I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: you, my friend, are a miracle. Your body is a wonderland. Though on paper we humans may appear almost identical from person to person, every one of us is a unique work of art. No two are alike.
Each of us is a special blend of flesh, bones, muscle, and organs, finished with one of a few blood types, and sprinkled with a variety of hormones, the levels of which are unique to us only, to add a final flourish… like a signature, a fingerprint.
What Are Hormones?
Hormones are chemicals that are constantly on the move throughout the body, delivering messages here and there. They can balance mood, let us know when we’re hungry, give us zits, and even help us make a baby.
You simply would not be you without your hormones.
The endocrine system is responsible for deploying hormones throughout the body, by way of several different glands that secrete them into the bloodstream. They drive everything from early growth and brain development, hunger and mood, to sexual function and pregnancy.
Our hormone levels play a huge role for each of us, so it’s important to not only be aware of that simple fact, but to also understand some of the ways that an imbalance can show up, and what the signs could mean. (1)
What Do Hormones Do?
Directed by the brain, hormones travel through the bloodstream, influencing processes and orchestrating bodily functions. They affect literally every part of the body, right down to the length of your arms and legs. Hormones break your dinner down into chemical components that nourish you on a cellular level, and they even dictate what components go where.
When everything is going according to plan, you don’t notice a thing. Life is good, digestion is good, it’s all good. Your body knows exactly how much of this, and of that, to send where and when. It knows when you have too much, and when you need more.
Your hormones could be thought of as a factory of sorts. Lots of switches, and moving parts. When everything is working, and it all works together, it’s harmony. But when something’s off, it can go downhill quickly. One little error can wreak havoc, even cause severe damage.
Hormones act as messengers, most often to each other. But when an imbalance exists, when something is off in the factory, that message is meant for you. (2)
Signs Of Hormone Imbalance
How do you know if you have a hormone imbalance? If you suspect that you might, it’s important to get a medical professional in your corner… preferably someone who understands the endocrine system inside and out.
Hormones sometimes tend to be looked at as a “woman’s issue”, but since we all have an endocrine system, men can and do have hormone imbalances too. Symptoms of a hormone imbalance often present differently from person to person, and from male to female. They can be severe or subtle, and affect a wide variety of bodily functions.
Possible clues that you might have a hormone imbalance include:
- unexplained weight changes
- excessive sweating
- trouble sleeping
- sensitivity to cold and heat
- dry skin or rashes
- changes in blood pressure or heart rate
- brittle or weak bones (osteoporosis)
- changes in blood sugar
- irritability and anxiety
- unexplained fatigue
- increased thirst
- needing to go to the bathroom more or less than usual
- changes in appetite
- reduced sex drive
- thinning, brittle hair or male pattern baldness
- Infertility (male or female)
- puffy face
- blurred vision
- a bulge in the neck
- breast tenderness
- deepening of the voice in females
What Does A Hormone Imbalance Mean?
This list can seem a little scary, but if you have any of the symptoms on it, you might already be feeling a little nervous. But it’s good that you’re becoming aware, and even better that you can arm yourself with some knowledge and maybe a plan.
A hormone imbalance can mean any number of things. It could mean that you’re pregnant. It could also mean you’re now entering menopause, so there’s no way you’re pregnant. Hot flashes are typically thought of as another one of those “woman things”, but surprise! Men can get them too. Sometimes hormone imbalances are totally normal. Menstruation, menopause and pregnancy are a few times when, by definition, hormones are imbalanced. (3)
Bottom line: a hormone imbalance means that this gland is not producing enough of, or too much of, that hormone. It just means you need some balance. It’s a message from your body to you.
What Can I Do About A Hormone Imbalance?
First things first: understand why it is happening. There’s a breakdown somewhere in the factory. Where is the breakdown, and what is the nature of it?
Sometimes there is nothing that needs to be done, or something very minor. For example, a headache caused by the hormonal fluctuations of your monthly cycle probably just needs some aspirin. If you’re feeling pukey in the early stages of pregnancy, well, congratulations. The system works.
It’s when the symptoms get to you, that it’s time to get to the why.
Some of the more common conditions that cause hormone imbalances are:
- chronic stress
- hyper or hypo glycemia
- underactive or overactive thyroid
- poor diet and nutrition
- being overweight
- hormonal replacement or birth control medications
- abuse of anabolic steroid medications
- Cushing’s syndrome (high levels of the hormone cortisol)
- Addison’s disease (low levels of cortisol and aldosterone)
- gland injury
- chronic infections
- chemotherapy and radiation therapy
- exposure to toxins, pollutants, and endocrine disrupting chemicals, including pesticides and herbicides
As you can see by looking at this list, some of these things are avoidable.
So it’s really important to go straight for the “why”, and provide support for your body there.
Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life
Every body is different. But many issues are caused by, or made worse by, underlying conditions like obesity. For example, women of childbearing age often run up against a condition known as polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS. It is extremely common. PCOS is caused by any number of things, one of which is excess insulin.
If the patient presenting with symptoms of PCOS is overweight, the right course of action for her would probably be a focus on weight control. A healthy weight would also stop her cells from becoming less insulin-reactive, thereby stopping another imbalance from forming down the road.
Another treatment option for PCOS is to go on hormonal contraceptives, which would be the exact wrong thing to do for someone who is trying to conceive. (5)
So, it matters if the balance is right in your own body. Suitable conditions in your own ecosystem are different than in mine, or theirs, which is wonderful. That means anything is possible, and the most important thing is to just listen. Your body is telling you what it’s going through, and what it needs. The message may not be as clear as the low grumble of hunger pangs, but it’s just as important. And with a little help, you can decipher it.
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