As women, we know when things just aren’t quite right. We may find that we’re gaining weight like crazy, dealing with adult acne, and experiencing excessive hair loss for the first time. We’re always tired and just don’t feel like ourselves. We might have a hunch that “it’s a hormone thing,” but what can we do about it? And what’s causing this to happen?

What Are Hormones?

Hormones are chemical messengers that help keep you in balance. They are released by endocrine glands throughout the body and collaborate with the nervous system to serve as a communication network. After their release from the various glands, they travel throughout the body via the bloodstream. Then they latch on to receptor sites on their target cells.

The main female hormones are estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen is not a single hormone! It’s a group of hormones that are mainly produced by the ovaries and include estradiol (the major estrogen), estrone, and estriol. Progesterone is a hormone that works with estrogen to keep it in balance; it keeps estrogen from getting out of control.

Other hormones include thyroid hormones, parathyroid hormone, androgens (male hormones), insulin, leptin, ghrelin (hunger hormones), aldosterone, glucagon. There’s a whole variety of brain hormones that come from the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. These hormones interact with each other and the rest of the body like the gears inside a Swiss watch. If one is working too hard, not hard enough, or isn’t working at all, it affects everything around it.

What is a Hormonal Imbalance in Women?

When women have a hormonal imbalance, it can be due to one or more of three different scenarios:

Production Issues

The first scenario is the inability to produce adequate amounts of hormone. This can happen if you don’t have enough constituents or building blocks for making them. One of these building blocks is cholesterol from dietary fats. Think a low cholesterol diet is a good thing? Think again! The body uses cholesterol to make pregnenolone, which is then converted into progesterone, estrogen, or testosterone. Without enough cholesterol, the production of these hormones goes down.

There might also be a communication problem; for example, when the pituitary gland does not signal the adrenal glands to make cortisol, leading to a condition of adrenal insufficiency.

Conversion Issues

Another scenario is the inability to properly convert hormones, taking them down the right pathway. An example of this occurs with thyroid hormones. The thyroid produces a hormone called thyroxine (T4), which needs to be converted into the active form, triiodothyronine (T3), by the liver and kidneys. If the liver is sluggish or there are certain mineral deficiencies, this conversion may not occur. The result can be symptoms of low thyroid.

Clearing Issues

A third scenario causing imbalance is the inability to effectively clear hormones from the body once they have been used. Estrogen dominance is a classic example of a clearing issue. This happens when estrogen is too high relative to progesterone. Estradiol and estrogen are two types of estrogens the body uses. Once used up/metabolized, the liver breaks them down into small pieces and eliminates them from the body.

However, If the liver is overtaxed, it may break them down into too much 4-hydroxy estrone (4-OH) and 16-alpha-hydroxy estrone (16-OH), two compounds that are stronger estrogens and can be harmful. If they aren’t properly eliminated, they get recirculated in the body. That can lead to a situation of estrogen dominance and hormone-related diseases, including cancer.

What Causes Hormonal Imbalance?

There are different times in a woman’s life when hormones naturally fluctuate. These include before and after periods, during pregnancy, and leading up to menopause. However, hormone shifts also occur because of the usual suspects: trauma, toxins, and thoughts. All three create stress and inflammation in the body, causing a variety of imbalances. Here are some examples of each:

Traumas That Cause Hormone Imbalance

  • Physical trauma to the spine
  • Sexual assault/Rape
  • Traumatic loss
  • Car accident
  • Surgery
  • Severe illness
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Military combat PTSD
  • Being a victim of violence
  • Being a witness to violence or a natural disaster
  • Infections
  • Having a baby –a major stress on the body
  • Unresolved childhood traumas

These traumas are sometimes accompanied by exposure to toxins.

Toxins That Cause Hormone Imbalance

  • Xenoestrogens
  • Hormone Therapy
  • Sugar – especially high fructose corn syrup
  • Mold toxins
  • Heavy metal toxicity
  • Medications
  • Cancer treatments, including radiation

Traumas and toxins can both influence our thoughts and patterns of thinking.

Thoughts That Cause Hormone Imbalance

  • Emotional stress from marriage, financial, or other issues
  • Watching the news (fear/worry)
  • Overwhelm from major life changes, such as marriage, a new baby, graduation, divorce, or even moving to a new city.
  • Pent up anger
  • Grief/feelings of loss

All of these can impact hormones in one way or another. That could mean rising cortisol levels during acute stress, increasing estrogens with exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals, or suppressed thyroid hormones due to heavy metals and other environmental toxins. The Three T’s can also affect hormones by altering gut function, bogging down the liver, and increasing inflammation in the body.

What Are Symptoms of a Hormonal Imbalance?

Symptoms of hormone imbalance range from mild, like acne, to severe and life-threatening, like breast cancer or ovarian cancer. Here are some of the most common and most irritating symptoms women deal with when they have hormone imbalance:

1. Excessive Weight Gain

There are several hormones that, when out of balance, could lead to weight gain or difficulty losing weight. Some of the main ones are insulin, leptin, ghrelin, and cortisol.

  • Insulin is the hormone that removes sugar from the bloodstream and ushers it into the muscle, liver, and fat cells. Insulin resistance, in which your body stops responding to the hormone, is linked to obesity.
  • Leptin is the hormone that regulates your appetite, sending the message that you’re full. If leptin levels are low or you stop responding to it, as in the case of leptin resistance, you may find yourself overeating and gaining weight.
  • Ghrelin is leptin’s opposite; it’s the hormone that sends the message that you are hungry and need to eat. When ghrelin is elevated, you’re starving hungry, and need to eat now! High levels of ghrelin are another potential cause of weight gain.
  • Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone.” People considered high cortisol responders are at higher risk for weight gain when under stress. Cortisol also impacts other weight-related hormones, stimulating ones that increase hunger and blocking ones that cause weight loss.

While those hormones are some of the key regulators of weight, imbalances in other hormones can also lead to weight gain, including low thyroid.

2. Excessive Sweating

Excessive sweating can be caused by the changes associated with pregnancy or menopause. It can also be due to an overactive thyroid or pituitary gland or certain endocrine tumors. However, there are also non-hormonal causes, like infections, medications, Parkinson’s disease, intoxication, or drug withdrawal.

3. Troubles with Libido

Hormonal problems like low testosterone or low estrogen levels can seriously reduce your sex drive. An underactive thyroid may be an underlying cause of low libido.

4. Hair Loss

While it’s normal to shed hair daily, hormonal problems can cause it to shed in excess. This can be due to thyroid issues, blood sugar dysregulation, chronic stress causing adrenal hormone issues, high testosterone levels, or low sex hormones.

5. Persistent Acne

We usually associate acne with the hormonal changes that accompany puberty. However, adult acne is also a thing, and indicates hormones are not where they should be. Women with blood sugar issues or a tendency toward producing higher male hormone levels like testosterone may experience more trouble with acne. Blood sugar issues may be the cause behind the higher male hormones.

6. Fatigue

Fatigue can be a symptom of many different health complaints, but it also accompanies hormonal imbalance. Chronic fatigue issues may be caused by low thyroid hormones, particularly the active form, triiodothyronine (T3). Other hormonal imbalances, including high cortisol, can cause increased stress and decreased sleep quality, which contributes to fatigue.

7. Decreased Muscle Strength

Along with general fatigue often comes muscle fatigue or decreased muscle strength. This can make it a challenge simply to go upstairs. Some hormonal imbalances that affect muscle strength include high insulin levels (insulin resistance), low thyroid levels, and low estrogen or testosterone.

8. Hot Flashes & Night Sweats

Hot flashes and night sweats are classic signs of hormonal imbalance. While hot flashes often occur during menopause, they are not a given. Night sweats can occur at any age and may indicate low estrogen levels, an overactive thyroid, or even low cortisol.

Balance Hormones the Wellness Way!

We do health differently! Most health practitioners practice symptom-based care, treating individual symptoms like weight gain and acne with medications instead of identifying the underlying causes of hormonal imbalance. They may also jump straight into synthetic hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in the form of a pill, a patch, or a potion (like a topical cream).

At the Wellness Way, we don’t guess; we test! To correct hormone issues, we need to first do proper and complete testing of current levels. There are 3 major mediums we can use to do this: blood, urine, and saliva. Depending on your individual case, it may be necessary to do more than one. After finding out your numbers, the next step involves finding out whether you have a production issue, conversion issue, or clearing issue. You may even have a combination of the three. We won’t know until we get the results back.

Once we have a full understanding of where the hormone levels are at and how well the body is working, we can establish a game plan for restoring normal function. Contact a Wellness Way Clinic near you to get back into balance and on the way to vibrant health!

Resources:

  1. The Endocrine System – PMC (nih.gov)
  2. Neurosteroids and potential therapeutics: Focus on pregnenolone – PubMed (nih.gov)
  3. Adrenal insufficiency – PubMed (nih.gov)
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  5. Metabolism of Thyroid Hormone – Endotext – NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)
  6. Progesterone and Estrogen Signaling in the Endometrium: What Goes Wrong in Endometriosis? – PubMed (nih.gov)
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  8. Supplementation with flaxseed alters estrogen metabolism in postmenopausal women to a greater extent than does supplementation with an equal amount of soy – PubMed (nih.gov)
  9. What causes the insulin resistance underlying obesity? – PMC (nih.gov)
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  13. Glucocorticoids and neuroendocrine function – PubMed (nih.gov)
  14. The Central Effects of Thyroid Hormones on Appetite (hindawi.com)
  15. Hyperhidrosis—Causes and Treatment of Enhanced Sweating – PMC (nih.gov)
  16. Role of hormones in hypoactive sexual desire disorder and current treatment – PMC (nih.gov)
  17. Is There an Association Between Hypothyroidism and Sexual Dysfunction: A Systematic Review and Cumulative Analysis – PMC (nih.gov)
  18. Thyroid Hormones Directly Alter Human Hair Follicle Functions: Anagen Prolongation and Stimulation of Both Hair Matrix Keratinocyte Proliferation and Hair Pigmentation | The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism | Oxford Academic (oup.com)
  19. The association of androgenetic alopecia and insulin resistance is independent of hyperandrogenemia: A case-control study – PubMed (nih.gov)
  20. How stress causes hair loss | National Institute on Aging (nih.gov)
  21. Association between isolated female acne and insulin resistance: a prospective study – PubMed (nih.gov)
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  23. Frontiers | Higher Prevalence of “Low T3 Syndrome” in Patients With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Case–Control Study | Endocrinology (frontiersin.org)
  24. Insulin resistance and muscle strength in older persons – PubMed (nih.gov)
  25. Evaluation of the patient with muscle weakness – PubMed (nih.gov)
  26. Aging of the Musculoskeletal System: How the Loss of Estrogen Impacts Muscle Strength – PMC (nih.gov)
  27. Testosterone action on skeletal muscle – PubMed (nih.gov)
  28. Menopausal hot flashes: mechanisms, endocrinology, treatment – PubMed (nih.gov)
  29. Hyperthyroidism – Hormonal and Metabolic Disorders – Merck Manuals Consumer Version
  30. Daily salivary cortisol patterns in midlife women with hot flashes – PubMed (nih.gov)

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