How do you know when your hormones are out of whack? How do you figure out which ones need support?
Aside from the issues many people think of like PMS, mood swings, acne, period problems or libido issues, hormonal imbalance can show up in a lot of different ways. Fatigue, sugar cravings, belly fat, dry skin, brain fog, constipation, insomnia, migraines, chronic UTIs, joint pain or muscle weakness can also be signs your hormonal system is off-kilter.
We often think of the sex hormones first – estrogen, progesterone or testosterone – things that affect our menstrual cycles, but the glands in our bodies that produce hormones (ovaries, thyroid, pancreas, adrenals) work together in a coordinated effort. Along with the sex hormones, assessing cortisol, insulin and thyroid hormones helps us understand the patterns and root causes of imbalance that may cause overlapping symptoms.
When we untangle the real source of the symptoms, we’re able to help you move toward more optimal energy, ease menstrual or menopausal issues and teach you what you can do to maintain the balance by understanding which hormones are most relevant for you.
So, which hormones might be underlying which symptoms?
The foundation of our hormonal balance is the adrenals. These are the small glands that sit hat-like on top of our kidneys. The adrenals produce cortisol which regulates the stress response. When our body is stressed and adrenal function is out of balance, it de-prioritizes thyroid and sex hormone production.
Cortisol is produced in a day and night pattern (diurnal rhythm). Levels should be high in the morning and taper gently through the day until reaching their lowest point at night. If we have too much cortisol at night, it’s hard to relax and go to sleep. Too little in the morning, and we can’t get out of bed. If our levels are low overall, or drop too quickly in the afternoon (a common pattern!) we can get tired around 3pm and crave sugar, carbs or caffeine.
Another hormone that hugely influences energy and cravings is insulin. Insulin is produced by the pancreas and signals our cells to take in blood sugar and use it for energy. If we are eating excessive refined sugars, alcohol or simple carbs, we can become insulin-resistant and experience fatigue, excessive hunger, foggy thinking, insomnia and weight gain.
On the other hand, energy, weight and cognition can also be very influenced by thyroid hormone. These hormones regulate our metabolic thermostat. Too much thyroid activity, and you’re sweating, anxious, having insomnia or loose stools. Too little thyroid hormone, and you may experience depression, fatigue, dry skin, hair loss, constipation and weight gain.
Finally we have sex hormones which we started with! These include estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.
Estrogen is released from the ovaries in response to signals from the brain, and helps build up the lining of the uterus in preparation for a fertilized egg to implant. It is essential for fertility, bone health, cognition and cardiovascular health. When estrogen is too high, you can experience PMS, heavy menstrual bleeding and cramping or breast tenderness. When it’s too low, joint pain, dry wrinkly skin, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, pelvic pain, issues with fertility and libido can result.
Progesterone is the soothing, stabilizing hormone that helps maintain the lining of the uterus once estrogen has built it up. The name PRO-GEST-erone helps us remember it’s function in promoting gestation or pregnancy. Progesterone supports sleep, reduces anxiety and works synergistically with estrogen to support bone health.
Testosterone is an important hormone in men and women. Men have 10 times the amount of testosterone that women do, but it plays a similar role in both. Testosterone supports libido, building lean muscle mass, energy and motivation, but too much can cause acne, hair loss, excessive hair growth on the face or abdomen, irregular periods and fertility issues. DHEA is a precursor to testosterone, produced mostly in the adrenal glands and has similar effects.
As you can see, sometimes it’s hard to tell which of these hormones is the culprit because symptoms of imbalance can overlap. Low estrogen can cause poor sleep, difficulty concentrating and forgetfulness, but so can high cortisol levels. Low thyroid function can cause dry skin and hair, high cholesterol and fatigue; so can low estrogen levels. It’s important to assess your symptoms as a whole to discover which patterns show up, and test your levels to identify which hormonal issues are most relevant for you. Once we know what to focus on, we can make the most appropriate recommendations for lifestyle changes, nutrition, herbs, supplements, or bioidentical hormone therapies to bring you back into balance.
If you want to find out which hormones might be out of balance for you, we’re here to help! Start with a complimentary Vitality Discovery Call to learn more.
And if you’d like to know more about your hormones, check out our workshops “Bioidentical Hormones: Your Questions Answered” and “Perimenopause 101“. As part of this workshop you’ll also get our Hormone Symptom Quiz which will help you understand your own symptoms even more.