Hormonal imbalances occur when the bloodstream contains too much or too little of a hormone. Also small hormonal imbalances can cause side effects in the body, due to their vital role in the body.
Hormones are chemicals that the endocrine system produces through the glands. Hormones move to tissues and organs via the bloodstream, transmitting signals telling the organs what to do, and when to do it.
Hormones are important to regulate most major processes in the body, so a hormonal imbalance can affect a wide range of body functions. Hormones help to regulate:
- metabolism and appetite
- heart rate
- sleep cycles
- reproductive cycles and sexual function
- general growth and development
- mood and stress levels
- body temperature
Imbalances in insulin, steroids, growth hormones and adrenaline can affect men and women alike.
Females can also experience estrogen and progesterone imbalances while men are more likely to experience testosterone imbalances.
The signs of a hormonal imbalance depend on the affected glands and hormones.
The most common causes of hormonal imbalances include symptoms associated with:
- unexplained weight gain or weight loss
- unexplained or excessive sweating
- difficulty sleeping
- changes in sensitivity to cold and heat
- very dry skin or skin rashes
- changes in blood pressure
- changes in heart rate
- brittle or weak bones
- changes in blood sugar concentration
- irritability and anxiety
- unexplained and long-term fatigue
- increased thirst
- needing to go to the bathroom more or less than usual
- changes in appetite
- reduced sex drive
- thinning, brittle hair
- puffy face
- blurred vision
- a bulge in the neck
- breast tenderness
- deepening of the voice in females
All may experience natural periods of hormonal imbalance or fluctuations at different points in their lives.
Yet hormonal imbalances can also arise when the endocrine glands fail to function properly.
Endocrine glands are specialized cells that contain and store hormones in the blood and release them. There are several endocrine glands all over the body which control various organs, including:
- adrenal glands
- gonads (testis and ovaries)
- pineal gland
- pituitary gland
- hypothalamus gland
- thyroid and parathyroid glands
- pancreatic islets
Some, or several, of the endocrine glands are known to affect various medical conditions. Some lifestyle patterns and environmental factors may also play an important role in hormonal imbalances.
Causes of hormonal imbalances include:
- chronic or extreme stress
- type 1 and type 2 diabetes
- hyperglycemia (overproduction of glucagon)
- hypoglycemia (more insulin produced than there is glucose in the blood)
- underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
- overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
- over- or underproduction of the parathyroid hormone
- poor diet and nutrition
- being overweight
- hormonal replacement or birth control medications
- abuse of anabolic steroid medications
- solitary thyroid nodules
- pituitary tumors
- Cushing’s syndrome (high levels of the hormone cortisol)
- Addison’s disease (low levels of cortisol and aldosterone)
- benign tumors and cysts (fluid-filled sacks) that affect the endocrine glands
- congenital adrenal hyperplasia (low levels of cortisol)
- endocrine gland injury
- severe allergic reactions or infections
- cancers that involve endocrine glands
- chemotherapy and radiation therapy
- iodine deficiency (goiters)
- hereditary pancreatitis
- Turner syndrome (females with only one functioning X chromosome)
- Prader-Willi syndrome
- phytoestrogens, naturally-occurring plant estrogens found in soy products
- exposure to toxins, pollutants, and endocrine disrupting chemicals, including pesticides and herbicides
Hormonal imbalances in women
Women typically experience many periods of hormonal imbalance, including during:
- pregnancy, childbirth, and breast-feeding
- perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause
Women are also at risk of developing multiple forms of hormonal imbalance disorders than men, since they have different endocrine organs and cycles.
In women, medical conditions which cause irregular hormonal imbalances include:
- polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- hormone replacement or birth control medications
- early menopause
- primary ovarian insufficiency (POI)
- ovarian cancer
Symptoms of hormonal imbalances in women include:
- heavy, irregular, or painful periods
- osteoporosis (weak, brittle bones)
- hot flashes and night sweats
- vaginal dryness
- breast tenderness
- constipation and diarrhea
- acne during or just before menstruation
- uterine bleeding not associated with menstruation
- increased hair growth on the face, neck, chest, or back
- weight gain
- thinning hair or hair loss
- skin tags or abnormal growths
- deepening of the voice
- clitoral enlargement
Hormonal imbalances in men
Men will also undergo natural periods of hormonal imbalance during their lives.
Natural causes of hormonal imbalances in men include:
Men also run the risk of developing different hormonal imbalances than women because they have different organs and cycles of endocrine.
Medical conditions causing hormonal imbalances in men include:
- prostate cancer
- hypogonadism (low testosterone)
Symptoms of hormonal imbalances in men include:
- reduced sex drive
- erectile dysfunction (ED)
- low sperm count
- reduced muscle mass
- reduced body hair growth
- overdevelopment of breast tissue
- breast tenderness
Hormonal imbalances treatment may vary according to cause. Each person may require different types of hormonal imbalances therapy.
Treatment options for women with hormone imbalances include:
- Hormone control or birth control. For those who are not trying to get pregnant, medications containing forms of estrogen and progesterone can help regulate irregular menstrual cycles and symptoms. People can take birth control medications as a pill, ring, patch, shot, or an intrauterine device (IUD).
- Vaginal estrogen. People experiencing vaginal dryness associated with changes in estrogen levels can apply creams containing estrogen directly to vaginal tissues to reduce symptoms. They can also use estrogen tablets and rings to reduce vaginal dryness.
- Hormone replacement medications. Medications are available to temporarily reduce severe symptoms associated with menopause, such as hot flashes or night sweats.
- Eflornithine (Vaniqa). This prescription cream may slow excessive facial hair growth in women.
- Anti-androgen medications. Medications that block the predominately male-sex hormone androgen can help limit severe acne and excessive hair growth or loss.
- Clomiphene (Clomid) and letrozole (Femara). These medications help stimulate ovulation in people with PCOS who are trying to become pregnant. Those with PCOS and infertility may also be given injections of gonadotropins to help increase the chances of pregnancy.
- Assisted reproductive technology. In vitro fertilization (IVF) may be used to help those with PCOS complications get pregnant.
Treatment options for anyone with hormonal imbalances include:
- Metformin. A medication for type 2 diabetes, metformin can help manage or lower blood sugar levels.
- Levothyroxine. Medications containing levothyroxine, such as Synthroid and Levothroid, can help improve symptoms of hypothyroidism.
Treatment options for men with hormonal imbalances include:
- Testosterone medications. Gels and patches containing testosterone can help reduce symptoms of hypogonadism and other conditions that cause low levels of testosterone, such as delayed or stunted puberty.
For thousands of years , humans have used herbal medicines to treat hormonal imbalances.
There are, however, no natural treatments that have been successfully confirmed in clinical trials to treat hormonal imbalances and their causes, aside from improvements in lifestyles.
Natural supplements commonly used to reduce hormonal imbalance-related symptoms include:
- black cohosh, dong quai, red clover, and evening primrose oil for hot flashes caused by menopause
- ginseng for irritability, anxiousness, and sleep disturbances caused by menopause
- ginseng, and maca for ED
Lifestyle changes that may help reduce the likelihood and symptoms of hormonal imbalances include:
- maintaining a healthy body weight
- eating a nutritious and balanced diet
- exercising regularly
- practicing good personal hygiene, focusing on washing areas with a lot of natural oils, such as the face, neck, back, and chest
- using over-the-counter acne washes, rinses, and medicated creams or gels for minor to moderate acne
- avoiding triggers that cause hot flashes, such as warm weather and spicy, rich, or hot foods and drinks
- reducing and managing stress
- practicing yoga, meditation, or guided visualization
- limiting sugary foods and refined carbohydrates
- avoiding packaged foods
- replacing older non-stick pans with ceramic pans
- using glass containers to store and heat foods and drinks
- restricting the use of cleaning products that contain toxic chemicals, such as bleach
- buying fruits and vegetables that have not been sprayed with pesticides or ripening chemicals
- not microwaving foods and drinks in plastics
During their lifetime almost all experiences at least one or two cycles of hormonal imbalance.
Hormonal imbalances, during puberty, menstruation and pregnancy, are more common. Some people, however, experience continuous, irregular hormonal imbalances.
External causes, such as stress or hormone medications, cause many hormonal imbalances. However, any medical disorder that affects or concerns the endocrine system or glands may also cause hormonal imbalances.
A person should discuss long-term unexplained symptoms with a doctor, especially those that cause pain , discomfort or interfere with everyday activities.