Gaining weight despite diet and exercise, having an emotional outburst over the slightest mishap, energy slumps, skin issues, hair thinning, trouble sleeping, and a sluggish sex drive are all common issues women face.
It’s easy to chalk these things up to the natural progression of aging or the grind of daily stress. Yet, the truth behind these frustrating symptoms very well may be hidden within your hormones.
Your hormones rule more than you’d think. They influence your energy, emotions, metabolism, and much more. If even one is out of whack, it could lead to female hormone disorders that cause your body to do all sorts of crazy things.
If you’ve ever felt like your body is playing tricks on you and can’t understand why, you aren’t imagining things. There is a good chance that your hormones are to blame, even if you’ve been told otherwise.
Hormones are complicated, and imbalances are easily overlooked and misdiagnosed. Normal hormone levels for one person might not be for another, further complicating an already complex diagnosis.
In this guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know about female hormones so you can figure out if your symptoms are due to a hormone imbalance causing or leading to a hormone disorder.
Female Hormones Explained
Hormones are like the body’s texting system, sending important messages to different parts of the body to keep everything running smoothly.
These chemical messengers are part of the endocrine system, a network of glands that release hormones into your bloodstream, controlling vital processes like metabolism and reproduction.
However, if these messengers get off track, they can upset your body’s balance.
Female hormones aren’t confined to the ones you probably learned about in health class, like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Your body actually has 50+ hormones, most of which aren’t sex hormones (but they can affect your sex life.)
Your thyroid, kidneys, pancreas, adrenal glands, pituitary gland, brain, and even nerve cells all produce hormones. If any of your hormones are out of balance, it can create a domino effect that triggers a hormone imbalance leading to a variety of female hormone disorders.
While age increases the likelihood of hormone imbalances, they can afflict individuals of any age. A myriad of factors, including genetics, stress, dietary choices, exercise routines, environmental toxins, gut health, medical conditions, and medications, can all contribute to hormonal shifts.
To better understand how your hormones could be causing issues like weight loss resistance, weight gain, low libido, mood swings, and sleep disturbances, you need to understand each hormone’s function.
We aren’t going to go over all the hormones in your body, just the ten most common hormones that can create female hormone disorders if unbalanced.
Insulin is a crucial hormone produced in the pancreas that transforms the sugar (glucose) from food into a usable energy source. The most common medical condition associated with insulin is diabetes, but an insulin imbalance can cause many other medical issues.
For example, for sex hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone to find their balance, insulin metabolism must first set the foundation. Failing to achieve balance leads to a state known as insulin resistance. This, in turn, elevates a woman’s vulnerability to female hormone disorders such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).
2: Human Growth Hormone (HGH)
Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is fundamental in promoting growth and development. Created by the pituitary gland, it directs cell growth and overall vitality. Imbalances in HGH can trigger complications like stunted growth in children or disrupt metabolism and muscle tone in adults. Such imbalances can also intertwine with female hormone disorders like PCOS.
Serotonin is a chemical that controls mood regulation, appetite control, digestion, and sleep cycles. The ebb and flow of serotonin dictate our emotional well-being, with low levels linked to depression and anxiety and excessive levels to restlessness, rapid heart rate, and agitation,
Serotonin imbalance can indirectly contribute to female hormone disorders. While serotonin itself is not a direct cause of these disorders, its influence on mood regulation and emotional well-being can indirectly affect hormonal balance and potentially contribute to disruptions in the menstrual cycle and other hormonal processes.
Cortisol is a hormone released by your body when it senses stress. It helps you respond to challenges by increasing your energy and focus. However, when cortisol levels stay high for extended periods due to chronic stress, it can lead to hormonal imbalances that can contribute to irregular periods, fertility issues, weight gain, sleep difficulties, and even impact your heart health.
Cortisol is also a well-known “testosterone killer.” And yes, women need testosterone, just in much smaller amounts than men. If your test levels are low, your cortisol might be to blame.
5: Hunger Hormones (Ghrelin and Leptin)
Ghrelin and leptin are the body’s hunger hormones, working together to regulate your appetite. Ghrelin increases your hunger, while leptin signals when you’re full. When these hormones are out of balance, they can disrupt your appetite control, leading to overeating and weight gain.
While these hunger hormones don’t directly cause female hormone disorders, disturbances in ghrelin and leptin levels can indirectly impact hormonal balance.
6: Thyroid Hormones (T3 and T4)
Thyroid hormones, specifically T3 and T4, play a significant role in controlling your body’s metabolism. They affect energy levels, weight, and even body temperature. Imbalances in thyroid hormones can lead to either an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) or an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism). These imbalances can also throw off other hormones that lead to female hormone disorders.
Estrogen is the primary female sex hormone. It plays a crucial role in the development and regulation of the female reproductive system and secondary sexual characteristics. Estrogen
shapes the narrative of menstruation, reproduction, and to a degree, even your sex drive. Estrogen fluctuations can impact every aspect of a young woman’s life. The most commonly known is menopause.
Progesterone serves a dual role in preparing the uterus for pregnancy and maintaining a healthy gestation. Beyond reproductive functions, it extends its reach to impact the brain, bones, and immune system. Low progesterone levels pave the way for irregular periods and mood swings, while excessive levels result in bloating and symptoms synonymous with premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Progesterone also plays a part in balancing estrogen.
While predominantly associated with men, testosterone is also relevant for women at lower levels. From steering the body’s sex drive to influencing bone density, fat distribution, and blood cell production, testosterone wears many hats. Both excessive and deficient levels contribute to concerns such as low libido, hair thinning, irregular periods, and muscle mass loss.
This is the hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycles. Its fluctuations wield power over sleep quality and overall health. Disruptions to melatonin production can cause sleep disturbances and ripple into diverse health challenges, such as increased cortisol.
What Are Hormone Imbalances?
A hormone imbalance is exactly like it sounds – a state where the usual harmony among hormones is thrown off balance. These imbalances can arise when there’s either too much or too little of a specific hormone in your system.
This seemingly subtle shift can wield significant effects, influencing various facets of your well-being. Whether you’re grappling with fluctuations in energy levels, changes in weight, or shifts in mood, these imbalances might be the cause.
Common Female Hormone Disorders Caused by Hormone Imbalances
How a hormone disorder manifests depends on the unique nature of the hormones that are unbalanced. For example, during menopause, the ovaries begin to produce less estrogen and progesterone. Or, if you have PCOS, it could be because your ovaries produce unusually high levels of androgen hormones (testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).
Understanding the most common female hormone disorders can help you to recognize potential signs and seek appropriate medical guidance.
Here is a list of the most common hormone-related disorders:
Perimenopause and Menopause
The most common consequence of age-related hormone imbalances and changes is menopause. These natural transitions involve a decline in estrogen and progesterone, contributing to symptoms like mood changes, hot flashes, and vaginal dryness.
Although not strictly a hormone disorder, endometriosis impacts hormones due to its estrogen-dependent nature, leading to pain and potential fertility challenges.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
A severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) that causes significant emotional and physical symptoms in the days leading up to menstruation. These symptoms can include mood swings, irritability, depression, and physical discomfort.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Typically resulting from excess androgen production by the ovaries, PCOS can cause irregular periods, acne, and unwanted hair growth.
When the thyroid gland produces an excess of thyroid hormone, it can lead to symptoms such as anxiety, rapid heartbeat, and unexplained weight loss.
This disorder occurs when the adrenal glands fail to produce enough cortisol and aldosterone, leading to fatigue, low blood pressure, and muscle weakness.
In this autoimmune condition, the immune system targets the thyroid gland, causing hypothyroidism, characterized by fatigue, sensitivity to cold, and weight gain.
An overproduction of cortisol, often called the stress hormone, can trigger weight gain, high blood pressure, and muscle weakness.
When the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone, it can lead to fatigue, weight gain, and sensitivity to cold.
This autoimmune disorder prompts the thyroid to produce excessive thyroid hormone, causing symptoms like weight loss, increased heart rate, and anxiety.
Other Issues Hormone Imbalances Can Cause
Hormone disorders aren’t the only issue that can arise from hormone imbalances. There are other concerning issues that can get their start due to a hormone imbalance.
- Type 2 diabetes
- Infertility issues
- Breast cancer
- Mood disorders
- Heart Disease
- Autoimmune conditions
- The development of Fibroids
- Tumors, adenomas, and growths
- Damage or injury to an endocrine gland
If you suspect a hormone disorder or other medical concern as a result of a hormone imbalance, you should consult with a knowledgeable and certified obstetrician and gynecologist for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
What Age Do Hormone Imbalances Begin?
It’s a common assumption that hormone imbalances only set in with age. While age is one of the primary causes of hormone imbalances, it’s not the only contributing factor.
Your hormones fluctuate throughout your life, even throughout the day, and hormone imbalances can arise at any stage of life, including adolescence and early adulthood, pregnancy, and menopause.
Still, other factors can cause hormone imbalances. Over-exercising or restrictive eating can disrupt hormonal equilibrium, potentially giving rise to imbalances. Sleep issues, being overweight, stress, some medications, steroids, and even exposure to environmental toxins can throw a curveball at hormonal harmony.
You can help offset these hormone imbalance risk factors by:
- Eating a well-balanced diet
- Getting enough quality sleep
- Practicing stress management
- Quitting smoking or using tobacco products
- Limiting exposure to environmental toxins
- Managing any chronic health conditions well (if applicable)
- Speaking with your doctor about medications that could be causing imbalances
- Making healthy lifestyle choices (a weight control program might help)
- Exercising regularly, but not in excess (individualized fitness programs are suggested)
Recognizing the Symptoms of Hormone Imbalances
Hormone imbalances can lead to a diverse range of symptoms that can vary widely from one person to another. Each woman’s experience with hormone imbalances is unique, even when faced with the same underlying condition.
Some of the most common signs of hormone imbalances include:
- Mood swings
- Sleep disturbances
- Hair loss or thinning
- Skin and nail issues
- Temperature sensitivity
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Changes in weight (despite diet and exercise)
- Decreased libido and less pleasurable intercourse
- Changes in bowel movements (constipation or diarrhea)
These symptoms might stem from various factors, not exclusively hormone imbalances. If you encounter shifts in your overall well-being and are facing one or more of these symptoms, you should speak with your obgyn about the possibility that you could have a hormone imbalance or hormone disorder.
The Primary Causes of Hormone Disorders
The primary cause of hormone disorders is hormone imbalances. There are other reasons your hormones might be imbalanced, leading to a hormone disorder.
Some common causes of hormone disorders include:
- Reproductive system issues
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Tumors and growths
- Medications and toxins
- Chromosomal defects
- Inflammation and autoimmune conditions
There are also several risk factors that can make you more likely to develop a hormone disorder. Some risk factors for female hormone disorders include:
- Genetics and family history
- Age and life stages (puberty, pregnancy, menopause)
- Lifestyle choices (diet, exercise, stress)
How Hormone Imbalances are Diagnosed
Figuring out if you have a hormone imbalance starts with an appointment with a doctor specializing in hormones, such as your obgyn. Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and might also perform a pelvic exam or a pap smear to ensure that everything in your reproductive system is in order.
Next, they will order a hormone panel blood test to check the levels of different hormones in your body. These can include estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, thyroid hormones, cortisol, and insulin. Your lab results will give them a clearer picture of what’s happening inside.
If you suspect a hormone imbalance, it’s likely to worsen if ignored and potentially lead to chronic issues. It’s best to schedule an appointment with a qualified obgyn and get to the root of your hormone imbalance as soon as possible for optimal health.
Treatment Options for Imbalanced Hormones and Hormone Disorders
When you suspect a hormonal imbalance, your first step should be to reach out to an experienced obgyn who specializes in addressing such concerns. With their profound expertise in women’s health, they can guide you toward the most suitable path forward.
Various treatment avenues exist for tackling hormonal imbalances, each with its own set of pros and cons.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) aims to replenish hormones that your body might not generate sufficiently or have ceased producing. HRT for women is the preferred option for treating most unbalanced hormones and hormone disorders, especially when t
While commonly employed to alleviate menopause-linked symptoms like mood swings, hot flashes, and vaginal dryness, HRT also stands as a means to counter other hormonal disparities. HRT comes in different forms, such as pills, patches, pellets, and creams.
The safest and most widely used type of HRT is Bioequivalent Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT). Unlike traditional HRT, BHRT utilizes hormones that mirror the ones naturally crafted by your body. This is our preferred method of HRT at Cool Springs OBGYN.
Birth Control Methods
Utilizing birth control methods represents another avenue to address hormonal imbalances. Birth control approaches incorporate synthetic hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, which play a role in balancing hormone levels. These methods are generally associated with preventing pregnancy; however, they also exhibit potential in treating imbalances that lead to irregular periods or other related symptoms.
Birth control is also known to cause hormone imbalances and hormone disorders, with many functional medicine doctors calling it a “band-aid” solution. This treatment option should be carefully discussed with your obgyn before being considered.
When a hormonal imbalance is identified, prescribed medications might be considered. The type of medication hinges on the specific hormone impacted and the severity of the imbalance.
For instance, if a woman faces an estrogen shortage, she might be prescribed clomiphene or letrozole to augment these hormone levels. If a thyroid deficiency is the concern, medication might be provided to replace the missing thyroid hormones.
Interestingly, certain medications originally intended for non-hormone-related concerns, such as managing diabetes or hypertension, might also prove effective in regulating hormone imbalances
However, as with birth control, some medications can cause hormonal imbalances. It is important to discuss any concerns with the doctor to come up with the best treatment plan for your unique case.
Surgical Measures and Radiation Therapy
Reserved for extreme situations where alternative treatments yield little success or serious health risks loom, surgical interventions and radiation therapy could come into play. For instance, a woman grappling with intense endometriosis or uterine fibroids causing heavy bleeding and chronic discomfort might necessitate a hysterectomy to remove the uterus. Similarly, individuals facing thyroid cancer might need to undergo surgery to extract the thyroid gland.
Given the potential variations and potential for misdiagnosis of symptoms, seeking guidance from a seasoned obgyn who possesses comprehensive insight into hormone levels and treatment alternatives, including hormone replacement therapy, is paramount. This initial step paves the way for identifying and effectively addressing any hormonal imbalances you may be experiencing.
Dr. Lodge is a board-certified obgyn in obstetrics and gynecology. Dr. Lodge and his wife, Daphne, established Cool Springs OBGYN to address the increasing need among their patients for a comprehensive, medically supervised program that guides individuals through the aging process.
This approach to wellness adopts a proactive, holistic, and pragmatic perspective. Dr. Lodge recognizes wellness as a blend of internal and external factors, leading to a fresh approach to vitality. Known as Life Management Medicine, this approach encompasses weight control, hormone therapies, advanced genetic testing/therapies, and innovative laser and aesthetic procedures and products suitable for both men and women.
If you are based in Brentwood, Franklin, Nashville, or nearby areas in Tennessee, reach out to us here at Cool Springs, to begin a conversation tailored to your distinct hormonal symptoms and circumstances.