Hormone Imbalance: A Comprehensive Overview

Hormonal Imbalance
Editor's Note: This article has been recently updated with latest information and research studies.
 

Introduction

Medical scientists have been studying the human body for hundreds of years, yet many things that happens in the body still remains unknown to even the most talented professionals in the medical industry.

There are quite a large number of substances in the body that are essential to life.

Hormones, in particular, plays vital roles when it comes to the functions of the human body; thus also poses as quite an interesting area of study for medical scientists.

Hormones are responsible for regulating our moods, emotions, the reproductive system, hunger and many other functions in the human body, as reported by the Hormone Health Network[1].

In most patients, especially as they grow older, the balance between the different hormones in their bodies may become compromised. This causes a hormone imbalance in their bodies.

Since hormones are responsible for numerous functions in the body, an imbalance in hormones can lead to the development of many health-related problems.

Unfortunately, the symptoms that hormone imbalances cause is often overlooked and, in some cases, even mistaken for other potential health issues.

In this report, we are going to discuss the function of important hormones, as well as what exactly hormone imbalances are.

We are also going to take a look at how a hormone imbalance affects each gender separately, since the hormones that become imbalanced in men and women defer; thus the symptoms, causes and treatment methods utilized to treat* such conditions also defer.

An Overview Of Hormones And Their Functions

Since our report is focused on the topic of hormone imbalances, we should start by looking at what hormones are. First understanding what hormones are will shed some light on why certain symptoms may develop when particular hormones are present in too low or too high concentrations.

Hormones function

Being educated about what hormones are and what parts they play in the maintenance of a healthy body will also make understanding the other parts of this report relatively easier.

News Medical[2] reports that a hormone is a type of chemical messenger that performs numerous functions in the body.

These hormones are produced by glands that are part of the endocrine system within the human body and, after they have been produced, the glands transport the hormones into the blood circulatory system.

Once the hormones are in the bloodstream, they are then transported to various parts of the body, such as organs, to perform certain functions that assists with the normal functioning of these organs, tissue and other body parts.

Some of the most important functions that hormones perform in the body involves the regulation of growth, especially during puberty, as well as the regulation of the development of the human body.

Hormones also plays an important part in the metabolism process of the body; thus regulating how food is processed, broken down and how different nutrients are processed in the digestive tract.

The sexual function of a patient is also regulated by certain hormones, and the growth of reproductive organs also rely on the production of hormones during the puberty period.

Furthermore, hormones also play essential roles in regulating a patient’s mood and has a part to play in cognitive functionality. Thirst, hunger and body temperature are all features that are also controlled and regulated by hormones. These are, however, just a small amount of functions that hormones play in the body.

Hormones can be secreted from any of the glands that are a part of the body’s endocrine system. Each gland produces a set of specific hormones. Some glands are affected by hormones secreted by another gland and transported to the particular gland through the bloodstream.

Endocrine System Detail

The entire endocrine system is controlled by a small part of the brain, known as the hypothalamus.

The particular glands[3] found in the body that produces hormones include:

  • The pineal gland
  • The pituitary gland
  • The thyroid gland
  • The parathyroid glands
  • The thymus gland
  • The pancreas
  • The adrenal glands
  • The ovaries in women and the testes in men

These glands produce quite a large variety of hormones. Every hormone has a different function to play in the human body. These hormones can be divided into six different chemical classes[4], including:

  • Steroids, such as testosterone
  • Proteins, such as insulin
  • Polypeptides, such as parathormone
  • Amino acid derivatives, such as adrenaline
  • Eicosanoids, such as prostaglandin

Apart from knowing that hormones can be part of different chemical classes, it is also important to know the most important hormones by name and, of course, to know what functions they perform in the human body. Here’s a list with the names and functions of the most common hormones[5] that are produced by the endocrine system.

Common Hormones

Serotonin

Serotonin is a hormone that affects a person’s mood and is often also the cause for the mood swings a teenager experiences, as well as the changes in mood that women who are going through their menstruation cycles.

In addition to regulating the mood of a patient, serotonin also plays a part in the regulation of appetite and sleep cycles.

Dopamine

Dopamine[6] is often associated with pleasure and addiction but, in reality, this is actually a very complicated hormone. The particular effect and function of dopamine depends on where the dopamine has been produced, as well as the receptors that the dopamine binds to.

In addition to its ability to make a person feel addicted to something or allowing the feeling of pleasure in many cases, dopamine is also involved in movement and even in the inhabitation of prolactin production.

Growth Hormone

This is another important hormone in the body that regulates the reproduction of all cells within the human body. Growth hormone also has a role to play in the growth of cells.

Insulin

Secreted by the pancreas, insulin is responsible for a variety of anabolic functions. Its main purpose is to regulate glucose intake and metabolism in the body.

Leptin

The release of leptin hormones causes an increase* in metabolism. At the same time, leptin is responsible for regulating a patient’s appetite.

Oxytocin

This hormone plays a part in the reproduction process. It has a role to play in the excretion of milk in women who are breastfeeding a child. It also plays a part in a patient’s ability to reach orgasm.

Prolactin

A hormone that contributes toward sexual satisfaction. Prolactin is also involved in the production process of breast milk.

Testosterone

The main sex hormone in the male body. This hormone is often associated with confidence, a masculine physique and powerful bedroom abilities among men.

Testosterone is also present in the female body. It regulates a patient’s sex drive and, during puberty, it allows a man’s sexual organs to develop.

Estrogen

Estrogen is the main sex hormone in the female body. It is responsible for the development of characteristics that are associated with women. Estrogen is also present in the male body.

There are many more hormones in the human body. The ones we discussed above are some of the most important hormones, but this does not mean the other hormones produced by glands in the endocrine system are not as important.

Now that we have considered what hormones are and what functions they play, it should be obvious why hormones play such a vital part in a healthy body. Unfortunately, hormone imbalances are a common problem that people suffer from.
In the next sections, we will look at how an imbalance in hormones can affect the human body, and focus on both the female and male body separately.

Hormone Imbalance In Women

Hormone Imbalance In Women

Since hormone imbalances are much more common amongst women, we’ve decided to start the discussion on hormonal imbalance by looking at how this particular condition affects women.

In women, hormone imbalance occurs when there is an excess amount of oestrogen in their bodies. When oestrogen levels become too high, it causes an imbalance to occur between the normal level of progesterone and estrogen.

This, however, isn’t the only hormones in the female body that may become imbalanced. When a hormone imbalance develops in a woman, it can lead to the development of many symptoms and it can increase* the risk of developing certain diseases.

Testosterone is another hormone in the female body that plays an important role, but should only be present in small amounts in the female body. When testosterone levels become too low or there is an abundance of testosterone in the female body, it can also cause various unpleasant symptoms to develop.

Causes Of Hormone Imbalance In Women

Let’s start by looking at what can cause hormones to become unbalanced in the female body.

It is important to understand that different causes and contributing factors affect different hormones in the body; thus one particular contributing factor may cause oestrogen levels to increase*, while another may cause oestrogen levels to reduce*.

The most obvious cause of hormone imbalances in women is menopause, which occurs with age. Menopause is a natural process that the female goes through at some point, usually between the ages of 48 and 55. Some women tend to go through menopause at a younger age, while other also experience menopause at a later age.

Menopause occurs when a women’s ovaries stops releasing eggs. Some women go through menopause due to surgery, but others go through this process naturally.

According to WebMD[7], women who naturally go through menopause will experience three stages of this event. These three stages include perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause. During these three stages, women may be prone to developing a hormone imbalance. It is also important to know that during pregnancy, hormone levels may also fluctuate a lot.

This can also cause an imbalance of hormones, which may lead to numerous symptoms.

Apart from menopause and pregnancy, many other potential causes exist that may cause an imbalance in hormones amongst women. According to Planet Naturopath[8], one of the most significant elements that contributes changes in hormone balances is stress.

Stress System

Stress can arise from any element of our daily lives, such as work. In many cases, women may also find that problems in their relationship or marriage leads to excess stress. Stress does not have to be psychological to interfere with the body’s hormone production.

Physical stress, such as not sleeping enough, experiencing pain and inflammation can all contribute towards physical stress and a change in hormone production.

When problems develop with the digestive tract, hormone production may also be affected in some ways. The most common digestive problems that affect hormones include diarrhea, constipation, bloating and gas. Acid reflux may also cause problems with hormones.

hese problems signal inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, which, in turn, may interfere with the glands that produces hormones in the particular area.

Another common cause for hormonal problems is thyroid disorders and problems that affect the thyroid gland. When the function of the thyroid is compromised, it affects the production of a particular hormone that is important to the female body – progesterone.

Symptoms Of Hormone Imbalance In Women

Now that we have discussed the potential causes of hormone imbalances amongst women, we should also take a look at the symptoms that an imbalance in hormones can cause.

Since different hormones can become unbalanced and these hormones are produced by various glands throughout the body, symptoms that occur can also affect various parts of the body.

To understand the particular symptoms that may affect a woman when she has an imbalance in hormonal levels, it is important to also consider the most common imbalances that can occur, and then to discuss the particular symptoms that these hormonal problems may cause[9].

Estrogen Deficiency

When estrogen level becomes too low, it may cause symptoms like hot flashes, sleep disturbances, night sweats, vaginal dryness, headaches, memory lapses, foggy thinking, a low libido, depression and bone loss.

Heart palpitations and painful intercourse may also be a sign of estrogen deficiency.

Furthermore, some women find that they also develop dry skin and are more prone to developing yeast infections.

Excess Estrogen

When there is an excess of estrogen in the female body, symptoms that may develop include irregular menstruation periods and heavy menstruation, water retention, sugar cravings, weight gain, mood swings, anxiety, nervousness, uterine fibroids, fibrocystic breasts and symptoms related to low thyroid activity. Breasts may also become tender and swollen.

Progesterone Deficiency

When the level of progesterone in a woman’s body becomes low, it may cause symptoms to develop, such as swelling of her breasts, gastrointestinal bloating, mild depression symptoms, candida exacerbations and somnolence.

Testosterone Deficiency

Even though testosterone is the main sex hormone in men, it is also needed by the female body. When testosterone levels become low, women may experience fatigue, mental fuzziness, depression and memory problems.

They may also find that their skin becomes thinner, their bones become brittle and they may experience vaginal dryness.

Other symptoms may include insomnia, acne, fibromyalgia symptoms, incontinence, irritability, hair loss, blunted motivation, heart palpitations and muscle weakness. A lot of women also experience a lower libido when their testosterone levels drop too low.

Low Cortisol

Cortisol is a hormone released when the body is placed under stress. Symptoms of low cortisol may include irritability, allergies, chemical sensitivities, sugar cravings and fatigue.

In many cases, symptoms often associated with hypothyroidism and low progesterone may also develop.

High Cortisol

Having too much cortisol can also become problematic by causing symptoms like depression, hair loss, anxiety, sleep disturbances, bone loss and a reduced* libido. Elevated triglycerides may also develop.

Depression Anxiety

Low Thyroid Function

The thyroid is responsible for producing numerous hormones that all play important parts in the body. When the function of the thyroid becomes inadequate, unpleasant symptoms may develop.

These symptoms may include a low stamina, a low body temperature, cold extremities, fatigue, dry skin, weight gain, anxiety & depression, brittle nails, hair loss, cognitive impairment, high cholesterol levels, constipation, memory lapses and heart palpitations.

Some women find that their fertility is also affected in a negative way when they have a low thyroid function.

How Hormone Imbalance In Women Is Treated?

The symptoms of hormone imbalances can interfere with a woman’s ability to participate in day-to-day activities, and it can have an adverse effect on their general well-being.

To counteract these symptoms, women may opt for a treatment that are called hormone replacement therapy.

This type of treatment replaces the hormones in the woman’s body that has become imbalanced or adds hormones of another kind in the body to restore a better balance between the different hormones present in their body.

The Women in Balance Institute[10] reports that women may be given the option to choose between three different types of hormone replacement therapy. The particular option chosen will ultimately decide the outcome and efficiency of the treatment option.

Hormone Replacement therapy work

Some options do tend to cause more side-effects than others. A healthcare professional will also be able to advise a women on the best option for their particular condition. Let’s take a look at the three different options that women may be given.

Bioidentical Hormones

This particular option is also called bioidentical hormone therapy. It may also be referred to as BHRT. This is the option that poses the least amount of side-effects as the hormones produced and used with bioidentical hormone therapy are made in such a way that they are very similar to the natural hormones already found within the woman’s body.

The major advantage that this option has is the fact that the treatment plan can be customized for every individual woman, which means the treatment will not deliver a standard dose, but rather a dose dependent on their particular condition.

The most common bioidentical hormones used to improve* a hormone imbalance in women includes estrogen, which can be used in the form of either Bi-estrogen or Tri-estrogen, progesterone, DHEA and testosterone.

Non-Bioidentical Hormones

The most common form of non-bioidentical hormones used to treat* hormonal imbalances amongst women is conjugated equine estrogens. While the hormones used in this particular treatment option are still natural, they are not similar to the hormones in a woman’s body on a chemical level.

They can, however, sometimes be chemically similar to the hormones in an animal’s body, with horses being the most common. The reason these hormones are often similar to those found in a horse is because a particular type of estrogen is often produced from a compound found in the urine of a mare that is pregnant – premarin.

Women who undergo treatment with non-bioidentical hormones often experience adverse reactions due to the fact that the hormones utilized in this treatment method are not biologically and chemically identical to their natural hormones.

Synthetic Hormones

Another option that women are often prompted with is to utilize synthetic hormones to replace the hormones in their body; thus restoring optimum levels of hormones that may be out of balance.

A synthetic hormone is not produced from a natural source and they are not similar in biochemical structure to the hormones naturally found in the woman’s body. These hormones are synthetically created in such a way that they mimic the behavior and functions of hormones that are naturally found in the female body.

Adverse effects are also often experience with the use of synthetic hormones, and especially tends to affect the particular areas of the woman’s body that are mostly affected by hormones, including the blood vessels, the breasts, skin, heart and their brain.

Hormone Imbalance In Men

Andropause Detail

When people talk about hormone imbalances, they often tend to focus on women mostly. This is because hormonal imbalances are much more prevalent in the female body, especially since menopause is a particular aspect that cannot be avoided and naturally occurs as a woman ages.

Just like in women, hormonal imbalances in men are often associated with age, as the balance between estrogen levels and testosterone levels in men often becomes disturbed when they age. There are other problems, apart from age, that may also cause hormonal imbalances in men.

Many of the causes and symptoms we will discuss here will be similar to those in women, but it is important to note that the particular hormones that become out-of-balance in men usually defers from those in women.

Causes Of Hormone Imbalance In Men

Similar to how we discussed hormone imbalances in women, we will also start by looking at the causes of a hormone imbalance in men. There are quite a large number of potential causes for an imbalance in hormones in the male body.
The most common cause in men comes with age, similar to in women. This condition is called hypogonadism, but also sometimes referred to andropause or male menopause.

Hypogonadism occurs when the testes are unable to produce an adequate supply of testosterone in the male body; thus leading to a testosterone deficiency and levels of estrogen to increase*.

In some publications, this condition may be called low testosterone.

Low Testosterone Treatment

In addition to andropause, or male menopause, many other factors have also been identified to contribute towards a deficiency of certain hormones or an excess of some hormones in the male body.

Since there are different possible hormone imbalances in men, we should look at the particular causes of each separately, as discussed by the Doctors Health Press[11].

Low Testosterone

Low testosterone is relatively common amongst men. Medscape[12] reports that approximately 481,000 new men are diagnosed with low deficiency ever year, and the condition is most commonly diagnosed in men aged between 40 and 49. It affects over 39% of men that are aged above 45.

Low testosterone levels may be caused by a chronic disease of the liver or kidneys, as well as various types of autoimmune diseases.

Men may also experience low testosterone levels when they have been diagnosed with a metabolic disorder, such as diabetes. Obesity also has an adverse effect on testosterone levels in men.

Furthermore, testicular cancer also causes levels of testosterone to drop significantly.

High Estrogen

The most common cause for high estrogen levels in the body is an abundance of aromatase being present. Aromatase is an enzyme that converts testosterone hormones into estrogen hormones.

When there is a high level of aromatase present in the male body, too much testosterone will be converted to estrogen. Certain metabolic disorders, like diabetes and also obesity, may also lead to a higher level of estrogen.

Furthermore, it has also been found that men who have been treated with synthetic testosterone replacement therapy tend to develop high levels of estrogen.

In addition to the potential causes we have discussed above, certain risk factors have also been identified that increases* the likeliness for men to develop a hormone imbalance.

Stress is one of the most significant contributing factors that may lead to a low testosterone concentration.

Adrenal fatigue, which is a disorder that affects the adrenal glands, may also cause the level of aromatase in the body to increase*; thus leading to high estrogen levels and low testosterone levels.

Furthermore, it is also possible to experience a reduction* in testosterone when consuming too much alcoholic beverages. Certain environmental chemicals, such as xenoestrogens, may also lead to an imbalance in hormones in the male body.

Symptoms Of Hormone Imbalance In Men

Hormone Imbalance In Men

Similar to how we have divided the potential causes of hormone imbalances in men into two different parts, we need to do so with the symptoms as well due to the fact that the symptoms defers depending on the particular hormone or hormones that are out of balance.

Low Testosterone

Low testosterone levels are quite common amongst older men, and can result in the development of numerous symptoms. Men will experience reduced* sexual function if their testosterone levels are significantly low.

This may include a low libido, as well as symptoms that are associated with erectile dysfunction. Infertility is another symptom that may be caused by low testosterone. Certain physical changes may also occur, such an increase* in body fat, with the abdominal area being especially prone to accumulating excess fat.

A loss of muscle mass, reduced* strength, weaker bones and a reduction* in body hair are also relatively common amongst men who suffer from low testosterone levels. In addition to these symptoms, men may also experience hot flashes and fatigue.

High Estrogen

The symptoms of high estrogen levels[13] in men are similar to the symptoms they may experience when testosterone levels become deficient, but some additional symptoms may also develop.

Sexual dysfunction may develop in men with high estrogen levels, as well as fatigue. Furthermore, muscle mass may be reduced* and they may also develop symptoms of depression.

Men with high estrogen are also prone to develop larger breasts, as well as problems with their lower urinary tract. An increase* in abdominal fat is another common symptom that men experience when they have too high levels of estrogen.

How Hormone Imbalance In Men Is Treated?

When a man is diagnosed with a hormone imbalance, such as low testosterone, a doctor will run a few tests on them to determine what may be causing the particular problem and to determine if the testosterone deficiency is causing any health-related issues.

Thereafter, the doctor may suggest the man undergo testosterone replacement therapy. This treatment option involves adding synthetically created testosterone into the man’s body to increase* their testosterone levels, which often leads to improvements in the symptoms they experience.

These treatments may lead to side-effects since the testosterone placed into the man’s body is not similar on a chemical level to the natural testosterone that are present in their bodies.

Testosterone Gel

According to Everyday Health[14], testosterone replacement therapy is available in various forms, including:

  • As an injection.
  • As a patch or gel that is applied to certain parts of the skin.
  • As a pellet that is placed underneath the skin. Such a patch releases testosterone into the patient’s body for up to four months.
  • A patch that is shaped like a tablet may also be placed on the upper side of the mouth, which then needs to be replaced two times a day.

Conclusion

Hormones are essential for organs and all other parts of the body, and without an adequate amount of hormones in the bloodstream, symptoms may develop related to hormone imbalances. This may be unpleasant and often causes fatigue, mood changes and more.

While hormone imbalances are very common amongst women, especially while they are going through menopause, this particular problem can also develop in men. In men, however, hormone imbalances are caused by factors that are different from a hormone imbalance in women.

Treatment for these conditions is possible in both men and women, but may come with some level of side-effects, depending on various factors.

In addition to the conventional treatment options, natural remedies can also be utilized in many cases, as well as preventative measures and lifestyle changes, to help reduce* the severity of such a condition and to treat* it without having to opt for conventional therapies that may lead to unwanted adverse reactions.

References

[1] http://www.hormone.org/hormones-and-health/what-do-hormones-do
[2] http://www.news-medical.net/health/What-are-Hormones.aspx
[3] http://www.ivyroses.com/HumanBody/Endocrine/Endocrine_Glands.php
[4] http://www.ikonet.com/en/visualdictionary/static/us/hormones
[5] http://www.healthguidance.org/entry/15893/1/List-of-Human-Hormones-and-Their-Importance.html
[6] http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2013/07/what_is_dopamine_love_lust_sex_addiction_gambling_motivation_reward.html
[7] http://www.webmd.com/menopause/guide/menopause-basics#1
[8] https://www.planetnaturopath.com/functional-pathology-testing/what-causes-hormonal-imbalances-in-women/
[9] http://www.ahealth.com/content/education/bioidentical_hormones/symptoms.php
[10] https://womeninbalance.org/choices-in-therapy/hormone-treatment-options/
[11] http://www.doctorshealthpress.com/general-health-articles/hormone-imbalance-in-men/
[12] http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/775165_2
[13] https://universityhealthnews.com/daily/nutrition/8-surprising-high-estrogen-symptoms-in-men/
[14] http://www.everydayhealth.com/low-testosterone/guide/treatment/

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Author

Expert Author : Dr. Ahmed Zayed (Consumer Health Digest)

Dr. Ahmed Zayed Helmy holds a baccalaureate of Medicine and Surgery. He has completed his degree in 2011 at the University of Alexandria, Egypt. Dr. Ahmed believes in providing knowledgeable information to readers. Other than his passion for writing, currently he is working as a Plastic surgeon and is doing his masters at Ain shams University.