More Tips

While we can do our best to reduce stress and partake in healthy lifestyle, avoiding environmental/external causes of hormones are more difficult, as they are present in many household items. Reduce stress in any way possible, such as yoga, painting, meditation, etc. and be sure to get enough exercise and sleep.

Be sure to avoid in particular:

  • Anti-aging creams containing lactic, glycolic, AHA, and BHA acids
  • Hair dyes containing ammonia, peroxide, p-phenylenediamine, diaminobenzene; all dark permanent hair dyes
  • Liquid hand soaps containing triclosan
  • Nail polish and removers containing formaldehyde
  • Skin lighteners containing hydroquinone
  • Excessive fragrance and dyes
  • Anything with parabens or "-paraben

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Diet Information
  • Avoid high-fat and highly processed foods. Hot dogs, pre-packaged meats, cookies, frozen dinners and most packaged white breads are processed foods that contain chemicals that adversely affect hormones levels.
  • Increase your fiber to 30 grams day to flush out your system.
  • Drink plenty of water and minimize consumption of caffeine, sugars, and alcohol.
  • Consume a natural, organic, and whole foods diet (raw fruit, vegetables and whole grains) as often as possible, since they are free of pesticides.
  • Include fish in your diet about three times a week, as it contains DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), a vital hormone that influences the reproduction process and brain functioning. Salmon, tuna and mackerel are all good sources. If you don't like fish, use a fish oil supplement instead.
  • Opt for natural, hormone-free dairy products and avoid milk and other dairy products that are derived from animals fed antibiotics and artificial growth hormones to increase production.

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