Women and Hormonal Imbalance
Hormones are chemicals made in the endocrine glands, which then act as messengers all over the body, controlling different bodily processes. They regulate issues like metabolism, reproduction, and mood.
When the levels of the hormones fluctuate and there’s too much or too little of one or more, this causes an imbalance. Hormonal imbalance in women tends to happen with growth hormones, adrenaline, steroid hormones, insulin, progesterone, or estrogen.
Although this could occur at any time, there are some particular stages where women are more likely to have hormonal shifts. This includes puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause. Some of the most common hormonal imbalance symptoms include fatigue, insomnia, and weight gain.
Symptoms vary during the stages mentioned, based on the hormones that are affected and the degree. For example, hormonal imbalance during menopause can cause mood swings, hot flashes, night sweats, low libido, vaginal dryness, and brain fog. An article in Obstetrics and Gynecology discussed the management of menopause symptoms.
Additionally, hormonal imbalance in women can occur throughout the lifespan for various reasons such as digestive health, aging, stress, a medical problem, or inflammation in the body. If you think you may have an issue, seek medical care. An imbalance in hormones can lead to other medical problems.
Why Does Hormonal Imbalance Develop?
In addition to life stages like puberty and menopause, there are various other causes for hormonal imbalance in women. Some are based on medical problems, while others relate to lifestyle issues.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
This condition is a common cause of hormonal imbalance in women of reproductive age. PCOS is characterized by high levels of male hormones called androgens. This condition can cause the ovaries to release eggs less often and make it difficult to get pregnant.
It can increase the chances of developing medical conditions like diabetes, obesity, or heart disease. Also, it leads to hormonal imbalance symptoms like additional body hair or sometimes no hair. The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but the symptoms can sometimes be resolved with birth control pills (, ).
High levels of stress can cause dysregulated hormones in a woman’s body, such as the cortisol excreted by the adrenal glands. According to the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, cortisol levels can increase 2 to 5 times under extreme stress. This can cause health problems like weight gain, high blood pressure, or osteoporosis.
Moreover, insulin levels can decrease during stressful periods, which could lead to hyperglycemia. Other hormones that can fluctuate under these conditions include growth hormones, prolactin, thyroid hormones, vasopressin, and catecholamines .
Hormones that affect our appetite and metabolism include leptin, growth hormone, insulin, androgen, and estrogens. Being overweight can cause a hormonal imbalance in one or more of these chemicals as your body works to hold onto your stored fat .
People who are obese have high levels of leptin. This usually suppresses appetite, but in people who are overweight, it makes them eat more .
Being overweight or obese can also cause overproduction of insulin and insulin resistance, where your cells stop responding to insulin. When this occurs in young women, it can lead to polycystic ovarian syndrome . This can eventually cause conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and infertility.
Diabetes mellitus is a disorder in the regulation of fats, carbohydrates, and protein. Several hormones are involved in this process and can become dysregulated. In particular, it involves a drop in insulin levels. Diabetes may be one aspect of a more complex endocrine disorder, which involves dysregulation of several hormones .
Chemotherapy can lead to hormone imbalance in women. It could initiate menopause or lead to symptoms related to menopause like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, or irregular periods . Besides, hormone therapy like radiation, drug therapy, or removal of a gland can cause an imbalance in hormones .
Abusing drugs and alcohol can cause a hormonal imbalance in women. A review published in Endocrinology and Metabolism Clinics of North America noted that excessive and chronic alcohol consumption can have a serious impact on the endocrine system.
Drugs can lead to the release of certain hormones, like dopamine, endorphins, adrenalin, and serotonin. They can also override the normal hormone production in the body, leading to shifts in female hormone levels like estrogen and progesterone .
Certain injuries can lead to a hormonal imbalance in women, such a brain trauma. If there’s damage to the hypothalamus or pituitary glands there could be hormonal shifts, as they play such an important role in hormone regulation. Even a concussion can lead to dysregulation .
Also, any serious injury can cause the release of the stress hormone cortisol. As a result, insulin levels can decrease. There may also be changes in growth hormones, catecholamines, and vasopressin .
Indications of Hormonal Imbalance
There are numerous and varied hormonal imbalance symptoms which can occur. Some of the most common are as follows:
1. Irregular Periods
Skipping or having late periods is a sign of a hormonal imbalance in women. Irregular periods are caused by a shift in progesterone and estrogen and may be associated with menopause. However, menstrual irregularities may also occur for medical reasons, like polycystic ovarian syndrome. See a physician if you’re experiencing irregular periods .
2. Gastrointestinal Issues
Hormonal imbalance before menstruation and after may lead to bloating, nausea, diarrhea, and stomach pain. The imbalance is primarily due to the changes in levels of estrogen and progesterone. This condition can affect your gut bacteria . If you have irritable bowel disease or inflammatory bowel, your symptoms will most likely worsen during menstruation.
3. Sleep Problems
Particularly during the menopause years, hormonal shifts in estrogen and progesterone can cause difficulty sleeping. Sleep problems are mostly due to a dysregulation in the endocrine and central nervous system, which causes difficulty with your sleep-wake cycle .
Hormonal imbalance symptoms like night sweats can further impair sleep by leading to discomfort and frequent waking during the night. A review in Nursing for Women’s Health examined the problems with sleep disturbance during menopause.
Acne that won’t go away or keeps cropping up can be a sign of a hormonal imbalance. It often happens in and around your period, but hormones aren’t usually the primary cause of adult acne. However, they do play a role . Too high levels of androgens can cause overproduction in the oil glands. They can also impact the skin, clogging pores, and creating or worsening acne.
Hormonal imbalance symptoms often include a feeling of exhaustion. Rather than regular tiredness, this is a weariness that doesn’t seem to go away even if you’re sleeping well. Fatigue could be a result of high levels of progesterone, a shortage of thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism), or adrenal fatigue (, ).
6. Mood Swings
Changes in hormonal levels can lead to mood issues like depression and anxiety. Women are particularly at risk during menstruation, pregnancy, after pregnancy, or during perimenopause and menopause when estrogen fluctuates. Low levels of estrogen and progesterone are most likely to lead to these symptoms because they influence neurotransmitters like serotonin, which relate to mood ).
7. Weight Gain
During menopause and perimenopause, a drop in estrogen levels can lead your body to store visceral fat in areas like your hips and thighs. This leads to weight gain. A decrease in estrogen can also lower levels of leptin, a hormone that tells your body when it’s full. This causes you to overeat and gain weight.
Furthermore, high levels of stress can cause an increase in cortisol. This leads to weight gain because it puts your body in a ‘fight or flight mode’ where it’s anticipating danger. Therefore, the body stores fat to ensure it will have the energy.
8. Memory Issues
Memory difficulties and brain fog are common hormonal imbalance symptoms, particularly during perimenopause and menopause. These issues occur due to shifts in levels of estrogen and progesterone, which impact neurotransmitters related to learning and memory. Memory difficulties could also be due to a thyroid condition.
If you’ve been diagnosed with a hormonal issue, there are several hormonal imbalance treatment methods, which you can discuss with your physician.
1. Systemic Estrogen Therapy
Menopausal women often get estrogen therapy to replace levels and eliminate some uncomfortable symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and other common problems. Systemic hormone therapy involves absorbing a fairly high dose of estrogen through a pill, skin patch, gel, ring, foam, or cream .
2. Low Dose Estrogen
There are products available in cream, tablet, or ring, which deliver a low dose of estrogen into your system. This is for women who want less estrogen to be absorbed. This method is less effective for treating most menopause issues, but it can improve urinary symptoms and vaginal dryness .
3. Anti-Androgen Medications
Women who have high levels of androgens, like testosterone, often develop characteristics such as facial hair, hair loss, and acne. Some medications can block the effects of androgens by binding to androgen receptors. This prevents the androgen from connecting to the same receptors, lowering overall levels .
4. Birth Control
Birth control is a hormone imbalance treatment, which is often used to regulate menstrual cycles. It contains estrogen and/or progesterone, which evens out hormone levels in the body. Moreover, it can greatly diminish or eliminate cramps, extra body hair, acne, and PMS .
5. Natural Supplements
There are several natural products on the market for women that claim to balance out hormones in the body. They use ingredients, which contain phytoestrogens, plant-based hormones that help raise levels and eliminate symptoms. Many products are effective at decreasing menopause issues like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, and night sweats.
6. Vaniqa/Eflornithine Cream
This is a prescription cream designed specifically to treat the symptom of excess facial hair in women due to imbalanced hormones. It is not a hair removal cream, but rather, it functions by slowing the growth of the hair on the face and under the chin. It works by blocking an enzyme, which is essential for hair growth .
7. Hormone Therapy for Thyroid
Hypothyroidism is a disorder involving an underactive thyroid. It is a condition wherein the body doesn’t produce enough of the required hormones in the body. Several synthetic hormones are used to treat this condition, most notably levothyroxine. It functions by providing the missing hormones that your thyroid is not making .
8. Lifestyle Changes
In addition to medicinal treatments, there are some lifestyle methods you can use to balance hormones naturally.
Staying at a healthy weight can help prevent hormonal imbalance symptoms. Include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in your diet as they increase leptin, which induces a feeling of fullness .
Another way to balance hormones naturally is to follow a healthy, nutritious diet high in protein and healthy fats, and low in carbohydrates and sugar. Avoid foods that can trigger hormones, like hot and spicy dishes.
There’s some evidence that yoga can function as a hormonal imbalance treatment, eliminating some of the symptoms associated with menopause. A systematic review of the research in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that it was effective at treating the psychological problems associated with menopause.
The Final Word
Hormonal imbalance in women is an issue that occurs throughout our lifespan for various reasons. The life stages of puberty, menstruation, perimenopause, and menopause, in particular, lead to shifts in hormones that may cause unpleasant symptoms. These could include weight gain, hot flashes, sleeping difficulties, memory problems, digestive problems, and others.
Fortunately, there are several options available for hormone imbalance treatment as well as treatment of the individual symptoms. Some of these include estrogen therapy, anti-androgen medications, and birth control pills.
For women who want to balance hormones naturally, some lifestyle methods can help. The market has numerous organic supplements on offer, many of which work very well. Most of them contain natural estrogens that help balance the hormones.
In addition to all these, losing weight, eating a healthy diet rich in healthy fats and protein, and avoiding sugar and processed foods are all ways to balance hormones naturally.
Finally, decide on your hormone imbalance treatment along with your doctor. Make an appointment and figure out a plan to get your hormones back into alignment.