Hormones are chemical messengers in the body that are created in the endocrine glands that control numerous essential functions such as metabolism, mood, sexual function, reproduction, growth and development, appetite, heart rate and sleep cycles. Any imbalance will affect both physical and psychological aspects of our wellbeing and manifest as a variety of signs and symptoms. Everyone is unique but here are some of the most commonly observed signs that could point us towards underlying hormonal imbalances.
A TRICKER THAN USUAL TIME OF THE MONTH
Changes in period length, heaviness or absence of menstrual cycles (amenorrhea) can be connected to hormonal driven conditions or imbalances. The most common cause is an imbalance in oestrogen and progesterone that cause changes in ovulation which often happens in people suffering from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or thyroid conditions such as hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. And as periods are regulated by a natural cycle of increase and decrease of certain hormones such as progesterone and oestrogen, anything that will disrupt their balance, will have an impact on menstruation. For example, chronic physical and psychological stress creates an increase in cortisol levels which will lead to fluctuations in oestrogen and progesterone as cortisol and progesterone are made from the same mother hormone pregnenolone.
TIRED ALL THE TIME
Our adrenal glands secret several hormones such as cortisol, which is the body’s primary stress hormone. When there is an imbalance in cortisol’s natural ,rhythm for example it is high in the evening when it should be low, low in the morning when it should be high, constantly elevated or suppressed, it can lead to chronic fatigue and feeling of tiredness and sluggishness. Also, thyroid imbalances like thyroid hormones conversion issues, thyroid resistance or autoimmune attacks against the thyroid gland, can cause low concentration and production of thyroid hormones that can present itself as fatigue.
WEAK HAIR + NAILS
Thinning or loss of hair and brittle nails can often be a consequences of nutritional deficiencies, excessive physical and mental stress but also be correlated to hormonal fluctuations.
Hormonal fluctuations in menopause can weaken the keratin layer, resulting in nails that tear easily and declining oestrogen levels result in an imbalance between oestrogen and testosterone that can cause thinning of hair. When the thyroid is not functioning properly it can also have an effect on hair health as thyroid hormones are involved in the hair follicles growth metabolism.
MIGHTY MOOD SWINGS
The levels and balance of hormones are influenced by various neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the body). When there is an imbalance in neurotransmitters levels which can be caused by stress, dietary deficiencies, certain conditions, it will have a negative effects on hormones as well. For example, oestrogen has a positive effect on mood thanks to its ability to raise serotonin levels. Serotonin is the so called “happy hormone” because it improves mood and relaxation. But when oestrogen levels fluctuates or are constantly low, it can lead to states of anxiety, depression and mood swings.
Weight gain or loss can be associated with changes in dietary habits, exercise or periods of intense stress. But hormonal function plays an important role in this too.
For example, when levels of insulin become constantly elevated in a condition called insulin resistance. Insulin is usually secreted by the pancreas to take glucose from the foods to the cells to be used as energy. But when blood sugar levels are too high for a prolonged period of time, cells can stop responding to insulin and the excess glucose is stored as fat.
Also, hypothyroidism can cause our metabolic functions to slow down and lead to weight gain while hyperthyroidism can have rapid weight loss as a consequence. Prolonged excess cortisol and oestrogen levels could also cause weight fluctuations affecting insulin and serotonin functions.
Hormonal imbalances, thyroid imbalances and nutritional deficiencies are common causes for skin issues such as dryness, irritation, breakouts and ageing signs.
Oestrogen stimulates collagen production and contributes to the smoothness and firmness of skin so as oestrogen levels drop, the same does collagen production which can lead to the appearance of signs of ageing and wrinkles.
Testosterone on the other hand stimulates the sebum-producing glands, which are important for protecting skin with natural oils but overproduction can lead to excess sebum. When there is an imbalance between oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone whether because of age or other conditions, it can make the skin more oily or prone to acne and breakouts.
Low thyroid hormones function can also affect skin structure and cause dry, pale and sensitive skin.
STRUGGLING TO SLEEP
Sleep cycles are regulated by different hormones. The main one is certainly melatonin and as its production is largely dependent on the presence of serotonin, whenever there is a lack or imbalance in these two hormones, it can lead to difficulty falling or staying asleep.
But oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone are also involved in sleep patterns. Oestrogen helps to maintain your sleep, progesterone has a calming effect on the nervous system helping the body and mind to relax and testosterone is helpful to achieve deep sleep states. So again, fluctuations in their natural levels could cause sleep disturbances.
PMS can present with different symptoms such as bloating, fluid retention, headaches, muscle aches, sleep disturbances, mood fluctuations or sugar cravings. Some of these can be related to diet and lifestyle stressors but others can be a consequences of hormone imbalances in the body.
Usually this is due to too low progesterone levels that causes oestrogen dominance, too high levels of progesterone, thyroid issues or blood sugar regulation problems.