Do you keep losing or gaining weight for no reason? Struggling with hair loss, skin rashes, or fatigue? Or perhaps you’re sweating more than usual? If so, you might be dealing with hormonal disorders. Hormones influence every system in your body. Even the slightest imbalance can result in immune problems, poor sleep, and metabolic changes.
In 2009, about five percent of the U.S. population was suffering from endocrine disorders. Thyroiditis, dyslipidemia, and metabolic syndrome were among the most common issues.
In general, these problems begin with a hormonal imbalance. If left untreated, they can develop into full-blown diseases that affect your health on every level.
Fortunately, most hormonal imbalances are preventable. Plus, they can be successfully managed through diet and lifestyle changes.
What Causes Hormonal Imbalances?
Most people experience hormonal imbalances at some point in their lives. These issues occur when the body produces too much or little of certain hormones. As a result, it becomes less efficient at processing dietary nutrients, such as protein or vitamins. This triggers a chain reaction, leading to serious conditions like diabetes, ovarian dysfunction, or hypothyroidism.
It is estimated that over 80 percent of women are struggling with some sort of hormonal imbalance. For instance, when you’re pregnant, your hormone levels go up and down. The same happens around menopause or before your period. Men can develop hormonal disorders too.
These health conditions have a variety of causes, from genetics to poor eating and stress. Sleep deprivation, for example, lowers testosterone and raises cortisol levels.
Testosterone, the male hormone, plays a key role in metabolism, body composition, and muscle growth. When your body doesn’t produce enough of this it, you may lose muscle, gain weight, and feel weaker overall. Testosterone deficiency has been also linked to depression, hot flushes, lethargy, reduced bone mass, and erectile dysfunction.
Cortisol, the stress hormone, goes up whenever you’re stressed, anxious, or sleep-deprived. When it stays elevated for a long time, it affects other hormones in your body. It may also lead to Cushing syndrome, clinical depression, cognitive difficulties, recurring infections, headaches, and poor libido.
High cortisol levels impact the gut flora too, causing digestive distress. Moreover, they suppress serotonin production, leaving you moody and depressed.
Hormonal imbalances can be due to poor nutrition. Certain chemicals in food mess up your hormones and disrupt thyroid function. The most common offenders include:
- Glycol ethers
- Artificial sweeteners
Currently, there are over 3,000 food additives approved for consumption. Many of them are well-known endocrine disruptors.
Some mimic estrogen in the body, causing weight gain, breast cancer, polycystic ovary syndrome, and endocrine disorders. Some suppress the production of certain hormones, such as testosterone. Others affect insulin response, putting you at risk for diabetes, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome.
Organophosphate pesticides, for instance, have been shown to lower testosterone levels and affect brain function. Arsenic has carcinogenic properties. Mercury impacts your body’s ability to produce insulin. It also damages pancreatic cells and binds to the hormones that regulate ovulation.
Non-stick cookware contains perfluorinated chemicals, which have been linked to thyroid disease, birth defects, and low sperm count. Lead reduces testosterone levels, affects the nervous system, and triggers brain damage. Milk and other common foods are high in perchlorate, a chemical that disrupts thyroid function.
Numerous studies confirm the devastating effects of food chemicals on hormonal balance. However, there are many other endocrine disruptors to be aware of.
High doses of omega-6s may contribute to hormonal disorders as well. The human body needs a 1:1 ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to produce hormones in optimal doses. A diet rich in vegetable oils, peanut oil, soy, and processed foods can disrupt this delicate balance and affect your hormone levels.
Other possible causes of hormonal disorders include obesity, menopause, pregnancy, and certain conditions, such as insulin resistance. Even though you don’t have full control over these factors, you can prevent and manage hormonal imbalances. Simple lifestyle changes, such as going organic, eating whole foods, and getting more sleep, can make all the difference. Dietary supplements help too.
Signs and Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalances
There’s more than one way your hormone levels can be imbalanced. Watch out for the following signs:
- Excess body hair
- Acne breakouts
- Unexplained weight gain/weight loss
- Belly fat
- Swollen eyelids
- Dry skin and brittle nails
- Migraines and headaches
- Low energy
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Fluid retention
- Erectile problems
- Hot flashes
- Low sex drive
- Tingling in the hands and feet
- Night sweats
- Join pain and inflammation
- Heavy menstruation
- Increased hunger and cravings
- Muscle and strength loss
- Reduced bone density
- Stress and anxiety
- Mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping or falling asleep
As you see, hormonal imbalances cause physical and psychological symptoms. Many times, they are misdiagnosed or ignored.
For instance, if you’re tired and sluggish, you could blame stress or poor sleep. Yet, these symptoms may indicate low testosterone levels or estrogen dominance.
Weight gain is another common sign of hormonal disorders. Unless you’ve been eating more than usual, your hormones might be the culprit.
The best way to determine the cause of your problem is to take a hormone test. This will show the levels of testosterone, DHEA, IGF-1, prolactin, and other key hormones in your system.
Or you can opt for a saliva test to check your adrenals and certain hormones, such as progesterone, estradiol, cortisol, and testosterone. It’s recommended to those struggling with fatigue, elevated blood sugar, insomnia, and other non-specific symptoms that may indicate a hormonal imbalance.