Hormone imbalance is a very common condition in our society these days found not only in women, but men as well, and the root of many undesirable and disruptive psychological and physiological symptoms. It used to occur most often for women in their 30's and 40's as hormone levels begin to fluctuate with age, but it is now impacting teenagers and women in their twenties and men of all ages because of the high level of environmental toxins and hormones we are all exposed to that disrupt proper functioning of the endocrine system.
Hormones have a profound impact on the brain and body and play a major role in our physical and psychological health and well-being. Among other things, they regulate mental processes, mood, metabolism, growth, prenatal development, sexual development and function, metabolism and tissue function.
They play a major role in depression, anxiety, memory and other mood related disorders because they have a significant impact on neurotransmitters in the brain like serotonin, dopamine, GABA, norepinephrine, acetylcholine and beta-endorphins, as well as neurons and receptors. Estrogen has an excitatory impact on the brain, while progesterone has a calming effect. Testosterone can decrease neurotransmitter levels, but enhance neuron function.
Although hormone imbalance may include an imbalance in any of the hormones in the body including stress hormones, adrenal hormones, thyroid, pancreas etc. this page is specifically focusing on the sex hormones, you'll also want to read the hypothyroidism page, adrenal fatigue page and neurotransmitter page to cover other bases.
Most of the women's sex hormones are produced in the ovaries and in the testes for males, however a very small percent is produced in the adrenal cortex. Additionally, after mid-life the sex hormones are primarily produced in the adrenal glands, therefore adrenal fatigue is a crucial issue in hormone imbalance.
Female Hormone Imbalance
Female hormone imbalance occurs when the two primary female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, do not remain in balance as they should. There may also be problems with testosterone, but the most common imbalance occurs in estrogen and progesterone. Many women think that testosterone is just a male hormone, but testosterone is also a crucial female hormone but is produced in lower levels than males.
During a woman's natural monthly menstrual cycle a particular level, determined by the body, of estrogen is produced approximately during the fifth to fourteenth days. When ovulation occurs then progesterone is produced. If fertilization doesn't take place, both estrogen and progesterone drop and menstruation occurs. When all is functioning as it should, the body produces the amount of estrogen and progesterone that is needed for the body at the precise time it is called for. However, if something interferes in this cycle and estrogen or progesterone are not produced in the amounts they are supposed to or at the time they are supposed to then hormone imbalance occurs.
This imbalance may be in the form of too much estrogen or too much progesterone or not enough estrogen or progesterone. When this occurs a variety of psychological and physiological symptoms can occur.
Menopause is the condition most often associated with female hormone imbalance, because during this time there is a natural fluctuation of hormones as the body prepares to end menstruation. However, although a certain degree of imbalance may be expected, the severe and disabling imbalances we so commonly in society today is not natural or normal. The fact that so many women experience severe and debilitating menopause symptoms is due to the fact of poor diet, environmental toxins and too much stress.
Symptoms of Female Hormone Imbalance
The symptoms of female hormone imbalance are numerous and may vary from woman to woman. They can range in severity anywhere from mildly annoying to completely debilitating. Symptoms may also vary within each individual from month to month depending on a variety of factors. Here are some of the most common female hormone imbalance symptoms, but this list is not exhaustive:
Symptoms of too much estrogen not enough progesterone - Estrogen Dominance:
When a woman has too much estrogen and not enough progesterone this is commonly referred to estrogen dominance. This is the most common imbalance found in women today, because of environmental toxins and diet that alter and disrupt estrogen.
- Tender breasts
- Breast swelling
- Heavy menstrual flow
- Fibrocystic breasts
- Rapid and erratic mood swings - mild to severe
- Get angry quick and easy
- Cyclical headaches or migraines
- Increase in PMS symptoms
- Cysts on the Ovaries
- Retaining water
- Extra weight in the abdominal area
- Insomnia or disrupted sleep
- Low libido
- Difficulty concentrating
- Elevated triglyceride levels
- Uterine fibroids
- Painful menstrual cramps
- Leg cramps
- Short term memory loss
- Sugar cravings
- Gallbladder problems
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Lack of ovulation
- Extreme inability to cope
- Feel like you'll lose your mind or you're going crazy
- Breast cancer
However, it's important to keep in mind that it is possible to have not enough estrogen and still be estrogen dominate if you have low levels of estrogen, but even lower levels of progesterone.
Symptoms of Insufficient Estrogen:
- Brain fog
- Depressed state
- Vaginal dryness and irritation *one of the primary symptoms of not enough estrogen
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Hot flashes
- Bone loss
- Memory problems
- Disrupted sleep
- Frequent vaginitis and/or vaginal infections
- Loss of sex drive
- Joint pain, stiffness and swelling
- Heart palpitations
- Hot flashes
- Rapid pulse
- Night sweats
- Recurring bladder infections
- Excessive perspiration
- Low self-esteem or sense of well-being
- Loss of breast fullness
- Intolerance to exercise
Symptoms of not enough testosterone:
- Abdominal weight gain - a pot belly
- Hair loss
- Fatty breasts
- Low sex drive
- Concentration problems
- Decrease in bone mass
- Mood swings
- Disrupted sleep
- Lack of vitality
- Decreased muscle strength and mass
You'll also note that many of the symptoms of female hormone imbalance overlap from one imbalance to another, so that's why it's important to do a hormone saliva test mentioned further below to measure your hormone levels and know for certain which imbalance you have.
Male Hormone Imbalance
Although the primary hormone for men is testosterone, men also have progesterone and estrogen in lower levels than women. The most common male hormone imbalance is low levels of testosterone and high levels of estrogen.
Testosterone is important not only for male sexual characteristics, but also in shaping the personality, sex drive, pitch of voice, body shape, emotional and physical strength and sexual performance.
Because we have such high levels of xenoestrogens in our environment and hormones in the diet, this is increasing the level of estrogen in men.
Andropause is the male equivalent to menopause. There is a change in the ratio of testosterone to estrogen in the body. After the age of 35 the males primary sex hormone testosterone begins to decline and continues to do so gradually into their 80's. This is the natural and normal progression of aging.
However, because of xenoestrogens and hormones in the environment and diet this decline is much faster and earlier than it should be and results in significant imbalances. Men in their 40s and 50's are experiencing levels of testosterone and estrogen they shouldn't have experienced until they were much older.
Primary Symptoms of Male Hormone Imbalance or Estrogen Dominance in Males
The symptoms of male hormone imbalance are many, here are some of the most common to look for, however this list is not exhaustive either.
- Breast Enlargement
- Prostate Cancer
- Enlarged Prostate
- Decreased Libido
- Erectile Dysfunction
- Smaller and softer testes
- Premature Aging
- Excessive Fatigue or Sluggishness
- Loss of muscle strength and mass
- Loss of Energy
- Inflammation of the Prostate
- Depression/Mood Swings
- Adult Acne
- Low Blood Sugar - Hypoglycemia
- Inability to Lose Weight
- Memory Loss
- Brain Fog
- Difficulty Passing Urine
- Feeling like going crazy
- Burning with Urination
- Loss of Libido
- Hair Loss
- Dry Skin
- Muscle Cramps
- Low Thyroid symptoms
- Low Sperm Count
- Bone Loss/Osteoporosis
- Weight gain
- Rapid weight loss
- Water retention
- Outbursts of anger
- Increased risk of stroke
- Pot Belly
It's also important to note that the symptoms of both male and female hormone imbalance overlap with many other health conditions like:
- nutritional deficiencies
- adrenal fatigue
- neurotransmitter imbalances or deficiencies
- thyroid disorders
- candida overgrowth
and many more, so once again this is another reason it's crucial to perform hormone saliva testing and a comprehensive approach covering all bases to be sure what you're dealing with.
Causes of Hormone Imbalance
The two primary causes of hormone imbalance for both men and women are environmental toxins and diet, however stress, neurotransmitters, candida overgrowth and adrenal fatigue are common contributors as well.
- Environmental Toxins
The primary cause of both male and female hormone imbalance are environmental toxins.
Common everyday chemicals found in our food, homes, work place, air and water, personal care products, plastics, pesticides, herbicides, household cleaning products, cosmetics etc., contain toxins called hormone disruptors, also known as endocrine disruptors. As the name implies, these hormone disruptors disrupt, alter and impede normal functioning of our hormones.
A particularly damaging subclass of hormone disruptors, called xenoestrogens, actually mimic the natural estrogens in the body and/or prevent hormones from performing the jobs they are required to do. They also alter the way that our natural hormones are generated, discharged and metabolized. Xenoestrogens are found in pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, plastic and more.
When this occurs, a variety of abnormal reactions occur in the body and result in symptoms such as those found in hormone imbalance as well as other detrimental impacts to the entire endocrine system, nervous system, immune system, reproductive system and metabolic system.
Once endocrine disruptors enter the body, they are very difficult to excrete, because the body is incapable of breaking them down. Instead they accumulate in our tissues and fat cells and continuously recirculate throughout the body.
Birth control pills are another contributor as they make their way into our water supply and contaminate the soil our food is grown in.
We are all exposed to a vast number of hormone disruptors on a daily basis.
The second biggest contributor to hormone imbalance is a diet that is high in white flour and other refined carbohydrates, sugar and caffeine and lacking in nutritional value. These types of foods alter and destroy the endocrine system and metabolic functioning. Hormones are regulated by the endocrine system.
Additionally, hormones, the endocrine system and all other organ systems in the body require proper nutrition to function properly and produce hormones in adequate amounts. A diet high in sugar, white flour etc., does not provide the body with nutrients it needs to perform its functions.
Unless you're eating organic, then your food is contaminated with toxic pesticides, which we established in the previous section are hormone disruptors. The meat supply and all meat byproducts like milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese etc., are contaminated with hormones, because the meat supply is pumped with hormones to make the animals grow bigger. When these foods are eaten, these hormones disrupt the natural hormones in the body.
Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers used in the communication system of the brain and body. They are involved in regulating basically all systems in the body in one way or another and play a crucial role in hormone balance.
Neurotransmitter deficiencies or imbalances are extremely common in the population today because of environmental toxins, sugar, caffeine, white flour, nicotine, alcohol and lack of protein in the diet. When this occurs, it results in numerous psychological and physiological symptoms we find in society today. Hormone imbalance is one of the most common symptoms to develop. When an imbalance or deficiency of neurotransmitters occurs, the body is not capable of producing and maintaining hormones in the body as it should. This can result in creating a hormone imbalance or exacerbating an already existing hormone imbalance.
- Too Much Stress
High levels of ongoing stress put too much demand on the endocrine system and deplete neurotransmitters, which as we already learned are highly involved in the regulation of hormones. When the endocrine system and neurotransmitters are not functioning adequately, hormones are not produced or regulated adequately. Additionally, when there is a lot of stress there is a high demand for cortisol. If there is a high demand for cortisol,all the precursors that are needed to make hormones are used up making cortisol and nothing is left over to make hormones, this is called cortisol steal.
- Adrenal Fatigue
Hormones have a significant impact on adrenal function and vice versa. Hormone imbalances can contribute to adrenal fatigue and adrenal fatigue can contribute to hormone imbalances. Each one has a reciprocal effect on the other. This is especially important as we age and the sex hormones are more dependent on the adrenal glands.
- Candida Overgrowth
An overgrowth of Candida yeast is another common contributor to hormone imbalance. Candida Albicans eats progesterone, therefore resulting in excessive levels of estrogen in the body. Additionally, it alters and disrupts neurotransmitters and other hormones, thus altering function of the central nervous system, thyroid and adrenal glands
Other causes of hormone imbalance may include aging, birth control pills, nutritional deficiencies, heavy metal toxicity, thyroid problems, physical trauma to the testes, tumors of the testes or pituitary, lack of adequate levels of GnRH, chemotherapy or radiation therapy, impaired glucoronidation or methylation, and problems in other areas of the endocrine system such as the pituitary and hypothalamus.
Treatment of Hormone Imbalance
If balance is restored to the ratio of hormones, many symptoms of both female and male hormone imbalance can be alleviated.
Before treatment of hormone imbalance, it is important to identify your hormone levels with a saliva hormone test explained below, so you know which imbalance you have. Although some steps listed below, such as no sugar, caffeine or alcohol and avoidance of environmental toxins will be beneficial for any imbalance combination, some of the steps one will take to address hormone imbalance are dependent on which imbalance you have. You wouldn't want to replace estrogen or progesterone if you already have too much and there will be variations in the diet and herbs as well, depending on which imbalance you are trying to correct.
- Avoid environmental toxins
This is "the" most important factor. Eat organic, eat hormone and antibiotic free, switch to green, environmentally friendly cleaning products and household cleaning products, drink filtered water, avoid air fresheners, don't use pesticides or herbicides. Switch to a green living lifestyle.
- No sugar
- No caffeine
- No alcohol or drugs
- Regular exercise. Get plenty of exercise, but not too extreme. Exercise that is too extreme can put hormones and neurotransmitters further out of balance.
- Reduce stress and use stress management techniques, like meditation, exercise and deep breathing exercises to deal with that which can't be eliminated.
- Nutritional supplements and herbs
There are a variety of nutritional supplements and herbs that are helpful for some women with a hormone imbalance and may include some of the following: dong quai, chasteberry, licorice, flax seed, borage seed oil, black currant seed oil and evening primrose oil, black cohosh, wild yam and vitex.
However, once again, nutritional supplements and herbs are highly individualized and don't work the same for everyone. Women and men who are estrogen dominant must be very careful with herbs and supplements because they contain phytoestrogens, which are natural ingredients in the plant that mimic estrogen.
For example, if I eat any of the foods or herbs that have phytoestrogens in them, such as flax seed and evening primrose oil, I have so much anxiety and aggression I feel like I may explode.
The best way to identify which vitamins and minerals you need is with biochemical testing and then having a custom nutritional formula designed personally for your unique needs, such as that found in the Privatest and Custom Essential vitamins.
- Eat a Healthy Diet Rich in Nutrients
All diets should avoid the big no no's - sugar, alcohol, caffeine and white flour. However, depending on your particular needs and which imbalance you are trying to correct, then diet needs will vary.
Some people who aren't estrogen dominant find relief with foods like peas, soybeans and chickpeas, but estrogen dominant women often have an exacerbation of symptoms with these foods.
While whole grains are richer in nutrients than refined, they still break down into sugar in the body and damage the gastrointestinal tract. Additionally, many women have an unidentified food sensitivity to grains. They are best avoided or greatly restricted.
Many people must also limit even the healthy and complex carbohydrates, because a lot of people have difficulty metabolizing carbohydrates and when eaten in excess can disrupt and alter neurotransmitters, hormones and the endocrine system. A paleolithic diet is very effective at providing relief.
- Neurotransmitter testing
Neurotransmitter deficiencies or imbalances can be easily identified with a simple at home testing kit that you mail to a lab and then corrected with amino acids and specified co-factors. Many people find improvement in their hormone imbalance by addressing neurotransmitter issues.
- Bioidentical hormones
Many people are able to bring their hormones into balance with bioidentical hormones. Unlike traditional hormone replacement, these are natural hormones that are more compatible with body and don't carry the same health risks. Most often they are used in the form of a cream which is applied to the body. Depending on which hormone imbalance you are trying to correct, this may involve using progesterone, estrogen or testosterone or a combination of one or more.
Before beginning bioidentical hormones, a hormone saliva test such as the one mentioned below should be performed to identify which imbalance you are dealing with. These tests can be performed by a physician who is knowledgeable about natural hormone replacement or you can use a simple test kit you perform in the privacy of your own home.
Saliva Hormone Test
The saliva hormone test is the preferred test to measure hormone levels, because it is the most reliable and accurate. Blood tests measure the serum levels of hormones, while saliva tests the "free" or bioavailable level. Serum levels do not provide accurate results because they do not measure the bioavailable hormones, which are the "true" levels.
There's a very simple test you can perform in the privacy of your own home and receive a detailed report explaining your results and recommendations for restoring balance. You can learn more about my recommeded test by following these links.
As you've seen me mention a variety of times throughout this page, hormones are do not function independently. They are a part of a complex, intricate and interconnected system that is influenced, impacted and regulated by a variety of other organ systems. It is rare that hormonal imbalances occur in and of themselves. They often are accompanied by a variety of other issues like adrenal fatigue, neurotransmitter imbalances, thyroid disorders and candida overgrowth.
The most effective way to approach both male and female hormone imbalance is to have a comprehensive evaluation of all the factors that may be playing a role in the imbalance. Testing for these issues as well is recommended.
Balancing hormones is really a fine art and requires the skill and guidance of a knowledgeable health care provider with expertise in bioidentical hormones, as well as adrenal fatigue. If you don't know what you're doing or receive the wrong guidance, you can make matters worse or even create new problems.