Hormone Imbalance In WomenFebruary 09, 2018
Hormones are vital components of our body and they dictate body shape, eating habits and even our behaviour. Hormonal harmony is required in the body to maintain a life of good health and well-being. Hormonal imbalance in the body signifies deficiencies in some hormone levels and excesses in others. This can cause health complications and also increase the risks of disease.
What are hormones and why is hormonal balance important?
Hormones are chemical messengers produced by glands to regulate our body systems and behaviours and to stabilise our chemical composition. They travel to all parts of the body through the bloodstream and then signal and stimulate action in specific cells or tissues.
The main function of these messengers is to communicate between organs and tissues. For this, there are different hormones and they all have different functions. Examples of some functions include their help with blood pressure regulation, hunger, sleep and response to stress and many more.
The majority of hormonal development is similar for men and women, however, when it comes to sex hormones, differences arise. In men, testosterone is the primary sex hormone which has a vital role in the development of reproductive tissues such as testes and prostate and in promoting development characteristics such as the growth of muscle mass and body hair. Although women also have testosterone, its functions are different. In addition to that, women also produce a number of other sex hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone, which are highly important to regulate the menstrual cycle during the reproductive age.
Causes of hormonal imbalance in women
Various reason can be attributed to hormonal imbalance in women:
- Ageing – puberty and menopause
Teenage years, which are the prime puberty period are times of high stress with the body undergoing various internal and external changes due to increased hormonal fluctuations. These lead to physiological changes in women such breast development, body hair growth, widening of hips and the beginning of menstruation. Additionally, with age, oestrogen and progesterone levels drop in a woman’s body, where progesterone diminishes at a faster rate than oestrogen. The slow declination of the latter sex hormone leads to an oestrogen dominant and imbalanced environment, causing menopausal symptoms such as fatigue, sweating and osteoporosis.
In this current fast-paced world, it is a very commonly occurring to experience stress, both physical and mental. Physiologically, this state is caused by the increased production of cortisol, the stress hormone. The body accesses the stored sex hormones of progesterone and converts it to cortisol. This process causes the progesterone levels to drop and the oestrogen-progesterone ratio to become imbalanced in the sex hormone system.
Toxins such as alcohol, chemicals and heavy metals can enter the body through not only the consumption of foods and drinks but also through medication and environmental exposure. Such exposure to toxins can affect the liver, which has the vital function of breaking down and excreting excess oestrogen. The liver, unable to carry out this function, will cause the presence of high levels of oestrogen in the body and disrupt hormonal balance.
- Unhealthy diet
Digestive issues can arise from an unhealthy diet. Issues such as diarrhoea, constipation and reflux are signs of inflammation from an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut. This inflammation stimulates parts of the brain to produce excess sex hormones in the body.
- Other factors
Hormonal imbalance can occur due to other conditions such as insufficient sleep, diabetes, pregnancy, thyroid problems and many others. This is because the human body has a very delicate chemical make-up and changes can produce health complications.
Symptoms of hormonal imbalance
Different symptoms exist for hormonal imbalance in women and they depend on the hormones in abundance or in deficiency. The most common symptoms are:
- Acne or oily skin;
- Weight gain;
- Hot flashes
- Fluid retention;
- Belly fat and loss of muscle mass;
- Low libido;
- Premenstrual syndrome mood changes;
- Breast tenderness;
- Heavy periods or very light periods depending on oestrogen-progesterone levels;
- Migraines and headaches
- Back pains;
- Vaginal dryness;
- Anxiety, depression and high levels of irritability;
- Poor sleeping patterns;
- Digestion issues;
- Consistent cravings; and
- Excessive sweating.
Multiple diagnostic methods exist for hormonal imbalance. The first step would be to book an appointment with a GP for a physical examination and for further explanation of the symptoms experienced. Depending on the symptoms, the doctor can suggest the most appropriate diagnostic test:
- Blood test
A sample of blood can be sent to an accredited laboratory for the detection of all hormones in the bloodstream. The blood test could also be used to check thyroid, oestrogen, testosterone and cortisol levels in the body.
- Pelvic exam
A Pap Smear test may be performed in the cervix to detect any unusual lumps, cysts or tumours.
An ultrasound testing, emitting sound waves, will produce images of the uterus, ovaries and thyroid glands for further examination.
- Other tests
A biopsy, MRI scan, x-ray and thyroid scan can be also performed. However, the requirement of such tests varies on a case-by-case basis.
Treatment for hormonal imbalance
Multiple treatment options exist for hormonal imbalance but they depend on what the causes of such imbalance are. Here are a few possible treatments:
Dietary intake is primordial for general health and well-being and this includes hormonal balance. A balanced diet will reduce risks of obesity and associated diseases that increase stored toxins in the body which lead to hormonal imbalance.
Physical exercise is also key to general health and well-being, including mental health. Exercise helps decreases cortisol levels, which is produced in excess during stress. This will re-create a balanced level of sex hormones.
The intake of herbal supplements such as adaptogens can improve vital body systems and glands that participate in the production of hormones.
- Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT)
BHRT uses hormones derived from plant sources, which are easily assimilated and absorbed into cells. This method of treatment could be undertaken to restore hormonal levels in the body and to protect the patient from chronic diseases and menopausal symptoms.
For more information and guidance, you can book an appointment with our GPs, Dr. Julie O’Connor and Dr. Kathy O’Sullivan, who will provide you with detailed information regarding hormonal imbalance and support you with utmost care.