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A Guide to Understand Hormonal Imbalance in Women: Types, Signs & Prevention


We often think of hormonal imbalance as a visitor in our lives, showing up for the party at puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. But the truth is, our hormones are like roommates – always there and sometimes a little disruptive!


Hormones are chemical messengers produced in the body by endocrine glands and carried through the bloodstream to various organs and tissues. They act like signals, coordinating many different functions in the body. So, if you are feeling bloated and sick, experiencing fluctuating weight, lower sex drive, getting irregular periods, acne, etc, it could be indicative of hormonal imbalance in women. This situation could be in response to medications, stress, anxiety, periods, menopause, pregnancy, etc., as they influence the level of hormones in the body, which causes an imbalance, triggering undesirable responses. But what exactly is a hormonal imbalance, and what causes this in females? Moreover, how to deal with it? Well, read on to get the answers to these questions!


Statical data on the prevalence of Hormonal Imbalance in Women: 

As per NIH, 80% of women across the world experience hormonal fluctuations. However, only 25% of them seek medical help for these concerns.



What is a hormonal imbalance in Females?

In women, hormonal imbalance occurs when there is too much or too little of one or more hormones in the bloodstream. Even slight changes in hormone levels can have a significant impact on your health and well-being. Hormone levels in women typically vary during specific periods, such as before or during their menstrual cycle, throughout pregnancy, or throughout menopause. It's common for women to experience imbalances in hormones, like 

  • Adrenaline

  • Steroid Hormones

  • Growth Hormones

  • Insulin

  • Estrogen

  • Progesterone

  • Cortisol

There are many different types of hormonal imbalances, each with its own set of symptoms and causes. Below, we have mentioned different types of hormonal imbalances in women. 


Hormonal Imbalance Consequences in Women

Hormonal imbalance is a reason for significant health conditions in females that require medical assistance. Some of the conditions caused are:


Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

This is a hormonal disorder affecting women of reproductive age. It's characterized by symptoms like irregular periods, excess androgen (male hormone) levels, and multiple small cysts in the ovaries.


Fact: As per OASH (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services),  Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that impacts 1 in 10 women of childbearing age. It results in hormonal imbalances and metabolic issues, potentially affecting both health and appearance. Additionally, PCOS is a prevalent and treatable factor contributing to infertility in women.


Estrogen dominance

When estrogen levels in women are higher than progesterone levels, they lead to estrogen dominance. It is often due to factors like skipping ovulation or using certain types of birth control. This could possibly result in missed periods, vomiting, dizziness, etc. 


Menopause

The natural decline in estrogen and progesterone production that occurs in women as they age is what menopause is. This is the stage when women stop ovulating, which causes severe mood swings and physiological changes like backaches, headaches, and anemia.

 

Thyroid disorders

Thyroid disorders are common hormonal imbalances that can affect women. They include hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). The thyroid gland makes too little (hypo) or too much (hyper) hormone, respectively, in these conditions, leading to weight swings, fatigue, mood changes, and sleep problems. 


Did you know? The American Thyroid Association states that hypothyroidism affects an estimated 2-5% of the US population, with women being more susceptible.


Cushing syndrome

It's caused by prolonged exposure to high levels of cortisol, often due to taking corticosteroid medications for extended periods. It causes excessive weight gain, easy bruising, fatigue, and muscle weakness.


Diabetes

One of the most common hormone-related endocrine conditions in women is diabetes. This hormonal imbalance is triggered owing to the lower productivity of the pancreas in producing insulin or the inefficiency of one’s body in consuming insulin. Diabetes is of multiple types, the most prevalent being Type 2 diabetes, Type 1 diabetes, and gestational diabetes. The consequences of diabetes are slow-healing sores and cuts, frequent infections, and delayed recovery from acute or chronic diseases.


Hirsutism 

Hirsutism is a condition characterized by the excessive growth of coarse, dark hair on a woman's body in areas where hair is typically absent or minimal. The primary culprit behind hirsutism is an imbalance in sex hormones. Normally, women's bodies produce small amounts of androgens (male sex hormones) like testosterone. However, in hirsutism, androgen levels may be exalted, or the hair follicles may be overly sensitive to even normal levels.


What causes hormonal imbalances in Females?

Hormonal imbalances can arise from various factors, broadly categorized into:


1. Puberty

During puberty, the hypothalamus (control center) kicks off hormone production in the pituitary gland. This surge stimulates the sex glands (ovaries/testes) to release estrogen, testosterone, and other hormones. This rapid change can cause temporary hormonal fluctuations, leading to mood swings, irregular periods, and growth spurts.


2. Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a hormonal rollercoaster. The fertilized egg triggers the production of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which sustains the corpus luteum (temporary gland). Later, the placenta takes over, producing estrogen, progesterone, and human placental lactogen (hPL) to support fetal development and prepare for milk production. These hormonal changes can lead to fatigue, morning sickness, and mood swings.


3. Menopause and premature ovarian insufficiency 

As women approach menopause or experience ovarian insufficiency, ovarian function declines, leading to a drop in estrogen and progesterone. This decrease disrupts the menstrual cycle and can cause hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and mood changes.


4. Stress

Chronic stress triggers the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands. This "fight-or-flight" hormone can suppress the production of other hormones, including sex hormones and thyroid hormones. This can lead to fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and decreased libido.


5. Medications

Certain medications, like birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, and some antidepressants, can alter hormone levels intentionally. Others, like antibiotics and anticonvulsants, can have unintended hormonal side effects.


6. Steroid Use

Steroids, both legal and anabolic, mimic testosterone. While they can increase muscle mass, they can also disrupt natural hormone production, leading to acne, aggression, and stunted growth.


7. Tumors/Adenomas

Any abnormal growth occurring on a gland or organ responsible for hormone production, such as a tumor, adenoma, or nodule, has the potential to disrupt its hormonal functions.


Tumors

Uncommon endocrine tumors develop either within glands or from hormone-producing cells, leading to hormonal irregularities. Examples of these rare endocrine tumors include:

  • Adrenocortical carcinoma

  • Carcinoid tumors

  • Medullary thyroid cancer

  • Pheochromocytoma

  • Paraganglioma 


Adenomas

Adenomas are typically benign growths, but some can disrupt hormone balance in women by overproducing hormones. Some common adenoma conditions include,

  • Pituitary adenomas: These growths can cause imbalances in any of the hormones produced by the pituitary gland, such as acromegaly due to excess growth hormone secretion.

  • Adrenal adenomas: Most commonly associated with Cushing's syndrome, characterized by excessive cortisol production, these adenomas form on the adrenal cortex.

  • Parathyroid adenomas: These adenomas can lead to primary hyperparathyroidism by overproducing parathyroid hormone.


Besides tumors and adenomas, various growths on endocrine glands can also disturb hormonal balance. For instance, thyroid nodules unusual cell growths within the thyroid gland, may trigger hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.


8. Damage or Injury to Endocrine Glands

Injury or disease to endocrine glands like the thyroid or parathyroid can disrupt hormone production. Some common causes of these damages are:

  • Surgical Complications

  • Insufficient blood flow to an endocrine gland 

  • Certain bacterial or viral illnesses

  • Damage from radiation therapy

  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)


9. Autoimmune Conditions

In autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto's thyroiditis, Graves’ disease, Type 1 diabetes, Addison’s disease, and Polyglandular syndromes, the body attacks its own tissues, including hormone-producing glands. This can lead to the underproduction of hormones and associated symptoms.


Signs and symptoms of hormonal imbalance in women

Hormonal imbalances can be reflected in various ways in females of different age groups, and the specific symptoms often depend on which hormone is affected and the severity of the imbalance. However, some common hormonal imbalance symptoms to watch out for include:


Weight gain or loss

Insufficient thyroid hormone production leads to hypothyroidism, causing significant weight gain or loss. Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) often exhibit insulin insensitivity, resulting in weight gain or excessive weight loss. Decreased estrogen levels can increase hunger, leading to overeating and weight gain.


Irregular Periods

Frequent missed or delayed periods, especially with long intervals between cycles, may indicate PCOS in younger women. Irregular periods are common during menopause but warrant medical attention if concerning.


Heavy Flow

High estrogen levels can cause uterine fibroids, leading to heavy menstrual bleeding.


Sleep Problems

Low progesterone levels may cause sleep disturbances. Reduced estrogen levels can lead to night sweats, disrupting sleep.


Acne

Hormonal imbalances, particularly excess androgen production, can cause chronic acne by stimulating oil gland activity and pore blockage.


Digestive Discomfort

Fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone levels during menstruation can affect digestion, causing symptoms like diarrhea and bloating.


Fatigue

High progesterone levels or low thyroid hormone levels can cause persistent fatigue.


Mood Swings

Hormonal fluctuations, particularly in estrogen levels, can affect neurotransmitter release, leading to mood swings like irritability and sadness.


Vaginal Dryness

Low estrogen levels can cause vaginal dryness, leading to discomfort.


Breast Discharge

Abnormal prolactin levels can cause nipple discharge, indicating potential issues with the thyroid and pituitary glands.


Hair Loss

Decreased estrogen and progesterone levels, along with increased androgen levels, can lead to hair thinning and loss.


Cold Extremities

Hypothyroidism, characterized by low thyroid hormone levels, can cause symptoms like cold hands and feet.


Changes in sex drive

A decrease in libido can be a sign of a hormonal imbalance.


Infertility

Difficulty getting pregnant can also be due to hormonal issues.


It's important to remember that these are just general signs, and experiencing one or two of them doesn't necessarily mean you have a hormonal imbalance. If you are concerned about any of these symptoms, it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.


How are hormonal imbalances found in females?

Wondering how to resolve hormonal imbalance in females? Regardless of the specific hormonal disorder, you may be experiencing, the diagnostic process typically starts with an appointment with your health practitioner. During this consultation, you will discuss your symptoms, medical history, and any relevant family medical history. Additionally, your health practitioner will likely recommend a Comprehensive Stress, Mood, Hormone Test along with other different hormone imbalance testing depending on your symptoms described.


Following the initial consultation, you will likely undergo a blood spot and saliva test done at the comfort of your own home to assess your hormone and cortisol levels. The specific hormones tested will vary depending on the suspected hormonal imbalance. For instance:


  • Thyroid hormone levels will be assessed.

  • Hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and stress hormones will be evaluated during the 30 minute review of  Stress Mood Metabolism Test.

  • In the case of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), further testing may include assessments of androgens, glucose tolerance, as well as fasting triglyceride and cholesterol levels.

Once the imbalances are presented from the test results, a tailored lifestyle and supplemental recommendation will be given by our health practitioners that is most effective to rebalance your imbalances. As lifestyle and natural herbs take time, this process will usually take a period of 4 - 12 months depending on the severity of the imbalances.


How are hormonal imbalances treated in women?

Treatment for hormone rebalancing is customized to address specific deficiencies or excesses of hormones in women. Here are certain tips on how to resolve hormonal imbalance in females and males:


Medications for Hormone Regulation

A paramount aspect of hormonal imbalance therapy involves the use of medications. These may include hormone replacement therapies or drugs that regulate the production of specific hormones in women. For example, hypothyroidism is typically treated with thyroid hormone replacement, while estrogen replacement is often used to relieve menopausal symptoms.


Replenishing Vitamins and Mineral Deficiencies & use of Herbal Remedies

In cases where vitamin and mineral deficiencies are found, replenishing them will be recommended to allow the body to have the raw ingredients to make the hormones. Especially Vitamin D levels which are important for hormone-making, immunity, and bone strength. Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda use plant medicine to improve hormonal balance in females. Using herbs like Ashwagandha and Chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus) to support raging stress hormones and help streamline the menstrual cycle has been shown to be very effective.


Regular Monitoring through Retesting

Effective management of hormonal imbalances necessitates regular monitoring to assess the effectiveness of treatment and make any necessary adjustments during the rebalancing period.


In any scenario, consulting with your health practitioner is essential for hormonal imbalance treatment. They offer comprehensive guidance and tailor treatment plans to your individual women's needs, ensuring optimal management of your condition.


How can I prevent a hormonal imbalance?

Prioritizing Quality Sleep

Modern women are stuck between home and work chores. Amidst this, getting adequate sleep gets hard and neglected as well. But this isn’t right, as it eventually might lead to hormonal imbalance. Adequate and undisturbed sleep for 7-9 hours is crucial for maintaining hormonal balance. 

Supporting Facts: Research from 2015 in Healthline highlights the detrimental effects of sleep disturbances on hormones, potentially leading to issues such as obesity, diabetes, and appetite regulation.

Circadian Fasting 

Circadian fasting, a form of time-restricted eating, has emerged as a potential tool for managing hormonal imbalances. Our bodies operate on a natural 24-hour internal clock called the circadian rhythm. This rhythm governs various functions, including hormone production. Hormones like cortisol (wakefulness), melatonin (sleep), and insulin (blood sugar regulation) naturally fluctuate throughout the day. Disruptions to this rhythm, often caused by irregular eating patterns and late-night meals, can contribute to hormonal imbalances. 


By concentrating on eating within a specific window during the day and allowing for a longer fasting period overnight helps align meal times with our natural hormonal cycles. This may encourage optimal production and release of hormones at the right times. Studies suggest that circadian fasting may improve insulin sensitivity, which can be beneficial for conditions like Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), where insulin resistance is a factor.


Eat A Diet Rich In Proteins And Fat

It is advisable to intake proteins and fats. Protein serves as the building block for cells and supports hormone development and balance. Incorporating fats into meals, such as avocados, nuts, chia seeds, and coconut oil, or taking a fish oil supplement, can help release and balance hormones effectively. 


Stress Management

Stress has a significant impact on the endocrine system and hormone levels in females, with even low levels of stress triggering hormonal responses. High levels of adrenaline and cortisol, induced by stress, can disrupt hormonal balance, leading to various health issues such as obesity and cardiovascular problems. Effective stress management techniques, such as listening to relaxing music or reading a book are essential for maintaining hormonal equilibrium.


Regular Exercise

Regular physical activity has deep effects on hormone regulation, particularly in controlling appetite and preventing overeating. Studies from 2014 and 2017 Medical News emphasize the role of exercise in regulating appetite-controlling hormones and reducing the risk of metabolic disorders like insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.


Limiting Sugar Intake

The link between sugar consumption and metabolic diseases like insulin resistance has now been medically proven. Avoiding added sugars, including table sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and honey, helps in maintaining optimal hormone levels, particularly insulin.


Increasing Fiber Intake

Dietary fiber not only promotes gut health but also helps in regulating hormones like insulin, thereby aiding in weight management. Certain types of fiber, like lignin, present in flax seeds, beans, and lentils, have been shown to balance other hormones as well, contributing to overall hormonal balance and weight maintenance.


Consuming Fatty Fish

Oily fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids offer numerous health benefits, including supporting heart health, brain function, and mood regulation.


Avoiding Overeating

Overeating, even in the short term, can disrupt hormonal balance and lead to metabolic issues. Excessive food intake alters circulating levels of fats and increases oxidative stress, potentially promoting insulin resistance and other metabolic disturbances.


Drinking Green Tea

Green tea contains antioxidants and compounds that promote metabolic health. A review by WHO from 2013 suggests a connection between green tea consumption and reduced fasting insulin levels, indicating its potential role in regulating hormones related to metabolism.


Quitting Smoking

Tobacco smoke can interfere with hormone levels, including thyroid hormones, pituitary hormones, and steroid hormones like cortisol. The disruptive effects of smoking on hormonal balance emphasize the importance of quitting smoking for overall health and hormonal equilibrium.


Hormonal imbalances in women can manifest in various ways, impacting physical and emotional well-being. While some fluctuations are natural throughout life, persistent imbalances can lead to multiple health concerns. Hence, recognizing the signs and symptoms is crucial for appropriate treatment. Fortunately, numerous lifestyle modifications for females and herbal plant medicine can support hormonal balance.


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