Something we know for sure is this – we all have hormones. These chemical messengers in your body are sent to your organs and tissues to perform a certain function. The communication that happens between your hormones and organs control major metabolic processes within your body, such as mood, energy, weight, temperature regulation and even digestion. An imbalance in these little guys are often what causes us to look at our health a little more closely, because it’s only until they are not working optimally that we remember we even have them.
Remember, we want to keep all of our hormones in balance. It can seem overwhelming when you go to the doctor with a list of symptoms and you have no idea how they may be connected. With functional medicine, we want to figure out the root cause of our patients’ symptoms, especially with the huge possibility of undiagnosed hormone imbalances. That’s right…there’s a chance that your health issues could be stemming from hormone imbalances that have not been detected. In today’s mainstream medicine, standard labs and their analysis for hormone health are being considered subpar. Considering how advanced medicine is in many ways, hormone testing and treatments seems to be stuck in 1975. With “normal” labs, you may be sent home still wondering why you are feeling this way, and if you wait long enough, you’ll probably be patted on the back and told that you’re either depressed, getting older, or that you just need to lose weight. This can often feel frustrating as a patient!
We’ll discuss some of the most common hormone imbalances we see in our patients. Sometimes when you identify one hormone imbalance, you may find that it could be linked to another hormone imbalance, giving you the pieces of the puzzle you have been looking for!
The thyroid gland controls almost every metabolic process within the body, and we need optimal levels of thyroid hormones to do so. When thyroid hormones are deficient, it can cause several underlying problems that may be the answer you are looking for. Unfortunately, many standard labs are missing key components to identify full thyroid function, having suboptimal thyroid go unnoticed. Decades ago, the gold standard to diagnose and treat low functioning thyroid was only Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH). Today, functional medicine lab standards and analysis utilize full thyroid panels to help pinpoint what part of the body is not working properly; therefore, creating a better individualized plan for success.
What you may experience with suboptimal thyroid:
- Feeling tired and exhausted
- Feelings of coldness in hands and feet
- Weight gain
- Decreased libido
- Depression and anxiety
- Thin/scanty eyebrows (especially outer third part)
- Thinning, dry and brittle hair
- Scattered brain
Our adrenal glands, which sit right on top of our kidneys, control several hormone processes, but one of the main ones you probably know about is cortisol. Cortisol is known as your “stress hormone,” released during times of stress. It is important to have a nicely balanced circadian rhythm of cortisol, and when that rhythm is off, symptoms will arise. When this imbalance happens, it is more so a factor of miscommunication between the brain and the adrenal glands, and not necessarily dysfunction within the adrenal glands themselves. Because of the major connection with the brain, one of the best things to help create and maintain balance of your stress hormone is to reduce stress responses!
What you may experience with an imbalance in cortisol:
- Poor stress response
- Low libido
- Blood sugar issues
- Sleep problems (insomnia, can’t stay asleep, not waking up well rested)
- Cravings for salty foods
- Difficulty losing weight
Insulin is a hormone that is produced and released from the pancreas. When a person becomes insulin resistant, their main concern is typically with type 2 diabetes, but insulin resistance is seen in a huge amount of the population who don’t have fully identified diabetes. Mounting research is showing that insulin resistance is not always related to diabetes and poor blood sugar regulation, but rather stress and a mal-adaption to stress. The main problem with insulin resistance is that insulin is a fat-storing hormone when it is not processed properly, making losing weight a huge struggle when an imbalance is present.
What you may experience when insulin resistance is present:
- Blurred vision
- Increased appetite
- Difficulty losing weight
- Lightheaded when meals are missed
- Shakey and jittery
- Easily irritated if meals are missed
- Waist size is larger than hip size
- Sugar cravings
Estrogen is a hormone that actually is comprised of three forms of estrogen: estrone, estradiol, and estriol. It is best known as a sex hormone that both men and women have. Having a healthy balance is essential for both. When an imbalance occurs estrogen will most commonly be dominant. This can lead to potential toxic health complications in both men and women.
What you may experience with an imbalance in estrogen:
- Night sweats
- Hot flashes
- Brain fog
- Excess weight in hips, thighs, and backs of arms.
- Painful sex
- Vaginal dryness
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
- Breast tenderness
- Migraine headaches
- Mood swings and irritability
Just like estrogen, both men and women need a healthy progesterone level, especially in relationship with estrogen. With an imbalance between the two hormones, estrogen will most likely dominate, creating an estrogen dominant situation as mentioned above.
What you may experience with an imbalance in progesterone:
- Stubborn weight that won’t budge
- Headaches related to your cycle/period
Testosterone imbalances are becoming more common in both men and women and present differently for both. Overall, low testosterone will result in low sex drive and even cardiometabolic health issues.
What WOMEN may experience with an imbalance in testosterone:
- Low sex drive
- PCOS symptoms
- Ovarian cysts
- Excess hair found on the face
- Weight gain
What MEN may experience with an imbalance in testosterone:
- Low sex drive
- Erectile dysfunction
- Mood changes
- Loss of hair on lower legs (sorry guys, that is not from socks rubbing off your hair)
With all this information in your hands, you might be feeling that addressing your hormones can be exactly what the doctor ordered! Understanding the connection between all of your hormones and the havoc they can wreak when imbalanced can be life-changing when it comes to achieving optimal health!