Hormonal Imbalance

Symptoms of hormonal imbalance and information 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 serve as the body’s “chemical messaging” system, delivering important signals to your body through the bloodstream. Two of the most important hormones for women are estrogen and progesterone. These powerful messengers play a vital role in every woman’s health and are designed to stay in balance with each other.

Hormonal imbalance in women occurs when the body produces too much or too little of these hormones each month. This can be influenced by factors such as nutrition, lifestyle, exercise, stress, emotions, age and ovulation. Estrogen and progesterone imbalance can negatively impact your health, mood, sexual desire, fertility and more.

What are Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance?

Hormones play a critical role in your body’s health, so hormonal imbalance can impact the body in many different ways. The symptoms of hormonal imbalance vary from person to person, depending on which hormones are affected.

Women of all ages can experience hormonal imbalance, with symptoms often appearing in a woman’s late 20s through 40s. Many women also have symptoms of hormonal changes during their premenstrual cycle. The most common cause of hormone imbalance in women is polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Trained specialists such as obstetricians, gynecologists and reproductive endocrinologists specialize in diagnosing and treating hormone-related conditions.

General Signs and Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance

  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in menstruation
  • Acne
  • Increased sensitivity to hot or cold
  • Basal body temperature
  • Oily or dry skin
  • Low sex drive
  • Depression
  • Nervousness, anxiety or irritability
  • Water retention
  • Headaches
  • Thinning hair or fine, brittle hair
  • Infertility
  • Puffy face
  • Excessive hair growth
  • Sweating

Types of Hormonal Imbalance

High levels of estrogen

Estrogen levels can vary widely from woman to woman. When your body produces too much estrogen, it creates an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone levels. When the careful balance of these two hormones is disturbed, a number of health concerns can result. Although high levels of estrogen and estrogen dominance are very common, especially in women over 35, many women ignore the symptoms or consider it a normal part of aging.

Often, women of menopausal age who have high levels of estrogen mistakenly believe they are actually lacking in estrogen. This misconception leads many women to choose menopausal hormone replacement therapy, which increases estrogen levels even more.

Symptoms of high estrogen levels in women may include:

  • Bloating
  • Cramps
  • Breast swelling and tenderness
  • Fibrocystic lumps in breasts
  • Low sex drive
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Hair loss
  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Mood swings, depression and irritability
  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue or sleepiness
  • Insomnia
  • Facial hair excessive growth

Low Levels of Estrogen

Low estrogen levels are most common during menopause, but can also be caused by hysterectomy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or autoimmune disease. Low body fat can also cause low estrogen levels, which is why some elite athletes and other women who exercise intensely can experience low estrogen levels. This type of hormonal imbalance can cause symptoms including:

  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Depression
  • Headaches or worsening pre-existing migraines
  • Breast tenderness
  • Mood swings
  • Low self-esteem
  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Memory lapses
  • Irregular or absent periods
  • Joint pain
  • Painful sex due to lack of vagina lubrication
  • Low sex drive
  • Vaginal infection
  • Arthritis
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks

High Levels of Progesterone

Progesterone is one of the most important hormones produced by the female body. Naturally secreted by the ovaries during menstruation, progesterone plays a key role in stimulating and regulating various functions within the body. It is also responsible for the production of additional hormones such as estrogen and cortisone. Progesterone hormone imbalance symptoms can be caused by too much progesterone or by low progesterone levels.

Symptoms of too much progesterone can be caused by birth control pills or menopausal hormone replacement therapy. High levels of progesterone can decrease menstruation levels or cease periods entirely by reversing estrogen’s effect on the growth of the uterine lining.

Symptoms of too much progesterone may include:

  • Feeling bloated
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Breast tenderness
  • Mood swings
  • Dizziness
  • Susceptibility to yeast infections

Low Levels of Progesterone

Low progesterone levels are also a problematic type of hormonal imbalance. Low levels of progesterone can be caused by many factors, including excess estrogen, resistance to insulin present in the body, chronic stress, eating a sugar-laden diet, insufficient exercise and certain medications.

Symptoms of low progesterone levels may include:

  • Infertility
  • Thyroid dysfunction or disorders
  • Depression
  • Weight gain
  • Low blood sugar
  • Panic attacks
  • Water retention
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Blood clots during menstruation
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Breast tenderness

High Levels of Androgens

Another type of hormonal imbalance involves hormones called androgens. One of the primary purposes of androgens is to be converted into estrogen. Androgens influence and regulate the function of many body systems before, during and after menopause, including the reproductive tract, kidneys, liver, bones and muscle. Androgens also affect sex drive and sexual pleasure.

Excessively high androgens can disrupt the healthy functioning of many parts of the body. High levels of androgens, left untreated, can lead to serious health consequences such as insulin resistance, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Symptoms of high androgens levels may include:

  • Acne
  • Hirsutism (excess hair growth in "inappropriate" places, like the chin or upper lip)
  • Thinning hair
  • 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 problematic as well. Low androgens may affect women at any age, but are most common during the transition to menopause, called perimenopause. Conditions that may lead to low androgens include hypothalamic amenorrhea (absence of menstrual periods due to excessive dieting and exercising) and hyperprolactinemia (characterized by high levels of prolactin, the hormone that drives milk production when a woman breastfeeds). Low androgen levels have also been linked to bone loss and osteoporosis.

Symptoms of low androgen levels 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. 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 and progesterone.
  • 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 are low while the stress hormones are high. In addition, the thyroid and growth hormones are also considerably affected. These conditions can lead to the absence of a menstrual period.
  • Ovulation disorders - These types of disorders are caused by high levels of androgens or prolactin. Androgen levels are responsible for the development of pubic hair and sex drive.

Hormonal Imbalance and Birth Control Pills

Some women may experience hormonal imbalance symptoms from taking birth control pills, or if they stop taking them after long-term 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.

In addition, synthetic hormones alter the menstrual cycle, so women taking birth control pills aren't making their own estrogen, progesterone or testosterone. 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. Restoring severe hormonal imbalance in women after birth control pills can take weeks or months, sometimes years.

Help for Hormonal Imbalance

Hormonal balance is essential for good health and immunity. Depending on the type of hormonal imbalance, a proper diagnosis should be established to determine the best hormonal imbalance treatment options. A holistic and healthy lifestyle, which includes diet, exercise, sleep, and stress reduction, can benefit most everyone.

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 boost overall health, including the regulation of hormone production. Herbal supplements such as Dong Quai may provide help create a balance within female hormone levels.

 

 
The content provided is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you have a health condition, please consult a medical professional and do not use this information to self-diagnose or self-treat.
Reviewed by Master Herbalist, Mary Ellen Kosanke

References:

  1. Ginta, Daniela. “What Are the Symptoms of Low Estrogen in Women and How are They Treated?” Healthline. Accessed January 28, 2019. https://www.healthline.com/health/womens-health/low-estrogen-symptoms

  2. Holland, K. & Cruickshank, H. “Signs and Symptoms of High Estrogen in Women.” Healthline. Accessed January 20, 2019. https://www.healthline.com/health/high-estrogen#symptoms-in-women

  3. O’Keefe Osborn, Corinne. “Everything You Should Know About Hormone Imbalance.” Healthline. Accessed January 21, 2019. https://www.healthline.com/health/hormonal-imbalance#symptoms.

  4. “What is PCOS?” WedMD. Accessed January 21, 2019. https://www.webmd.com/women/what-is-pcos

  5. “Estrogen and Women’s Emotions”. WebMD. Accessed January 22, 2019.  https://www.webmd.com/women/guide/estrogen-and-womens-emotions#1 

  6.  “About Hormone Imbalance.” Women in Balance. Accessed January 28, 2019. https://womeninbalance.org/about-hormone-imbalance/

  7. “Hormone Imbalance and Restoration.” Women in Balance. Accessed January 28, 2019. https://womeninbalance.org/about-hormone-imbalance/hormone-imbalance-restoration/