Understanding Hormone Imbalance in Women: Testing, Treatment and FAQs

Understanding Hormone Imbalance in Women: Testing, Treatment and FAQs

Hormones are chemical messengers in the body that primarily control bodily functions such as metabolism, digestion, sleep, respiration, stress, mood, movement, reproduction, growth and tissue function. They are produced by different glands in the endocrine system such as the hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, adrenal, pancreas, ovaries (women), and testes (men). When normal production and levels of hormones in the endocrine system are disrupted, hormonal imbalance occurs.

Hormone imbalance in women generally pertains to sex hormones relating to menstrual period, pregnancy and menopause. However, there are various types of hormones and they regulate other functions such as the body’s response to stress, metabolism, and thyroid functions. Hormonal imbalance can lead to serious health issues.

Signs and Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance

Hormonal shifts are normal in women, occurring during their ovulation and menstruation, pregnancy and menopause periods, so symptoms such as bloating, mood swings, fatigue and irritability are deemed “normal”” during these times. A woman may experience irregular periods, lack of sleep, night sweats, and hot flashes due to lack of progesterone. She may experience an acne breakout due to excess androgens. Women in perimenopause and menopause stages may go through periods of depression, anxiety and mood changes. However, if the symptoms persist for long periods of time, hormonal imbalance may be due to other underlying causes. A trip to a physician for a hormone imbalance test is called for.

Consistent and persistent weight gain is also a sign of hormonal imbalance. One’s lifestyle, physical activities and diet play a role in maintaining a healthy body; but women with hormone imbalance find it extremely difficult to lose and maintain a healthy weight. Craving for sweets and carbs brought about by increased estrogen could lead to excessive eating.

Feeling mental fatigue is another sign of hormone imbalance. A woman with hormone imbalance may feel a bit sluggish and mentally foggy due to lack of sleep.  Insomnia may also be related to hormone imbalance.

Loss of muscle mass and belly fat gain happens when there is overproduction and/or underproduction of certain hormones. The body naturally responds by storing body fat thus increasing belly fat.

Women with a low testosterone level may cause low libido. Decreased level of estrogen may lead to vaginal dryness.

Causes of Hormone Imbalance

The sex hormones are the testosterone, progesterone and estrogen. Other hormones that control bodily functions are the growth hormone, insulin, cortisol, leptin and melatonin. Any disruptions in the equilibrium of these hormones lead to a hormone imbalance that could lead to health problems. Hormone imbalance is linked to the food a person consumes, the toxins a person is exposed to, the amount of exercise one gets, an individual’s weight, and the amount of stress one puts up with on a daily basis. These factors do influence the amount of hormones secreted by particular glands. This is of utmost concern more so during midlife when the production of hormone is primarily the job of the adrenal glands.

  • Food and Fats

The food that a woman eats impacts her hormone balance. The market is flooded with food that tend to negatively affect the hormonal balance. Processed and fast food may be too fatty, contains too many carbohydrates, too salty, lacks fiber, and are too sweet. Insulin helps transport the glucose from the food one eats into the cells for energy. When the body has too much sugar, insulin cannot do its job.  Unused carbohydrates are stored as fat that could lead to increased body fat.  When there’s too much stored fat, the level of estrogen increases which leads to a hormone imbalance that could lead to a whole lot of health issues including breast cancer.

  • Stress

Chronic stress prods the production of cortisol. When there is too much cortisol in the body, there is a delay in hormone production. When this occurs, the body uses its own supply of available progesterone in order to make more cortisol. When the amount of progesterone is depleted, estrogen imbalance occurs as there is more of it in the system. Chronic stress is debilitating. It weakens the bones and muscles, lowers one’s libido, compromises one’s immunities, drains the body’s energy and strength, and puts a person at risk to develop autoimmune diseases and serious chronic illnesses.

  • Diet and Exercise

It is a fact that fad and crash diets are not good for maintaining hormonal balance. Too much exercise as well as too little exercise will also affect the body’s hormones.  Exercise and diet should not work against one’s hormones, but with them. The correct lifestyle habits and proper nutrition can help in restoring hormonal balance.

  • Toxins

Toxins such as heavy metals, chemicals and alcohol enter the body through the food one eats and drinks, and through medications and environmental pollutants. The liver purifies the toxins that pass through the body. An overworked liver will no longer be effective in breaking down excess estrogen thus resulting in increased level of estrogen.

  • Age

As a woman ages, her progesterone and estrogen levels decreases. Progesterone levels decreases at a faster rate than the estrogen. This difference in rate causes estrogen dominance which is a form of hormone imbalance.

Natural Ways to Balance Hormones

Unless the hormonal imbalance resulted to insulin deficiency or thyroid problems, there are several natural ways on how to treat hormonal imbalance.

Sleep! Lack of sleep increases the level of cortisol, the stress hormone. Poor sleep affects one’s work performance, leads to weight gain, anxiety and decreased immunity. Getting from 7-8 hours of sleep will not only help balance the stress hormone but also let the body recover from a day’s work and build one’s energy.  This is one way of hormone optimization for women.

Work out emotional stresses! Be happy! It is believed by some school of thoughts that certain negative emotions can harm particular body organs. For example, fear can affect the kidneys, adrenals and reproductive organs. Anxiety can affect the body’s insulin levels. Unforgiveness and impatience can affect the liver. By addressing one’s emotional imbalances, hormonal balance is possible. One can achieve emotional balance through meditation, quite time, prayer, relaxation, and enjoyable activities.

Choose to eat healthy fats instead of refined carbohydrates. Essential fats such cholesterol and saturated fat are needed for hormone production, boosting one’s metabolism, maintaining low levels of inflammation, and fostering weight loss. Healthy fats include grass-fed butter, avocado, coconut oil or milk, and wild-caught salmon. Stir away from Omega -6 fats and choose Omega-3 fats.

There are other alternatives to hormone optimization in women and one of them is using supplements to make up for nutritional deficiencies that could lead to hormone imbalance. Some of the recommended supplements are evening primrose oil with the only recommended omega-6 fat of LA and GLA, vitamin D for keeping low levels of inflammation, bone broth for the digestive system, probiotics for repairing gut lining, regulation and production of leptin, insulin and ghrelin.

The use of birth control pills and other medications could actually lead to hormonal imbalance. Birth control pills raise the estrogen levels and increase blood pressure; increase risk for breast cancer, stroke, blood clotting and uterine bleeding; weight gain; back pain; migraine and more. Some of the medications that cause hormone imbalance are stimulants, corticosteroids, dopamine agonist, statins, glucocorticoids and rexinoids.

The use of essential oils helps in naturally balancing hormones as they eliminate toxins in the body. It is best to stop using body care products that contain parabens, DEA, sodium lauryl sulfate and propylene glycol. Natural products that contain castor oil, coconut oil and shea butter are better. Some of the recommended essential oils are: Clary sage for balancing estrogen levels; fennel essential oil for improved digestion, metabolism and reduction of inflammation; lavender for addressing depression, anxiety and stress, and promoting sleep; sandalwood for reducing stress, increasing libido, and promoting relaxation; thyme for increasing progesterone production which could help address PCOS, menopause, infertility, insomnia, depression and even hair loss.

The use of healing plants called adaptogen herbs will help achieve hormone balance and shield the body from a range of illnesses, stress included. Ashwagandha, holy basil, rhodiola and other medicinal mushrooms can help reduce depression and anxiety, lower cholesterol levels, improve thyroid function and reduce the degeneration of brain cells.

How to Get Tested for Hormonal Imbalance in Women

Getting tested for hormonal imbalance is best done during the first week of the menstrual period. The hormone panel test should be requested from an OBGYN, and this should include testing for progesterone, estrogen, luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). Additional tests for thyroid, blood sugar and vitamin D3 are favorable as they are significant indicators of hormonal health. To check for anemia, iron saturation and C-reactive proteins, a general blood test is required.

The results of the tests will indicate the hormone levels of the person tested. The results could fall within the normal range, either on the lower or higher end of the normal range. This means that the numbers are not out of range and considered “normal” by the doctor and therefore will not call for a medication even if the patient is symptomatic. The great news is, one can opt for natural ways to achieve hormonal balance.

Compounding Pharmacy of America is equipped to facilitate customization of your hormone optimization methods. They can work together with your personal physician to find solutions for compounded hormone optimization that will best suit your personal requirements. Learn more about Compounding Pharmacy of America.

About Matt Poteet, Pharm.D.

Chief Operating Officer, The Compounding Pharmacy of America Matthew Poteet, Pharm.D. graduated with Honors from Lee University with a Bachelors of Science in Biological Science. After his undergraduate training, he completed the Doctor of Pharmacy program at Mercer University Southern School of Pharmacy, graduating in 2004. Dr. Poteet has spent much of his pharmacy career on staff at two of the most prestigious academic teaching hospitals in the Southeast; Emory University in Atlanta and Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. At these institutions he received extensive experience and training in sterile products compounding. He returned home to East Tennessee in 2010, where he has held the position of Pharmacy Director at two sterile products pharmacies in Knoxville. Matthew lives in Knoxville with his wife, Chris. Dr. Poteet is Tennessee’s first Board Certified Anti-Aging Pharmacist by the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. Read More About Matthew Poteet, PharmD