Understanding Hormone Imbalances
Hormone imbalances are often associated with perimenopause, menopause, thyroid disorders, menstrual irregularities, insulin resistance/blood sugar imbalances, adrenal insufficiency and andropause (in men). If you are feeling a little off lately, it maybe due to a hormone imbalance.
Some symptoms of hormone imbalance may be insomnia, hot flashes, palpitations, menstrual irregularities, vaginal dryness, hair thinning, weight changes, constipation or loose stools, mind fog, depression, irritability, decreased libido, PMS, cold or hot intolerance, and fatigue. It is important to evaluate all the symptoms and obtain the proper testing to find the source of the imbalance.
Hormones are derived from cholesterol, proteins, amino acids and fatty acids. The reproductive organs (ovaries, testes), adrenal glands, pancreas, thyroid, parathyroid, hypothalamus, pituitary, liver and pineal gland are all responsible for producing and maintaining the proper balance of hormones in the body. Many endocrine organs depend on the proper functioning of the other endocrine organs. For example, an underactive thyroid often will put stress on the ovaries or testes causing fertility problems. The reproductive organs rely upon the proper stimulation from the thyroid in order to maintain a proper estrogen/ progesterone balance, hence sex drive or fertility becomes a problem. The endocrine system is a complex system with a little fine tuning it can be back in balance. It is important to test hormones via saliva testing or by blood serum levels.
Perimenopause and Menopause
The one of the most common hormone imbalance is associated with perimenopause and menopause. By 2015 50% of the US population will be menopausal. In the years leading up to menopause (perimenopause), menstrual cycles may become irregular and may also be heavier or lighter than usual. They may become erratic due to the fluctuations of highs and lows of estrogen and progesterone several times a day. During this time women may become more emotional; they feel like they are on a rollercoaster.
Once a woman has made the transition to menopause (12 months without a period) estrogen levels have dropped to 60% and progesterone drops to nearly zero. This situation creates an imbalance in the estrogen/ progesterone balance resulting in an estrogen dominance common in menopause. Even though the most likely imbalance is due to both low estrogen and progesterone.
Many women in perimenopause do well by making a change in their diet, exercise, botanicals, and possibly adrenal support. Treatment should be individualized since everyone is different. It is essential to get a base level of the hormones estradiol, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA and Cortisol by a saliva test. Once the baseline has been established, then use of diet, exercise, herbal formulas and Natural Hormone Replacement (NHRT) may be necessary.
Estrogen dominance is a problem in some people which may contribute to some cancers and other conditions. We are constantly exposed to environmental estrogens (xenoestrogens) from air, food, water, pesticides, and plastics.
Some Symptoms of Estrogen dominance in Women: PMS, breast tenderness or swelling, fibroids, Breast Cancer, Uterine Cancer, Weight gain (waist, hips and thighs), acne, Swollen belly or limbs, water retention, craving sweets, increased aging, decreased libido, depression, dry eyes, fatigue, hypoglycemia, memory loss, PCOS, bloating, gallstones.
Estrogen dominance in Men: BPH, Prostate Cancer, erectile dysfunction, depression, irritability, fatigue.
Estrogen Insufficiency is most commonly associated with perimenopausal and menopausal women.
Some symptoms of Estrogen deficiency are: Hot flashes, night sweats, lethargy, fatigue, memory loss, loss of libido, vaginal dryness, recurrent UTI’s, irritability, anxiety, headaches, joint stiffness, weight gain, thin hair and skin aging.
Progesterone plays a role in maintaining and calming the nervous system. It has protective qualities for the brain. It stimulates the new formation of bone. It is a natural anti-depressant; it restores a normal sleep pattern. It can normalize blood sugar levels and reduces cravings for sweets/carbohydrates. It is also responsible for maintaining a normal menstrual cycle along with estrogen, FSH, and LH.
Some symptoms of Progesterone Insufficiency are: Anxiety, depression, stressed, weight gain (hips, waist, thighs), mood swings, irritability, fibrocystic breasts, irregular periods (spotting), PMS, bloating, candida exacerbations, headaches, sleep disturbances, endometriosis.
Stress plays a huge role in affecting hormone imbalance. Cortisol, norepinepherine and epinepherine are produced by the Adrenal glands. In times of stress, cortisol is released promoting a fight or flight response. If a prolonged period of stress occurs, the adrenals become exhausted and in extreme cases cortisol may not be released. The adrenal glands strongly depend on the functions thyroid, liver, pituitary and reproductive organs.
Androgen Insufficiency (Low Testosterone and DHEA)
Testosterone and DHEA are released from the testes or ovaries and the adrenal glands. Both hormones help to regulate the sexual response, define muscle mass and important in brain function.
Symptoms of low Testosterone or DHEA are: Decreased libido, depression, osteoporosis, BPH, Prostatitis, increased aging, Andropause in men, memory loss, increase in coronary artery disease risk and Myocardial infarction risk.
In some menopausal women, their ovaries over produce testosterone and under produce estrogen and progesterone. Women who have PCOS also have excess androgens which interfere with ovulation and can cause fertility problems.
Some symptoms of Androgen excess are: Acne, hair thinning, increase in hair of the face, chest or below the naval, middle weight gain (spare tire or pear shape figure), and may have male pattern baldness
Thyroid problems are very common in today’s society. The thyroid cannot function by itself; it works in conjunction with other endocrine organs like the adrenals, pituitary, pancreas, liver and reproductive organs. The thyroid is required to work harder if the other organs such as the liver or adrenal glands have been overworked or overstimulated by stress, food allergies, poor diet and lack of sleep. Thyroid function is evaluated by blood levels of serum thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), Free T4 or T3 (Thyroid hormones) and thyroid antibodies.
Symptoms of low thyroid function are: Fatigue, constipation, hair thinning, dry skin, weight gain, cold hands and feet, depression, slowed sensory reactions, menstrual irregularities, muscle cramps, puffy face and hands and fertility problems.
Symptoms of Overactive Thyroid: Goiter (swelling of the thyroid), nervousness, palpitations, anxiety, diarrhea, easy fatigability, intolerance to heat, excessive sweating, restlessness, insomnia and weight loss