Hormones are in the news a lot nowadays as people begin to realize just how important they are to the health and wellness of the body. As a matter of fact, hormones — chemicals which are released from glands all over our body — are responsible for everything from our sexual development to our metabolisms to the strength and health of our bones.
While the body has dozens of hormones, some of the most important include:
- Insulin: Produced by the pancreas, insulin helps to regulate how glucose (sugar) from the food we eat enters our cells, where it is used for energy.
- Testosterone: Produced in the ovaries and testes, testosterone is the primary male sex hormone and is responsible for male sexual development; it also helps with energy levels and to build muscle mass.
- Estrogen and progesterone: Also produced in the ovaries and testes, these are the primary female sex hormones which are responsible for the menstrual cycle, ovulation and the maintenance of a pregnancy after conception.
- Cortisol. Produced by the adrenal glands, which lie atop the kidneys, this hormone is produced in response to stress and is part of the “fight or flight” response.
The problem is that, because the hormones are in such delicate balance, if you have too much or too little of a hormone, a whole variety of symptoms can result. Below are some of the most common symptoms of a hormonal imbalance:
Feeling tired all the time, in spite of getting enough sleep, is one of the most common warning signs of a hormonal imbalance. There are several culprits that could be responsible for this, but insulin is the most likely explanation, particularly when insulin levels remain high due to the development of insulin resistance. The good news is that making dietary changes (such as reducing the amount of simple carbohydrates like sugar and white flour in the diet), losing weight and exercising regularly can help lower insulin levels naturally and keep the blood sugar steady throughout the day.
2. Trouble Sleeping
Along with fatigue, insomnia is also a common side effect of a hormonal imbalance. In men, this can often be a sign that testosterone levels are low, while in women, low progesterone levels are the culprit. Again, hormone replacement therapy is a possibility, but there are also other more natural options to choose from. Low progesterone levels can be helped by herbs like chasteberry, while herbs are also available to help increase testosterone as well.
3. Decreased Sex Drive
A loss of interest in sex can be a sign of low estrogen in women and low testosterone in men. Estrogen levels drop in women around the time they hit menopause. What many men may not be aware of, however, is that their testosterone levels also drop off after 50, a phenomenon many doctors are now calling “male menopause“. The good news is, however, that testosterone and estrogen replacement therapies are available by prescription, and across the country, more clinics are offering bioidentical hormone therapy as a more natural alternative.
4. Night Sweats and Hot Flashes
One of the earliest signs of menopause for many women is the phenomenon of night sweats and hot flashes which can make life pretty miserable when you’re trying to sleep and cause a lot of discomfort even during the day. This is a sign that estrogen levels are beginning to drop as menopause approaches. Fortunately, hormone replacement therapy can help correct this imbalance. Some women also choose to use herbal therapies such as black cohosh to help.
5. Poor Memory and Concentration
If you find yourself forgetting your purse or wallet on the regular basis or have problems concentrating or focusing at work, these lapses also might be a sign that your hormones — specifically cortisol — is out of balance. When you are stressed for a long period of time, your adrenal glands become fatigued and can no longer produce adequate amounts of cortisol. And when your cortisol levels are low, this can affect your cognitive functions like memory and focus.
6. Emotional Issues
Anxiety, irritability, depression and mood swings are also common symptoms with a hormonal imbalance, particularly with levels of progesterone and estrogen levels that are too low or too high. Hormone replacement therapy can help to correct a deficiency, while weight loss can help correct estrogen levels that are too high. Again, many women will also use herbs like black cohosh to help correct this problem.
7. Weight Gain
Weight gain — especially weight gain in the abdominal area — is a common problem as well as a very frustrating one. While several hormones can play a role in weight problems, the most common culprits are insulin and cortisol. When levels of these hormones are high, they signal to the body that it needs to take glucose and store it as fat — usually on the tummy. However, stress management (such as meditation, yoga and deep breathing exercises) can help to reduce cortisol levels while weight loss and dietary changes can reduce insulin levels and make it easier to lose weight.
If you have any of the symptoms mentioned above, be sure to report them to your doctor. The good news is that hormone deficiencies are fairly easy to diagnose (it is possible to do this either through a saliva test or through bloodwork).