5 warning signs you may have a hormonal imbalance (and what to do about it)|
Hormonal imbalances may be to blame for a range of unwanted symptoms from fatigue or weight gain to itchy skin or low mood.
Hormones are chemicals produced by glands in the endocrine system and released into the bloodstream. An imbalance occurs when there is too much or too little of a hormone.
Your hormones are important for regulating many different processes in the body including appetite and metabolism, sleep cycles, reproductive cycles and sexual function, body temperature and mood.
No surprise then that even the slightest imbalance may have a noticeable effect on your overall health and wellbeing.
Levels of hormones naturally fluctuate at various life stages, most noticeably during puberty and in women during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and the menopause. They can also be affected by lifestyle and certain medical conditions.
What is important is to notice any symptoms and get them checked out by a qualified health professional so that you receive appropriate treatment, whether that involves using medication or complementary therapies, or making lifestyle changes, to restore the balance and your good health.
- Mood swings: The female sex hormone estrogen has an effect on neurotransmitters in the brain including serotonin (a chemical that boosts mood). Fluctuations in estrogen can cause premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or depressed mood during the perimenopause (the phase before periods stop completely) and the menopause.
What to do: If feeling low or anxious interferes significantly with your day-to-day life, then dietary and lifestyle changes, such as taking up exercise, drinking less alcohol and quitting smoking, herbal remedies (such as St John’s Wort) and hormone replacement therapy (HRT), if you are perimenopausal or menopausal, can all improve your mood. Keeping a symptom diary will also help you and your doctor identify if hormonal changes could be to blame.
- Heavy or painful periods: if accompanied by other symptoms such as abdominal pain, a frequent need to urinate, lower back pain, constipation and painful intercourse, then you may have fibroids. Fibroids are non-cancerous growths that develop in or around the womb. The exact cause is unknown although they are thought to be stimulated by estrogen while having a family history may also increase your risk.
What to do: If you are suffering symptoms, consult a qualified health professional who may prescribe medication to shrink the fibroids. In severe cases or if medication does not resolve the problem, surgery may be considered to remove them.
- Low libido: Low libido is particularly common in women going through the perimenopause or menopause due to falling levels of estrogen and testosterone (although known as a male hormone, women also have testosterone). Other menopausal symptoms such as night sweats, fatigue, low mood and anxiety can also have an impact on your sex life.
What to do: If you are going through the menopause, you may wish to consult a women’s health expert about trying testosterone as part of your HRT. This can improve your libido as well as boost your mood and energy levels. It is given at very low doses as a gel applied to the skin.
- Insomnia and poor-quality sleep: During the perimenopause and menopause, the ovaries gradually produce less estrogen and progesterone, which promotes sleep. Falling estrogen levels may also contribute to night sweats which disrupt your sleep, contributing to fatigue and lack of energy.
What to do: The first step is to get an accurate diagnosis. If you are going through the perimenopause or menopause, discuss the benefits of HRT, which will restore levels of estrogen and progestogen, with your doctor. You can also do practical things to improve your sleep such as wear cotton night-clothes, sleep between cotton sheets, keep your bedroom cool and as dark as possible, take up exercise and reduce alcohol and caffeine intake.
- Unexplained weight gain: A number of hormone-related conditions can cause weight gain including an underactive thyroid (when your thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones which regulate metabolism), polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) (a hormone-related problem causing small cysts on the ovaries) and the menopause (which results in hormonal changes that can make you more likely to gain weight around your abdomen).